Travel 700km north of Bangkok, and you will find the popular city of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 in the mountainous area of Thailand in the old province of Lan Na during the 13th-18th centuries.
Chiang Mai, meaning “new city”, was the capital of Lan Na until 1558. The new city on the Ping River made it a significant trading route for its proximity to the Chao Phraya River.
Today, Chiang Mai draws in tourists, cultural and religious visitors, and a large ex-pat community.
When you visit Thailand, Chiang Mai is often the city recommended to visit after Bangkok. We were curious to know why and happy Chiang Mai was part of our Intrepid Tour.
Here’s how we spent two days in Chiang Mai.
Get the Overnight Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
The overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was better than we expected.
Our ticket was for a second-class overnight berth and set menu dinner on Train #9.
The compartment had two bench seats, a pull-down table, and a retractable curtain.
At 7 pm, the staff arrived to set up the table between the two seats and serve the set menu. The Thai dinner was very tasty as you are never quite sure what you are getting.
Otherwise, if you haven’t bought your snacks, a restaurant car serves packaged food.
At 8.30 pm, staff returned to make up two beds with a sheet, cotton blanket, and pillow for the upper and lower berth.
The upper berth was just a meter wide. It is held in place with two seatbelts at either end of the bunk and attached to the ceiling. Scary!
So we decided to bunk together on the lower bunk, even 1.20 meters wide. We stored our gear on the top bunk.
What to Expect on the Overnight Chiang Mai Train
At about 9.30 pm, we peeked out f the window just in time to see three ancient pagodas and the night food market at Lampang.
The train stopped along the line at different stations up until 11 pm. After that, it was sleep time with no more stops.
Some passengers mentioned the following morning the sensation of falling off the top bunk as some of the corners taken in the night were at speed.
But it was amazing for such a large carriage that no one snored or coughed during the night. Mind you; earplugs do help!
We got a 6 am wake-up call from the guard. Within the next half hour, the train returned to a seated arrangement. We arrived at Chiang Mai station at 7.15 am.
Overall not a bad experience for the second class ticket.
Just remember to wear slip-on shoes as the toilet is shared by many.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
People Place Hotel 2 – for a convenient, clean and affordable hotel, only a 2-minute walk to the famous Night Bazaar Center.
Why the 2?
Because there are two hotels with the same name, People Place Hotel 2 is a few doors from People Place 1. The same trick that caused us confusion in Bangkok.
They also offer a buffet breakfast.
Location: Chareonprathet Lane 8 Alley, Chang Khlan Sub-district, Mueang Chiang Mai District
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How we spend two days in Chiang Mai
Finding things to do in Chiang Mai will take you back in history to ancient temples. But it will also introduce you to the religious ceremonies of local families.
You can try your hand at:
- Thai cooking
- Relax with a massage
- Nighttime shopping excursion
- Visit a local hill tribe
- Feeding tigers at the zoo
- Spend time with rescued elephants
- See local temples
- Explore the local markets
Walk to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple
You’ll hire a car or a taxi to drive into the hills to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
The temple is 15 km from Chiang Mai at a height of 1,073 meters.
Visiting this ancient temple is a great way to start a day in Chiang Mai.
As you climb the 309 steps of the majestic serpents, you’ll stop for photos in both directions.
Once you reach the top, you’ll find a statue of the white elephant, said to have carried the relic to the temple grounds.
The golden shrine of the relic is breathtaking.
A walkway of smaller shrines surrounds it. And in one of the smaller temples, you can make an offering for a blessing from a local monk.
Take a Chiang Rai Thai Cooking Class
When you love Thai food, it makes sense to learn how to cook Thai.
At 4 pm, a truck tuk-tuk collected us from the hotel. Our first stop was a local wet market.
For about half an hour, our cooking teacher purchased the ingredients we would need. She explained the varieties of herbs and vegetables.
Tonight we were making:
- Green chilli paste chicken curry
- Pad Thai
- Spicy Payaya Salad (vegetable, not fruit)
- Mango Sticky rice
From the wet market, we are taken to a small village. The cooking school in the middle of the village looked impressive.
Inside we removed our shoes and donned a chef’s hat and apron. All the benches were set up with the utensils of:
- stone pestle
We were to work in pairs to prepare and cook various local dishes.
It was a fantastic evening meal to enjoy after all our effort at preparation and cooking.
The mango sticky rice is a must to try at least once, along with the Papaya salad.
The class was a lot of fun, and we also learned a thing or two about Thai cooking. And we came away with the instructor’s cooking book.
Take a Trishaw Tour of Chiang Mai
One way to see the old inner city is with a local tour.
We thought we had hired a motorbike tuk-tuk, so we were a little surprised when we saw the bicycle rickshaw. The age of the gentlemen about to haul us both around surprised us. Mind you; their legs looked 12 years old!
Inside the City Walls of Chiang Mai
Seeing the walls of ancient Chiang Mai fills you with wonder. We travelled through the Tapae Gate and learned it was renovated in the 1980s.
The two gentlemen continued to smile as we took photos of stunning temples and monuments inside the city walls.
There are many temples and shrines in this small area of the old city.
We loved the waterways as they cycled along. This mode of transport was great (for us at least) as the slower pace gave you a chance to see more.
Cycling in the old city creates less pollution and helps to keep alive this mode of transport.
Places to see are:
- Chiang Mai National Museum
- Wat Phra Singh Temple
- Three Kings Statue
- Wat Chedi Luang.
One place we enjoyed within the old city walls was Wat Chedi Luang.
Visit Wat Chedi Luang and the Emerald Buddha
Wat Chedi Luang is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai and once held the Emerald Buddha (which is Jade).
This temple was amazing because of the mosaic paintings on the ceiling.
Behind the ancient Pagoda (like Ayutthaya) was a replica of the Emerald Buddha, and then behind this, a wooden temple from the 1500s.
Watching a Buddhist Monk Initiation
What a surprise to find ourselves amongst the initiation of the boys to become Buddhist monks. The Initiates were dressed in white while their parents held their orange garments and white lotus flower.
What was unusual were the men in costumes with their prancing ponies, prancing to the beat of drums.
Shop at Chinatown Waroros market
With all the cultural stimuli for the morning, we hopped back into the rickshaw and headed to the local Chinatown Waroros market.
Apart from the large rat running behind some stalls, there is plenty of food choices to try. We picked up some now-familiar food items before returning to the hotel.
Relax with a Massage at a Thai Massage School
If you want a massage, Chiang Mai Thai Massage School has a selection of massages.
A lot different from the cheap massages on the beach.
What you’ll notice is the professionalism of the ladies and the quality of the massage.
Forget the Aggressive Ladyboy Cabaret
One suggestion when in Chiang Mai was to see a Ladyboy performance.
The performance starts around 9.30 pm with an entrance fee of 290 Baht, including a drink.
Ladyboy is an interesting phenomenon of dancing, costumes, and lights. Different performers with new costumes and dance moves.
Unfortunately, the evening was a disappointment from the aggressive serving staff.
When they delivered the free drinks to us, they demanded a tip and wouldn’t leave until they got it.
They then kept hounding us to buy more beers at inflated prices, plus the added tip. The experience put a real damper on the show due to their aggressive nature.
We wouldn’t recommend the Ladyboy show.
Two Days or One Day in Chiang Mai
Thai people ooze with friendliness when they spend time in Chiang Mai.
If you stop for one day in Chiang Mai or two days, take time to explore the old city of Chiang Mai.
Find the night bazaar market for lots of bargains and souvenirs. Look for a food stall selling Kao Soy (noodles in curry broth) and other delicious Thai cuisines.
Maybe relax with a massage.
Spending time in the mountainous province of Thailand gives you another way to see the best of Thailand.