The Chiang Mai Guide
Picture a place that makes you feel better than you have in years. Possibly ever. Maybe you were stressed or overwhelmed back home. Maybe you needed a recharge or a change of scenery. That’s all here, of course. But then you find more. You find world-class incredible spas at every turn; healthy, spicy, vibrant food at every meal; natural sites so awe-inspiring, they can only be described as epic; and a list of superlatives that never seems to end. Gradually, you become an entirely new version of yourself. A more alive, more relaxed version. This is a dream, right? It can’t be real? Of course not. Then again, if this Utopia actually exists, we have a hunch it’s called Chiang Mai.
This ancient city has wellness steeped in its history. Take Thai massage. It originated more than 2,500 years ago, developed by a confidant of the Buddha. The wavelike, rhythmic technique inspired by Ayurvedic and Chinese principles has changed the lives (and postures) of countless people in Chiang Mai and across the world. And that’s just one part of the wellness treatments here. As the Tourism Board of Thailand showed us, you can work with a meditation guru to gain mental clarity, follow the lead of a yoga master, or trust the expert hands of a massage therapist to help you release tension. Or you can simply work on being present: Sip tea on the bank of the Ping River or walk through the colorful alleyways lined with brightly painted storefronts and greenery.
Once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, the Chiang Mai of today is a vibrant, modern city that holds close to its spiritual and natural roots. The surrounding farms supply the farm-to-table restaurants. The ancient health practices inform the spas’ clinicians. And the people are as friendly, kind, and insightful as any we have ever met. Chiang Mai is a beautiful, diverse, ancient metropolis that will give you an entirely new perspective on wellness and self-care—all while embracing your body and mind.
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep TempleWat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai 50200
About thirty minutes outside the city is a golden temple atop a mountain. To get there, you'll wind along an uphill road (you can grab a taxi in Chiang Mai), passing waterfalls and thick green jungle. Once there, the glimmering gold structure will be unlike anything you've seen. It is gigantic. It glows in the sun. The majestic peaks look like they're electrified. Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is one of Thailand's most sacred temples. It dates back more than six centuries. Thai children from across the country visit the temple with their classmates and teachers, as do countless global tourists. You can walk among the pagodas, shrines, and statues. The grandeur, the size, the history—it all deserves at least a half-day excursion to take it all in. (Wear respectful attire and be sure to cover your shoulders and legs.)
Wat Suan Dok Temple139 Suthep Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Ch
First you’ll see the peaks. The sharp, jutting, gorgeous white peaks of the chedi, or monuments. And then you'll see the expanse. Several dozen white monuments surround a grand, gold, bell-shaped structure. This is Wat Suan Dok, one of Chiang Mai's most famous Buddhist temples. Built in the mid-1300s, it honors the Thai royal family. Walk along the moat to take in the sea of white buildings before you enter the main temple complex, where you'll see scenic murals and large Buddha statues. It's arresting. Be sure, as always, to wear respectful clothing that covers your shoulders, arms, and legs.
Wat Chedi Luang Temple103 Prapokkloa Rd, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, C
In the middle of Chiang Mai, just west of the Ping River, is the Old City, where you can visit a cluster of ancient temples, including Wat Chedi Luang. This gigantic, monastic temple is profoundly humbling. When you crank your head to look up the steps, it feels like the gods are watching from above. It’s even more epic when the sun goes down and the structure is dimly lit.
Night MarketChang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District
Chiang Mai experiences an intense burst of energy at night—rattling tuk tuk taxis, revving scooters, and people bargaining at the famous night market. Located a quick walk from Anantara, the market caters to everyone—aesthetes, art collectors, browsers, tourists, locals, you name it. You can find authentic silk wraps, touristy elephant art pieces, handwoven baskets, and carved wooden bowls. The vendors are friendly and open to negotiating prices. They normally accept only baht, so be sure to bring cash.
Nimmanhaemin RoadNimmanhaemin Road, Mueang Chiang Mai
Cozy, dark bars; eclectic coffee shops; artsy bazaars; energetic students walking about—it's all happening here. Nimmanhaemin Road is the epicenter of nightlife and culture in Chiang Mai. Just west of the Old City, the street is a postcard: Colorful lanterns hang above the streets that jut off into quiet alleyways, where you'll find some of the city's best coffee and tiny noodle cafés. There are dozens of art galleries and mini markets to explore. Bring some baht to buy a few smaller items. And wear comfortable shoes so you can get into it and just walk, walk, walk.
Doi Ang Kang National ParkDoi Ang Khang National Park, Mae Sun, Fang District
Within about a three-hour radius of the city are some of the most breathtaking national parks in Thailand (or, for that matter, the world). It's hard to choose a favorite. Doi Ang Kang is one of the most popular—and once you see the lush evergreen forests of the Himalayan foothills and waterfalls that look like curved crystal, you'll understand why. It's about two hours southwest of Chiang Mai—you can hire a local driver to take you—and is named after the late King Inthawichayanon, who had a love for nature. It's huge, so you'll want to dedicate a full day to exploring (and allow for travel time to and from the city). Head to the visitors’ center when you arrive, which is just past the entry point from the rural road 1009. This will tell you more about the various waterfalls, trails, and mountains to see. It's too huge to see all of it, but anything you do, whether it's the short trek along the wooden trails to the summit of Doi Inthanon (the highest peak in Thailand) or exploring the waterfalls (Suriphum is our favorite), will be memorable. There are a few restaurants at the park. Regardless, bring water and snacks.