Chiang Mai has the best elephant experiences in Thailand, so this is a must-do when in the region.
A Weekend in Chiang Mai Thailand
In the striking mountainous area of Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is best known for its beautiful ancient temples, street markets, northern Thai food and its majestic Asian elephants. Unlike Thailand’s traffic-plagued capital Bangkok, the city has clean air, a mild climate and a picturesque downtown that is easy to stroll on foot.
Time is a main factor for not venturing too far from home for a weekend getaway, but Chiang Mai is well worth the extended travel time it takes to get there especially when flights can cost about the same as a domestic cross country one. From LAX, a common option is an overnight flight to Hong Kong and then a quick regional flight to Chiang Mai. The city has affordable hotels, meals, excursions and market buys.
The Old Town is a great place to get your bearings and begin the discovery of Chiang Mai. The center of Chiang Mai is inside the walls of the old city, in the area where palaces use to stand. The Three Kings Monument is dedicated to the three Northern Lao Kings who established Chiang Mai. These bronze statues are of King Mengrai, the founder of city and his two friends, King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao, who are believed to have worked together to build the city. Around the corner from the monument stands a shrine to King Mengrai. The wonder is why the shrine is built in the middle of the street? It happens to be in the exact spot where the king was hit by lightning while riding an elephant.
Northern Thai Cuisine is insanely popular and delicious and, by itself, makes Chiang Mai worth the visit. One restaurant that does not appear in the guidebooks is part of a vocational training center at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute, where women inmates are trained for their return to society 6 months before their release. They learn traditional Thai massage and spa and food and beverage services, and staff the Chaunchom Restaurant in the center. There, you can enjoy some of the most common dishes native to Northern Thailand, like Pad Thai, banana blossom salad, and curried mango with sticky rice. This food is not like American Thai food; it has love in the making of each delicious item.
A dreamy place to stay about 20 minutes outside the city center in Hang Dong is a stunning mountain retreat, the Veranda High Resort M Gallery. Entering the grounds, the resort exudes an oasis of calm as it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains, rice paddies and tea terraces. The lobby feels spiritual, inspired by the elephant rides of the high class with their associated fabrications and woven materials and a lantern festival with paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, both symbols of good luck. Local materials lend a modern touch to the 69-room boutique resort. The hotel itself is a road to discovery as the paths to the rooms and villas reveal more and more of the lush property.
The well-appointed rooms are chic yet comfortable, with luxurious bathrooms, and the villas are homes in and of themselves. Veranda Spa, a fitness center, infinity pool, pagoda, bar, and library come together to deliver a very Zen experience sheltered away from the daily bustle.
There are two restaurants, Rabiang Cha Restaurant, offering a fusion of Lanna Thai cuisine, and The Higher Room, an all-day dining restaurant set high above the resort’s private valley with a European menu and an extensive wine list (which is hard to come by in Thailand). There is also an offering of private dining in a variety of locations throughout the resort.
Chiang Mai has the best elephant experiences in Thailand, so this is a must-do when in the region. The concern over the safety of this endangered national animal has resulted in a trend toward making better sanctuaries for these magnificent creatures. Chang Chill is one such place. Chang Chill is an observational–only environment where visitors gaze upon the six resident females in their natural habitat over the course of their normal day. We watched them free feed in the forest, taken to their watering hole, and enjoying a snack that we’ve left them of sugar cane or bananas. We also got the chance to make medicine balls for the elephants from jungle herbs, bana grass, rice and other ingredients, which aids their digestive systems.
A dinner at the local Khaomao-Khaofang Restaurant is like dining in a sanctuary with a tropical forest atmosphere of waterfalls, lush gardens and a pond in a covered outdoor setting. The food did not disappoint, and included a popular scrumptious appetizer in which peanuts, fish, ginger and lemongrass are wrapped in betel leaf. Better than any lettuce wrap I’ve ever tasted.
There are 40,000 temples in Thailand, so it’s hard to choose which ones to see. Local to the Veranda High Resort was the Wat Ban Pong temple where the monks allowed us to bring them their daily alms. We prepared and packed their rations in baskets and went to the temple as they blessed the food and then us.
One of the most significant temples in Chiang Mai is the 14th-century Wat Phrathat Suthep (the temple of the Golden Mountain). There is a cable car to take you up the hill if you don’t feel like walking the 306 steps. Moderate dress is required – cover up those shoulders and legs!
Another unforgettable experience was planting rice in the paddy fields. Dressed in traditional garb, from hat to rubber boots, we learned about the arduous 130-day growing process from land preparation to harvest. Rice becomes precious after this experience. Walking the night street markets are a big draw in Chiang Mai, with the Saturday and Sunday markets being the most popular. The markets draw thousands of people to the various stalls, food offerings and atmosphere with deals to be had everywhere. Even if you’re not a shopper, the night markets are a sight to behold.
A Weekend in Chiang Mai Thailand
By Angela Fairhurst | @jaunttv
Photo Credit: Angela Fairhurst | Veranda High
192 Moo 2 Bangpong, Hangdong, Chiang Mai 50230, Thailand
+66 53 365 007
3625 East Thousand Oaks Blvd., Suite 230
Westlake Village, CA, 91362
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