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From avid foodies and cultural enthusiasts to shoppers and partygoers, there’s something to excite and inspire everyone with 48 hours in Chiang Mai. Thailand’s northern capital and former seat of the Lanna Kingdom sees itself surrounded by mountains and lush countryside. Explore the ‘Rose of the North’ to find out why it’s famous for its charming, laid-back atmosphere.
Start your 48 hours in Chiang Mai with an orientation trip to the revered and stunningly beautiful Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, also known as Doi Suthep. The sacred temple sits approximately 15 kilometres (9.3 miles) outside of the city centre; en route, you’ll pass Chiang Mai University, the Chaing Mai Zoo and weave your way up the winding mountain road. Once you arrive, climb the 309 steps of the intricately carved mythical naga serpent staircase to Doi Suthep temple and enjoy breathtaking views of the city below. Explore the temple grounds and partake in a traditional monk blessing.
After working up an appetite, tuck into a soulful bowl of rich and creamy Khao Soi at Khao Soi Mai Sai, a local hot spot that has been in business for over 20 years. The northern Thai speciality is a soup-like dish available in chicken, beef, pork or vegetarian options. This mouth-watering meal has a rich coconut curry base, boiled egg noodles and is garnished with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime and ground chillies fried in oil.
Shop till you drop
Chiang Mai is famous for its iconic markets. Spend the afternoon navigating your way around Warorot Market, otherwise known as Kad Luang, one of the city’s oldest markets. Warorot is a bustling local-style market that sells everything from fresh produce, flowers, herbs and condiments to shoes, jewellery, lacquerware, silks, fabrics, household appliances, electronic gadgets and more. The back and side streets are full of shops and street-side stalls selling beautiful hill-tribe and northern Thai handicrafts. Take a leisurely wander and mingle with locals as you experience a slice of authentic everyday life.
Located a short walk away is Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar, a perfect spot for dinner, shopping and entertainment. The market caters mainly to tourists and is an excellent opportunity to shop for knockoff sunglasses and handbags as well as pick up hill-tribe crafts for souvenirs.
A temple with a difference
Start today by exploring Wat Umong, a unique jungle temple located in the foothills of Doi Suthep, approximately one kilometre (0.6 miles) south of the Chiang University campus. Take a serene walk around the tranquil temple’s grounds as you explore the ‘talking trees’, which are marked with words of wisdom in both Thai and English. Walk through the ancient tunnels and marvel at the large stupa. While taking time out to relax, you can also feed fish, turtles and ducks in the large pond or visit the temple’s meditation centre.
For lunch, check out Cherng Doi Roast Chicken, a local restaurant specialising in – you guessed it – roast chicken. On offer are also a selection of delicious salads, including different types of som tam (a salty, sweet and spicy papaya salad), laab (a northeastern-style salad with meat or mushroom and mint) and a house favourite, the deep-fried papaya salad. This little gem is also suitable for vegetarians.
Spend the afternoon wandering around Chiang Mai’s Old City and lose yourself down the charming little sois (lanes). You’ll find plenty of cafés for a refreshing coffee or tropical fruit smoothie stop.
Before you leave
Cap off your 48 hours in Chiang Mai with sundowners and dinner at The Riverside Bar and Restaurant overlooking the Ping River. Popular with both Thais and foreigners, this establishment serves delicious Thai food as well as international favourites. The restaurant also has fantastic entertainment with an in-house band, which plays lively covers, drawing quite a crowd.