Best Kept Secrets of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Visit Doi Inthanon National Park at sunset for memorable vistas
Visit Doi Inthanon National Park at sunset for memorable vistas | © Noppasin Wongchum / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Lena Blos
4 September 2021

Chiang Mai boasts plenty of activities, from elephant riding to scenic markets and dazzling restaurants. Sometimes though, you want to venture off the tourist trail and explore the city in all its authenticity.

You can now travel to Chiang Mai with Culture Trip as part of our 10-day trip to Northern Thailand – carefully planned by our team of travel experts and led by trusted local insiders to bring you a hassle-free, 100% authentic experience.

Doi Inthanon National Park

Park
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Situated within Chiang Mai province, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand. The adjoining national park covers an area of 482sqkm (186sqmi). The mountain was named after King Inthawichayanon, one of Chiang Mai’s last kings who sought to preserve the tropical, northern forests. The park’s main attraction is its dazzling views, particularly during the early morning hours. Currently, the park is home to 65 different mammals such as gibbons, deer, boar and bats and over 362 bird species. Doi Inthanon is well worth the visit to experience Thailand’s dazzling nature and marvel at its beauty.

Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institute

Health Spa, Building
Map View

The Vocational Training Center has given its inhabitants a chance at participating in a job training rehabilitation program and offers fantastic massages courtesy of the female inmates. The facilities include the massage center itself, a handicraft shop and a café. The women have served sentences for minor crimes and are due for release within six months. Their wages are saved for their release date and the women are eager to develop new skills in order to support themselves once they reenter Thai society. Why not enjoy one of the café’s freshly pressed juices while enjoying a traditional Thai massage and contributing to the fair rehabilitation of the mostly poor inmates.

Meditation Retreat

Health Spa
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For those seeking to find their inner balance, quieten the mind or learn more about Buddhist culture, Chiang Mai offers numerous meditation retreats. One of the best places to rearrange your thoughts is the Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Center, located on Chiang Mai’s scenic mountain of the same name. A beginner’s course takes approximately three weeks and participants are expected to practice wholeheartedly. The retreat focuses on the four bases of mindfulness and includes walking and sitting meditation. Beginners start with 10 minutes and gradually increase their meditation time to an hour. Additionally, they meet with a teacher at midday to receive instructions and advice for their practice. The techniques are based on the teachings of Ajaan Tong, one of Thailand’s most famous meditation teachers.

Volunteer at the Elephant Nature Park

Natural Feature, Park
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Chiang Mai, THAILAND - June 16, 2012: Group of elephants playing, eating sugar cane with their herd.
© Wacharachat Vaiyaboon / Alamy Stock Photo
Rather than visiting one of the many touristic elephant camps through Chiang Mai, why not work as a volunteer for the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation center that aims to provide a peaceful space for the gentle giants. Most of them have been saved from illegal tourist industries and have now been returned to their natural habitat. The park is also home to numerous dogs, cats, buffaloes and other animals which are being taken care of. Daily tasks include the preparation of food, banana tree cutting and – the highlight of the day – bathing the elephants. Volunteers can spend their free time tubing down the river or relaxing on the scenic viewing platform. Whether you stay for a day or a week, the camp and its animals are grateful for any support and in return will give you the experience of a lifetime.

Bo Sang Handicraft Centre

Museum, Building
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Handmade paper umbrellas drying in the sun at an umbrella factory in Bo Sang, Chiang Mai province, Thailand
© NICK FIELDING / Alamy Stock Photo

Bo Sang is located just outside the city center and offers a fantastic insight into Thai handicrafts. The center has specialized in the making of magnificent paper umbrellas. Not only are the umbrellas beautifully crafted but also decorated with signature floral designs which have earned Bo Sang a reputation throughout the country. All products are made from sa paper, which stems from the bark of the mulberry tree and more recently from cotton. Visitors can watch the skilled women during their work and acquire one of the charming umbrellas or other handmade products and souvenirs.

Pun Pun Farm

Natural Feature
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Pun Pun currently operates three vegan restaurants in the city but also features a farm just outside Chiang Mai which focuses on organic farming, seed-saving and sustainable living. Additionally, it functions as a teaching center and visitors are able to participate in workshops or join as volunteer in order to learn more about self reliant living, community building, organic gardening and natural health. Visiting the environmentally friendly farm will make for an intriguing time for nature enthusiasts as well as laymen and the friendly staff will do their utmost to help you enjoy your stay. Previous volunteers have been involved in house building projects and farming activities and many have described it as one of the most rewarding experiences of their travel.

Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls

Natural Feature
Map View

Chiang Mai is one of the best places to rent a scooter and embark on a bike trip through the atmospheric countryside. And after a hot day on the road, why not stop by Buatong sticky waterfall, which despite its dazzling scenery, remains one of the city’s lesser frequented attractions. The waterfall consists of numerous levels and flows over porous limestones which due to their make-up lack the dangers of slippery stones. Instead, you can climb the waterfalls slopes without any fear of falling and enjoy a splash in the cool and crystal clear water. Buatong is free to enter but there is a small donation box and visitors should make sure not to litter in order to preserve the waterfalls stunning beauty for others.

These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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