Highlights of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao, Thailand

Highlights of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao

Highlights of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao

Northern Thailand. I remember passing through Chiang Mai in 2002 and not really liking the city. I think that had something to do with the moody girlfriend I was travelling with. She had one of her emotional meltdowns in Chiang Mai and I just remember thinking that travelling with a woman was one of the worst things ever.

This time I was here with Lissette and we ended up loving Chiang Mai. The weather is cooler and the city much cleaner than Bangkok. It has a more provincial feel, its people friendly and unhurried. Within the old walled city there are over 300 temples. Not only is that as many temples as in Bangkok, the temples here are older and grander than the ones in Bangkok; most of Chiang Mai’s temples were built in the 13th to 15th century when it, along with Sukhothai, became the predominant religious and cultural centers in Northern Thailand. Its history predates Bangkok by approximately 500 years (Bangkok only became capital in the 18th when the city of Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese). So there’s tons of impressive history here.

We only had 24 hours on this visit to Chiang Mai. I recommend doing what we did; hire a tuk tuk driver and ask him to take you to the major temples. A few of the ‘must see’ temples below.

Below: Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai
 
Below: Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai
 
Below: Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai

Below: Wat Sri Suphan

Wat Sri Suphan, Chiang Mai

More temples to see: Wat Bupparam (500 meters east of Tha Phae Gate), Wat Suan Dok (located 1 km west of the walled city) and Wat U-Mong (2km to the west of the old city). A highlight, and the most famous temple in the area, is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, 30 min away at Mount Suthep (photo at the top of this post). The temple and the views over Chiang Mai from this spot are spectacular.

But, as I’ve mentioned, with over 300 temples in this city you’ll encounter one everywhere you look!

temples and buddhas in Chiang Mai, Thailand

 

Chiang Mai has become one of the preferred retirement spots for a lot of Westerners and it is easy to see why; life is relatively inexpensive, the climate is great, the people are friendly, and there is great infrastructure for Westerners. You can find cafés, Western restaurants, English-language libraries and markets where you can pick up clothing and food very cheaply. It’s a spot where you can live in an exotic location without giving up the comforts of Western culture.

Accommodation: We splurged and stayed at the Tamarind Village. Extraordinary. But we wouldn’t pay that kind of money for more than 1 night.

 

Update: A Month in Chiang Mai: thoughts, experiences, and some tips and recommendations

 

 

Chiang Dao

Chiang Dao is a pretty little town about and hour and a half north of Chiang Mai. A relaxing spot with mountain scenery, it has 2 main highlights: Wat Tham Pha Plong, a temple on Chiang Dao mountain, requires you to climb over 500 steps to it’s summit. The effort is worth the views. Not far away are the Chiang Dao caves, a cave complex that actually goes 14 km into the mountain (how far in you go depends on your claustrophobia and willingness to squeeze through tight spaces inhabited by hand-sized spiders). The cave also has a small temple worth seeing.

Below: Wat Tham Pha Plong and its 510 steps

temples in Chiang Dao, Thailand

Below: small temple in caves

temple in cave, Chiang Dao, Thailand

We visited the above on the first day, the 2nd day we spent the day at Elephant Nature Park.

In hindsight, I didn’t plan for Northern Thailand properly. 3 days was not enough for both Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao, especially since one full day was spent at the elephant park. I would recommend at least 2 full days in Chiang Mai with an extra day for an elephant tour (which you should book from Chiang Mai and not Chiang Dao as we did). Chiang Dao deserves 2 days on it’s own, it’s a great place to relax in mountain scenery.

Again, we’ve had so many pleasant experiences with Thais. We were walking down a country road when we ran into an elderly woman with a basket on her head. She smiled broadly and gave Lissette’s arm a little squeeze as she passed by. Why would she do that? Before coming to Thailand I had wondered what the reaction to us would be here – me a tall white guy with Lissette my little brown bundle of joy. We’ve gotten nothing but large smiles and curious, but friendly stares. One woman, thinking that maybe she and Lissette had something in common, had smiled and pointed back and forth between herself and Lissette “Muslim. Same same?” (this had happened in Ko Yao Noi). Lissette had smiled and shaken her head. People were curious and wanted to connect. I hope that never changes.

chiang dao nest, Chiang Dao, thailand. Travel tips and Highlights of a quick visit to Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao, Thailand

Above: Chiang Dao Nest, where we spent 2 nights.

 

Related: Bbqboy’s Ultimate Guide to the Best of Thailand (for adults)

 

Have you visited Chiang Mai and/or Chiang Dao? Love to hear about your experiences!

 

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Highlights of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao
Highlights of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao
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11 Comments

  1. MHS no. I stopped at Soppong. MHS is far enough away to still be nice. There will always be some gems away from the crowds due to travel logistics.

    Some other gems include:

    Khong Chiam in Ubon province.
    Sai Yok in Kanchanaburi province.
    Prachuap Khiri Khan

  2. Chiang Mai has bad traffic now. I find it to be a smaller less interesting version of Bangkok. Chiang Dao cave is nice but the town is very small. Tham Lot (Lot Cave) near Soppong past Pai is on the highlights of the north. The drive to Phayao is also very scenic and that town is far more authentic than touristy Chiang Mai.

    1. Thanks Tom. My mom was in Chiang Mai 10 years and says exactly what you are saying here: its gotten too crowded, too much pollution, and of course those horrible fires in the spring. It got too much. She’s now in Mexico.

      Good to know about Tham Lot and the drive to Phayao. Want to visit the region again in the future.

      Have you been to Mae Hong Son? Stayed there 4 days back in 2002 and thought it was a really pretty little place. Wonder how much it’s changed. A bit remote from everything but just a beautiful location…

      1. Thanks Franck for your tips!
        I recently visited northern Thailand and loved it. It’s a beautiful area but specially people are so friendly! 🙂
        I spent two weeks in Chiang Mai, it is indeed a good place to live (I stayed outside the city center, the area was quiet and had great local restaurants). I agree with you that Chiang Dao is a pretty little town that deserves two days on its own.
        As for Mae Hong Son, I really liked it. It was my first time there so I cannot compare with the past, but it seemed to me quite off the beaten path. There are a few restaurants and guesthouses around the lake, yes, but it’s a beautiful spot and there were also locals enjoying the views and street food. At night, a part from the night market next to the lake and a few restaurants everything was closed, I take it as a sign that there are not so many tourists yet. Overall I think it’s worth the visit 🙂

        1. Thanks Laia – it was a long time ago that I was in Mae Hong Son and I remember really liking it. Some great hiking in the countryside.
          Chiang Dao not on most people’s radar either but it is very peaceful compared to Chiang Mai which has gotten a lot busier (and polluted in recent years).
          You hit it on the head – Northern Thailand generally much friendlier, just because there are less tourists than in the south.
          Sounds like you had a nice trip!

  3. We’ve been to Northern Thailand, but to Chiang Rai instead of Chiang Mai. It seems every travel blogger and expat is headed there these days. Despite that, the photos of the temples do look beautiful.

    1. Very true – my mom retired 10 years ago in Chiang Mai and says it’s gotten too busy!! Very popular place (but for good reasons).

  4. Haha sorry your first visit to Chiang Mai wasn’t enjoyable, but I’m glad you and Lissette had a good time. Thanks for sharing all those great temples. Places of worship are one of my favorite things to see when I travel- I think it says so much about the culture. Thanks for sharing.

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