Budget holiday destinations don’t get much better than Thailand; the weather is great, the locals are lovely and the food is downright delicious. If you’re looking for a relaxed, quiet spot away from the heaving throngs of partying tourists, you can’t go past chilled-out Chiang Mai.
Located in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai is set in the foothills of the mountains and is a peaceful oasis in a bustling country. It’s almost like Thailand’s inland equivalent to Byron Bay and when it comes to spending time in this welcoming little city, there’s no shortage of things to do, eat and see.
Getting around is the easy bit as the Old City is one large square that’s walkable in a few hours. It’s surrounded by a moat, main road and sections of the old wall that still remain intact after 700 years. If it’s too hot to walk, jump in a tuk-tuk or the back of a red taxi which can take you just about anywhere for $1.50 to $2.
Chiang Mai is home to some 300 Buddhist temples, including the city’s most famous temple which dates back to 1383, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Glistening white, adorned with vibrant red roof tiles and covered in electric blue, green and gold detail, the temples are a stunning contrast against the bright blue sky. Walk through the streets and you’ll easily find one to marvel at and entry is always free.
Monks in bright orange robes make their way to temples in the early morning then sit quietly in the surrounding gardens, keen to talk to tourists and practice their english. As the day wears on and the heat kicks in, it’s a good idea to avoid the sun and seek refuge. Head back to your resort or hotel for a dip in the pool and an afternoon siesta. For $40 a night, you can stay at a local boutique hotel and feel like a King!
The streets are lined with cafes and restaurants serving up amazing and affordable Thai cuisine. There’s no shortage of places to choose from, a great number offering vegetarian and vegan meals made using organic, fresh, locally grown produce.
Chiang Mai is famous for Khao Soi, a traditional Northern Thai dish. Fresh vegetables, tender chicken and egg noodles are served in a curry-like sauce containing coconut milk and aromatic spices, topped with deep-fried crispy egg noodles. Also on offer are mouth-watering dishes like green curry, Pad Thai noodles, Thai-style fried rice and, of course, fish cakes. Each dish costing between $3 to $4.50 and easily washed down with an ice-cold Chang for $1.20.
In the evening the streets come alive with the night markets, selling just about anything you can think of. Stock up on hand-carved soaps and bowls, clothing, wallets and cushion covers or splash out on strings of fairy-lights, handbags and various knick-knacks and gifts.
Away from the city and into the mountains there’s an abundance of day-trip activities including volunteering at an elephant rescue park, whizzing through the jungle on a zip-line course or watching a local man play with venomous snakes. Take in a cooking class, get a full-body massage for $8 or join a yoga retreat. Whatever you do, just make sure you relax, because that’s what Chiang Mai is all about.