Chiang Mai is a city that totally surprised me - in the best way possible. The minute we arrived after spending a few days in the bustling city of Bangkok, we felt a sense of relief and relaxation. What many travelers don't expect is the hipster vibes you will find in Chiang Mai with various cafes, juice shops, artists, up-and-coming designers and trendy hangout spots. While it's well known for being the hub of nature activities, it also holds hundreds of Buddhist temples - a combination that makes this city very unique.
As much as I loved it, three days is definitely the perfect amount of time to immerse in the culture and see everything this mountainous city of Northern Thailand has to offer, so here is my guide for travelers visiting Chiang Mai in three days.
Day 1: Explore Old Town, Temples & Local Shops
It's smart to dedicate the first day to just wander the city, meet the locals and check out the nearby temples. We grabbed breakfast at our hotel (more on that below) then took a tuk tuk for literally $1 USD each to the city center. Unlike Bangkok, the temples here are not crowded and very spacious and low-key...basically, you can actually walk around and enjoy it. There's even little markets within some of the temples where locals sell homemade organic skincare and soaps, souvenirs, and snacks.
Day 2: Elephant Sanctuary
When it comes to choosing which elephant sanctuary to visit, it really just depends on your values and what you're looking for. I chose to spend the day at The Chai Lai Orchid, an experience where you can feed, bathe, play and ride these gentle giants bareback. Chai Lai is also a social organization that uses proceeds to empower women to fight trafficking. It was truly inspiring to be able to connect with these creatures and meet the amazing people that run this program. Along with a full day of riding and a bamboo river raft, they serve an incredible Pad Thai lunch.
Day 3: Animals, Waterfalls + Walking Markets
Beyond Chaing Mai's boundaries, you'll find natural perfection, awe-inspiring creatures, and unique communities deep into the mountains. I spent the last day exploring waterfalls, playing with animals and walking through the Sunday night market. We went to Mae Sa Waterfall - it was the most perfect day trip, about 45 minutes away from the city. The waterfalls at Mae Sa are spread out, and each has its own personality and separate viewpoint. We got to swim and meet other travelers from around the world.
If you're lucky enough to be in Chiang Mai for a Sunday - the Sunday walking market is a must-do. The old town streets magically turn into a massive market that you can easily get lost among. We wandered around for hours just trying out new foods and shopping for handmade products. The amount of food served there is endless, but some of my most interesting finds included the homemade waffles (and the various toppings to go on top), steamed crab cake, roast pork, deep fried sandwich, fruit juices and smoothies, mango sticky rice, papaya salad, roast chicken, and coconut ice cream.
WHERE TO STAY FOR 3 DAYS IN CHIANG MAI?
I stayed at Akyra Manor, a hip luxury 5-star hotel in the heart of the city. Located on the northern city's most buzz-worthy street –Nimmanhaemin Soi, known locally as 'coffee street', they call their suites "sanctuaries" and it is totally obvious why. Each suite is complete with a glass window room just for the tub, a comfortable king size bed with Egyptian cotton sheets, a LCD TV, naturally sourced toiletries, complimentary high-speed WiFi and more. From the moment we walked in the door we experienced incredible service by their staff that that went above and beyond to make us feel at home. The Akyra Manor team even hooked us up with a private yoga class on property one morning with an amazing local teacher.
The Rise Bar is the hotel's rooftop bar where sunset happy hour cocktails are a ritual. Rise Bar serves some phenomenal poolside lunch and that guests can enjoy while overlooking the entire city of Chiang Mai. When we first arrived, we headed right up and ordered some bloody marys, strawberry lemonades with a delicious lunch to fill up before exploring the city.
Their Italian restaurant, Italics, can be found in the lobby with its chic and creative decor. We ate breakfast here every morning because, well, it was delicious. As soon as you sit down, they serve a three plated platter of fresh fruit (passionfruit, watermelon and pineapple), various pastries and croissants. We went a little crazy and tried almost everything throughout our stay - the french toast, waffles and ice cream, and the Thai Khai Krata, which was a fried egg with minced chicken, spring onion, Thai sausage & roasted garlic in a sizzling pan.
Top Reasons to Stay at Akyra Manor Chiang Mai:
Warm, Friendly Staff
Have you been to Chiang Mai and have a favorite recommendation? Comment below!