I was fortunate to have had the chance to stop by Chiang Mai over the New Year’s holiday (because everything is so close together in Southeast Asia!) and thought I would count it as a continuation of a trip I took in 2012 that included stops in Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. In the same style as those previous write-ups, here I present some of the best memories in the form of superlatives.
Best local dish: Khao soi, best had at Sila-Aat
Best night bazaar: Anusarn Market – not too crowded and a huge variety of goods to haggle over
Most crowded night market: The Saturday night market on Wua Lai
Best vantage point for a sunset: Doi Suthep, on the marble lookout deck
Best temple for a nighttime meditation with monks: Wat Srisuphan
Funniest temple story: The story of Tan Pra Maha Kajjana
Most impressive gardens: Royal Park Rajapruek
Most disgusting yet environmentally responsible showcase: Elephant Poopoopaper Park – it’s exactly what you think it is!
Most surprisingly majestic animals: Elephants, raised humanely at Baanchang Elephant Park
Chiang Mai is no doubt the cultural capital of Thailand, just as Bangkok is its economic capital and Phuket is its resort capital. There are temples on almost every block and the locals are clearly very proud of their traditions and heritage. (You can see it with every interaction – for example, most people will always pass money or goods with two hands and a bow.)
The city is small enough to cross on foot, but big enough that there are still traffic jams at rush hours. The atmosphere and the attention to detail in so many public areas make you feel like the citizens really take care of the place. The only major flaw is the transportation system, where you need to basically haggle for every ride you take in a songthaew or tuk-tuk and there are no public buses or trains. Fortunately, costs are still low and you can get a ride pretty much anywhere for less than US$4.
It all makes for a great holiday, but it seems that several thousand expats felt so comfortable here that they decided to stay here long-term. It was honestly quite surprising to see so many of them hanging around restaurants and coffee shops – but after a few days, I understood the draw and why Chiang Mai ranks so highly for digital nomads. I highly recommend working remotely there!