Run for the hills: Weekend escape ideas in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s charming northern enclave

Posted on 08/11/2018 by Storyteller

While it may be the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai is worlds away from the sprawling chaos and energy of Bangkok. The mountainous northern city exudes a rural charm with picturesque streets, mesmerising temples and amazing local wares to shop, but with all the comforts and conveniences of a larger city.

It embraces modernity yet is resolutely traditional, is spotlessly clean while never sterile; is easily navigable (crossing from one side of the city to another can take 15 minutes on a good day) but laden with hidden treasures, urban and chic but flanked by jungles and mountains.

Dive into the culture of Northern Thailand, explore a world of flavours, embrace the spectacular nature nearby - no matter what you’re interested in, Chiang Mai has something for everyone.

Splash out at waterfall

While Thailand’s islands may have the beaches, the mountainous terrain surrounding Chiang Mai is loaded with spectacular waterfalls. Bring some snacks, swimmers, a towel and a blanket and head out for a dip.

Some of the best falls to explore are the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls, Huay Kaew Waterfall and Mae Sa Waterfall, with 10 levels of smaller falls that intrepid explorers can clamber up. Whilst it may take some time to get to, the waterfalls at Mae Ya are arguably the most stunning in the region, with a cascade of water from the main fall and a series of smaller falls over the following 200m.

Discover Chiang Mai’s world class cuisine


Thai food takes a different form every time it crosses a provincial border and Chiang Mai’s culinary treats are no different. This is completely different from the dishes you’ve encountered at your local Thai restaurant, or even Bangkok for that matter. The ubiquitous coconut milk in many Thai dishes is conspicuously absent from most northern Thai cuisine and the more temperate climate means there are markedly different flavour profiles to the dishes. Even the famed spiciness of Thai food is toned down.
 

One of the region’s most celebrated dishes is laab, a smokey minced meat salad, dressed with chillies, fresh herbs and roasted rice powder. Another favourite is Khao Soi - Chiang Mia’s famous noodle curry broth, made with boiled and deep fried noodles, beef or chicken, coconut curry finished with lime, chilli, mustard greens and shallots. 

Learn from the best with Thai cooking classes


Why settle with just eating the delightful flavours of Chiang Mai when you can learn how to create them yourself? Learn the secrets to selecting the freshest ingredients from local markets before being taught age-old recipes. Impress friends and family with your newfound skills as you discover the techniques behind a range of classic Northern Thai cuisine. 


There is no shortage of options, with a Google search for cooking class Chiang Mai turning up more than 1 million hits. Some of the best to get you started are Baan Organic Gardens, Organic Thai Farm Cooking and the Thai Akha Kitchen, one of the best culinary schools in Chiang Mai, located inside the ancient walls of Chiang Mai. 


Explore the Old City on a cultural tour

Get a taste of Chiang Mai’s rich history with a walking tour through the city. Unfolding across one square mile, the Old Town is gritty and rough around the edges but enchanting on the inside. As you step through the 13th century Tha Pae Gate, you’ll get a taste of what life was like in this charming city, once the capital of the Lanna empire.

Most tours will start early to allow you to witness the collection of alms by monks, a process that is believed to lead to a better life or to lessen the number of reincarnations before reaching enlightenment. From there, explore some of the 120 temples that dot the city and relax afterwards with a well earned drink. 

Take to two wheels and explore Northern Thailand’s spectacular natural landscapes

 

A trip to the north would not be complete without making the most of some of the regions famed natural beauty. Experience local life and traverse forests and rice paddies as you take to two wheels and head out of the city. 

The city caters well to bicycle travellers, with slick bike lanes leading to the Teung Tao Creek Reservoir where you can have a refreshing swim. Relax with a picnic lunch before returning to Chiang Mai along the banks of the Ping River, pedaling through rice fields and vegetable gardens, back lanes and alleyways.

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