Chiang Mai, Thailand – also referred to the “Rose of the North” embodies delicate beauty with endless mountains, colorful hill tribes, a playground for seasoned travelers, a paradise for shopaholics and a delicious delight for adventure seekers. Part two of our trip was underway and I couldn’t wait to hit the ground running. Two things were absolutely for certain in our itinerary: visit the Elephant Nature Park and enroll in the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School.
After two full days in Bangkok, we were ready for a change of scenery of semi relaxation filled with non-stop eating, drinking and exploration. In comparison to the bustling streets of Bangkok, Chiang Mai has a tranquil, mystical and welcoming energy that instantaneously makes you feel at home. We had three full days to explore this ancient city surrounded by history that dates back to the 1200’s. Pretty rad!
Chiang Mai, Day 1 Itinerary:
Agenda: Explore the surrounding ancient temples, get a Thai massage and find the best Thai food
11am - Flight arrives to Chiang Mai - the adventure begins!
11:45am - 4:00pm - Check into hotel & hire taxi driver to explore the temples
Hotel: We stayed at the Jangmuang Boutique House selected for it’s traditional “Lanna Style” architecture located in the Old City and situated in walking distance to Nimmanhaemin Road – the epicenter of artsy and hipster Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is overflowing with ancient Buddhist Temples (Wats), and within the city and its outskirts, there are over 300 temples that reflect the glory of the ancient Lanna kingdom. Considering our limited time, we selected to explore: Wat Chedi Luang (built around the 1400’s), Wat Phra Singh (best example of Lanna Style architecture and culture) and the Wat Suan Dok (home to the brilliant gold and white Chedis and campus of the Buddhist Monk University). Each Wat showcases intricate carvings, stunning gold Buddhas, painted murals and a colorful display of monks assembled for prayer. I couldn’t get enough!
4:00pm - 5:00pm - Take a power break and cool off at your hotel/hostel or neighborhood watering hole for some Chang beer + Thai snacks.
5:15 - 6:30pm - Book a traditional Thai Massage. There are literally hundreds of Thai massage parlors scattered throughout the city walls. Depending on your comfort level, you can choose an air-conditioned parlor or enjoy an outdoor massage on the streets painted with people, bars, restaurants and shops. The most attractive part is the cost. Dirt-cheap friends! A 60-minute massage costs less than $10 US. I highly recommend entertaining a daily massage (we did!).
7:00pm - 9:00pm - Indulge in some delicious Thai grub. Chiang Mai is known for its culinary arts and for all you serious foodies out there you will be in absolute heaven! Through various recommendations, we decided to try Lemongrass Restaurant located off the famous Night Bazaar. It was a hit! We feasted on tasty charred octopus skewers, Pad See Ew noodles and yellow curry with chicken. Amazing first dinner in Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai, Day 2 Itinerary: Agenda: Visit the Elephant Nature Park, find the best Thai food and walk through the Night Bazaar
7:30am - 8:00am - Enjoy a Thai breakfast (hot chicken broth + noodles + fruit + coffee) and wait to get picked up at your hotel/hostel to drive to the Elephant Nature Park.
9:00am - 11:45pm - Arrive to Elephant Nature Park. Dedicate the first part of the morning feeding the rescue elephants. Incredible experience!
Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center located in the outskirts of Chiang Mai where you can volunteer and visit to help the gentle giants. Before traveling to Asia, I always wanted to ride an elephant not knowing that elephants were being mistreated, beaten, starved and abused. This rehabilitation center rescues elephants that once belonged to circuses, logging camps and other entertainment based companies. There is absolutely NO RIDING of elephants. Period.
12:00pm – 1:30pm – Lunch fit for kings and queens! Enjoy a delicious and healthy Thai buffet including all the classic curries, noodles, soups and sautéed veggies (lunch is incorporated in the cost of the tour).
1:45pm – 5:00pm – Take a long walk throughout the preserve following the gentle giants in their natural habitat. You’ll have a chance to encounter a variety of other animals including buffalos, dogs and cats that were rescued due to similar misfortunes. My favorite part of the day included hiking to the river and giving them a bath! What a privilege it was to feed, walk and help bathe these beauties in a safe and healthy environment. What a dream come true!
7:00pm – 9:30pm – Dinnertime at Cooking Love Restaurant. We discovered Trip Advisor to be an excellent source of information when narrowing down a selection of restaurants for dinner. We were famished and Cooking Love stole the show with its signature and exotic mango infused curries and pineapple-fried rice. What a feast for the eyes and stomach!
10pm - 12am – Explore the Night Bazaar. This fashionista, artisan jewelry and fabric lover couldn’t get enough. It's the best market to buy beautiful Thai clothes, rugs, colorful jewelry, bags, spices and much more! I did the majority of my souvenir and personal shopping here. It stretches until the eye can see and also proved to be an excellent location to people watch.
Chiang Mai, Day 3 Itinerary: Agenda: Attend the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School and check out a Lady Boy Cabaret Show
7:30am – rise and shine, it’s cooking class time!
8:00am - 9:00am – Enjoy a Thai breakfast and get picked up at your hotel/hostel to drive to the Chiang Mai Thai Farm Cooking School.
For those that know me well, they understand my love affair with Thai cuisine and exotic flavor combinations. My enthusiasm to learn classic Thai dishes had been on my bucket list for years and having the opportunity to learn in Thailand was thrilling.
10:00am – 4:00pm – Class in session. In an intimate 10-person class, we started the day by taking a tour of the organic garden where the school grew all of its herbs, limes and certain produce utlilized in most dishes. Our teacher’s name was “Yummy” and it couldn’t be more perfect. Our demonstration kitchen was located al fresco with a cooking station dedicated to each student.
From start to finish we learned the key basics of classic Thai cooking. We had the option to select 5 dishes to prepare (and eat along the way). My menu consisted of: Tom Yam Kung Soup, Chicken Pad Thai, Yellow Curry with Chicken, Fried Chicken with Basil Leaves and Sticky Mango Rice for dessert. Hungry yet?
Since returning home we’ve recreated the magic of Thailand and prepared the same menu we learned at the Thai school for a Mother’s Day Brunch in Napa Valley. Let’s just say our families were impressed and left the brunch with happy tummies and smiles.
5:00 – 6:00pm - Take a power break and cool off at your hotel/hostel or neighborhood watering hole for some Chang beer or refreshing cocktails.
8:00pm – 10:00pm – Watch a LadyBoy Cabaret Show. Night owls have the opportunity to watch the most entertaining show in Chiang Mai! We did and so worth the hype. Located in the Night Bazaar the nightly show features some of Chiang Mai’s prettiest and liveliest lady boys. The performers sing, dance and put on a vibrant show while dressed up in outrageous dresses, full make up and wigs. Yes, please! You might even get a kiss on the cheek.
72 hours in Chiang Mai proved to be too short. My heart ached to stay longer but the islands and beaches were calling my name. Next up, Island hopping in Phuket, Koh Phi Phi Island and Railay Beach. Stay tuned for part three of my adventures in Thailand!