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A Guide to Chiang Mai

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by Ian Marshall (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer and yogi living in Tepoztlan, Mexico where I'm running www.casadelcorazon.mx with my girlfriend. You can keep up with my other writing on www.bollocks2thewellingtons.com/ or www.spiritualheartjourney.com
Published November 29th 2012
So much to see and do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Guide

Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

The city of Chiang Mai has been around since 1296, and you can tell from the old temples and crumbling walls around the moat. I'm not going to tell the lengthy history here but suffice to say that it was capital of the Lanna kingdom and suffered attacks throughout it's time notably from the Burmese who caused the city to be abandoned between 1776 and 1791.

I've been here several times over the years and been seduced by the charms of the place. It has an easy-living vibe, with friendly people, amazing diversity, leafy streets and great food.

While I can't possibly claim to write a fully comprehensive guide to what is Thailand's fifth biggest city after just a couple of months of living here I'd like to share some of the places that I have found and enjoyed to hopefully offer newcomers some insight.
I'd be very grateful for feedback, suggestions and new places to explore!

Places to Stay

Cozy Home Reception/cafe
Cozy Home Reception/cafe

A lot of long-termers like to move out to the areas near the Chiang Mai University, where there are perhaps better options when it comes to houses and apartments, but I've always been very happy in the Old City and have spent most of my recent time in and around Moon Muang soi 6 and soi 7, specifically at Cozy Home and La Mer guesthouses.

Eats

Chiang Mai has quite simply some of the greatest variety of food than anywhere I can think of and a lot of it is really good quality as well.

There are some Northern specialities on offer and Burmese food in some places. You can't get the fried crispy noodle soup dish Khao Soi anywhere else really and Chiang Mai sausage with spices and lemongrass is delicious.

Khao Soi, Brown Rice, Organic Bistro, Chiang Mai
Khao Soi, Brown Rice, Organic Bistro, Chiang Mai

There are a number of great vegetarian choices which isn't always the case in Thailand and I would particularly recommend Brown Rice/Organic Bistro, while Dada Kafe and Juicy4U ramp up the veggie rivalry across the road from each other.

Pun Pun run an organic farm as well as a couple of restaurants, the original at Wat Suan Dok and its newer branch at Santitham. They have some of the best veggie food in town and have also sprung a number of restaurants from chefs that have left the original venture such as Bird's Nest Cafe.

Beetroot Stories is another cute place to have vegetarian food. The Tea Tree is also good for veggie food and comes with an added hippy vibe and jamming. Nature's Way is another a decent option.

The Blue Diamond is a very popular meeting spot and they have a lot of vegetarian options but also offer meat.

I find it hard to drag myself from the breakfasts at
DA Bakery Home.

There are street food vendors all over the city, particularly during the night markets and by Chiang Mai gate, offering a range of local food which is cheap and often really great. For a local speciality you can find the best Mango Sticky Rice in an unassuming stall.

There is some great international food in town as well and the best Japanese I found was at AI Sushi which is near the Kad Suan Kaew shopping centre just outside of the old city walls.

Cat House has some great fusion dishes.

Quesadillas, Cat House, Chiang Mai
Quesadillas, Cat House, Chiang Mai

Some decent Indian can be found at New Delhi Restaurant while I found some great Italian at Girasole, it came at a price but was very tasty.

There are many restaurants out in the Nimman area of town near the university and in the night bazaar area on the way to the river but I haven't explored these areas extensively.

Wats

Reclining Buddha, Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai
Reclining Buddha, Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has a huge selection of Wats or Buddhist temples to visit. Most are very beautiful and all will have something different, from a golden Buddha to a huge old Chedi or a forest setting. Some of my favourites are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Umong, Wat Pan Ping and Wat Phra Singh.

Shopping

Sompet Market, Chiang Mai
Sompet Market, Chiang Mai

One of the main tourist attractions in the city is the
Sunday Walking Street Market which is epic in its scale and will wear out all but the sturdiest feet. It has everything you can imagine, but if that is too much you could try the slightly smaller version on Saturday night or for a slightly less cultured experience head to the night bazaar area any night.

For food Sompet Market has fresh fruit and vegetables, and if you are missing any home comforts the most likely place is probably one of the branches of Rim Ping supermarket.

For shopping malls there is Central Airport Plaza and Kad Suan Kaew which both have several floors of western style shopping and cinemas.

JJ's Market has a wide selection of plants, flowers and other stuff for your garden, should you be lucky enough to have one.

There are many secondhand bookshops in the old city, one of my favourites is On the Road Books

Drinks

Beer Lao dark, Writer's Club, Chiang Mai
Beer Lao dark, Writer's Club, Chiang Mai

While in many ways Chiang Mai isn't really a boozy party city there are options and with quite a lot of backpackers around there is also a market.

The UN Pub is good for pub quiz and the usual atmosphere you get in a typical pub. The Griffin bar and tattoo shop is tiny but with great character and 50baht mojitos.

Brix Bar offers a fun band and a touch of class. The Writer's Club is for those working on their novel while Loco Elvis offers karaoke and Kafe 1985 has dark Beer Lao.

There are many drinking holes by the night bazaar, one of which I even excitedly found a London Porter for sale in. Boy's Blues Bar offers great live music in the rooftop and you can also see live jazz at the North Gate Collective among other places.

In the Old City Zoe's and the surrounding bars seem to be where those who want to drink late end up but I can't really recommend the place. You kind of need to be drunk before you get there to be honest. You could say similar things about the THC Rooftop Bar which has a similar grotty vibe.

Out near the university, The Monkey Bar is often busy and we had some great cocktails at the Drunken Flower.

Fruit juice abounds and this is one of my favourite places is
Happy Smoothies, Sompet Market.

There is some great coffee available in town and these are some of my favourite places to get it are Muan Baan Cafe, Organic Fresh Coffee and Vigie Sist Cafe.

Massage, Yoga & Wellness

Wild Rose Yoga Studio, Chiang Mai
Wild Rose Yoga Studio, Chiang Mai

There are many massage shops available for a Thai Massage or back rub. Normally you will pay around 150-200Baht for an hour. You can also do massage courses at a number of places around town, I have heard the TMC School is a good one.

Other places, like Omsala on Moon Muang Soi 6, offer energy based Chi massages which stem from the teachings of Mantak Chia who has a rather expensive spa out of town.

Chiang Mai has definitely become a hub for yoga and Chi Gung with several great studios offering a variety of classes for all levels of practitioner.

Wild Rose is a beautiful studio run by Rose and Lek offering very strong Ashtanga practice but also more gentle restorative Yin yoga sessions.

The Yoga Tree has a similar variety and also offers Capoeira Chi Kung twice a week as well as a Tich Naht Hanh Buddhist group, the Green Papaya Sangha that meets on Thursdays for meditation.

Apart from Mantak Chia's centre there are other places to practice Chi Kung. Here are a couple of examples - Tai Chi Chiang Mai, Body and Mind Healing.

Festivals

Yi Peng, loi Krathong, lanterns, chiang mai
Yi Peng (Loi Krathong) Lanterns

Loi Krathong/Yi Peng is one of the highlights of the year. Held in November, thousands of lanterns are released together. It is a truly magical experience.

In April Thai New Year is celebrated at Songkran. Chiang Mai has some of the most fun with this water festival as people collect water from the moat and drench each other.

Things to Do

Three Kings Monument, Chiang Mai
Three Kings Monument, Chiang Mai

Getting out of the city is always nice and the easiest trip is to go up to Doi Suthep National Park, visit the beautiful Wat up there and maybe take a ride to the nearby hilltribe villages.

There are so many organised tours in town, everything from trekking and elephant riding to Tiger Kingdom and rafting, but I enjoyed kayakying

In the centre of town you can pay a visit to the statues at the
Three Kings Monument.
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