There’s plenty to love about Thailand’s northern capital, and plenty to do there to get to know local culture. This northern part of the country is truly distinct from the lowlands, in topography, food, weather, architecture, language and indigenous heritage – everything is a just little different in Chiang Mai. Here are some highlights that can help you better understand this upcountry gem.
Food – There are certain famous Thai dishes that you probably didn’t know originate in the Chiang Mai region. One is khao soi, a delicious egg noodle dish with Burmese influences. With soft noodles, crunchy noodles, curry soup, pickles, lime, shallots and chili, this dish can be found on the street and in nationally famous restaurants. Sai oua – ‘skinless’ northern Thai sausage – is another local favorite you can’t really miss. If you spot a smoking coil on a barbecue, you’ve found sai oua, The sour, herbal flavor comes from its Laos origins, and it’s usually served with sticky rice. Spicy nam prik kha chili sauce is another local treat to look out for in the many markets of Chiang Mai, used as a dip for locally grown mushrooms.
Coffee Culture – A more contemporary example of Chiang Mai culture is its love of coffee. Grown in the hills of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, the beans are world-class, and sold throughout the city in a wide network of cute little cafés. Not only great for coffee, Chiang Mai’s café culture is great for sourcing fast Wi-Fi and a comfortable place to chill out for a few hours.
Mountain Trekking – Chiang Mai is a fantastic launch-point for trekking into the surrounding mountain jungles. To really get into local culture, you should try to organize a local village stay. There are even places that offer hill tribe-style accommodation – places such as Lisu Lodge – which make an excellent base for exploring the mountains, while also giving you a chance to be immersed in local farming culture.
Walking Tours in Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai is full of surprises, and there’s no better way to discover them than on a walking tour. You can start out at Somphet Market, browsing the fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, then continue on to the oldest temple in Chiang Mai – Wat Chiang Man. From there, it’s a short stroll to the Three Kings Monument, a prominent local landmark and photo spot. Make sure to also visit the Lanna Folk Life Museum to learn about the old Lanna Kingdom, then reward yourself with a 30-minute foot massage at the vocational training center of the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution. Finish with some authentic local food at Sirichai Khao Man Gai, where you can pick up some khao soi gai or khao man gai – tasty boiled chicken and rice.
Lanna Style – From 1296 to 1775, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, wedged between the Shan states and the Sukhotai Kingdom. You’ll see traditional Lanna architecture all over Chiang Mai. The style is distinct from that of other regions of Thailand, with dwellings raised on stilts to avoid flooding, steep, peaked roofs that protect houses from monsoonal rains and intricate carved wooden details in balustrades and eaves. Many Lanna style houses have now been converted into restaurants and luxury hotels in Chiang Mai, with other properties, such as the Rachamankha Hotel artfully fusing Lanna building styles with other forms of Southeast Asian architecture. For a more in-depth look at the style, you can visit one of Chiang Mai’s Lanna museums on a number of our tours.
Arts and Hill Tribe Crafts – When you visit Chiang Mai, you’ll undoubtedly encounter stalls full of silver jewelry and brightly hued indigenous garments. The hill tribes around Chiang Mai are famous for their distinct handcrafted jewelry, but you’ll also find other interesting items, such as pipes, knives and woven baskets. Silk, painted umbrellas, Karen tribe silver accessories and even hammocks are just some of the locally produced goods you can find in the markets of Chiang Mai.
If you’d like a bespoke tour of Chiang Mai, contact one of our Travel Specialists to find out more.