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Chiang Mai: 3 days of culture, food and heritage

Chiang Mai: 3 days of culture, food and heritage

Chiang Mai was the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom and is, today, Thailand’s second largest city. Located in the north of the country, it is a popular destination for those looking to explore the northern part of the country or even find a home away from home. There are many reasons why people visit Chiang Mai but we think that some of the best things to do or places to see combine culture, food, heritage and nature.

If you want to visit nearby Phuket, we’ve got some great villa options for you!

Day 1 in Chiang Mai

Lunch after arrival

Lunch at Ginger and Kafe at The House, a group of wooden shops, galleries and a restaurant where you can admire Chiang Mai’s stylish and hip renaissance.

Open Mon-Sun, 11am to 11pm.

Admire nature

After lunch head to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Located at the top of a 1,600m hill, this national park above Chiang Mai offers sweeping views of the city and a refreshing break. The site is  45min from Chiang Mai and can be accessed by taxi or tuk tuk over a paved road.

There are then 300+ steps or a tram to get to the top. The original stupa was built in the 14th century and has been expanded and beautified over time with more additions in the later centuries. It is considered sacred by many Thai.

Explore Old Town

Back in town, it is time to wander the streets of the walled Old Town in search of the 35 pretty ancient temples and stupas at dusk, when they glow with the evening light. If you need a masala tea fix, you can take a break at The Tea Tree Cafe where a community feel pervades and there are artists, yoga lessons, jam nights and ohm signs.  Or you can choose to have a coffee with a heart at The Free Bird Cafe, a not for profit cafe managed by The Freedom House, an organization that aims to improve the lives of Burmese refugees.

Open Tues- Sat, 9am to 5pm

Temple Run

Visit the Wat Chedi Luang. Built over the 14th and 15th centuries, this temple is beautiful when the sun sets and the sky turns orange, giving the temple a tone that is almost magical. The structure is 82m high and has a base of 54m. Climbing up to the top is not allowed so walk around it and admire its majestic Lanna architecture.

Continue to Wat Phra Singh, a royal temple that gets its name from the Buddha statue inside. The statue is walked in the streets of Chiang Mai during Songkran.  This is the most beautiful temple in Chiang Mai and one of the best things to see in the city.Wihan Lai Kham, a small shrine inside Wat Phra Singh is the most notable part of the temple. It is a fine example of Lanna architecture and design. 

Dive into delicious street food

The first day cannot end better than with great browsing and street food at Talat Warorot, the market where locals do their shopping in Chiang Mai. Apart from day to day stuff, you can find fruit stalls selling all the great tropical fruits (we love mangosteen!) as well as Hill Tribe and Northern Thai handicrafts at cheaper prices to the weekend walking markets. There is also a flower market.

Dine in luxury…

Dinner can be had at the market. For a more glamorous dinner, head to Dhara Devi Le Grand Lanna where live Lanna music and traditional Thai cuisine from the north are served in regal environments. Did you know late Diana has her own special dining room on a heritage Lanna building by the main hotel?

Open for lunch from 1130 am to 230pm, for dinner from 6pm to 1030pm

If you want something with a bit of flare but without a trip out of town check out The gallery restaurant. Located right by the river, this heritage building was built by a Chinese family in 1892 to be used as a silk shop before becoming a restaurant. The front of the house has a gallery and shop and the owners remain from the same family.

…or eat healthily

Chiang Mai is famous for the vegetarian and vegan movement and the original restaurant to try Ayurvedic Indian and Thai vegan dishes is at The Whole Earth. Opened in 1970 this restaurant started the movement. Initially as a transcendental meditation in Chiang Mai, The Whole Earth pursues a higher meaning through the notions of eating for enlightenment

Open daily from 11am to 10pm

Even if you go for the purest of meals, make sure to catch a last drink at always-lively The riverside.

Day 2 in Chiang Mai

Elephants galore

Meet at 8,50am at the downtown office of Elephant Nature Park. Today you will spend the day learning more about elephant conservation and washing, bathing and observing elephants at one of Thailand’s best centers. The ENP organizes both full day and shorter visits, so, on a long weekend trip we recommend start with the 9am to 3,30pm visit.

If you, like us, do not condone riding elephants, a visit Elephant Nature Park will be extremely fun and fulfilling. here you will have a great time feeding and bathing them but will not get to ride them. Trust me, it is much more enjoyable and soul satisfying to play with them than to ride them. You must book ahead and pay in advance.

Chat with a monk

Back in town, an evening chatting with monks is another soul satisfying and enriching experiences. Monk Chats are available at 5pm every day and last for two hours. Book ahead and beware of schedule changes due to Buddhist festivals and celebrations.

Shop till you drop

After an interesting chat, head to the Sunday walking market. Extending over a kilometre along the Ratchadamnoen Road from 4pm to midnight this is a place to find anything from food to handicrafts, drinks and handmade items. Local craftsmen and women come to showcase their goods.

Food and drinks

The street can get crowded so, when you’ve had enough, look for Villa Duang Champa for a drink and some food in their peaceful patio and people watch. 

For a late night drink you can join expats, journalists and maybe spies at The Writer’s Club Wine Bar.

Open daily from 10am to midnight.

Day 3 in Chiang Mai

Explore uniquely Chiang Mai

For the last day you have a few options. You can take a trip out to the Muang On Caves, 30km from Chiang Mai,  visit the Wat Rong Kuhn Temple in Chiang Rai (2,5h away), or simply relax by the pool of your hotel or head to a spa.

The Muang On caves are a cave system believed to be the hiding place of local villagers when the Burmese invaded the area. The caves are well illuminated and filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

Wat Rong Kuhn Temple is not an ancient temple but one built rather recently and privately owned. Opened in 1997 and yet to be completed, it was later closed in 2014 when an earthquake damaged the structure. It is now open again to visitors although you cannot get inside.

The temple was designed and financed by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat who expects immortality from Buddha for his generosity. Entrance is free. The complex is filled with symbolism and strange statues. A fascinating trip from Chiang Mai.

Relax and unwind

Spas in Thailand are possibly as ever-present as street food and they run the gamut of quality and price. From the $4 for an hour massage by the Sunday Walking Market to the lavish Dhara Devi Spa and Wellness Center you are spoiled for choice. Here a few options.

The Dhara Devi Spa and Wellness Center occupies 3,100 square meters of glorious suites, facilities and courtyards at The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai hotel.  The spa specialises in several oriental and Western therapies, in particular, Ayurveda. Add in an EFI scan and a dosha survey and you are sure that the Ayurveda doctor, Sunita, will determine the right treatment for the rest of the day to get the balance back in your life.

If you want a more modest spa experience but do not want to pop your bottom at a street-side plastic chair Deep Spa is a good alternative. They have one outlet in Phuket and one in Chiang Mai with very decent prices and clean nice rooms. Try their 4h A piece of Haven delivered in their Spa Pool Villa for $125.

Another great alternative is the pretty as a peach Fah Lanna Spa with decks and ponds lined with bamboo. They have two outlets in convenient Old Town or night market.

You can also pamper yourself in Canggu, Bali! Here’s our full itinerary.

Places to stay in Chiang Mai


Duangtawan Hotel sits in the heart of Chiang Mai and offers all the amenities required coupled with the famous Thai hospitality. Rates start at SGD$39 per night. The Imperial Mae Ping Hotel is also another affordable option worth considering. Reservations start at SGD$42 per night.


Villa Duang Champa is a restored colonial house with a cool feel to it, a lovely bar and courtyard. Rates start at SGD$75. Location in the middle of town is perfect to explore the city on foot or tuk tuk.


Stay at the Dhara Dhevi, a delightfully designed resort built to replicate a Lanna Kingdom complete with a temple, two swimming pools and a breathtaking spa. The villas are set in traditional Thai two-storey teak homes or in a colonial building and the pools, the facilities and the horse-drawn carriage you can flag to take you back to your room is fairy-tale, what a fabulous place.

Getting to Chiang Mai

The best flights to Chiang Mai from Singapore are on Singapore Airlines, departing Saturday morning and returning on Monday evening, but they tend to be expensive. If you are flexible, then Tiger Airways is a better option but they only fly Saturdays, Tuesdays and Thursdays and their times are not great departing Singapore at noon and returning at 2,45pm but they tend to be cheaper. Your best bet on both occasions is to book early.

Another option is to fly via Bangkok, departing Friday night to Bangkok, sleeping at the airport (or in town for a quick evening out) and then flying out to Chiang Mai. Flights are usually cheaper this way as the Bangkok to Chiang Mai bit is very affordable. But on the flip side, you will have to pay for the hotel in Bangkok on Friday night, so you might still be better off flying direct.

Getting around Chiang Mai

Tuks-tuks in Chiang Mai work on a charter basis, and tend to be more expensive with drivers having a bad reputation of ripping passengers off. However, the drivers usually can speak English, offer direct routes and it is a refreshing way to ride around Chiang Mai. You can even hire a tuk-tuk for an entire day if you’re going to multiple places.

Alternatively, you can hop on Rót daang, or red trucks, which work as shared taxis and pick up passengers that are going in the same direction they are. Just ask the driver which direction they are going – it is the cheaper option with journeys starting from 20B for a short trip.

Renting motorcycles or scooters is an extremely popular way of exploring Chiang Mai and can be rented easily from agencies and guesthouses.

Other things to note in Chiang Mai

Visa and money matters

There are several countries that are exempted from visas when entering Thailand – check which ones here. Credit cards are accepted in most places, and paying in USD is not recommended. Instead, withdraw from the ATMs across Chiang Mai – there’s one at the airport itself.

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