1. Elephant Nature Park
I was beyond excited to visit the Elephant Nature Park, since it's rumored to be one of the coolest things to see in Chiang Mai. However, this photo was actually taken at the night safari, because YOU HAVE TO MAKE AN APPOINTMENT TO GO TO THE ELEPHANT NATURE PARK! Like, weeks in advance. Which I did not know. We arrived in Thailand on November 4th, and they were booked until the 14th, which was the day we were leaving. So bummed.
I did learn that the park isn't just something you visit and leave. It's an all day event. It costs 2500 Baht ($76 USD), and they pick you up at your hotel at 8am and you don't return until about 5pm. You'll feed the elephants, watch them bathe and have lunch there. You also need to bring sunscreen, bug spray, towels, walking shoes, sandals, and a change of clothing.
(So, if you want to visit the ENP, remember to book it in advance!)
2. Loy Krathong Lantern Festival
The Loy Krathong festival of light is a 3-night festival that takes place every year on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month. This year, it took place on Nov 5-7, which is a great time to visit Thailand since the rain season ends in October.
The festival takes place on Thapae Road, which is the main strip in the center of Chiang Mai, full of restaurants, shops and spas. You can buy the lanterns from street vendors - most of them are lit in front of the temples on Thapae.
Each night, there are also parades, beauty contests, fireworks and large rafts that float along the Chao Phraya river. It's definitely a once in a lifetime experience you can't find anywhere else.
3. Khum Khantoke Dinner
Khum Khantoke takes place at Old Chiang Mai cultural center (185/3 Wualai Road). It costs $500 (appr. $15 USD), which includes a buffet style dinner for each table (served on a wooden tray known as a Khantoke, hence the name) that consists of pork curry, chicken wings, fried pork rinds, fried pumpkin strips, soup and salad, and fruit and rice crispy treats for dessert. They serve alcohol as well.
For the dinner, you're seated on triangular seat cushions on the floor and entertained by a cultural dance show that includes candle dancing, drum dancing, and sword dancing. Another very cool, unique experience.
4. Doi Sutrep Temple
Wat Phra That Doi Suthrep is a gorgeous temple located at the top of the Doi Suthrep mountain. It's a popular destination for tourists because of the beautiful holy shrines and the views of Chiang Mai.
Be warned - the drive to Doi Suthrep is very long (I think it took us about 45 minutes), and the only cabs available at the top are the little red shuttle cabs that seat about 6 people sideways and drop you off in the center of town. So it's good to have your own transportation for the trip.
(Another piece of advice - bring toilet paper. The bathrooms there didn't have any.)
On a positive note, it was gorgeous. And I made a wish at the sacred white elephant, so that was pretty damn cool.
5. Night Safari
The night safari was awesome. The safari cars take you through two shows, the first with giraffes, kangaroos, zebras, deer, etc. and the second show is a night predator show with vultures, bears, tigers, etc. Some of the animals come right up to the car and you can feed them (warning: giraffes drool... a lot!)
The cost is $800 baht ($24 USD), and after the safari there's a dance show with lots of lots of lady boys.
6. Tiger Kingdom
This was probably one of the coolest things I did. It's a bit controversial because some people think the tigers are drugged, but I talked to a lot of other travelers who have been there, and they said they're not, they've just been around people since a young age. They also mentioned that the enclosures are big and clean, and the tigers are all in good health.
To me, they definitely seemed happy, especially the baby tigers, who were running all over the room, growling and wrestling with each other (you can watch in my vlog here.) It was adorable. I also learned that tigers are nocturnal, so they primarily sleep during the day.
You can pay per tiger size (baby, small and large.) I opted for the babies and the large, which totaled about $1000 baht ($30 USD.)
(Piece of advice: don't wear white. You get pretty dirty.)
7. Night Bazaar
The Night Bazaar is a shopaholic's dream. Blocks and blocks of shopping tents and stores - clothes, purses, makeup, sunglasses, souvenirs, you name it. All at kick-ass prices.
It's open from dusk until midnight and is located at Thanon Chang Khlan (around the corner from Thapae Road). We stumbled across this completely by accident while we were leaving the lantern festival, since it's only a block over. I scored a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses that I'm certain are not real based on the fact that they only cost 400 Baht, ($12 USD), but regardless, they fit like a dream.
8. Get a Massage
I got a massage every single day that I was in Thailand. This is because A) I am a massageaholic, and B) massages are only 200 Baht ($6 USD) for an hour. $6 for an hour! If I lived in Thailand, I'd take up permanent residency in a massage parlor.
Let me tell you, a massage in Thailand is nothing like a massage in the US. The Thai masseuses are incredible. They crack you, stretch you, dig their feet into your back, you name it. And they have massages for everything. I went all out and got a manicure and pedicure (also $6), as well as a body scrub and a facial. They even have an aloe vera massage for sunburns (I partook in that too.)
Thapae Road was full of spas, but my favorite was Amethyst Massage. They charged 250 baht for a Thai massage, which is about $7/hr. We splurged. Totally worth it. I think it might've been the best massage of my life.
9. Mae Sa Waterfall
Confession, these last 2 items I did not get a chance to do, but they're 2 of most highly recommended events for tourists. I just couldn't fit it all in to 5 small days.This was probably my biggest regret of the trip, as there were so many signs for the Mae Sa waterfall, and the pictures look unreal. And you can swim there! Next time...
(photo creds: sidewalkthailand.com)
10. Khum Lanna Cooking Retreat
I didn't find out about this until our last night in Chiang Mai. Our guest house had a whole brochure on it, and it looks incredible. Basically, you stay on a farm anywhere from 1-3 nights, get your own food from the farm and the farmer's market, and they teach you how to cook your own Thai food.