After a hectic few days in Bangkok, we moved further north to the smaller, slightly less hectic city of Chiang Mai. When we first arrived, I instantly felt a lot more content there – it was a lot quieter and there already seemed to be so much more to do. We spent a total of about 9 days in Chiang Mai and it was the place we had some unforgettable experiences; spending a day at an elephant sanctuary, taking part in a Thai cooking class and stumbling our way through a Total Wipeout-style course!
In Chiang Mai, we stayed at the Varada Place hotel which was perfect – we had a private room and had free coffee/tea/water facilities and it only cost us about £9 a night. It was spotlessly clean and staff were friendly and helped us book many of our tours – with a good discount!
Things to do (and see!)
- Elephant Sanctuary – Bamboo Elephant Family Care
Everywhere you go in Chiang Mai, you will notice companies offering experiences with elephants – there are tons to choose from! Whatever you do though, please do your research and read reviews. Although most companies nowadays advertise ‘no riding’, there are still a few unethical places that allow visitors to ride the elephants. Please do not go to these! There are so many better options available in places where the elephants are treated well and I’ll bet you will enjoy yourself so much more.
The hotel recommended Bamboo as an ethical company offering half day and full day experiences with the elephants. We opted for the full day which included feeding the elephants, bathing and washing them and learning how to make a herbal medicine to help with their digestion. This cost us around 1400 Baht (about £35 each) and it was so worth it! I absolutely loved feeding the elephants (as you can see in the photos) and I had a permanent grin on my face for the whole day.
After the elephant experience, we also had a trek to a waterfall and some white water rafting to enjoy. The trek itself wasn’t too strenuous and took about 40 minutes to reach the waterfall, but unfortunately as there had been some recent rain, we couldn’t swim and at times we weren’t so much walking, as wading through water-logged paths.
We then went white water rafting, or should I say mud water rafting, because the water was in no way white. Sadly, this was over far too quickly for me (being the adrenaline junkie that I am) but it was a fun experience and our instructor kept us laughing the whole time. Mid-way through the rafting, a bird decided to poop on me, which gave everyone some entertainment as we were gliding along.
I can’t recommend this experience enough, do it do it do it!
2. Thai Cooking Class – Smile Organic Farm Thai Cooking Class
I have always wanted to do a cooking class and what better time to try it than in Thailand, learning to cook food that I adore eating. This company was another recommendation from Varada Place and it isn’t hard to see why. We again chose the full day experience instead of the half day, but in my opinion the half day would have been perfect for us (Half Day make 5 courses, Full Day make 7 and visit a hot spring after). We enjoyed our extra two courses, but by that time we were uncomfortably full and the extra visit to the hot spring seemed slightly pointless.
We were picked up from the hotel and first taken to a local food market, where our instructor Tabzii told us about the different ingredients used in Thai cooking. Next, we were driven to the cooking school and organic farm. The cooking school grow many of their own spices and vegetables in the organic farm, so we were taken around the grounds and again it was explained what various ingredients were and were used for.
Afterwards, the fun started. We were given a menu and asked to each decide what we would like to learn to make. I chose Pad Thai (a Thai staple), spring rolls, spicy chicken soup, Paneang curry (which we learnt to make the paste for), glass noodle salad and coconut sticky rice. Our instructor explained everything really well and made us laugh by constantly calling chilli ‘sexy’, asking us if we wanted our dishes to be more or less sexy. I liked that we were in a small group of 5 people as it made the whole experience more personal.
This cooking school was definitely a highlight of our time in North Thailand, so if you’re heading that direction and would like to master some Thai dishes and then eat until uncomfortably full, check out Smile Organic!
3. Grand Canyon Water Park Chiang Mai
The Grand Canyon is a water park around an hour away from the centre of Chiang Mai and is easy to get to by tuk-tuk, motorbike or taxi. The biggest section of the water park is an inflatable obstacle course, similar to the total wipeout course you see on TV, but you can also sunbathe, cliff jump, canoe, kayak and zip line. We spent 750 baht (about £18) on the package which included transport to/from hotel and use of all of the main activities.
We spent most of our time on the inflatable course, which was soooo much harder than it looked. I’m one of those people who watched total wipeout and said ‘I’d be great at that’, but when put to the test, I wasn’t. I was painfully bad. I spent most of my time in the water, trying to get back onto the course. We did however manage to capture some hilarious GoPro footage of us face-planting every inch of the course. Thankfully, the water park was quiet with only 2 other people running around, so there weren’t too many people to laugh at us!
Our next stop was the zip line which we really enjoyed (maybe Freddie less so, with his fear of heights). We finished our day with some kayaking where I sat and took in the amazing view and let Freddie do all of the work, as it should be.
4. Buak Haad Park
We enjoyed strolling around here when we just wanted to get out of the madness of the centre– if you want a bit of chill time too, head to Buak Haad Park. Or, if you’re that way inclined and want to do some exercise (we were not so inclined), head to the outdoor gym in the park where you can try out a selection of weird and wonderful machines.
5. Thai Massage – Chana Massage
Come to Thailand and you will not be stuck for places to get a Thai massage, with prices from just 150 Baht or about £4. We stumbled across a small place called where we had a very traditional Thai full body massage (200 Baht each) and a cup of ginger tea afterward. I didn’t think I would enjoy the Thai massage as much as I did, considering I’m not normally a fan of back cracking, but I nearly drifted off to sleep as they kneaded and pulled me into strange positions.
It was such an experience and the staff made sure we were ok the entire way through.
Eat Up, Drink Up
- Jood 3 Jood
I love dessert, I love chocolate, ice cream and I am quite happy to eat dessert instead of an actual meal 9 times out of 10. So of course I found this cute little dessert place, where a huge platter of ice cream with any amount of toppings (Oreos, cornflake, choco flakes, chocolate sauces, cream, brownies) costs just 299 Baht (about £7). Freddie and I got this behemoth dessert to share and even we couldn’t finish it, and we really like food.
2. Mamory Delicious Restaurant and Cafe
You can get a £2.50 Mojito here and that’s all I’m saying.
3. The Rich Garden House
This place is a little more expensive than other cafes in Chiang Mai, but the food is to die for and the setting is stunning. We sat beside a gorgeous waterfall drinking strawberry smoothies and stuffing our faces with the most amazing curries and for us, the price was definitely justified.
4. Saturday Market- Mojar stall
Walking through the Saturday market, we came across a stall with huge queues and had to stop and see what the fuss was about. Mojar sells mojitos (mocktails and cocktails) in a variety of flavours; original, lychee, orange, strawberry, mango and apple). I went for an orange Mojito mocktail which was exactly what I needed when walking through the crowded, hot streets of the market.
P.S. Be prepared to wait a little while for your drink to be made, as they make them to order and really put a lot of time into making sure it’s perfect.
5. Chiang Mai Breakfast World
A restaurant that specialises in breakfast, is a restaurant that I already like. This breakfast stop/beer garden offers live music, a huge menu with breakfast dishes from across the globe and a great atmosphere.
My American breakfast (Sausage, egg, toast, bacon, fruit and bread) was almost too pretty to eat and although portions were huge, I didn’t leave a thing. If breakfast is your favourite meal of the day like me, try it out.
I loved Chiang Mai- our hotel was great, we had some amazing, unforgettable experiences and met some new (and old!) friends while we were here. I could definitely see myself coming back in a few years and working my way around some more restaurants…and maybe even visiting the elephants again!