Once called the "Northern Rose", "The City with 300 Temples" or "Northern Capital", Chiang Mai has become more than popular over the years.
The lively atmosphere and tranquility that prevails makes us forget about time, and many travelers stay there longer than expected !
We were no exception to the rule, and extended our stay (once again).
Chiang Mai reserves us surprise on surprise, creating memories that we are not ready to forget.
A bit of history :
Chiang Mai is a former capital of the kingdom of Lanna, located between the Kingdom of Ayutthaya and that of Burma. It enjoys a certain prestige for its location on a southern branch of the ancient Silk Road. However, it does not escape the various invasions that the country undergoes, so that for some years it is Burmese before being taken back in 1774 making Chiang Mai an official region of the Kingdom of Siam.
Its location gives it a strong cultural interest, where one feels foreign inspirations especially in architecture: temples with roofs with floors, representations of nâgas (head of serpent making the link between the sky and the hells).
What to see and what to do in Chiang Mai ? The inescapable :
With more than 300 temples to its credit, we can't go to Chiang Mai without visiting some of them :
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep :
Considered the most important temple in the city, it is THE must-see temple for any visit to Chiang Mai.
Once past the tourist stalls of the departure, we arrive at the foot of a long staircase framed by nagas all along. What do you mean a staircase ?
Oh yeah, we didn't tell you ? The temple is located a the top of the sacred mountain Doi Suthep, which offers an incredible view of the city. So, to get there, you have to climb the 309 steps.(The temple is worth the climb)
At the foot of the stairs, you will see little girls dressed traditionally and who will pose with you on the pictures in exchange for money. We watched the merry-go-round for a while and we saw that the parents (mothers) are just across the stairs, waiting for their children to bring the money. If the little ones don't smile or not enough, they are quickly called to order !
Again, we are witnessing a much more negative aspect of tourism.
Once at the top, we started to walk around out of curiosity, and making the sheep (we followed local people) we found ourselves inside the temple. However, the temple is not free at the base so if you follow the main entrance, you will be asked, especially if you are a tourist, to pay the entrance fee.
We were pleasantly surprised by this temple, it's already bigger than what we thought, and it offers a pleasant walk especially with the beautiful weather that we had.
According to legend...
While a white elephant was carrying a relic of Buddha (a shoulder bone), towards its next destination, the animal died mysteriously. Seeing this as a sign, a temple was built at this site.
This explains why although it is a very touristic place, there are even more Thai people, who come to pray or even pilgrimage.
The temple offers a lot to see, there are plenty of items everywhere, and once again we did not know where to head. But the most important and sacred sanctuary is the Chedi : the one in the center of the court, all gold plated, where at each corner is a Buddha.
To know :
- Correct dress. This applies to both men and women. As usual : covers legs, shoulders, avoids necklines and other outfits deemed disrespectful.
- No representation whatsoever of Buddha : tattoo, jewelry, clothing, etc.
- Don't smoke in the temple.
Read also "What to do and not to do in Thailand".
Practical information :
Opening time : From 8 am to 4.30 pm.
How much does it cost ? : 30 bahts per person.
Getting There : At 15km from the city, there are "collective taxis" that bring in, and other means more or less expensive like private shuttles. On our side, we rent a scooter!
Wat Phra Singh :
In the heart of the ancient city of Chiang Mai, the temple is sacred for the old Buddha images it houses.
Wat Lok Moli :
This temple, discovered a little randomly during a stroll, remains an important element for the city of Chiang Mai since it is a royal temple.
See the elephants :
Unlike Ayutthaya and its beaten elephants, Chiang Mai is known for having very important elephant reserves. We were not able to go, as this is mostly under reservation (full for weeks to come !) And it's a big regret. In these reserves no question of mounting them, or seeing them make circus numbers. Here you can know their history, feed them, wash them and other activities that don't harm the animal. We only heard good about the reserves and that money seemed to go for the welfare of the elephants. Always ask beforehand, but it seems a good way to discover these beautiful animals by respecting them. Moreover, the majority of these elephants have a long history of torture, and are saved to spend the rest of their lives with their.
Read also : The truth behind elephant rides
Rent a scooter and explore the surroundings :
We opted to rent a scooter for 24 hours to discover the surroundings of Chiang Mai, it allowed us to go to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and especially to go on the adventure as we like so much.
We drove without really knowing where we were going, allowing us to discover remote places (we even came across a sign on "attention tiger" !). This scooter day in Chiang Mai has created a memorable memory for us thanks to the kindness and simplicity of the people we met (we told you everything below).
We even went by night, with the freshness, the lights that pass, it was so nice. We had music on our speaker and every time we passed, people were laughing and shouting "Good music". We found ourselves in the countryside, and you remember when I told you that dogs are territorial in this country ? Well, we paid for it, we found ourselves trained by dogs in a cul-de-sac. Fortunately, Nils mastered a perfect half-turn saving our precious calves. But we looked smart rolling our legs in the air haha !
Apart from these anecdotes, renting a scooter is a very good plan if you want to stroll around, and then it gives you a certain autonomy that is particularly appreciated.
Practical information :
Price : Between 150 and 300 baht for 24h. There are plenty of rentals in the city, so you have choice. For our part, we managed to rent a scooter for 24h with insurance for 150 baht instead of 250 (it was later understood that the lady was mistaken in making the change).
Administrative : We were not asked for our permit, but in any case we had the international license in case of arrest by the police ! However, the tenant keeps the passport of at least one person.
Prévoir : Test the scooter before renting it and take pictures as proof of the condition of the vehicle. The slightest scratches are important, as some fills a little more the pockets by accusing you of having caused damage to the vehicle (and they have your passport in hostage !)
A memorable memory :
Seeing that the gasoline level is low, we asked a young man if he knows where to find a petrol station. Smiling, he asks us to follow him and brings us to a kind of school where a sporting event seems to be preparing. For a moment, we think we misunderstood, but we see another young man leaving on a scooter, smiling and an empty bottle in his hand. A little lost, we wait and we discuss with the locals. We are told that there will be an important match of sepak takraw, and we are invited to stay. It's with pleasure that we accept, especially that this sport is unknown to us ! Even if we are satisfied with this future discovery, we can't help wondering how much the essence will cost to us (still a little traumatized by the scams of Vietnam). Finally, the person returns with his bottle now filled with gasoline, and in addition 50 baht, lost, we wonder to whom we must give it and especially how much we owe for the essence. Everyone is embarrassed and refuses to give them back the money. Stunned, Nils and I look at each other and try to understand the situation : we are offered gas and in addition, we are given money ? To put it plainly : we were on the ass haha. So, we decide to spend this money in a food stand (so that it comes back to the sources in some way), but even then, the seller offers us more than half the food. And that, always with a huge smile. But what is this place ?! After a little discussion (a mixture of English and sign language), with our new friends, we will sit in the stands to watch the future game. Once again, a family of locals surprises us and share with us all that they have brought to eat. Decidedly ! We are rather embarrassed to have nothing to offer, but it would seem that we are the only ones offended by this.
This late afternoon is a mixture of discoveries and surprise, we discover this sport that resembles volleyball, but with the feet, we are completely impressed by the splits that players make as if it were the thing easier in the world, and of course, we support the blue team, the local team. It's a tight game, but the blues end up winning ! A tremendous burst of joy spread over the crowd, us included .
For a moment in the late afternoon, we were no longer tourists, whites, or strangers. We felt we were part of the country, without any barriers or judgments, and that is a memory that we will keep forever.
Read also : Top 10 things to do in Thailand
How long to stay in Chiang Mai ? :
Some people will tell you that you have quickly walked around, others fall in love with the city and completely change their planning to finish their stay here !
What we can advise you to spend at least 3 days to enjoy and discover as much as possible without being in a hurry.
As you are told above, renting a scooter for at least one day is a good way to visit the city and its surroundings !
Where to stay in Chiang Mai ? :
We fell in love with Golden Fort Guesthouse, away from the noise but very well placed, this all wooden building is simply a great place to relax ! We booked through Agoda so we had breakfast included, and it was just great. Eat outside, while the owner makes food himself and wants to make you taste all the local specialties : just great. We recommend it to you, especially if you like typical places.
Golden Fort Guesthouse
Website : Golden Fort Guesthouse
Price : For a room with two single beds, shared shower, fan and breakfast included : 10 €
Activities : Breakfast, free wifi, very good location in a nice neighborhood.
How to get to Chiang Mai ? :
Coming from Ayutthaya, we took a VIP night bus which made us arrive early in the morning (5am) to Chiang Mai.
We opted for that option, because it does transport and accommodation at the same time, so even if it's a bit more expensive than other means, we didn't want to be concerned about our stuff, or that kind of thing. Even if you are advised to still keep your most valuable belongings with you rather than in your backpack.
It's the owner of our guesthouse in Ayutthaya who booked us the trip, so find out from where you are sleeping, there is a great chance for you to also help you.
Practical information :
Duration : About 9h (Departure 9pm with arrival at 5h/5h30).
Price : Between 20 and 25 € per person for a VIP bus.
So, we hope that this article made you want to visit Chiang Mai, on our side it makes us want to go back and continue exploring.
So, want to be "dépayser" in Chiang Mai ?
The prices shown are the ones we had, you may encounter a difference (good or bad!) but at least it gives you an idea.