Chiang Mai is a bustling city in the Northern mountainous region of Thailand; it’s full of obvious treasures (and plenty of hidden gems) ready to fill visitors with awe and wonder. Chiang Mai is the fourth most populous city in the country with about 170 thousand people living within the perimeter and many more on the outskirts.
While the center of town can feel typically Southeast Asian with lots of concrete, traffic and pollution, rest assured there is peace to be found within the chaos and luscious jungles and gorgeous mountains and not very far away. All in all, keeping yourself busy, relaxing, and generally making the most of your time will be so easy as there is much on offer.
I recently returned from a short trip (my second visit) and was again, taken aback, about how affordable everything seemed and how easy it was to fill my days with memorable and worthwhile things to do. In my option, Chiang Mai is one of the best destinations for a mindful traveler in terms of affordability, variety and quality, and being able to share some of my experiences with this article brings me lots of joy!
How to spend a day in Chiang Mai
For a first time visitor, I would recommend spending a day walking around and exploring, perhaps visiting a couple of local markets and Thai Buddhist temples scattered through the town in order to get a feel for typical daily life. It can be tempting to rent a motor bike as everyone and their dog seems to be on one but walking will be easy as the city limits are not that wide and Chiang Mai needs all the breaks from additional pollution it can get. I even walked to old town from the airport in 45 minutes, together with my 30 kilos of luggage (long story!) and it was not that difficult. A frequent and affordable shared taxi service operates for when you really need a ride, just flag down one of those red modified trucks (songthaews) going your direction and tell the driver where you need to stop. Don’t forget to agree a price, typically around the region of 30-200 TBH depending on distance and if there are other passengers on board.
Once you are familiar with your surroundings and all settled in, here are my top 5 recommendations for 5 ethical things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand:
Top 5 Ethical Things To Do In Chiang Mai
1. Indulge in a traditional massage. Everyone loves a Thai massage and the industry provides employment to so many local people. I had one massage each day and although the skills of the masseuse you get can vary, I have mostly had positive experiences. The massages themselves have countless health benefits, including obvious physical tension release due to the way you are twisted and pulled in such a hands on way. I would recommend Lila Massage in particular and they have several branches throughout the town although I’ve only visited the main one (booking may be required). According to their ethos and website, the company provides much needed rehabilitation, training and eventual employment to ex convicts but don’t let that put you off, the atmosphere is completely tranquil and the workers professionals.
2. Visit an animal sanctuary. There are several animal shelters and sanctuaries that provide an ethical way to get close to many different kinds of animals. Dog lovers can visit the WVS center and those interested in getting close to the majestic elephant, there is the Elephant Nature Park & The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary which I had the privilege of visiting and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
3. Hike. Most people rent motorbikes to get around and there is also lots of cyclist out and about but nothing beats the feeling of slowing down, using your feet and giving your senses freedom for immersion with nature. Finding appropriate trails proved to be slightly challenging but it was worth the effort. The day I spent walking the Monks Trail in particular was probably my favorite and one I would most recommend, set off early to beat the heat and have fun!
4. Nourish Yourself. The volume of vegan and vegetarian restaurants available is just incredible and Chiang Mai must be one of the world’s veggie capitals. Whether you are vegan or just looking to dip your toes into the world of healthier eating, I doubt there is any better place to indulge in such delicious plant based cuisine. My personal favorites were Aum and Bodhi Tree. The vegan pancakes with homemade yogurt and maple syrup at the ladder was one of the best things I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating!
5. Take a Yoga Class. Chiang Mai is home to so many yoga studios and the variety of classes and teachers is huge so there is sure to be something available for every ability and preference. I had the opportunity to take two classes at Hidden House Yoga and one at Wild Rose Yoga studio and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them both.