Slowing Down in Chiang Mai

It has been three months since I set out on this little backpacking adventure across Southeast Asia. In that time I’ve been Malaysia, where I feasted on roti and curries like I was in India; Cambodia, where I temple hopped around Angkor; and Vietnam, where I was chased down a mountain by local Hmong ladies. Not too shabby!

However, it is time for a little travel break. Yes, I have covered 15 destinations in the last 3 months and as exciting as each village, town and city has been, it has also been a little tiring to have to pack up every few days and hop on yet another 17 hour bus ride across the country. So this summer I am planting temporary roots in Northern Thailand…

My apartment view over Chiang Mai, Thailand

Hello, Chiang Mai! Now that’s not a bad view to wake up to, is it? I’ve been here for only a week, but I’ve already gotten into the groove of life in this town.

First Impressions

Is this really Thailand’s second largest city?

The thing about Chiang Mai is that it can feel both like a small town and a chaotic city. When I’m cycling down the small back lanes where mangoes fall to the ground and trees are covered in fuchsia blossoms, I feel like I’m in a sleepy undiscovered town. But then when I venture out into the city, it’s a mad web of scooters, tuk-tuks, red songthaews, cars and bicycles competing for an inch of space on the street lanes.

Friendly black cat in Chiang Mai

The mix of ruins and modern buildings.

I took the photo below a street over from my apartment and I think it sums up the city really well. A beautiful example of architecture that dates back to the 1200’s surrounded by shops and apartment buildings. While the bricks on this structure are slowly crumbling to the ground, the old wall that guards the city has seen its fair share of repairs over the years.

Temple ruins in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Wats, wats, and more wats.

A wat is a Buddhist temple which acts as a place of worship and a home for monks. One of the things that I first noticed in Chiang Mai was the hundreds of wats scattered across this city, and the monks cloaked in different shades of saffron and persimmon. They serve as a vivid reminder of just how far away from home I am.

Mango sticky rice is the shizz!

I do not like rice. I would never order a rice dish back at home (sweet or savoury), but then I came to Thailand and I had my first sticky mango rice. Whoa-ho-ho! The sweet, ripe mangoes, the thick coconut cream generously drizzled over the fruit and the rice. It’s perfection, I tell you! Mango sticky rice has become my new go-to dessert.

Mango sticky rice with coconut cream

Health foods everywhere.

I’ve recently discovered a place called Dada Kafe and I have not been able to pull myself away for longer than two days. This place specializes in healthy organic meals – fresh produce is delivered every morning – and they make one killer shake. My new go to beverage is the ‘Energy Me’ which has banana, mango, and coconut. Wow, my taste buds are alive!

I also finally found Mrs. Pa’s fruit shake stand which sets up shop by Chiang Mai gate, and her blend of mango, pineapple, and passionfruit is one that is going to keep me coming back for the length of my stay here. And then yesterday I tried the apple, carrot, orange, rambutan blend – I think for the first time in my life I’m actually getting my daily serving of fruits and vegetables!

Β * * *

Of course just because I’m planting some roots in Chiang Mai for the summer doesn’t mean the travels are coming to an end. I plan on using this is as my base for exploring different parts of Thailand, and there will likely be trips to Burma and Laos for ‘visa run’ purposes.

Have you been to Chiang Mai?
Any recommendations for what I should do/see while I’m here?

67 Comments

  • Jessica says:

    If you haven’t tried Thai Tea (Cha Nom Yen), do it! It’s the tastiest drink in the world. Also, Chiang Mai has some seriously amazing Mexican food – El Diablo’s is my favourite. We went zip-lining when we were there too, which was a super cool experience.
    Jessica recently posted..The Day It All Went WrongMy Profile

  • James Shaw says:

    I usually travel for food and I love what you have shared here. Sticky mango rice watered my mouth so heavily that I have to go to the fridge and find something to eat while I was reading your post again.lol.. I wish I could taste that dish in our area.

    • Audrey says:

      The food in Chiang Mai has been amazing! Maybe you can find a little Thai restaurant in your area? The mango sticky rice is worth trying. πŸ™‚

  • Roisin says:

    I tried black sticky rice the other day but it looks a lot nicer with mango and coconut cream πŸ™‚

    The view from your apartment is amazing, have fun in Chiang Mai πŸ™‚
    Roisin recently posted..Beautiful Henley BeachMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Ooo, that sounds interesting. I have never tried black sticky rice. Is it similar to wild rice? I highly recommend the mango sticky rice if you get a chance to try it – the coconut cream is the winning touch.

  • Vanessa says:

    I can’t believe that picture with the crumbling (rotting?) ancient temple! It looks so out of place and yet awesome!! Is this was an old wat looked like? Do the newer wats look different from the modern architecture of the city?
    p.s. That mango is killing me!! Why, Korea, oh why do you have no mangos?!?!
    Vanessa recently posted..The Most Rewarding Part of Teaching Is Also The Saddest PartMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      I still can’t get used to seeing ancient ruins around me on the way home. I’ll have to take more photos of the temples within the old city – the bright colours, glass mosaics, and gold paper leaf – they are stunning.

  • Colleen says:

    Loved Dada Kafe! There’s great yoga at The Yoga Tree if you need a stretch. Also CM is not a bad place to visit the dentist. I liked Dental4U. They put a weird little cloth over your face with a hole for your mouth during the cleaning, but I think that’s just a Thailand thing.

  • Dani says:

    You make me miss mango & sticky rice so much!! And I think you’re there right in mango season, right? πŸ™‚ My favorite thing about Chiang Mai were the Saturday and Sunday night walking market – I think we never missed one. From the photo it seems you live very close to the Saturday night walking street πŸ˜‰ Go early though (around 5.30pm), it gets really crowded. There is a great vegetarian restaurant in the back of Wat San Duok (worth a visit anyway, it’s one of the prettiest temples in CM) called PunPun – super cheap and delicious food (try the banana flower salad if you’re an adventurous eater). We also loved Salad Concept on Nimmenhaemin for DIY salads and all the coffee shops back there (great ‘coffices’!) Enjoy your summer in Chiang Mai!

    • Audrey says:

      Thanks for all the recommendations, Dani! Yup, I’m pretty close to the Saturday night market – living in expat central over here. πŸ˜‰ And it must be mango season because they are selling them everywhere for super cheap – heck, there are some abandoned lots where the mangoes are just falling to the ground!

  • Camille says:

    Chiang Mai is the one place in Thailand that I didn’t get to visit, and ever since I left I have been hearing nothing but amazing things about it! Someday I will make my way back over to continue with some more exploration and travel, but in the meantime, enjoy it for me!

    -Camille

    http://www.sparkandfizzle.com

    • Audrey says:

      I’m really enjoying Northern Thailand, but I also can’t wait to make it south to the islands for a bit of beach time. πŸ˜‰

  • Jeremy says:

    Not necessarily Chiang Mai, but you need to visit Pai. Small little hippie/rasta enclave in the mountains about 3 hr away.

    • Audrey says:

      I’ve been hearing so much about Pai. I’ll have to make it there for a little weekend trip at some point.

  • Franca says:

    Do you like Elephants and/or dogs?
    Considering you will be in Chiang Mai for a while there is an Elephant Nature Park not to far with a dog shelter where we volunteered for a month.
    You can visit for a day, or volunteer either with the elephants or dogs. Let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you the contacts.
    Franca recently posted..11 Great Volunteer-Ready Dog Shelters In ThailandMy Profile

  • My Chiang Mai trip last year was my first impulsive solo trip overseas. I only spent 4 days there, but it is a trip of many firsts! Try to visit the Chiang Mai Zoo. I heard the Pandas will be shipped back to China by October. I would love to stay longer in Chiang Mai.
    Micamyx|Senyorita recently posted..Five of the world’s most awesome waterparksMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      It’s a fun little place. I hope you get to visit again to explore a bit more of the town. πŸ™‚

  • Megan says:

    I wish I had more advice on Chiang Mai, but I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time there! The Sunday walking market was one of my favorites activities (and I usually hate markets) mostly because of the great selection of food. It’s also a great point of departure for more remote treks around the region. I’m looking forward to reading more about your time there- I can’t wait to go back someday!
    Megan recently posted..Dealing with Sickness While TravelingMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! Even though I’ve been here a full week, I still haven’t made it out to any of the markets. I’m all about street food, so I’ll definitely be checking out the one that takes place on Sunday. πŸ™‚

  • The Guy says:

    I’ve only ever been to Bangkok, not Chiang Mai.

    It looks like an interesting place and I agree that view every morning is something to see isn’t it.

    Hmm sticky mango rice does sound like a delightful dish. I love mango juice so I’m sure I’d be game for the sticky rice too.

    That is also a great picture of the really old building (like a pyramid) amongst the shops.

    I hope you enjoy your extended stay in Chiang Mai.
    The Guy recently posted..Airline Lounges In The US Are RubbishMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      I still haven’t had a chance to properly explore Bangkok (I’ve only been there in transit), but I’m looking forward to changing that later this month. πŸ˜‰

  • prasit khotchakhot says:

    My last visit to Chiang Mai was in 2009.
    We were on our study tour to visit Election Commissions of several provinces in the North. My vivid memory of the city is it’s rapid urbanization. The traffic, the highways and also the buildings. For this reason we then took a brief look at the city and left to spend our night at Lam Pang.
    But in the past, when I worked in Chiangrai, I used to visit the university precinct, Doi Inthanon , Doi Suthep , Chiangdao district, Thaton in Mae Ai district. I also visited Mae Hongson province where my friends and I experienced a long- necked Karen hilltribe’s village.
    I visited many golf courses too.

    • Audrey says:

      Wow, it sounds like you are very familiar with the area. I’m planning to visit a bit more of the surrounding towns in the coming weeks.

  • Angela says:

    I just posted some Chiang Mai snapshots! We had a great time there. Make sure to check out Penguin Ghetto and Mood Mellow. Both favorites of ours!

    • Audrey says:

      Ooo, I’ll try to check those two out. There are so many food options in this town – there aren’t enough meal times in the day to cover it all. πŸ˜‰

  • Sounds like a great plan to me! Chiang Mai is a great city. You’ll have to find yourself a swimming pool for the summer. For the life of me I can’t think of the name of the guesthouse we stayed at, but it had a pool!

    Enjoy your new temporary roots.

    Cheers
    Dariece – Goats On The Road recently posted..BBQ’s and Picnics: A Foreign Concept?My Profile

  • Alana - Paper Planes says:

    When did you guys get in?? I can’t believe you got there – and are STAYING – just when I left! Let me know if you have any questions and enjoy πŸ™‚
    Alana – Paper Planes recently posted..>> Moment of: Thai Iced Tea in a Bag >>My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      I know! I can’t believe we just missed you. I went to message you the other day and saw that you were posting photos from the airport! I’ll likely be sending you an email soon with all my expat questions including visa runs. πŸ˜‰ I hope you’re having fun in ma’ hood! Woop woop, TO!

  • Laurence says:

    It’s actually a bit of a myth that Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city. I did some research into it for an article I wrote, and other than Thailand being Bangkok’s largest by far, there’s nothing that definitively helps show which is Thailand’s second largest. Wikipedia currently assigns that honour to Nonthaburi, with Chiang Mai at fifth, although the census data in from 2010. Although… if you count all the expats it’s probably larger than Bangkok!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cities_in_Thailand
    Laurence recently posted..To Italy!My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Whoa, looks like Lonely Planet got it wrong in their guide, or maybe they include the surrounding region around Chiang Mai… The city is quite spread out.

  • ChinaMatt says:

    I really liked Chiang Mai. It’s the frontrunner for my base for fall travel/work (found an inexpensive place in the center of the city). It was really cool to take a motorbike up Doi Suthep–found a small wat down a side street that didn’t attract tourists.
    ChinaMatt recently posted..Story of a BridgeMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      It really is a cheap place to base yourself. Great apartments near the center of town and lots of street food around Chiang Mai gate. πŸ™‚

  • Cathy Sweeney says:

    Mango sticky rice? Hmmm.. wouldn’t have thought of it before, but based on your recommendation I’ll try it when/if I get to Chiang Mai. Thanks for sharing your first impressions & cool photos.

    • Audrey says:

      If you have a Thai restaurant in your area, I highly recommend trying their mango sticky rice. It may not be just like the ones here, but it’ll give you a good idea. πŸ™‚

  • Ashish from Chiang mai says:

    you have to slow down in Chiang Mai, it’s worth it. and we’re forced to. The best city I can say in Thailand, even better than Bangkok.
    Ashish from Chiang mai recently posted..Sri Mahamariamman-templet BangkokMy Profile

  • Helen says:

    Hi Audrey,

    Yes if you get chance go to Pai!

    Helen
    Helen recently posted..Photo of the Week: Elephants CrossingMy Profile

    • Audrey says:

      Thanks for the recommendation, Helen. I’m planning to visit at some point while I’m based up here. πŸ™‚

  • Turtle says:

    I’m impressed you lasted three months at the rate you were travelling and producing content. You guys are machines!!
    Turtle recently posted..Announcing an exciting new project!My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      The final month was exhausting. We needed a break after cover 7 places in Vietnam in less than 30 days, haha.

  • Maria says:

    Living large! You’ve got great food, you’ve found another feline friend and you got wats mixed in with the urban landscape… plus a great view. Why am I still sitting here?!? *big grin* Kudos Audrey!
    Maria recently posted..Wordless Wednesday – Lord Howe IslandMy Profile

  • Naomi says:

    Oh, cool! I absolutely love Chiang Mai. Such good food, such fun people, such a cool vibe…was almost convinced I’d be there for the summer too, but then I wound up in Laos! Enjoy it, and let me know if you come over here during a visa run πŸ˜‰
    Naomi recently posted..My summer plans: Employed in Luang Prabang!My Profile

    • Audrey says:

      I will definitely be in touch when I come up to Luang Prabang! I can’t believe you got a summer job in Laos! πŸ˜€

  • I love the cat and the bike shot. Oh, such a cute face.
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  • Vicki says:

    Sounds like a very well deserved break, can’t wait to hear more about Chang Mai as you get a chance to stop and explore!
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  • Jimmy Dau says:

    Check out Pai village in the mountains. Also a dish called
    Koong den with live baby shrimp.

  • Matthew K says:

    Went to a lynchee farm. It was fun. Also, went to a indoor hotspring to relax.

  • Sam says:

    Chiang Mai really does sound idyllic. Can’t wait to plant me some roots there for a while eventually!
    Sam recently posted..Tupiza to Uyuni: Highlights of Bolivia’s Southwest CircuitMy Profile

  • Stephanie - The Travel Chica says:

    I have not been, but from everything I read, I think it would be a city I’d like to put down temporary roots in.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..TOSRV Day 2 – What drove me to finishMy Profile

  • Global Nomads says:

    We lived in Chiang Mai for half an year in 2006. Most of the time we spent walking around the city, chilling and playing computer games in our small condo, and in the library where there was some English books and Internet access with a nominal fee. It was a strange city and country. We did not manage to make any local friends there. People living in the same house were mostly Western expat men with Thai girls/wives, and some of them with kids. We, as a couple of 2 westerners, were not accepted, or perhaps they thought we are too kinky πŸ™‚

    After Thailand we have experienced similar isolation only once and it happened in Cambodia where we lived in a hotel 9 months. Hotels are not good either for making friends and socialising with locals. It would be interesting to hear have you managed to make friends in Chiang Mai. Perhaps it is easier for solo travellers.
    Global Nomads recently posted..6.94 ABSOLUTELY Vital Travel TipsMy Profile

  • Hannah says:

    I moved back to the States a couple months ago after 3 years in CM. If you’re interested in expanding your culinary palette while you’re there! πŸ™‚ http://gloowhyviachiangmai.wordpress.com/2012/08/17/food-guide-to-the-average-chiang-mai-restaurant/

    Definitely hunt down some Shan food – ‘tofu un’ is my favorite!! Either at the Friday Morning market by the mosque on Changklan http://eatingasia.typepad.com/eatingasia/2009/02/a-touch-of-china-in-chiang-mai.html, at one of the little shops behind Wat Pa Pao on the northeast side of the moat, or the Shan/Chinese restaurant on Wing 41 (off of Suthep, between Nimmanheimman and Canal Road).

    Oh, and the best vegetarian restaurants are in and around Wat Suan Dok (Pun Pun is inside the temple grounds, and there are a couple Jay shops on Suthep between the Wat and Nimman. That’s where I lived, and ugh, I MISS THAT GOOD FOOD! Happy eating!!! πŸ™‚
    Hannah recently posted..Food Guide to the Average Chiang Mai RestaurantMy Profile

  • Chiang Mai Guy says:

    Just a Thai passerby.

    It’s actually a bit of a myth that Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city. I did some research into it for an article I wrote, and other than Thailand being Bangkok’s largest by far, there’s nothing that definitively helps show which is Thailand’s second largest. Wikipedia currently assigns that honour to Nonthaburi, with Chiang Mai at fifth, although the census data in from 2010. Although… if you count all the expats it’s probably larger than Bangkok! >>> Based on population, Chiang Mai is the fifth. (1. Bangkok 2. Nakorn Ratchasima (or Korat) 3. Unbonratchathani 4. Khonkhane)

    Based on area, Chiang Mai is the second (1. Nakhon Ratchasima or Korat)

    FYI. Thais also eat sticky rice with lots of ingredients as dessert ie. Durian, Thai Custard (or Saang- Khaa-Yaa), etc.

    Welcome back anytime! πŸ™‚

  • diane says:

    We’ll be staying in Chiang Mai for about 8 days in a couple of weeks. What area do you recommend staying?

    Thanks πŸ™‚

    • Audrey says:

      I would recommend somewhere in or around the walled city/moat, or another good option that’s close to lots of bars and restaurants is Nimmanhaemin. Enjoy! πŸ˜€

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