Wat Chedi Luang Temple
103 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.
Doi Ang Kang National Park
Doi 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…
Wat Umong Meditation Center
Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District
Located in the foothills about forty-five minutes northwest of the city, Wat Umong is a Buddhist meditation center based on the ancient Vipassana practice—silent, self-observing mental training. Come here prepared for a deep dive into the practice, which will last a minimum of ten days. The goal of the practice is to hone the mind-body connection, clear the conscience, and assuage inner turmoil. (Much like a trip to Chiang Mai in general.) This isn't a luxury retreat, but you will be well taken care of. Guests are asked to wear only white (particularly comfortable cotton shirts and pants), bring only essential belongings (medication, toiletries, etc.), and refrain from using any smartphones or electronic devices. What you sacrifice for your stay—TV, small talk, a connection to the outer world—you'll gain in peace, perspective, and mindfulness.
The Oasis Spa
9/6 Soi 1, Wualai Road, Haiya, Muang
If you want serious relaxation, go for the Oasis Four Hands. Two massage therapists work together, intertwining their hands to cover a greater body mass, resulting in a more intense massage. It's unique and a little odd, but it feels incredible. If you want more restoration and rejuvenation, ask for a Tok Sen, a treatment native to northern Thailand. A clinician taps your energy meridian lines with a special wooden hammer to help circulate energy and release any blockages. Then they rub your muscles with balm and give you a really good stretch. You'll feel looser, lighter, energized. And if you had a stiff neck or clenched jaw, it will probably—miraculously—be gone when you leave.
163/2 Cholpratarn Rd., Suthep
The name means "the inner power of the Lanna." This is a place for anyone who is very serious about massage. In fact, it's not overstating to say that this is one of the world's most renowned massage centers (it’s trained massage therapists around the world). The treatments are extensive, reviving, and invigorating—and will leave you in a state that feels pleasantly between sleep and consciousness. Maybe that's total bliss. The luxurious, ornate dark-teakwood architecture makes a visit here even more special.
Nimmanhaemin 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.
Chang 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.
Wat Suan Dok Temple
139 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 Prathat Doi Suthep Temple
Wat 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.)
Elephant Nature Park
209/2 Sridom, Ruam Chai Alley
The moment you set foot in Thailand, you will be invited to an elephant park. The vast majority are inhumane and worth avoiding. So when you find one like the Elephant Nature Park, go all in. The park was founded by Saengduean (“Lek”) Chailert, and it is probably the best place for an elephant to live in Thailand. It’s also a safe haven for buffalo, dogs, cats, and other animals. Lek and her team rescue the elephants from circuses, tourist attractions, and other awful conditions. The animals have a place to roam and live as they would in the wild here—free and unchained. You can watch them play, pet them, and bathe with them (if you don’t mind a bath that leaves you dirty). The park also works to encourage rain forest growth by planting trees. (If you're looking to explore more farms and sanctuaries, you can make an empowered decision using this helpful resource.)
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