Why I Love Chiang Mai
A short layover in Bangkok preceded our anxious arrival in Chiang Mai, where we’re about to meet the world’s finest city. As I’m scanning around for a taxi or way to Old City, a relaxing calm settles in after our long day of travel that started in Singapore. I don’t know this yet but we’re about to embark on a wonderful stay in what’s soon to become my favorite place. For a wide variety of reasons, I’m going fall for this place and will soon realize that I love Chiang Mai. This is why.
Parts of Town
We first spent a few nights in Chiang Mai’s Old City, which I recommend if you want to get a good start near the action. Nimman Hyemin is well known as more university-friendly and not too far from everything. The Riverside seemed like the most romantic part of town and where the pricier hotels could be found as well. Either way, it’s well known that Chiang Mai hotels subsidize lower prices in the name of booking commission-rich tours for guests. The highlight of our tour experience involves a fabulous day of playing with elephants (not riding).
I truly love Chiang Mai’s more relaxed atmosphere compared to the in-your-face nature of Bangkok. I loved relaxing by the river or stretching out my arms before eating some delicious food but the temples are hard to avoid in Chiang Mai. The capital city has nice temples everywhere but Chiang Mai’s really stand out to me. Thai Buddhist monks walk around just spots and some temples offer monk chats to spread their message to visitors from all over. My only experience was with a young man who was considering leaving the faith, due to all the rules he had to follow. Hopefully, he made the best decision and is doing well these days!
Bicycle and motorbike rentals loom everywhere but are caution-worthy. If one trusts their hotelier, ask them for help in this area. I mistakenly overpaid for the same crummy bike at an expat-run place with all the fancy signs. It’s not just the foreigners who’ll rip you off but my experience is to go for the place with rickety signs. Aside from that one time getting burned, we’re able to experience more of Chiang Mai via bicycle through the streets and a motorbike ride through up to Doi Suthep and beyond, as I’ll mention in a minute.
Coffee Shops and Co-Working Spaces
As delightful and exciting it is to play with elephants and going for motorbike rides, I’m a writer and have deadlines to meet while traveling. Coffee shops are easy to find and most have Wi-Fi available, as long as you’re buying a coffee or some mango sticky rice. Chiang Mai’s abundance of co-working spaces are worth noting because why wouldn’t you want a place that offers good Wi-Fi, free food and snacks in exchange for a couple of dollars per day? The co-working spaces and cheap cost of living convinced me why so many digital nomads have chosen this city as a base.
No matter where you’ve just come from, Northern Thai cuisine puts every previous meal you’ve had to shame. Referring to pineapple fried rice as standard Thai fare does it a bit of disservice, but that’s what happens in this part of the country. Northern Thai food’s distinction comes thanks to geography, as one can find different varieties of vegetables and fruits here. Its proximity to neighboring Myanmar and Laos also help, as I’ll never get over those hearty and delicious bowls of Burmese-influenced Khao Soi that were pretty much a daily requirement.
North Gate Food
After cycling or riding the many Chiang Mai hotspots, our bellies always grumbled for a visit just outside the famed North Gate for food. Following Anthony Bourdain’s lead, we searched out the “Cowgirl” who allowed a photograph after we bought some of her absolutely delicious marinated pork leg with rice and other sides. Thankfully it came in portions that leave enough room in one’s belly for a sampling of the other awesome stalls in the area. I could handle two plates before tapping out but am sure others could withstand a more brutal assault. Come hungry or you’ll be sorry.
Proximity to Other Stuff
Love Chiang Mai for the comfortable Northern Thai bubble that one could easily get stuck inside. I could spend years exploring all the wonderful places that surround the city. We rode the 760+ curves away to Pai and completely chilled out in that backpacker’s paradise for a while, and probably could’ve just given up on life while there. Having a motorbike opens up a bevy of possibilities when in Chiang Mai. The aforementioned Doi Suthep is a more manageable set of curves up and down a couple of mountains and leads to a beautiful temple and much more if you have enough gas to make it.
Around Chiang Mai
Our hotel urged us to book a car to reach Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls but after a nerve-wracking ride along highways and country roads, we made it back in one piece and hardly a scratch on the rented scooter. My one regret is the 14-hour Golden Triangle Tour that pushed my exhaustion levels through the roof. Chiang Rai’s White Temple was the one positive takeaway from that day but it’s possible to do that alone. Very few tours are going to be as uplifting as our day at the Elephant Retirement Park, and I’m not the only person to vouch for that type of experience.
Honestly, I have to say that our arrival at Chiang Mai came halfway through an 8-week journey before our return home from living abroad. Had we been anywhere but this place, that flight home might’ve been bumped up a few weeks. Thankfully, this city’s mix of convenience, atmosphere and that wonderful food saved us from travel exhaustion and was the perfect boost for a couple of travelers who needed one. It’s easy to praise any place that one visits but I’ll probably be on my deathbed raving about this wonderful Northern Thai city. I’ve seen some truly wonderful places in my own country and many others but have to say that I love Chiang Mai more than anywhere else.
Have you ever visited this wonderful city? Do you also love Chiang Mai? What did you think of it? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments section below!
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