Thailand’s charming northern city is a greener and quieter alternative to its capital Bangkok. With its relatively cool climate, laid-back atmosphere, and friendly locals, it’s no wonder that Chiang Mai has been dubbed the “Rose of the North”. Whether you're looking for an endless adventure or just want to take it slow, Chiang Mai has something for everyone and we’ve got you covered!
#HHWT Tip: The best time to visit Chiang Mai is from mid-October to early February when the weather is pleasant so you can expect to get some cool breeze at night.
1. Try out Halal Northern Thai cuisine
Need we say more? No trip to Thailand is complete without savouring its local food! You might be familiar with Thai staples like Tom Yam, Phad Thai and Mango Sticky Rice but northern Thailand cuisine is as mouth-watering and sumptuous too? Khao Soi is arguably the region’s most famous dish. A delectable combination of noodles in creamy curry broth, topped with meat and crispy egg noodles, this dish is definitely a MUST try!
Fun fact: Legend has it that this dish was brought about by Chinese Muslims!
You absolutely CANNOT leave Chiang Mai without experiencing a full-course traditional northern Thai meal. Called Kantoke, it consists of seven dishes on top of a round rattan tray which is served with sticky rice. As you savour the northern Thai flavours, treat yourself to classical performances of music and dance. A truly immersive experience!
If that’s not enough to satisfy your hunger, head over to Halal Street Hilal Town where you can eat to your heart’s content! You’ll be pleased to know that the street turns into a bustling food bazaar on Friday nights.
The best part of it all, EVERYTHING is HALAL! Plus, you’ll most likely bump into fellow Muslim travelers. There’s always comfort and joy in meeting other Muslims when you travel, right?
These are just a few of the Halal food options in Chiang Mai. There are plenty of other choices around the city!
#HHWT Tip: Masjid Hidayatul Baan Haw is also along the street if you need to do your prayers. The mosque is Chiang Mai’s largest and houses the city’s Islamic Centre.
2. Go off the beaten track on a train ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
If you want to experience travelling like the locals but still want a comfortable experience to go with it, the 13-hour train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai would definitely be your ideal ride. With the launch of new swanky first-class train carriages on the Bangkok-Chiang Mai route last year, travelling to Thailand’s charming northern city just got a lot fancier (and that should give you more than enough reason to pack your bags and go).
The price for a first-class sleeper train ticket starts from 1,400 baht (approx. US$45). There are various online sites to buy from but Thai Railway Ticket allows you to book tickets online fuss-free but don't forget to print your tickets before your trip as they don't allow e-tickets. Alternatively, you can buy it in person at the station’s Advanced Booking office but you might not be guaranteed a seat as the ride is immensely popular. We recommend that you get your tickets as early as 60 days before your trip! Check this out – each seat has a USB charging socket and LCD screen with your own choice of entertainment and seats can be converted into a sleeper bed. Sounds enticing?
Note: If you're getting second-class sleeper seats, do note that there is no private LCD screen, just a USB port for charging.
If the thought of spending 13 hours in a train is daunting, don’t worry because the view along the way will keep you occupied.
#HHWT Tip: Catch an overnight train to save yourself a night of accommodation! Plus, you can also opt for ladies-only train carriages.
3. Go wild at night markets!
It’s no secret that Thailand is well-known for its night markets and no trip to Chiang Mai will be complete without visiting them!
Every Sunday, throngs of locals and tourists flock to The Sunday Walking Street. The market runs through several streets in the Old City which are closed to traffic. So that makes it one long street bazaar. Jostle with the crowd and get lost amongst hundreds of stalls selling handicrafts, clothes, shoes, souvenirs…. You name it, they have it!
The bazaar is also filled with buskers (and well, interesting characters?) which makes the experience all the more unforgettable. If you prefer a less crowded and smaller-scale equivalent, head down to The Saturday Walking Street at Wualai Road – just south of the Old City.
#HHWT Tip: The walking streets typically start around 5 in the evening, so arrive early to avoid the crowd! But if the weekend walking streets are not enough to satiate your appetite for shopping, then head down to the Night Bazaar which opens EVERY night. There you can find just about anything – from handmade local trinkets to cheap t-shirts, watches and even imitations of branded goods.
4. Get an authentic Thai massage by a prison inmate
If you enjoy a good massage, why not do it for a good cause too?? Soothe those aching muscles with a massage at the prison (Yes, you read that right!) The Chiang Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Centre helps women inmates develop skills that will help them better reintegrate into society and learning the techniques of Thai massage is one of them.
Credit: @ellesui on Instagram
The inmates are all non-violent offenders and a one-hour massage costs you JUST 180 baht! And you’d be pleased to know that the centre saves a portion of the money earned for the prisoners when they are released. Note: There are no male therapists in this centre.
#HHWT Tip: This massage is hugely popular so if you are unable to book a slot, head over to the Women’s Massage Centre by Ex-Prisoners which is just a minute away. Rest assured, you’d still be contributing to the same cause!
5. Learn to cook your favourite Thai dishes at a cooking school
Always wanted to try your hand at cooking Thai food but never had the chance to? Well, Chiang Mai is the place to start! Cooking@Home Thai Culinary School offers a Halal option as hosts Vasin and Pom make the effort to ensure that Halal meat and ingredients are prepared for Muslim travellers. Do note that you might have to join other non-Muslim travellers but rest assured, the Halal and non-Halal ingredients are packed separately.
Credit: Cooking @ Home Thai Culinary School on Facebook
Your cooking class will start with shopping at a local country market where you’ll learn how to pick the freshest ingredients. Once back at the school, you’ll be whipping up favourites like Green Curry and Tom Yam Goong.
The class is conducted at the backyard of Vasin and Pom’s own home which is nestled away in a village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai. That makes the experience even more beautiful! If you’re worried about transport, fret not as the school provides transport to and from your hotel.
#HHWT Tip: Do call or email them in advance to book your slot as Halal options are only available upon request.
6. Celebrate one of Chiang Mai’s many festivals like a local
If you’re lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai during one of its festival seasons, then you’re in for a treat! Watch in awe as thousands of lighted lanterns are released into the sky for the Yee Peng festival. This Lanna (northern Thai) festival is celebrated on the full moon of the twelfth lunar month every year.
That’s in November, so mark your calendars! The Thais believe that releasing the lantern symbolises letting go all misfortunes in the previous year. As if the sight of floating lanterns isn’t spectacular enough, during Yee Peng, the city is also decked out in colourful hanging lanterns? Yee Peng is also part of the Loy Krathong celebrations and that means TWICE the fun! Loy Krathong – which means “to float a basket” – is widely celebrated in Thailand and the festivities in Chiang Mai are typically spread over three days. Join thousands of locals as they make their “krathong” (a small boat traditionally made out of a section of the banana tree trunk and leaves) and float it on the water. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss.
What’s a visit to Thailand without experiencing its biggest celebrated festival? Yes, we’re talking about Songkran – the Thai New Year! Celebrated in April, did you also know that Songkran originated from Chiang Mai?
It’s no wonder that it’s the BEST place to be for the festivities. Let loose as you join thousands of other revellers in friendly water fights – and that means you WILL get wet! But that’s probably not a bad thing as temperatures will soar well above 40 degrees in April.
7. Escape the hectic city life by heading to nature spots around Chiang Mai
If you need some respite from the hustle and bustle of city life, an abundance of nature spots around Chiang Mai awaits you! The one mountain that you MUST visit is Doi Inthanon. Also known as “The Roof of Thailand”, Doi Inthanon is the country’s highest peak at 2,565 metres. Located about a 2 hours drive from Chiang Mai city, the trip to Doi Inthanon makes for a wonderful day out?
If you’re unable to visit Doi Inthanon, fret not! Other sites nearer to the city offer views JUST as amazing too. Mon Jam is a beautiful mountaintop viewpoint about a 45-minutes drive away from Chiang Mai. While the views of the gorgeous valley beneath and endless hills are a sight to behold, the main attraction in Mon Jam is undoubtedly the flowers that are grown almost all year round, thanks to a royal project. Colourful backdrop for the 'gram, anyone?
#HHWT Tip: To visit these sites out of Chiang Mai city, you can book a driver for a day for as low as US$40 for a half-day trip.
8. Discover hundreds of Chiang Mai’s centuries-old temples
Chiang Mai is home to over 300 temples or ‘wats’ scattered around the city and its surroundings. That’s more than any other province in Thailand and you should definitely step into one for an immersive experience!
One of the most magnificent temples is Wat Chedi Luang which houses an ancient brick structure dating back to the 14th century – possibly the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai. And to complete your visit, why not chat with a monk? The temple hosts monk chats every day and it will be a perfect opportunity for a cultural exchange? Another temple that you should not miss is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Perched on the Doi Suthep mountain, it’s one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples.
Challenge yourself by climbing up 306 steps to the top of the temple. That should give you a pretty good workout to shed those calories from all the Thai food!? While you’re catching your breath from that climb, treat yourself to one of the most impressive views of Chiang Mai and enjoy the cool breeze.
#HHWT Tip: To ride up to Doi Suthep, flag a Songtheaw at the main gate of Chiang Mai university (red cars which are the most common form of transportation in the city) and set a price with the driver. It should cost you no more than 100 baht but prices may vary depending on the number of people travelling with you. Songtheaws are also a convenient and cheap way to get around the city
There you have it – 8 reasons why Chiang Mai should be next on your bucket list✌️ By the way, we’ve ONLY barely scraped the surface for you! There’s so much more that this charming city has to offer – a WHOLE list of more interesting things to do such as bathing and playing with elephants (but NOT riding them), visiting an artists’ village, chilling in its 1001 cafes, ziplining in a rainforest… It’s never-ending!