Where to stay & what to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Visiting a city you've never been to before is hard to plan for, especially if time is limited and you don't want to waste any precious time in Thailand. After spending over a week in Chiang Mai, here are my recommendations!

When I was deciding where to stay in Chiang Mai, it was kind of hard to decide. Old quarter covers a lot of space so I didn’t really know where the most economically friendly area to stay in was. I always like to stay within walking distance of street food and the “it spot” of where I would be spending most of my time; otherwise, I’d be taking a taxi back and forth wasting a lot of time and money.

Chiang Mai is in North Thailand, a very mountainous area of the country.

Chiang Mai is in North Thailand, a very mountainous area of the country.

After doing some research, I thought anywhere near the night bazaar would be good. I ended up booking an AirBNB “Swiss Lana Lodge” which was one mile from the night bazaar. I figured that’s fine, one mile is nothing. But, most streets in Thailand don’t really have sidewalks so it wasn’t very safe to walk considering drivers aren’t always the most cautious. We ended up paying about $3 each way for a tuk-tuk every time we went out (which added up quickly). Swiss Lana Lodge has a very friendly team on an intimate property in a residential area. It’s nice if you want quiet seclusion, but it’s not walking distance to much.

Later that week, I moved to Stamps Backpackers Hostel closer to the East gate ($9/night). I found that location to be MUCH better! Tons of $1 street food from morning to night right across the canal (2 min walk), walking distance to the Zoe pub corner (the it spot for backpackers, 5 min walk, it was LIT!), North gate Jazz co-op (popular nightly live music/open mic, 10 min walk), and still close to the night bazaar (15 min walk). Also, the hostel was one of the best I ever stayed in! The dorm rooms were separated by walls so although it was all in the same room, it felt like you had your own private room. The community area was very inviting & easy to meet people; the Stamps team helps organize daily and nightly outings to get people to go together. I absolutely loved my stay at Stamps!

Main map area of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Main map area of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Some things to do in Chiang Mai:

Lady boy show

When in Thailand, you can’t miss the beautiful lady boys perform. They are amazing! Did I mention they’re beautiful? Sometimes you can’t even tell they are (or were) a guy! We watched the Cabarnet show at the night Bazaar. $9 gets you entry and a free drink. Show starts at 9:30pm. Get there early to get a good seat with a view!

Night bazaar

This place is HUGE! Each area is a market called a different name, but they are all same same. Food, drink, souvenirs, live music, etc. The night bazaar is exactly what I came to Thailand for. FOOD FOOD FOOD!!!

Thai massage

You can’t go to Thailand without experiencing a Thai Massage. Unlike a swedish massage where you take your clothes off and get oil rubbed all over your body, you leave your clothes on and the massage lady/guy will use his or her elbows/palms/feet to apply a strong pressure against your body. They’re bend you and crack you in places you never been cracked before! You can find one for as low as $3 for 30 minutes or upwards of $6 or so for a full hour. YASSS!

My favorite $3 massage was in this market towards the back on the far left!

My favorite $3 massage was in this market towards the back on the far left!

Play with Elephants

Definitely a must! Elephants in Chiang Mai! Whatever you do, don’t ride an elephant (it hurts them!). It is important to do your research on which company you choose to support. I went with Elephant Nature Park (ENP), they are the most well-known company that rescues abused elephants and rehabilitates them to in a healthy environment. Although not the cheapest ($75 for a full-day), it’s good to support an ethical company and not a place that overworks and abuses the majestic creatures. I'll write more about my experience at ENP in another blog post coming soon.

This sweet little lady's name is Champagne!

This sweet little lady's name is Champagne!

Doi Suthep temple

Situated on a mountain top about 45 minutes outside of the city lies Doi Suthep. $2 gets you entry into a shiny gold temple with a beautiful bird’s eye view of the city. Although much smaller and less “grand” than the almighty GRAND PALACE in Bangkok, Doi Suthep still holds a special ambiance. During the day it gets pretty crowded; it's super beautiful at night when they light it up!

Besties take Thailand!

Besties take Thailand!

Cooking class $20

Believe it or not, a cooking class is rated the #1 activity to do in Chiang Mai per Tripadvisor.com. So naturally, we got our cook on. I participated in a half day session at Siam Rice Thai Cookery School for $20 (price includes all food and transportation) and got to choose four dishes from a variety of choices. I made: mango sticky rice, pad thai, masaman curry, and spicy chicken salad. Yums!

Master Chefs

Master Chefs

Grand Canyon water park

Not a must-do, but cool to experience if you have the time & money (I was here for nearly two weeks, I had some time to kill lol!). A 30-minute tuk-tuk ride outside of the city and $13 gets you into every kids (and adults) huge fantasy inflatable playground. They have that huge mountain-like thing that you can climb and jump off while you fling someone else into the air! Super fun! 

Muay Thai fight

This is one of the things that was on my list but I didn’t get a chance to do this time around. The Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium holds fights three times a week. $30 gets you standard seats to the fights!

TOTAL SUMMARY OF EIGHT DAYS IN CHIANG MAI:

Day 1: $77
$30 Bangkok to Chiang Mai flight
$8 Tuk tuk
$27 AirBNB
$2 tuk tuk
$6 lunch
$4 starbucks
$2 dinner

Day 2: $112
$27 AirBNB
$75 elephants (food and transportation included)
$3 breakfast
$2 noodles
$3 massage
$2 dinner

Day 3: $63
$27 AirBNB
$20 cooking class
$7 dinner
$4 massage
$3 Uber
$2 ladyboy

Day 4: $68
$27 AirBNB
$15 tuk tuk to temple
$2 breakfast
$2 laundry
$2 temple
$7 lunch
$8 dinner
$1 roti dessert
$4 massage

Day 5: $32
$9 hostel
$4 lunch
$1 Uber
$12 haircut
$3 dinner
$2 drinks

Day 6: $43
$9 hostel
$6 breakfast
$13 water park
$1 snack
$3 lunch
$2 dinner
$9 ladyboy

Day 7: $21
$9 hostel
$3 breakfast
$2 lunch
$0 dinner (leftovers)
$7 massage

Day 8: $18
$9 hostel
$3 late breakfast
$2 dinner
$4 beer