Heading to Bangkok? Blush writer Josie makes the case for Chiang Mai.
After the oppressive heat and frenzied pace of Bangkok, a trip north to Chiang Mai is like a salve for the soul. A city hidden behind 13th century walls and moats, Chiang Mai is a lush oasis of calm. One can imagine Candice Swanepoel and Behati Prinsloo relishing in its nature-goddess vibe by happily instagramming all over town.
Dotted with temples, brushed generously with gold leaf and strewn with colourful lanterns; prepare yourself for a dreamy escape from the relentless party spirit of Thailand, all while taking in some of the best views and experiences the country has to offer.
The easiest and most authentic way to get to Chiang Mai is by train. Take the overnight sleeper from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station and be prepared for a long and beautiful journey. Wrap up warm (it will seem counter-intuitive, but the train is chilly at night) and take advantage of the station amenities while you can. Stock up on Dunkin doughnuts, bottled coffees and ready noodles for the train crew to fill with hot water at dinner time, or pick up a plate of Pad Thai and fruit juice at one of the nearby restaurants.
Where to stay:
You’ll find a whole host of amazing accommodation options. At one end of the spectrum: charming B&Bs like Finlay’s cottage where you’ll share a semi-outdoor bathroom, have dragon fruit and scrambled eggs with your morning coffee, and wake to the sound of wind chimes and tropical birds in the garden’s banana trees. At the other end, lavish hotels like the spectacular Dhara Dhevi cater to more sophisticated tastes.
Like sleeping inside a palace, this hotel offers pure luxury in the form of glossy carved wood walls, draped four poster beds, French chef serving afternoon tea and jewel toned swimming pool banked with temple steps and hanging greenery.
Finlay’s Cottage, 4/1 Soi 4/A Thae Phae Road, Chiang Mai 50100
The Dhara Dhevi, 51/4 Moo 1, Chiang Mai – Sankampaeng Road | Tha Sala, Chiang Mai 50000, Thailand
Where to visit:
An encounter with exotic wildlife is a must. Avoid places that let you stroke tigers or ride elephants wearing seats, and instead visit animal sanctuaries and the excellent city zoo.
Woody’s Elephant Rescue will pick you up from your hotel and whisk you off into the mountains, supplying you with cotton uniforms and inking you up with your Thai name. You’ll have an hour long talk on elephant care and rescue before being lead down to meet, feed, ride and wash them.
Plump for the elephant day package that includes afternoon white-water rafting or waterfall swim and a walk through the Akha tribe village for beautiful beaded jewellery and embroidered cloth.
Woody’s, 59/3, M.1 T.cuodchang A.Mae Tang, Chiang Mai 50150
Chiang Mai Zoo, 100 Huaykaew Rd, 50200, Thailand
No trip to Chiang Mai would be possible without a few magical temple visits. Head to Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh at the centre of the city for crumbling ancient architecture and rooms boasting copper Buddhas, murals and fragrant clouds of incense.
Poised on Doi Suthep, a mountain to the west of the city, is another must see Wat, or temple. Revered for its white elephant legend and truly humbling views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas, Wat Doi Suthep is ideal for sunset photoshoots.
Take a tuk tuk to the temple base and climb 309 steps up to the glorious pagodas.
Wat Chedi Luang, 103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Road Srivijaya Suthep Mueang, Chiang Mai
Where to eat:
Short answer: anywhere! As in most Thai cities, everywhere you go in Chiang Mai the food will be exceptional. As soon as you step off the train, you’ll be hit with the delicious scent of barbeque, lemongrass and sticky, sweet rice. People are constantly eating, so get stuck in straight away. From 30p street food skewers to freshly blended watermelon juice and tangles of peanutty noodles served in banana leaves, you’ll be spoiled for choice.
Thai cookery courses are popular among tourists and offer guided tours of the local food markets (try mangosteen fruit!) and step by step guidance through making your own classic meal of Tom Yum soup, Thai curry and crispy spring rolls.
If you’re less interested in DIY meals, head to Paak Dang for riverside romance. Here, exceptional curried soft shell crab meets whole poached fish and crispy prawns in an intimate, outdoor setting.
Tanita Coffee House is ideal for lazy brunches and afternoon snacks. Set in a traditional Thai house, this place is all about atmosphere. Pop in for iced coffees, smoothies, healthy spring rolls and mango rice served with pink orchids aplenty.
Paak Dang restaurant 46/1, Wang Sing Kham Road
Tanita Coffee House 152 Charoenrat Road, Wat Kate, Chiang Mai 50000
Let your hair down:
After a relaxing massage or body scrub at one of the city’s numerous parlours, head to Chiang Mai’s hip Nimmanhaemin Road for chilled out bars, cocktail vendors and stylish art houses. Don’t expect anything like Bangkok’s wild nightlife, but for a party vibe, check out Monkey Club on Soi 9 or Warm up opposite Soi 17 for live music, dancing and trendy city types.
Where to Shop:
Chiang Mai is famous for its 1km long Night Bazaar and Sunday Walking Street. Overwhelmingly huge and dazzling with colour and variety, these markets are a shopper’s paradise. The Night Bazaar is open every night, come rain or shine, and offers the chance to practice your bartering skills before braving the less chilled out stores in Bangkok and the islands. Look out for handmade gifts, richly dyed bags, cushion covers and ornate jewellery to remind you of the city long after you return home.
What to pack:
Maxi skirts, shawls and slip on shoes are vital for temple visits, but don’t be afraid to play with colour, texture and maximalism: this place is the home of boho-chic. Try Topshop’s imperial bloom jumpsuit and Smythson’s currency case, with a touch of gold from detailed sandals or Accessorize’s stacked anklets.
As I learnt from a local on my visit, the best way to keep insects at bay is with liberal use of lemongrass. Try Meraki’s lemongrass soap with your morning shower, then gloss skin with Alfresco Anti-Bug-Bite Moisturiser, a gorgeous formula trusted by global travellers like Penelope Cruz and Jude Law.