Chiang Mai Excursions and Adventures Posted by sasha on Nov 24, 2014 in Uncategorized
There’s a lot to do in the city of Chiang Mai, as we recently talked about here. With plenty of museums, temples, markets, restaurants, and bars, it’s rarely a dull moment in Thailand’s northern capital. That being said, sometimes you just need to escape the traffic and crowds for a while. Luckily, there are tons of options for day trips, excursions, and multi-day adventures around Chiang Mai. Based on my travels there, here are five of my favorites:
A Day Trip to Doi Suthep
About 15 kilometers from the city, you’ll find the mountain known as Doi Suthep. High up on the hill stands Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ), a sacred Buddhist temple with a fascinating legend behind it. As the story goes, a monk found what was believed to be a shoulder bone of Buddha. The King of the Lanna Kingdom asked the monk to bring the bone to him, but it unfortunately split in half. The smaller piece was enshrined, and the other was placed on the back of a white elephant. Eventually, the elephant climbed the hill at Doi Suthep and then trumpeted three times before dying. Taking this as a sign, the King had a temple built on that very sight. On a clear day, you can enjoy sweeping panoramic views from the top. You’ll also see many Thai people flocking here to make offerings, pray, and be blessed by monks. It’s an incredibly holy site, so make sure you dress appropriately and are respectful. Check out this past post for a more extensive write-up of the temple.
A Doi Suthep video tour.
Cruise Around Huay Tung Tao
Rent some wheels in the city and cruise around the outskirts of the city for a day. If you’re feeling up for the challenge you can cycle, and if you’ve got a need for speed you can rent a motorbike. There are plenty of interesting routes you can take for a bike ride, and you can either explore on your own, employ a local guide, or join a group. We got a bit lost and confused riding around on our own, but we eventually found Huay Tung Tao – a man made lake that is popular with locals but not really with tourists. As such, it’s a nice place to kick back and relax Thai style. Go for a swim, hang out in a little bamboo shack, and order up some tasty food along with a few cold ones. If you feel like an adventure, you can cycle around the lake or take a 7-km hike to a waterfall.
Go Jungle Trekking
One of the most popular activities in Chiang Mai is jungle trekking, with groups leaving the city every day during the busy months. You can choose one, two, or three-day treks; I highly recommend going all out for a 3-day trek based on our handful of experiences trekking in different countries. Our first experience actually came in Chiang Mai back in 2011, and it still ranks as my favorite even after doing more treks in Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, and again in northern Thailand last year. If you’re as lucky as we were, you’ll be hooked up with an incredible local guide who will teach you a lot about the jungle, the villages you visit, and Thai culture. During the day, you walk a good 5-6 hours with frequent stops to rest, take in the views, go for a dip, or enjoy a picnic lunch. You stay overnight in small villages – usually home to ethnic minority groups – where your guide whips up a yummy dinner and then everyone hangs out around a campfire. Many treks also include elephant riding and a bit of rafting on the last day. You may even get to do a little cliff jumping if you can muster up the courage. For a closer look at a 3-day jungle trek based out of Chiang Mai, check out my videos from a few years ago:
Learn to Be a Mahout
Elephants are an important part of Thai culture, and they’re also a huge part of the tourism industry. Not all elephant camps are created equal, so it’s important that you do some research before choosing a place to go. If you disagree with riding the elephants, a lot of choices will immediately be eliminated. Definitely be wary of places that use wooden chairs for riders and hooks to keep the elephants in line. There are tons of options for visiting the majestic animals, ranging from a single ride to extended stays as a volunteer. We really enjoyed our day-long mahout training at the Chiang Mai Elephant Training Camp. In the morning, we made friends with the elephants by offering bundles of bananas and then learned some of the basic commands from the real mahouts. We then practiced executing the basic commands so we could get on and off the elephants. After lunch, we went on a nice ride down to the river, where the elephants got to cool off with a nice bath. They were even dishing out showers and kisses to the group. The animals seemed to be happy and it was clear they were taken care of. Plus, if you ask me, carrying around a few tourists sure beats the alternatives for many elephants – hauling materials for construction or being hunted for their ivory. A friend of mine also recommends the Ran-Tong Save & Rescue Center, where the elephants are treated well and there are no hooks or chains.
Do the MHS Loop
For those who have a bit more time to spend in the north and enjoy a good motorbike trip, the Mae Hong Son loop is a must. This famed bike trip is said to have 1,864 curves in the road as it winds around the northern hills. It can be done in as little as four days, but would be much more enjoyable with at least a week. We spent ten nights on the road doing the loop, stopping in Mae Chaem, Mae Hong Son, Soppong, and Pai. There’s a lot to see and do along the way, including plenty of fantastic viewpoints, beautiful temples, rushing waterfalls, giant caves full of bats, and a great art and music scene in the hippie Mecca of Pai. All of the bike shops in Chiang Mai know about the loop, and many of them sell excellent maps that can help you plan your route.
Keep an eye on the blog for new videos about the mahout training and the MHS loop, as well as tons more on Thai language & culture.
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