Tips on Seeing Thailand's Chiang Mai with Purpose

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I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews about Chiang Mai, yet, it always seemed so far away and out of reach. Fast forward to this summer when my husband and I spent some time in Hong Kong. One of the biggest perks about living in Hong Kong is that you can fly pretty much anywhere on the continent and beyond. Some tips!

Get an Early Start

This might be fairly obvious advice but I’m including it anyway. I landed in Chiang Mai Friday evening and decided to head to bed a few hours later. The next morning I booked a last-minute tour to the famous Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and nearby village. While it was fairly cloudy in the morning and thus not ideal for taking photographs, the skies cleared around 11am, which is around the time we reached the temple. That said, if you want pictures of you and only you, I’d wake up a lot earlier and get there before the crowds. On day two of my whirlwind adventure, I toured the main temples within the Walled City. It’s impossible to visit them all in a day but you’ll be able to see the most famous temples and shrines in a few hours without feeling rushed.

Weekend Guide to Chiang Mai

Choose your Temples Wisely

This leads me to my next point. Pick and choose your temples wisely because there are 300 of them and only 24 hours in a day. In the north-east corner of the walled city is Wat Chiang Man, a temple that dates back to 1296. Within the complex are two unique Buddha statues: the Cystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha. Another must-see temple is Wat Chedi Luang, which was built around 1400 and once stood 90 meters tall. My personal favorite is the Wat Chiang Man. Besides being the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, I just felt a very peaceful energy as I strolled around the complex. Although these temples are the three “big” ones to see, you’ll pass several others on the way that are equally charming. Plus, with no other tourists around, you feel like you’ve uncovered a secret.

How to Tour Chiang Mai in a Weekend

Market shop by Night

Chiang Mai markets really set the bar high. Within 48 hours on the ground, I walked through the city’s three biggest markets: Saturday Walking Street (Wua Lai Road), Sunday Walking Street (Rachadamnoen Road) and the 7-day a week Night Bazaar. I enjoyed Sunday’s market the best probably because it was the most lively and it’s set up along the busiest street. In fact, since many temples are located along Rachadamnoen Road, this is a way to tour the temples by night and do some shopping. In terms of what to buy, it all depends on what you’re in the mood for that day. Street vendors are set up the street and serve up some pretty flavorful cuisine. There are also many handmade scarves and other artisan crafts along with some leather items and hand-painted art.

Chiang Mai walking streets

Book a Mini Trip

Since I was on a time crunch, I considered hiring a taxi to take me to and from temples on the outskirts of town. Once I realized that a round-trip taxi ride would cost more than a half-day guided tour, my decision was made. I ultimately opted for a morning tour to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the Hmong Hill Tribe Village.  Built in 1383, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is home of the replica of the famous Emerald Buddha.

day trips from Chiang Mai

Schedule Alone Time

With so much running around, it’s no wonder I caved and booked a Thai massage at my hotel. One thing I’ve learned, especially for quick trips, is that you need to find some sort of balance. For me, that meant waking up early and having a mid-afternoon lunch break by the pool. When you’ve come from such a long way (and even if you haven’t) it’s easy to feel a little FOMA. It’s also easy to feel invincible, as I’ve learned first hand the past two months. Just because I travel for a living doesn’t make me immune to getting sick on airplanes or feeling plain tired from all the early morning work emails. We all deserve a little break every once in awhile and Chiang Mai is the perfect place to do it.

spa guide to Chiang Mai

My flights were comped by Flight Centre Hong Kong. I was a guest at the Rachamankha during my stay. All opinions are my own.

Megan McDonough
Megan Eileen McDonough is writer, blogger and social media specialist based in New York City. She also runs Bohemian Trails, a lifestyle blog designed for the savvy and stylish traveler. Bohemian Trails aims to feature must-see places around the world, covering everything from revamped neighborhoods and vibrant street art to innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her cultural escapades have taken her to Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Megan is also a freelance writer and social media specialist based in New York City. She contributes to various online and print publications in the travel and fashion industries and is an international correspondent for both Jetsetter and Northstar Travel Media.
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