4 days isn’t enough in Chiang Mai.
I could actually spend weeks, months, maybe even years here, eating the most delicious $1 meals, soaking in the hospitality, visiting the incredible islands and towns that surround it, and mostly, eating mango sticky rice until I get stomach aches every night.
The city is incredible, covered in gorgeous temples and badass dragon statues that I want to take home to my parent’s house, where it will live on their mantle, because I don’t own a mantle (or a house).
The only reason I came was because I had a great friend who let me stay on their couch, and it was cheaper to fly to Japan from. I’ve also always wanted to go to Thailand, and this was an easy excuse to get a taste of it. A taste wasn’t enough, though. I will be back.
Here’s what I did and highly reco you do too:
Eat the most delicious pork and rice and egg dish (Khao kha moo) from the Cowboy hat lady.
Featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Chiang Mai episode, she’s not to be missed. Found in a street market every night, this lady could cook pigs for me all day erryday. And at around 150 baht for a giant plate, (~$5) it’s certainly a steal. Don’t forget to add all of the sauces because sauces are the best. #condimentqueen Find her at the north gate in Chang Phueak (the old city of Chiang Mai). You’ll see a cluster of street food stalls that opens every day around 5 PM.
EAT ALL THE MANGO STICKY RICE! But this place has the best and cheapest:
Mango sticky rice is a delicious Thai dessert that I’ve always enjoyed, but never really knew how good it was until I got here. (Along with many other foods). I ate this every day I was here. IT’S DELICIOUS AND WORTH ALL OF THE CARBS/CALORIES. Located very close to cowboy hat lady lies the best and cheapest mango sticky rice that we found. 40 baht (about $1.35) and almost an ENTIRE mango. I still dream about it. *salivates* Find it: facing the cowboy hat lady, walk to the right and back of the food stalls. It’s the only one there, and features an entire mango.
Eat Chicken Khao Soi Gai for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
This dish was my favorite (a northern Thai specialty) and my friend found the PERFECT spot to get it. It’s also ridiculously cheap - for two people, we paid 100 baht (THREE DOLLARS) for two orders of it and two thai teas. Find the place here.
Eat at Rustic and Blue, plus all the other bougie cafes and yogurt shops.
My friend Michael is currently the mayor on Swarm here; “it’s whatever”. He was obsessed. I only got around to going once, but everything on the menu looks freakin’ amazing (and he and many others can vouch for it.) I got an acai bowl, and here are a couple of other food pics via the interwebs. It’s a little pricey compared to the other $1 meals in Thailand that you’re used to, but it’s definitely worth it. (also, you can’t get eggs benedict off a street vendor here, so DEF worth it if you’re craving healthy/American-ish food.) Plus, the internet is awesome (as it is with many cafes in Chiang Mai).
Drink all of the thai tea.
If you’ve never had thai tea, you’re missing out on a mouthgasm. It’s like a delicious city of tea is being invaded by a squad of adorable, deliciously cute sweetened condensed milk soldiers. And then they throw a party in your mouth. NOMZ.
Indulge in an all-you-can-eat-but-you-must-cook-it-yourself buffet!
Picture this: an upside-down bowl serves as a castle. It lies in a bigger vesicle that holds boiling water. This is your “stove”. Your “stove” is essentially a castle with a moat. You cook your raw food on the castle and in the moat. (Meat on the castle, veggies in the moat to boil.) You’ll be “saving” the princess (your food) from the castle with your chopsticks and mouth. Because in this twisted scenario, eating the characters is winning. Did I just get way into detail about how I pictured this when I did it? Probably. But I don’t care. Be a hero and cook/eat all of the things.
Check out Art in Paradise and get ALL the insta likes.
The museum features art that appears 3D, plus an app that you can download that creates a VR effect at certain spots. Just look at these! (Also: wear slip on shoes or sandals - many of the exhibits require you to be barefoot.) AHHHH I'M FALLING! (Jk. It's an optical illusion, silly.)
Take a tuk tuk. And say tuk tuk as often as you can, because it’s fun as hell.
Tuk tuks are an easy mode of transport in Thailand and all over Southeast Asia. Sometimes, they even have ridiculous music videos and music playing for you. Depending on where you’re going, you can get one for as cheap as 60 baht. (~$2) You just have to be stern (but friendly!) Feel the wind in your hair and smell the street food in your nose. It’s super fun (and efficient!)
Get in a stranger’s red truck. Even if he doesn’t offer you candy.
A tuk tuk is definitely an option, but if you’re looking for a real experience, get in a red truck. A red truck is a casual version of a group taxi. If you’re traveling within the central part of the city, it’s only 30 baht ($1!) and you literally climb into the back of a truck with other people (or with your group if there’s a fair amount) and the driver will take all of you to your respective destinations. Sometimes you can haggle if you’ve got a larger group (like 9) but come on...it’s a dollar! This is a must-do experience. I loved red trucks. (And it would never fly anywhere else.)
Buy Fish-flops. (And all of the things at the night market.)
Have you ever seen something so beautiful? Maybe, but that’s because these strangely resemble the Big Mouth Billy Bass Talking Fish that was so popular on infomercials and in your local Walgreens stores in the “As Seen on TV” aisle in 1999. Nothing says Thai fashion like this shit. Plus, they’re weirdly very comfortable. And for 150 baht a pair (~$1.75), HOW COULD YOU SAY NO??? (We clearly couldn’t.) Originally bought for a waterpark adventure, thinking we’d throw them out that same day, I’m proud to say that I’m still traveling with my fish flops. Because I can’t let them go. They’re too good!
As for the night market in general, there are some really awesome things that you can get for dirt cheap. Clothes, phone cases, stickers, jewelry, hats, other weird shoes, and even food, like the “all-you-can-cook-and-eat” buffet I mentioned above. Go walk around and eat and drink and play and buy. You won’t regret it.
Go temple hopping.
On an unusually hot but free day that I had (because I work at night), I took a tuk tuk (because the red truck man refused to take me...rude.) to a random temple and then just walked around for hours to different ones. Chiang Mai is home to over XXX temples, and it’s easy to be in awe of one as you head to get your daily street pad thai or koh soh gaw.
Visit the Healing House.
The Healing House is a group of four amazing people who live in Chiang Mai and essentially open their doors to complete strangers. If you’re a singer, writer, poet, or anything that can be performed, attend their open mic and spit your feelings on stage, followed by endless love and hugs. If you’re not a performer, go support your fellow man and also hear the badassery of Binkey (their emcee, normally) who performs and supports as well. There’s some really awesome stuff that comes from this place. Check out this vlogger's recap of an open mic here.
Ah, the thai massage. Who goes to Thailand without getting one? Massages are known for being great and cheap here, and on a rainy day, I couldn’t wait to give two hours to an adorable Thai lady half my height, lay on the ground, and have her twist and pop my limbs as if I was some sort of Mr. Potato Head figurine that she was rearranging. While I’m sure the experience varies from place to place, the feedback that I got from most was, “HURTS SO GOOD!” I mean. Okay. Would I do it again? Probably. It’s worth experiencing. There’s also a more “normal” massage that’s called an Oil Massage, but come on, you can get oiled up by a chick at Massage Envy in the states any day! Go for the Thai. Bonus: you’ll wake up sore, tricking yourself into thinking that you worked out the day before (when really you just gorged yourself on mango sticky rice)! It’s the thought that counts, right?
Visit the Grand Canyon (YES, in Thailand)!
The Grand Canyon is a waterpark and it’s f*cking awesome. It’s on a lake and is pretty much an episode of Thailand Ninja Warrior waiting to be filmed. There are “obstacle” courses, giant blobs to bounce your friends off of, trampolines, a giant water hamster wheel thing, and SO MUCH MORE. If it’s hot out and you’re craving some fun (and unexpected bruises the next day), get here. They also sell food, coffee, and alcoholic drinks that come in buckets. Obviously, get a bucket, put on that life vest, and dive in.
Visit Elephant Nature Park and play with rescued elephants, dogs, cats, and buffalo!
While seeing and riding elephants is a huge tourist attraction in Asia, most people don’t know how badly the animals are typically treated at many of the places. This specific park is a rescue facility and houses many elephants that were kept in captivity their whole lives (most of them from the circus). Support them, visit them, play with them, and love on ‘em!
So, there ya have it. You can fit a ton of stuff into four days. I couldn’t help but fall in love with it, and as I mentioned, I’m constantly dreaming of their street food. While I definitely plan on going back, it’s time to move on to another part of Asia...
Coming up: Just Japan Things...
Professional writer, designer, and do-it-aller. Remote Year citizen/alum. Currently living in San Francisco and probably trying to avoid the terrifying amounts of pigeons.