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.
Raming Tea House158 Amphoe Muang Chiang Mai,
This is a stunning old colonial teak tea house that’s more than a century old. Owned by the Raming family (who have been cultivating and producing teas in northern Thailand since the 1940s), it’s a bit touristy but always relaxing. We love to go in the afternoon and order a pot of the oolong with a slice of the house-made light, fluffy butter cake. It’s a decadent late-day treat.
Woo Cafe80 Charoenrat Road Wat Gate
At this sunlit space adorned with tons of flowers and intricate, patterned ornaments, you can order one of the city's best lattes and Thai-fusion dishes made with locally sourced organic ingredients. But what really stands out is the art. The upper floor is home to a gallery that hosts Abstract Expressionist paintings. If you’re looking for a souvenir to bring home, visit the home-goods store in the back of the café. You can find everything from brass candlesticks to textile stamps, all crafted by local artisans.
Ristr8to CoffeeRistr8to Coffee Shop, 15/3 Nimmanhemin Rd.
Its name comes from doppio ristretto, which is espresso's smoother, richer, less acidic cousin. That is the base of most of the coffee drinks at this artisanal café. The owner, Arnon Thitiprasert, sources some of the best single-origin beans in the world. He also does the most incredible latte art—and not just hearts, but animals, leaves, you name it—in the milk foam, which has earned him several awards. There are several outposts in Chiang Mai, but this one is our favorite because of the exciting location. We could spend an entire afternoon here.
Ping Nakara11 Soi 9 Charoenprathet Road., T. Changklan, A. Muang,
Ping Nakara is a lovely, charming hotel and spa that offers a traditional English high tea in the garden. Come around 3 p.m. and sit at one of the tables overlooking the river. Order the afternoon tea set—biscuits, fresh jam, clotted cream, hot Assam—and take in the view. It's one of the city's most relaxing self-care offerings.