Chiang Mai is quite a world away from other parts of Thailand. It's a much more peaceful and chilled out region of Thailand. There are still many tourists here, but it's a totally different scene from the busy streets of Bangkok and crowded beaches of coastal Thailand.
Northern Thailand consists more of jungles and greener areas. One of the main reasons tourists visit Chiang Mai is due to the elephant sanctuaries, which I have a full and important post on here.
Unfortunately it was my experience at an apparent elephant sanctuary which meant I didn't truly enjoy Chiang Mai as much as I could have. It left a cloud on the rest of my duration here.
There are many other sights to see, but the most popular within Chiang Mai can easily be explored in a day or two. Listed below are the attractions I would suggest seeing.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Sometimes referred to as the Golden Temple, but throughout Thailand there are so many "Golden Temples", the name seems less special. If you've been in Thailand for a little while, you may be sick and tired of temples, but this temple is worth seeing.
It's actually about 10 miles outside of Chiang Mai, but a taxi, songthaew or local guide should get you there for a low price.
When I visited there where lots of child monks, I guess they were in training. I was able to watch what they were doing and then try it out myself. There are various things to interact with, such as gongs, fountains with cups of blessed water and fortune sticks (Kau Chim).
It's not just the temple itself that's stunning, there are some beautiful views from the top of the temple which is situated on a mountainside.
The Pai Gate
One of the most famous landmarks in the city is the Pai Gate. I'll be honest here, I wasn't all that impressed. To me it didn't seem anything special.
It dates back to the 13th century and it has seen many conflicts in the past, being part of the defensive structure of the city.
It's situated by a large public square where there are often different events. When I was there it looked as though they were preparing for a concert of some sort.
Clay Studio Coffee in the Garden
This cafe is a wonderful place to stop for a drink or a snack. The food and drink are refreshing, but what really makes this place special is the garden itself. It's filled with various clay sculptures with vines and plants growing amongst them. It actually feels as though they are ancient statues and you're in a lost and forgotten garden from many years past.
It's a great place to spend an hour or two during the afternoon.
Zoe in Yellow
If you're looking for nightlife in Chiang Mai then Zoe in Yellow is your best bet. There are various other areas with bars, but Zoe in Yellow is a good choice if you're new to the city.
You'll find many backpackers from all over the world here, but sometimes a few locals will come here.
It's primarily a bar with a dance floor and large seating area, with other bars surrounding it which play different types of music.
One memory I have from here was of a man using his hands to walk onto the dance floor and to then dance on his hands. It was quite a fete!
If you're going to get a souvenir from Chiang Mai, then I have a suggestion for something a little different. A Sak Yant tattoo.
What's a Sak Yant? I hear you ask. They are types of tattoos that offer power, protection, fortune, charisma and other benefits for the bearer.
There are many places in Thailand that offer these, but this is one of the few authentic places. There are Monks at temples who have the ability to give you one of these tattoos, but often they won't as it's meant for people who practice Buddhism and will obey the rules. Yes there are rules you're meant to obey after receiving the tattoo.
The studio is happy to give you an authentic tattoo from a Monk or Ajarn. Instead of a tattoo gun, they use a long stick, originally this would be bamboo but nowadays they are made from metal.
There are many different designs, and you can research online the meanings or even ask once you're there for advice on what style to get.
Even if you're not a true believer in the power of these tattoos, having an authentic one feels a bit more special, and it'll be something you'll always have with you.
Check out their website for more information https://www.sakyantchiangmai.com