Chiang Mai may be just as good, maybe even better, of a destination in Thailand than Bangkok. Situated in the northern part of the country, Chiang Mai has been around since 1296, and due to its strategic position, it was a key city for trade. By the mid-1500s, Chiang Mai was beginning to decline until 200 years later when it once again began to grow culturally and economically. It wasn’t until the 20th century did the city start to modernize into what we see today. From small cafes, museums and temples to malls, markets and gardens, Chiang Mai is a must-visit for anyone heading to Thailand.

For those of you who plan to go north from Bangkok to this interesting city, here are the top five things to do and see.

Bathe with Elephants

Thailand is known for places where elephant tourism is frowned upon, but there are some sanctuaries that you can visit where elephants are not harmed in any way or rode on. One of these places is called the Hill Tribe Elephant Care Village, where visitors can learn about elephants, take photos with them, feed them, brush and bathe with them in their natural habitat. You can also join them in a mud spa—the whole experience is heartwarming.

Wat Umong

Chiang Mai has more than enough temples to visit, and although there are some intricate ones, we recommend checking out Wat Umong. Established in the 13th century, this temple is built on the side of the mountain and has several tunnels for visitors and worshipers to explore. It was abandoned for almost 500 years until it was rediscovered in the mid-1900s, and since then, it’s been an active temple for monks who come here daily. What’s nice about Wat Umong is that it’s peaceful and not overrun by tourists—usually, only the locals venture here.

Kat Rin Kham Night Market

Chiang Mai has some terrific night markets, and you should visit one at least once. They are fun, unique, offer lots of delicious food and tend to have entertainment as well. Although the larger markets can be fun, we suggest checking out Kat Rin Kham Night Market. Many students come here, so it’s not as overrun with tourists as some other markets, yet you can find amazing street food here with stalls selling traditional Thai cuisine. There are also vendors selling clothes and souvenirs, as well as tattoo shops for those who are looking for something a bit more extreme.

Mesimu

You can go to any street or market to shop for gifts for yourself or friends and family back home, but why not venture to a store selling high-quality items such as clothing for adults and children, handbags, wallets, hats and tablet cases that are made by hand by the locals. The place where you can discover these treasures is called Mesimu, and the shop is open daily from 10am to 6pm on most days, but closes at 4pm on Wednesday and opens at 12pm on Sunday.

The Jazz Bar

One of the best ways to end the night in Chiang Mai is to check out one (or more) of the bars around the city. A popular one among the locals is called The Jazz Bar, and you guessed right, there’s plenty of jazz music inside to keep you entertained throughout the night. One part of this bar that stands out is that anyone can pick up an instrument there and play along with whatever band or soloist is playing on Tuesday evenings. Plus, the drink prices are pretty decent here compared to the other more popular bars in the area. Even if you don’t end up staying for more than one drink, it’s a perfect place to start off the night.

Chiang Mai is known for its historic sites and has a ton of unique places to check out, be it a shop, food market or national park. You can spend days exploring the city center and even the greater part of it. If the beautiful Chiang Mai is next on your go-to destinations, we hope this city guide can make your trip even more memorable.

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