Holiday Travels – Thailand: Chiang Mai

Continuing my ramblings account of our trip to Thailand, after leaving Khao Yai National Park (see my post here, and here for the first part of our trip in Bangkok) we headed north to one of my favourite places we visited, and I think one of my favourite places ever – the city of Chiang Mai*.

I’d heard A LOT of good things about Chiang Mai before we went, but I was still blown away by how laid back, fun and just generally awesome it is. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel called Makkachiva which is pretty central, it’s beautifully decorated and very peaceful.

Makkachiva lobby.JPG

We spent our first evening exploring the array of lovely craft shops and little art galleries around Chiang Mai Old Town, enjoying a cocktail or two and eating at Dash where I couldn’t get enough of the bacon-wrapped shrimp. Dash had such a buzz about it, with live music and really delicious affordable Thai food.

The next morning started as many of our mornings did in Chiang Mai – with a fantastic brunch at Rustic and Blue farm shop. The food is incredible, and the the decor is very Instagram-worthy.

Rustic and Blue decor

Rustic and Blue avocado on toast

Activities-wise, there are beautiful temples pretty much around every corner, and we did a good job of visiting as many as we could in our few days there! The beautiful Wat Suan Dok was a feast for the eyes:

Temple - Wat Suan Dok 2

Temple - Wat Suan Dok

Temple - Wat Suan Dok 3

As was the ‘forest’ temple Wat Umong:

Temple - Wat Umong

When we fancied a break from temple-visiting, we headed to the nearby cat café Catmosphere Café  where the cats were super cute. They would often stare wistfully out of the window which did make me feel a bit sorry for them, but they had a lot of space and plenty of toys and entertainment, and the ladies who work there really look after them well.

I would highly recommend The Service 1921 restaurant for dinner, the food was amazing and not too expensive considering it’s part of the very swish Anantara Hotel. Set in a beautiful colonial house which opened in 1921 as the British Consulate of Chiang Mai, there’s a clear nod to its history with a secret service theme paying homage to the British government’s secret service.

We finished off the evening with great live music at The Riverside Bar and Restaurant, where I felt young again amongst the throng of university students.

The Riverside Bar and Restaurant.jpgOur second full day in Chiang Mai was spent admiring more beautiful temples, including Wat Pra Sing and I think my favourite temple, Wat Chedi Luang, which is steeped in history.

Temple Wat Pra Sing

Wat Chedi LuangAnother restaurant recommendation is Ginger & Kafe, in The House By Ginger, a very cosy and chintzy place with good food and wine.

Ginger & Kafe.jpgIf you’re into jazz, definitely go to the North Gate Jazz Co-Op, which is a brilliant way to finish off an evening in Chiang Mai. To me, this little jazz club with people spilling out on the streets on a warm evening really embodied the laid back atmosphere of Chiang Mai.

North Gate Jazz CafeNow I’m getting to my absolute favourite part of our whole trip to Thailand – the elephants! I did A LOT of research into ethical elephant parks (i.e. no elephant riding as it’s really bad for their backs) around Chiang Mai. The one that really stood out to me was the Elephant Nature Park, (‘ENP’) a rescue and rehabilitation centre for elephants where you pay to help the staff feed, walk and bathe these beautiful creatures who have been abused by the tourism and logging trades. It’s set in the most beautiful countryside, very lush and green and surrounded by mountains.

One of the things I admire about ENP is that they are educating independent elephant owners through their ‘Saddle Off’ programme, showing them that they can make money without causing the elephants harm in the process. We went for the ‘Pamper a Pachyderm’ package which was fairly expensive compared to other places, but by God was it worth it! Essentially it is a separate elephant camp that has decided to try out ENP’s concept, and we had the absolute pleasure of spending a full day with three adult elephants, with only 6 of us in the group, making food for them and feeding them (many times as they can eat up to 300kg of food a day!), walking with them to the mountain and back again, and bathing them in the river. It was the most magical experience, and I just felt a real connection with them as we were walking with them. Towards the end of the day we got to go white water rafting which was awesome, and finished off our visit by walking around the centre of the nature park and being introduced to their elephants. As you can see I could go on about it all day, but for now I will just put some pictures below. I couldn’t recommend ENP more highly, and I urge you to do your research on elephant parks and camps if you’re thinking of visiting one.

ENP me feeding elephant.jpg

ENP elephant walking

ENP walking with elephants

ENP elephant up close

ENP elephants playing

I would recommend spending at least four days in the city – there’s so much to see both in and around the city, and it’s best to take your time and enjoy the laid back vibe of the place. I hope you enjoyed this post and found some useful information if you’re thinking about visiting Chiang Mai.

*If you’re planning a visit to Chiang Mai, I would highly recommend buying Nancy Chandler’s Detailed Map of Chiang Mai which was so so so useful, as it has an extremely detailed and beautifully illustrated map of the city and it’s surrounds. We bought it at the airport but you can also buy it online.


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