Adventures in Chiang Mai: Trekking, Temples, Markets, and Elephant Sanctuaries
Nestled in the mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the country. It’s not only home to some of Thailand’s most famous temples, but Chiang Mai boasts a rich architectural history that’s worth exploring. The historic Old Town area is flanked by ancient walls and even a large moat. The whole city is impeccably well-preserved, and navigating the labyrinth of narrow streets will transport you back in time.
Revered temples like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang are some of the most notable attractions in Chiang Mai, but the city’s bustling night markets offer vibrant experiences for nightlife and cultural exploration. Foodies have been flocking to Chiang Mai for years, and for good reason. Thai street food is one of the most beloved cuisines in the world, and this city is the perfect venue to sample traditional northern Thai dishes like khao soi (curry noodle soup) or whatever skewers the nearest street vendor is serving up.
Your experience only begins within the confines of the city. Chiang Mai is surrounded by lush landscapes and incredible topography that are ripe for hiking and sightseeing. Elephant sanctuaries are an iconic attraction for nature enthusiasts, and there are numerous national parks with serene waterfalls and tranquil rice fields to trek through.
Whether you’re riding an elephant or perusing a night market, exploring Chiang Mai requires an adventurous spirit and light feet. Finding a place to securely store luggage is the best way to make sure you can cram everything into your Chiang Mai itinerary. Luckily, Bounce has a number of convenient luggage storage locations so you can drop the bags off while you trek through the rugged mountains or visit a tranquil temple.
Get lost In the Sunday Walking Street Market
If you’re on the hunt for souvenirs or an authentic cultural experience, make your way to the Sunday Walking Street. This massive street market stretches along the historic Ratchadamnoen Road and perfectly demonstrates the vibrancy of Thailand’s traditional art and crafts. It will take you hours to fully explore the hundreds of stalls selling local handicrafts, artwork, clothing, and souvenirs. Foodies will want to sample the delicious street food on offer. If you’re VERY adventurous, there are insects like crunchy tarantulas and crickets to bite into. Squeamish eaters can also content themselves with a delicious pad thai for dirt-cheap prices.
If you’re looking to experience a singular distillation of Thai culture in one place, visiting any market is your best bet, and the Sunday Walking Market is Chiang Mai’s must-visit destination.
Explore some of Thailand’s most famous temples
Thailand is home to some of the most architecturally stunning and spiritually significant Buddhist temples in the world. Chiang Mai, in particular, is one of the country’s best cities for visiting these special places. You could spend your entire trip visiting Chiang Mai’s temples, but there are a few highlights.
Wat Phra Singh is a revered temple housing a beautiful golden Buddha statue. It’s the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, and for good reason. Wat Chedi Luang will be slightly less crowded, and it’s known for its towering pagoda and the surrounding ancient ruins. Don’t miss Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which offers breathtaking views of surrounding landscapes from its hilltop perch.
Visit an elephant sanctuary
Some of the most iconic adventures in Thailand involve visiting an elephant sanctuary to interact with these majestic creatures. In fact, the most common depictions in video montages seem to involve international travelers riding and petting Asian elephants in a leafy environment. While this may seem overly touristy or obligatory, it’s one of the most rewarding experiences you can have in the country.
There are plenty of sanctuaries near Chiang Mai, and you should especially look into ethical facilities where it’s confirmed that the animals are treated kindly in a natural habitat. Keep in mind that these sanctuaries are located well outside the city center, so you’ll want to plan your itinerary well ahead of time.
Head to the mountains
Chiang Mai is surrounded by lush forests and mountains, which offer excellent opportunities for trekking and outdoor adventures. There are plenty of ways to explore the surrounding landscapes, but joining a guided tour is the easiest way to explore the picturesque countryside. Some guides will take you on beginner or intermediate hikes to see accessible sights like waterfalls or vantage points for the surrounding mountains. There are more involved options that include challenging multi-day hikes.
Located just outside of the city, Doi Inthanon National Park is home to Thailand’s highest peak. Outdoor enthusiasts will love navigating the park’s forests, marvelous waterfalls, and even a few remote temples. This park is home to an impressive biodiversity that includes a wide range of reptiles and snakes, and the number of exotic birds that call these mountains home is staggering. The best route for birdwatching is the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail.
Attend a Muay Thai fight
Thailand’s national sport is one of the most exciting martial arts disciplines, and their live events are absolutely invigorating. Seeing some of the most talented martial artists in the world go at it to a cheering crowd is a visceral experience, and the atmosphere of these events is entirely unique to Thailand. Chiang Mai is one of the hotbeds for this sport, with a number of stadiums promoting high-profile events. Chiangmai Boxing Stadium, Loi Kroh, and Phae Boxing Stadium are the most notable venues to look into.
Tickets are generally very affordable, with the average price of a seat being less than $20. One thing to note is that these events aren’t necessarily family-friendly, though there aren’t any age restrictions on admissions.