Chiang Mai, the largest city in the north of Thailand, is known as the “Rose of the North”.
It was founded more than 700 years ago and you can still see the old city wall and the surrounding moat, although the modern city has expanded well beyond those boundaries.
Today, it is a great favourite among backpackers and tourists from mainland China in particular. We heard that this is due to a very popular Chinese TV show which was filmed there!
Getting from the airport to our hotel was ridiculously easy – there’s a taxi counter as you exit the airport, and all you have to do is tell them your hotel name and they’ll arrange for a taxi.
The city is quite walkable, if you can bear the heat and humidity. We mostly got around on songthaews (below, left), which serve as a cross between a bus and a taxi (but more fun than either!). They’re plentiful and cheap, although at times it just made more sense to walk. Many songthaew drivers don’t seem to speak much English, so Google Maps came in very handy.
Of course, if this isn’t your cup of tea, there are also conventional taxis.
First things first
We made a beeline for Rich Lanna House – our choice of digs on the first night. This is a charming boutique hotel conveniently located inside the old city. I really appreciated the complimentary coconut juice when we checked in. Just the thing we needed after a series of early morning flights, including wandering around Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok completely lost!
This cost us under SGD50 (USD37) each (including a small surcharge to add an extra bed)!
Address: 2 Soi 3 Sripoom Rd. T.Sripoom A.Muang , Chiang Mai 50200
Jok Sompet Restaurant
With our luggage sorted, we headed out in search of nourishment. I really enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and cute decor here! It was right around the corner from our hotel. The staff don’t speak English but the menu is in English, so pointing should do the trick if your Thai (like mine) is not quite up to scratch.
Isn’t this the cheekiest monkey ever?
I had Pad See-ew (essentially Thai-style fried kuay teow or flat rice noodles). I love this simple dish and eat it every chance I get!
Our meal only cost THB130 (SGD5), including Thai iced tea, in total. Just one of the many reasons I love this country.
Address: Sri Phum Road, Chiang Mai
Within the Old City
There are more than 30 temples! We didn’t spend too long in any, though.
Outside the Old City
After a pit stop at the hotel, we headed further afield to Nimmanhaemin Road, where there are many hipster cafes and shops.
One such cafe, Rustic and Blue, was highly enjoyable – not least because it was air-conditioned! Check out the delectable blends:
Bonus points for serving my Black Rose Lavender blend with rock sugar.
Address: Nimmanhaemin Road Soi 7
Opening hours: 8.30am – 9pm
Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center has a small market outside selling food, clothes and trinkets.
If you haven’t seen traditional Thai desserts before, please make sure to check them out the next time you visit. They are so pretty, I can never bear to eat them! Check out the luk chup on the far left below, shaped like mini fruits and vegetables, and the rose-shaped sweets on the right.
The highlight of dinner (at the food court) was these peeled coconuts at varying stages of deflation. Conclusion: peeling coconuts is just too much work. They’re also tricky to eat with just a plastic spoon and straw!
Coconut ice cream is much easier to eat, and simply perfect on a hot day.
After our 2-day trek in Doi Inthanon, we stayed in this lovely hotel just outside the old city. You can imagine how thrilled we were after 2 days in the jungle.
We got a Family Suite room for under SGD50 a night per person! The breakfast was especially good – they offer 3 sets of cooked food in addition to the usual continental breakfast spread, which is laid out buffet style. For example, Set A is the “American breakfast” – toast, sausage, etc., while Set B has ham and cheese sandwiches.
Address: 6/1 Charoen Muang road Soi 1, Tambon Wat Ket, Amphoe Muang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai. 50000
One of the famous food markets in Chiang Mai – we had khao soi (one of the regional specialties) here. They served just the egg noodles with gravy and a chicken drumstick, and we could add as much toppings we liked.
This only cost THB40 (about SGD1.50), but the portion size is quite small.
We arrived at 6.30pm, and most stalls were only just getting set up. Maybe come a bit later!
Phloen Ruedee Night Market
Ostensibly a “market”, this is decidedly on the upmarket side. It’s a good place to eat, have a few drinks, and chill out. There’s a wide variety of food and drinks – we had mango sticky rice (all-time favourite Thai dessert!), crepes and Thai iced tea. There was even a live band performance!
We explored the Night Bazaar for a bit but, like most Singaporeans, ended up having massages. Not one, but two in a row! We had just come back from a 2-day trek, after all…
First, we had a 30-min back and shoulder massage at Let’s Relax for THB300 (SGD12). It’s relatively expensive, but I’d been to a Bangkok branch so it felt like a safe choice.
The second was a completely impulsive decision. After we left Let’s Relax, we were strolling down the street when Chai Massage 2 caught our eye. Having nothing better to do, we decided to go for it! My friends had a foot massage while I went for a full body Thai massage – 1 hour for THB200 (SGD8).
I actually preferred Chai Massage – the masseuse was stronger and seemed more experienced, plus it was significantly cheaper.
Address: 139/1 Loi Kroh Rd. | Changklan Subdistrict, Chiang Mai 50100
Just a few shops down is Lemongrass Thai Restaurant. It’s perpetually crowded and we had to wait to get in, but the food is good! I particularly liked the phanaeng curry and pineapple rice. We had tom yum soup and eggplant too, and it came up to only THB250 (SGD10) per person, including a drink each.
On our last day, Terence and I had one final massage at Peak Spa (Sarah had left on an earlier flight). We took advantage of the Peak Paradise Package Buy One Get One Free promotion – THB3000 (SGD120) for two persons. This comprises herbal steam, hot oil massage and facial massage in 2.5 hours. You can choose the type of oil for your massage. I chose “Refreshing”, which smelled a little like Vicks.
The package also includes pick-up from our hotel and transport to the airport thereafter. Talk about ending on a high note!
Have you been to Chiang Mai? What’s your favourite thing to do there?