Note: This post was written in 2015. A lot of things (such as prices) have changed over time. The costs mentioned in this post is only indicative and should not be taken as is.
After a quick few days in Bangkok (to recover from my first ever jet lag), I arrived in Chiang Mai – the fourth biggest city in Thailand, and the place where I am going to spend the next few months.
I like to put it this way – if Bangkok is the financial center of Thailand, then Chiang Mai is the heart of Thailand. Like Bangkok, it is usual to see a lot of westerners in the city, but while the ones in Bangkok are the suit-clad, office going business professionals, the expats living in Chiang Mai are the flip-flop and shorts wearing, coffee sipping, digital nomads who have settled in the city for their love of it.
Chiang Mai, or CM as expats like to call it, is reasonably more cost-effective that Bangkok and has some of the best flea markets and tourist sights in and around the city limits.
I volunteer with an NGO very close to the city center. This gives me the benefit of exploring the main city on the weekends. Below is my comprehensive list of what you can do on your weekend in the city of Chiang Mai.
Stay at a hostel
Staying at a hostel is so much better when you are in Chiang Mai. There are endless options and the prices, again, are so low. I have tried quite a few hostels, but Sunny Hostel, close to Tha Pae Gate, has been my favorite. A standard AC twin room will cost you about 459THB and a bunk in the dorm will cost between 150-200THB. A detailed review of the hostel will be covered in another post, but for now, you must know that it is one of the cleanest hostels I have seen so far and is a great spot to make friends over coffee and breakfast.
Go to the Chiang Mai flea markets
Chiang Mai has some of the best flea markets in the whole country. Its popular Saturday Night market and Sunday Walking Street market are an experience that you must have, even if you don’t plan on shopping. Although, I should warn you that once you are in the market, it is absolutely impossible leaving the market without having bought something.
Everything looks so good and is so affordable. This is also the opportunity to witness some impromptu Thai cultural activities such as Thai Dancing or Thai music. There are many performers around the market who would entertain you with their performances.
The markets are also your chance to eat cheap and tasty local food, marvel at some the most famous Thai temples of Thailand, and interact with ever-smiling, friendly locals. You can taste the best Pad Thai, Mango Sticky Rice, various kinds of soup, seafood, and desserts. And, if you get tired of walking around, there are many foot massage stalls throughout the market which offer you massages starting at 80BHT for half hour.
Get a fish spa Or a thai massage
It’s a funny feeling at first, having all these tiny creatures nibbling on the dead skin of your feet. But, if you can get past the initial awkwardness (and tickle), getting a fish spa can be a relaxing activity for the weekend. You can combine the fish spa with a pedicure or a foot spa and massage.
If this isn’t your thing, you can look into one of the many massage and spa salons scattered around the city and have an hour (or three) of peace and quiet and a relaxed Thai massage. A lot of massage parlours also offer courses if you wanted to learn the art of Thai massage. But, you may want to check the traditional Thai massage courses at some of the Wats (Thai temples).
Visit the Chiang Mai Wats
Chiang Mai is home to some of the most beautiful and mesmerizing temples in the whole country (or maybe the whole world). You have to see it to believe it. I strongly recommend Wat Chedi Luang and Doi Suthep. Besides, these two are the most visited temples in the city. The architecture and craftwork on these temples are unbelievable. Make sure you wear proper clothes if you plan to visit the temples (no exposing shoulders and legs). Also, it is a good idea to visit the temples during the day to be able to witness their true beauty. It is also a good time to click as many photos as you want because no matter how many you click, it will never be enough.
Eat local food
This is a must no matter when you go to Chiang Mai. It has some of the best local food in Thailand on offer. And, you can’t leave the city without trying Pad Thai, Mango Sticky Rice and some of the best snacks (sausages, fish balls, seafood BBQs). The options are endless and they don’t put a hole through your pocket. I spent less than $2 for each of my meals in the city. And, if you want to drink while you are here, Chang and Singha, two local beers of Thailand should definitely be in your list. One costs 39THB and another around 45THB, though they cost a little more if you buy them at a club. The city is full of 7/11s and you find one outlet every few steps. You can buy your water (7THB), your beer, wine, cigarettes, and even a lot of food from one of these outlets. You can also recharge your phone, buy magazines, and other groceries if you plan to stay in the city for long.
Party like there is no tomorrow
For a peaceful alternative to the fast-paced life of Bangkok, Chiang Mai has its fair share of night clubs. There are a few that always stand out – Zoe in Yellow, Spicy, Warm Up Cafe, and My Bar. These usually attract the backpackers and expats and a lot of young locals. If you are traveling on your own and want to make friends to share a beer with, these are some of the places to be, especially Zoe.
Have you been to Chiang Mai? Would you like to share some of your tips or to-do lists for a weekend in CM? Let me know so I can check them next time. Until then..
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