Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, has a prominent connection to tradition, culture, and nature. The rich cultural diversity stretches back thousands of years, evident in the many temples, cuisine, and atmosphere.

To make the most of your time in Chiang Mai, visit sometime during the months from November to April. You’ll avoid both the rainy season and the hot temperatures of summer, and will arrive in ideal climate — somewhere between 70 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit (22 to 30 degrees Celsius).

Before you leave for Chiang Mai, make sure to exchange your local currency for Thai Baht. For American travelers, while you’re traveling through Thailand it’s helpful to remember that the exchange rate is about 1 USD to 35 THB.

Photo by Always a Friday Travel

Grab some cash and head out to get a bite to eat. Multifaceted, delicious, and spicy — you’ll experience the true flavor of Thailand when you learn to make your own Thai cuisine at a Thai cooking school. Whether you’d like to cook in the heart of Chiang Mai’s Old City, or venture out into the hills of Northern Thailand for a truly farm-to-table experience, there are plenty of schools to choose from. Favorites include: Thai Farm Cooking School, Basil Cookery School, and Thai Secret Cooking School.

Another guaranteed way to delve into Thai culture is to attend local markets. Chiang Mai features an abundance, each selling a variety of produce, local handicrafts, raw goods, souvenirs, and, sometimes, antiques.

Warorot Market is the oldest in Chiang Mai and has been the local go-to for thousands of years. See for yourself and find low prices on the most spectacular goods, jewelry, crafts, and foods.

Around the corner from Warorot, the Flower Market is a spectacular show of exotic flowers. Take to the street near Thapae Gate and the South Gate on Saturdays and Sundays for extensive food and craft markets. Or, just outside of the city gates on the east side of the city, the Night Bazaar provides nightly food, sights, and entertainment.

Photo by Ryan Tang

If you’re looking for a nighttime activity after a full day of sightseeing, head to Thapae Stadium or Kawila Boxing Stadium and take in a traditional Muay Thai boxing show.

You’ll likely see both local Thai boxers and some foreign faces — many young enthusiasts come from all over the world to train in these renowned gyms. The fights are full of fun, favoritism, and artistry. And, if you think you have what it takes to be a Muay Thai fighter, you can try your luck at the sport by taking a boxing class at one of many locations around the city: Team Quest Thailand and Chiangmai Muay Thai Gym are the best.

Another undeniable draw to Chiang Mai is its close proximity to the rolling green hills in northern Thailand and the accompanying lush nature and wildlife. You’re probably hoping to get a chance to hang out with some of the largest mammals on Earth — the elephant. You can do that by taking a quick trip outside the city, but be sure to choose a location with ethical animal standards. Experts have noted that riding elephants isn’t the best practice, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. Elephant Nature Park and Elephant Jungle Sanctuary are two great options for ethical animal interactions nearby Chiang Mai.

Photo by Vincent Carabeo
Photo by Vincent Carabeo

While exploring Chiang Mai, you’ll likely want to rely on your own two feet. There is no subway or metro system, it can be extremely difficult to find a metered taxi in the city, and the bus schedule is unreliable. Take a songthaew (red truck) communal ride to anywhere in the Old City for about 20 THB, or grab a tuk-tuk for short distances. Once you’re ready to head elsewhere in Thailand, the Chiang Mai Railway Station runs to all other major cities. Check for timetables on the State Railway’s website.

Photo by Thierry Heng

As always, be sure to pack your camera! Chiang Mai is full of photographic opportunities, so be sure to check out our Instagrammer’s Guide to Chiang Mai to plan some of your shots before you leave.

Header image by Ilaria Pescosolido.