Normally this is not the kind of stuff I write about, but there seems to be a lack of this kind of information. Which surprises me since Thailand is supposed to be a cliche.
So where is all the information about traveling in country? Most likely buried deep under the archives of How to Tell if She’s a He and What Thai Women Want and other riveting articles complete with resplendent photos. (I have to admit that the best information I found on visa runs was at Pattaya Fun Town.)
What you will find here is information from someone who lives in CM and who enjoys being out of doors and getting away from the exhaust and noise of the city.
Chiang Dao Caves
About 72 km north of CM are the Chiang Dao Caves and the little town of. We breezed through the town when we followed the signage but if you want to just see the caves stay on 107 and you will see the English sign indicating a left turn off the road.
Now I really like caves so I loved it but my companions were a little squeamish around the tight places. You have to pay a 20B (foreigner) entrance fee and a 100B tour guide fee once you have entered the cave. You’ll be guided around via lantern so you don’t have to bring anything. Just be prepared to squat through some smallish tunnels.
We had lunch at one of the restaurants around here (not in the caves dummy) and there are plenty of picture taking opportunities both inside and outside the caves. After the Mae Rim area, I found it to be a very nice drive (we were on motorbikes). Unfortunately we did not time our drive but I would say the whole day was 10ish to 3ish. We drive slow.
Mae Rim ~ Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden
Again, north of town, hilly once you turn left off 107 so if you’re on a 100cc motorbike carrying two be prepared to cruise along at the blinding speeds of first gear. There is a lot to do around here like the Maesa Elephant Camp but if you keep going you’ll see the botanical garden on your left. I feel like this is a best kept secret or something. Or maybe it’s just overshadowed by the other things to do in the area.
Motorbikes are not allowed in the garden so park it outside. The fee is 20 or 30B I don’t remember because it was reasonable. They give you a little map and you can walk around or pay for a tram. We walked. The garden is situated on a steep hill (bring water and good shoes) and has many trails leading around which makes for good exercise in a well-kept and beautiful area. I would recommend visiting the glass houses.
Doi Inthanon National Park
We drove motorbikes and did this during the freezing month of December. (The cool season is supposed to be the best time to visit.) Wear gloves, hats, appropriate clothing, etc to help make this a pleasant day trip.
If you are a student or a teacher here in Thailand, bring your ID card because you will receive a discount. Teachers will pay the local entrance fees. And uni students will pay only half the foreigner fee. Otherwise be prepared to pay 200B per person.
Located about 60 km from CM, this park is definitely worth a visit. It’s a long day so I’d recommend an early start. You can supposedly spend the night at the park but we did this all in one day from about 8 to 5. Just remember this is the highest point in Thailand ~ it gets cold and on motorbikes it is even colder. To get to the park head south on 108, a very boring drive, then turn right onto 1009 where it gets more exciting.
*The roads are curvy and steep but doable on a 100cc motorbike. For a more comfortable and quicker ride I would recommend a bigger bike. Just before the summit and pass the Royal Chedi, there is a left side turnoff that serves tasty grilled chicken, sticky rice and papaya salad. Bathroom break!
Huay Kaew Waterfall
On Huay Kaew Road, pass the zoo, take a left at the Kru Ba Srivichai shrine. Park around here and walk pass the food vendors to what appears to be the lower entrance (no fees!) of Doi Suthep’s Nat’l Park. This is a nice hike that can be as long or short as you want it to be. Warning: a lot of uphill climbing.
Huey Tueng Tao Reservoir
A great bicycle ride or motorbike trip ~ just take Klong Chon Prathan or the Canal Road (turn right off of Huay Kaew). If you are cycling keep an eye out for the dirt path off of the highway on your left, but regardless, pass the 7,000 year old stadium and follow the signs for the res on your left. Usually quiet during the weekday.
On elephant camps: I have only visited two. The one my cousin took me to was Maesa Elephant Camp and the other one was The Thai Elephant Conservation Center located out of CM about 76 km pass Lamphun and near Lampang. If you have the time, I found the latter to be less touristy and much more beautiful.
On wats: I’m not wat expert but I will recommend Wat Chedi Luang at night. Walk behind to see the old chedi awash with light.
I’d also recommend Wat U Mong (outside the moat). Quiet, quiet, quiet. It is among the trees, off the main drag, dotted with “noble truths” signage and there is a place for a cheap massage (99B?) located to the right of the entrance.
On parks: Wish there was more? The city park located inside the southwest corner of the moat is small but nice enough. Early morning tai chi seems to go on here. During the CM Flower Festival it becomes chockfull of vendors and people.
The entrance of Chiang Mai University is a nice walking area too. On Huay Kaew Road (outside of the moat heading northwest), pass the local mall Kad Suan Kaew and Nimmanhaemin Road but before the zoo is CMU’s main entrance on your left. Take a right at the end of the road and park your bike under the trees. If you head up the hill (you have to walk), step over the low metal gate and you will come upon the Ang Kaew Reservoir. This is a nice place to wander and watch the students.
On cooking schools: Haven’t done any and never will. My mom would kill me. My mom is the best cook anyway so I just watch/ask her. I consider myself more of a baker anyway 😛
Language schools: I would hate to mention any bad ones so let’s just say from what I hear Payap University (the campus near Carrefour) is the best. They offer an intensive Thai course and I took Thai 1 and 2 ~ it was fun and it helped with some of the basics and vocabulary but I would say it was more of a social experience. I also think it depends on who you get for a teacher. If you really want to learn I would look for a tutor. Or plan on taking all 7 courses. A lot of learning depends on how much you put into it. Visit Women Learning Thai for other resources.
Miscellany: Chiang Mai Citylife website is a good site for things happening around CM. Click on Events for the current calendar.
CMU Art Center is a great museum of local contemporary art. I’d also recommend La Luna on Charoen Rat near Nakorn Ping Bridge. Actually this whole little area has great little art galleries and Miss Chocolate is a yummy coffee shop with truffles and strong brews.