Chiang Mai was our first destination in Thailand and it did not disappoint. It was everything we thought it would be and more. It is a vibrant and beautiful city. In our itinerary, it was the place to get as close as possible to Thailand’s cultural heritage and explore its famous temples. We spent about five days visiting many parks, temples, and other tourist attractions. Most of the places we visited did not require booking in advance. The only exception to this was the Elephant Rescue Park which we booked months in advance.
Picking a good hotel in Chiang Mai with a central location is very important. The economical state of the country is such that many five star hotels are at the price level of 3 stars in the United States. We stayed at the Le Méridien Chiang Mai which is literally in the center of the city. From there it was a breeze to explore and get transportation to attractions which were driving distance from the hotel. The room, food, and service were awesome. Also, there were tons of options around the hotel including one of the best Japanese sushi we have ever tried. The Night Bazar is also walking distance if you feel like shopping in the very late afternoon.
Things to See & Do
Our main goal was to visit as many temples, animal parks, and other tourist attractions as possible. Some were very close by others required close to 3 hours drive from the hotel. Doi Suthep was very close. Elephant Rescue Park was about an hour drive. The floating market, white and blue temples were much further. Some of the roads were in heavy construction at the time and there was some traffic as well.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple
One of the most beautiful temples we visited during our trip. Probably the most famous and busiest from all we explored. So much detail it is absolutely awesome to see. The temple is 15 km (9.3 mi) from Chiang Mai and situated at an elevation of 1,073 meters. Since it is high in the mountain you can also see great views of the city.
The name of the Temple (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep) actually explains what the temple has. Phra entails of an honorific Buddha image, and That means a relic. Combining the two tells that there is a relic of Buddha’s in the sanctity of the Wat, and in this case it’s half of Buddha’s shoulder bone.
The temple itself is quite large and has various different buildings, statues, and places to explore. There is a huge sitting Buddha as well as one laying down at the terrace of the temple. From there you can oversee the Chaing Mai downtown and just relax and enjoy the views. Make sure you have some water with you. You must remove your shoes when going inside the temple.
Elephant Rescue Park
When in Thailand you must visit one of the Elephant Parks/Sanctuaries. The overall experience is hard to beat and for us specifically was the first of its kind. The overall drive to the park was about an hour. We booked a private tour which includes our family and the guides only. The park rescues elephants from around Thailand and heals them. Some of the elephants were used in the logging industry others performed in circuses. The experience took about half a day and it also included an awesome lunch. Overall one of the absolute best attractions we experienced in Thailand. Highly recommended! Here is a link to the Elephant Rescue Park Website.
Wat Rong Khun, The White Temple
The White Temple is an interesting one. Build very differently than the other temples and it feels more of a Thailand’s version of a Disney Land theme park than anything else. It was by far the most detailed and unique architecture wise temple we saw on our trip. Nothing came close really. Turns out it is not an actual temple but a privately owned art exhibit. And as such it is impossible to take a decent photo once inside due to the number of people everywhere. It does get less crowded in the afternoon. You also need to buy a ticket to enter.
Wat Rong Khun is a privately owned art exhibit in the style of a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. It is owned by Chalermchai Kositpipat, who designed, constructed, and opened it to visitors in 1997.
Rong Suea Ten, The Blue Temple
After we visited the White Temple our driver recommended seeing the Rong Suea Ten or as it is known to tourists – The Blue Temple. It is a short drive and well worth it. Beautiful architecture and attention to detail. Build by a student of the main architect of the White Temple. It is also an actual real temple with a huge sitting Buddha inside. There are various statues around it that we could not stop taking pictures of. Each one more unique and better (sometimes scarier) looking than the other. If you are visiting the white temple make sure you visit this one as well. It is much smaller in size but offers a lot in color and detail.
Rong Suea Ten was established in October 27th, 2005 and successfully complete in January 22nd, 2016, It is on the area of 6 acres. Blue color represents the Dharma, the Lord Buddha virtue code of moral that spread all over the world becomes the doctrine of logically naturalistic as the bright blue sky. This temple displays the contemporary Buddhist art that implied the Lord Buddha ‘s doctrine.
The Night Bazaar was walking distance from our hotel and it was recommended to us by the locals. It is a large covered marketplace hosting tons of merchants selling all kinds of hand made items and food. There are more than a few restaurants there as well. Overall it was nice to see and experience. Make sure you look after your belongings since the place is packed with all kinds of people. That was a recommendation by the locals.
Overall we absolutely loved our stay at Chiang Mai. So many and so different experiences. From temples and parks to elephants and tigers. Food as well as the service was great. People were very nice and overall always helpful. The only issue we had was with the traffic and the overly busy attractions (like the temples we visited).
We highly recommend Chiang Mai!