The former capital of the Lanna Kingdom (from 1296 to 1768), Chiang Mai is the biggest city in Thailand’s mountainous north. The city is relaxed and laid-back, with locals and tourists visiting the city to bask in its authentic Thai atmosphere. From the ancient temples in old Chiang Mai, to the bustling modern city surrounding it, and to the forested hills and countryside further afield — the growing city intertwines the past, the present… and nature.
I’ve been to Chiang Mai a couple of years before, and I remember spending two days doing the usual tourist trail — visiting the many temples, climbing up a hill, watching elephants paint and do stunts, and walking the night market. The city and its old walls are beautiful; and I remember having a lovely time.
However, during my latest visit to the city (with Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT)’s “Family Fun in Amazing Thailand 2018” project (read about it here)), I expected to see the same side of Chiang Mai — but to my pleasant surprise, was taken on a whole new adventure. My group (of Malaysian media and agents) and I were brought to new places, and experienced new things… and I really enjoyed my short time in the city. Here’s some of the unique and wonderful things we did, which could be done in a day.
Late Afternoon Arrival
Mae Kam Phong
We arrived in Chiang Mai about 3pm in the evening (from Mae Hong Son, read about the trip here); and were immediately driven into the hills towards the village of Mae Kam Phong. It took about an hour to get to this lovely laid-back village — popular as a relaxing homestay retreat, for the “Flight of the Gibbon” zipline, and is locally famous as a coffee and tea producer. We were there however, to just soak in the village experience, and learn how to make tea pillows! A local Thai lady taught us how to make these pillows which are said to be good for sleep — she gave us an entire bucketful of dried tea leaves, made us stuff them all into a small pouch, and then showed us how to stitch it up. And viola, my very own tea pillow!
I enjoyed the rest of my time walking the quiet streets of the village and dropping by the quaint coffee-shops; and then chilling in the shaded verandas while admiring all the natural greenery all around me. With my tea pillow.
Dinner at Goodview Village Restaurant
It was dark by the time we arrived back in central Chiang Mai, so it was time for dinner! We were brought to one of the city’s most popular restaurants for locals, visitors and tour groups alike — the Goodview Restaurant, which was packed to the brim! The restaurant’s large outdoor seating area is divided into several sections, and is surrounded by twinkling lights, water features and fountains. They also had a live band playing that night. The Thai food was pretty good — I particularly enjoyed the deep-fried fish, and that glass of coconut shake.
Chiang Mai Night Market
After dinner, we felt like it was a good idea to walk off all the extra food — so it was off to the night markets! We can’t be in Chiang Mai and not take part in the city’s most popular night activity. We took a stroll at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar just outside our hotel (the DusitD2 Hotel) just east of the outer city walls; and because we were visiting on a Saturday, we also went to join the crowds at the ridiculously long Saturday Night Market along Wualai Street. It’s sheer length was pretty amazing. There’s also a Sunday Night Market (of this scale) along Rachadamneon Road on Sundays.
The weekend markets offer a more local experience (with more handicraft items on sale in small makeshift stalls) than the permanent Night Bazaar. But no matter which ones you go to, night markets are simply the best way to end the night, or a trip to Chiang Mai — just buy everything!
Morning the Next Day
Elephant Parade Land
Early the next morning, we made our way to the Elephant Parade Land — about an hour’s drive north of the city. I have to say this has got to be one of my favorite ‘things-to-do’ in Chiang Mai. There are no real elephants in this place, only colorful elephant statues (or dolls, or figurines).
During our visit, we were given a complete tour of the ‘land’ — walking around a garden surrounded by life-size baby elephant statues of different hues and drawings, observing the talented artists at work, visiting the ‘elephant statue’ museum, watching a video about the project, and dropping by the shop filled with small elephant dolls in bright colors and motives (like fruits, flowers, cartoons, and even country maps) for sale. The best part of all though, was the workshop where we got the chance to design our very own elephant figurine. My team member, Wilson and I spent 2 hours painting ours in all sorts of colors! I loved the fun experience, but of course, it is the mission behind the Elephant Parade Land that is most important — to organize conservation projects and support efforts that help protect the endangered Asian elephant.
Lunch at Ohkajhu Organic Farm Restaurant
All that elephant painting got us craving for food — and we had an early lunch at this pretty amazing restaurant, called the Ohkajhu Organic Farm Restaurant. I was impressed at how big the organic farm at the back of the restaurant is; and to imagine that my food was straight from the farm to my table. Can’t get any more fresher than that.
Ohkajhu serves a selection of pork and seafood options, pasta, burgers, and well, lots and lots of salad (dishes and as sides). We decided to order to share, and had 2 kinds of pork spareribs dishes, a huge burger, the grilled seabass, and that delicious fruit salad (served in a melon) for starters. And of course, I had to have my coconut shake too. Lunch was wonderful, and I absolutely recommend this restaurant.
Noon + Departure
Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School
It was a little after noon when we made our way to our final activity in Chiang Mai — a cooking class! The Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School is set in the countryside a little away from the city center; with several buildings spread out around the area. As we passed each building, we saw different groups of people learning to cook, using the ingredients from the school’s very own organic farm.
Our group soon arrived at our own building — and were told that we would be making a dish called Kluay Bot Chii. It is basically a banana and coconut milk dessert, mixed with other ingredients like pandan leaves, lots of brown sugar, and sesame seeds. It is a pretty simple dessert to make, with an easy process — and we spent the next hour pounding, mixing, boiling, stirring, and finally, garnishing our very own culinary masterpiece. The sweet ending to this Thai cooking class of course, was getting to slurp the dessert all down myself!
Our flight out of Chiang Mai was at about 3.30pm in the afternoon. With that, we really only managed to spend exactly a day in the city — but what an exciting day it was. From making tea pillows and painting for a good cause, to shopping, eating and cooking; I got to experience a different side of Chiang Mai on this visit. Definitely a fun alternative of things to do in the city.
*She Walks the World visited Chiang Mai on the invitation of Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) for ‘Family Fun in Amazing Thailand 2018‘. As always, all opinions and suggestions stated here are my own.
*Photographs with the ‘Amazing Thailand’ watermark are official photos of TAT.