This perfect 4-day itinerary in Chiang Mai is a refreshing contrast to the madness that is Bangkok.
Chiang Mai is the fourth largest city in Thailand so although 4 days is not enough to fully take in Chiang Mai, it is enough to experience the beauty, splendor and culinary delights this dreamy city has to offer.
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG MAI
The easiest way is to fly in from Bangkok. The flight time is about an hour with plenty of daily flights. There are also plenty of budget airlines to choose from, but my airline of choice was Thai Airways.
Their slogan “smooth as silk” so accurately describes the sophisticated purple cabin crew uniforms complete with a fresh purple flower on the lapel. (It’s the little things that count!)
Book your international flight at Booking.com for great availability and low prices.
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Getting Around Chiang Mai
Songthaew. Literally meaning “two rows.” The most popular and cheapest mode of transportation is a converted red pick up truck that has two seating rows and is used as a taxi or bus. There’s no specific route, it just goes where the passengers want go – think of a shared Uber, but hail it from the street like a taxi.
Motorbike. The easiest mode of transportation can be rented at almost any tourist office for about 200-250 THB (roughly $7) per day. But be warned, Thailand traffic is CRAZY! Don’t forget to (1) wear your helmet AND for all us American drivers, (2) drive on the left!
Grab app. The Uber in Thailand. Download the app and you’re on the way!
Tuk tuk. An “auto rickshaw” or a three-wheeled motorcycle that’s personal service, but more expensive than a songthaew and sometimes even a taxi. You will just “negotiate” a price with the driver. It’s not the most comfortable ride and watch out for all the décor and trinkets that usually dangle around the open-aired cabin.
Private Driver. If you are traveling in a group, or even solo, a private driver for a day may be the best option. You have flexibility and usually the drivers end up becoming tour guides too! Chiang Mai Driver, Chiang Mai Driver Guide or Klook app offer great affordable services.
When To Visit Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has similar weather to other Southeast Asian countries with a dry and cool season and a warm and wet season. The dry season is November through April and the wet season is May though October, with November being peak tourist season.
DAY 1 IN CHIANG MAI
Start off by getting a feel for the city by exploring the walled in Old City on foot. Look for shops, restaurants, cafes, historic buildings, and a surplus of temples. If you do decide to visit a temple, remember there’s always a dress code.
For lunch, stop by a local favorite, Khao Soi Wulai, a contender for the best khoa soi. Be prepared to wait for a seat though! Hard to find by tourists (and I think the locals like it that way), located halfway down Wulai Road.
It’s a tiny restaurant with a simple Thai sign out front. But the khoa soi is worth all the effort and wait to get to this place.
End the day at the night markets. These night markets are a cultural experience by itself with a mix of stalls, aromas, spices and people. The famous Sunday Night Market on Ratchadamnoen Road is the busiest and largest where you will have the best chance of grabbing all your souvenirs, gifts, knick-knacks and anything else you want. Including Thai silk, tea and paper lanterns.
You can find the Kalare Night Bazaar, Anusarn Market, and Chiang Mai Night Bazaar lining the street on Chang Klan Road. And the Saturday Night Market located down Wua Lai Road is another favorite bazaar to grab souvenirs.
The markets also offer plenty of good and cheap street food so you don’t have to stop shopping to eat. It offers everything from dragonfruit and lychee to coconut pancakes and meat on skewers to grasshoppers and worms (if you want to try something new!)
And now that your gifts and souvenirs are purchased on the first day, you can feel free to explore Chiang Mai.
DAY 2 IN CHIANG MAI
Volunteer at an elephant sanctuary! We went to Elephant Nature Park and had the opportunity to spend an entire day observing, feeding, interacting and learning about these wildly wonderful creatures.
There is an entry fee, however, this amazing wildlife interaction was 100% ethical, which of course far surpasses any CRUEL AND INHUMANE short-lived experience of riding elephants or watching them play with a ball.
Do your research! There are plenty of elephant “sanctuaries” in Chiang Mai, but usually a quick look at their website, comments on TripAdvisor or a Google search will reveal the truth. You can also volunteer at most legit sanctuaries for several days that will include room and board in traditional jungle lodging and homemade Thai food.
The entry fee includes hotel pick up and drop off and lunch.
Now that you are sufficiently worn out by your remarkable day, spend the evening getting a Thai massage and Pad Thai for dinner. Or head over to Chang Phueak north gate to find the famous Cowboy Hat Lady and dine on her Khao Kha Moo pork leg stew (if you’re into pork), that even caught the attention of Anthony Bourdain.
DAY 3 IN CHIANG MAI
An effective way to learn about a culture is through its cuisine. Take a Thai cooking class. There’s no shortage of cooking schools in Chiang Mai and these classes last most, if not all day.
Learn how to make pad Thai, tom yum soup, curries and mango sticky rice (yum!) I highly recommend Thai Secret Cooking School located on its own organic farm for all your fresh ingredient needs.
End the night at the Rise Rooftop Bar on the 12th floor of the Akyra Hotel. Complete with a fancy mixologist and fancy wines to compliment the glass rooftop pool and two-for-one drinks during happy hour.
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DAY 4 IN CHIANG MAI
Take a day trip to splash around in one of Chiang Mai’s many waterfalls. About two hours away is Doi Inthanon National Park where you can take a guided nature hike at the tallest mountain peak in the country.
Then cool off at one of the many waterfalls in the area. Don’t miss the gorgeous Mae Ya Waterfall, clean and picture perfect. The waterfall cascades over several rock tiers into a shallow swimming pool
Where to Stay In Chiang Mai
Centrally located to the night markets, Old City and about 15 minutes from the airport, Le Meridien Chiang Mai is a great choice. Another hotel with a rooftop pool with beautiful views of the city.
An exceptionally hospitable hotel with state-of-the-art spa, gym and two restaurants. If you decide to spend some time getting pampered here, no one would blame you.
Book your stay at the here at the Le Meridien to have a real luxurious stay.
What To Pack For Chiang Mai
Regardless of what time of year you visit, below are some essentials:
• Sunscreen as the sun is strong
• Scarf or sarong to cover your shoulders if needed
•Comfortable walking shoes
•Maxi dresses and loose fitting pants to keep you cool
• Reusable water bottle
FINAL THOUGHTS ON CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is definitely worth returning and staying a bit longer. I could always use another day walking among the elephants, and cooking Thai dishes.
Hope you enjoy this guide and let me know in the comments below what else you enjoyed about Chiang Mai.
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