Got the t-shirt: One week in Chiang Mai
We’ve been there and done that and here’s why you should too
We believe Chiang Mai is one of the most enchanting places in Thailand, if not the world, and so does our content writer Ellena Rowlin, who spent a week lapping up the city’s charm and culture.
Temple hopping is the new island hopping
Bangkok’s Grand Palace may hog the limelight from what I read and saw, but Chiang Mai has both modern and ancient temples so beautifully designed and constructed I couldn’t escape their charm. Wat Chedi Luang (Wat means temple in Thai, so keep an eye out for that when temple hopping) was right at home in the Old City, constructed back in the 14th century, looking like something out of an historic civilisation. The only remaining temple out of the original three took the spotlight though, with the intricate stone carvings leading up the stairs to the grand entrances on each of the four sides taking my breath away. Wat Chiang Man is another stunner, with a striking ‘Elephant Chedi’ casting a shadow upon the elegant exterior of the Wihan (the religious house).
The main star of the show, however, is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the golden temple, where an image akin to royalty awaits to reward you after ascending the 309 steps. And that’s after you’ve made the nine-mile journey up the 3,445ft mountain – I recommend renting your own scooter (if you can safely drive one) so you can feel the wind in your hair and hear the chimes of the temple on your way up. Once you’re face to face with a gold new world, you’ll appreciate the climb you just made with glistening buddhas, Wihans and the iconic pagoda in the middle giving you an unforgettable walkway to the sweeping views across Chiang Mai that greet you on the other side.
With more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai - they outnumber 7/11 stores, which takes some doing in Thailand – you won’t be stuck finding one to explore. Other memorable ones are the silver temple (Wat Sri Suphan) and Wat Chedi Liam. But honestly, I could’ve spent days pounding the pavements of the city coming across both grand and intimate temples, standing proud in the middle of a motorbike-rammed street, or hidden down a backstreet alley.
WINGED BOOTS WISDOM
Remember to always dress respectfully when visiting temples or sacred sites – women must cover their knees and shoulders, and men should avoid vests or swimming shorts. If you forget you can usually buy or rent some sort of cover up at many of the temples, and you may have to remove your shoes in certain ones.
Wake me up before you go-go… on a tuk-tuk
Thai your hand at cooking
On the menu for our full-day experience – half day classes are also available – was spring rolls, pad Thai, chicken coconut soup (Tom Kna Gai), green Thai curry, deep-fried banana and mango sticky rice with homemade coconut milk. All the courses had a few different options, so everyone’s tastes were acquired for, including my nut-allergic boyfriend, which is not easy in Asia! The way that I’ll always remember it, though, was escaping the erratic streets of the city to this serenity of home-cooking and genuine hospitality, where I learnt tricks of the Thai trade that will stick with me forever. Chiang Mai seems to be quite the hotspot to learn the art of the country’s cuisine, and while we went to ‘Thai Cooking School’, many others are on offer. Most are vegetarian and vegan friendly, as Thai recipes tend to only use coconut milk, spices and vegetables anyway!
Elephants never forget… and you won’t either
My personal recommendation would be Elephant Nature Park, who are recognised across the country as being a completely legitimate sanctuary, all started by one woman with a plight to save the elephants she saw so mentally and physically hurt. My day was filled with wonder and awe from the moment we got in the early morning transfer, weaving us through climbing mountains and squeezing us round the tightest corners known to man, against a backdrop of deep jungle. After two hours of travelling we arrived at a stunning, secluded elephant haven in the valley surrounded by absolute peace. First, we were treated to feeding time with three majestic elephants, where we threw bananas in their mouths and shook hands with their trunks. We then trekked up into the forest with them, still feeding of course, and learnt some more about how the tribe is being re-educated by the charity on how to treat these loving animals. After a delicious Thai spread for lunch, we got the chance to bathe with the elephants- one of the most treasured memories of my life. Lathering mud and pouring buckets of murky water all over them, I was sure I saw a glisten in their eyes longing for more. This level of intimacy was a once in a lifetime experience, and the feeling of knowing we were helping to fund amazing work made it all the more unforgettable.
Easy as Pai
Lathering mud and pouring buckets of murky water all over them, I was sure I saw a glisten in their eyes longing for more.
How do I book?
If you fancy yourself marvelling at the wonders of this northern Thai gem then give one of our personal travel managers a call on 0203 816 0985 or enquire here to start designing your bespoke trip to the land of exquisite food, inspiring architecture and breath-taking landscapes.
Ellena Rowlin is a Content Writer