A perennial stop for backpackers and foodies visiting Thailand, this northern city is home to golden temples, enticing eats and scenic mountain views. Katie Lockhart shares her “1,2,3 Destination Guide” to Chiang Mai.
Where to Stay:
137 Pillars House
The former headquarters of a teak logging company, this 30-room boutique hotel is a peaceful reprieve from Old Town. Its spacious grounds feature towering banyan trees and a lap pool with a vertical green wall. The rooms include sophisticated touches like rattan headboards, antique photography and Jim Thompson custom-designed elephant fabric.
The Inside House
The only hotel in Old Town with 13 private plunge pools, it’s a boutique haven. Ornate, white Lanna-style interiors with touches of olive green, elephant statues and clawfoot tubs decorate the rooms, while a massive Bodhi tree graces the peaceful courtyard.
Where to Eat:
Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak
Arguably the most famous and delicious street food stall in the city, the woman behind this stewed pork leg with rice dish is better known as “Cowboy Hat Lady.” You’ll find her at the North Gate night market slinging her signature dish for less than $3.
The White Rabbit
Follow the white rabbit to find this second-story speakeasy. The Alice in Wonderland-themed bar creates whimsical gin cocktails in a sleek yet small space. Seats fill up fast, so be sure to book in advance.
This stately mansion was once Chiang Mai’s general store. Today, it’s a traditional Lanna restaurant with statement wallpaper as Insta-worthy as its grilled mango and pandan sticky rice. But first, try their grilled chicken and cilantro salad or Chiang Mai’s signature khao soi.
Where to Visit:
Fah Lanna Spa
Fah Lanna Spa is one of the city’s largest and most beautiful spas. Tropical flora surrounds its koi pond as guests traverse wooden walkways for a Thai massage. Each of their 25 treatment rooms is named after a destination in the former kingdom of Lanna and is decorated with area antiques and crafts.
Walk Around Nimman
While Old Town is the best area to base yourself, it’s well worth taking a walk around the expat-friendly Nimman neighborhood. Stop for an expertly crafted coffee with mountain views at Fohhide, followed by Italian food at Why Not? or Thai at Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant. Stop into Free Bird Cafe for thrift finds and vegan eats, where all proceeds go to the Thai Freedom House to aid Burmese refugees and Thai minorities.
Elephant Nature Park
Setting the gold standard for rescuing these gentle giants, visitors can feed elephants, watch them bathe in the river and pet them. There are a variety of packages to choose from and booking well in advance is strongly advised.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Built in the early 1800s, it’s one of the country’s most important and most visited Buddhist temples. Take a motorbike outside the city and up the mountain to marvel at its famous serpent-staircase, golden pagoda and the panoramic views of Chiang Mai.
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