Chiang Mai, Thailand travel guide and things to do: Nine must-do highlights


Art is front and centre at akyra Manor Chiang Mai, a luxury boutique hotel in the heart of trendy Nimmanhaemin district. Well-chosen works by local artists are displayed for sale throughout the glamorous hotel, tempting guests to acquire one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Private lessons and gallery tours can be arranged on request. 

Two things we love at the all-suite hotel: Italics restaurant for all-day dining, and the spectacular rooftop infinity pool. Don't miss sunset happy hour at the poolside bar, one of the best spots in town for Doi Suthep mountain views and excellent cocktails.



Formerly a laidback pocket of Chiang Mai, frequented by art students from the nearby university, Nimmanhaemin has become one of the busiest and most buzzy neighbourhoods in the city. The small art galleries and coffee shops of old are still there down the laneways, now joined by upscale sushi restaurants and pricey aromatherapy stores. The opening of One Nimman shopping and dining complex, across the street from the futuristic Maya mall, is the latest step towards turning the area into a mini-Bangkok.



If you had to sum up Chiang Mai in one dish, khao soy would be it. The rich and spicy coconut-milk curry broth with chicken and noodles is a cure-all, a feast and a satisfying meal at any time of the day or night. Pick up a bowl of the classic Northern Thai dish for a couple of dollars at the Wualai night market, go for air-conditioned comfort at Khao Soy Nimman, or follow the locals to Khao Soi Mae Sai. 


Is it any wonder a country known as the Land of Smiles is the home of incredible massages? Known as yoga for lazy people, Thai massage will have you unwound, unknotted and unstressed like never before. Wander along any street and you'll pass a handful of massage shops touting hour-long back and foot rubs for about $10. Pay a bit more and get a bit more (air-conditioning and a sweet snack, served with herbal tea) at the Let's Relax chain of spas. See 


If you want to make massaman curry from scratch or put together pad Thai like a pro, Chiang Mai is the place to hone your skills. Cooking classes are widely available, from no-frills budget spots to high-end experiences at luxe hotels. None come more highly recommended than the first to open its doors, Thai Cookery School. Founded 25 years ago by former monk and master chef Sompon Nabnian, the school offers training in Thai home cooking. All classes can be modified for vegetarian participants. 


Most guidebooks will recommend a drive to the summit of Doi Suthep mountain to visit the historic Theravada temple dating back to the 13th century. On a clear day, the panoramic city views from up there make the trip worthwhile, even if temple-hopping is not your thing. There are plenty of beautiful temples and ancient pagodas right in the old town if you don't feel like moving too far from the hotel pool. One of the most dazzling is Wat Sri Suphan, the Silver Temple, off Wualai Road. Dating back to the 16th century and completely covered in silver, it is a sight to behold.



The morning markets are hives of activity, full of photogenic scenes. But with mainly fresh food and flowers for sale, they're more for local shoppers than short-term tourists. Street night markets are where you want to be for handmade-souvenir shopping and tasty street snacks. On Saturdays, the action happens on Wualai Road. The street is closed to traffic from 5pm, when vendors and street food cooks set up their stalls. The next day, the streets and laneways around Thapae Gate play host to a sprawling market that attracts thousands of Thais and visitors. Shop for jewellery, lamps, handbags, shoes, carved soap and original works of art.


For three days in November, Loi Krathong, the lantern festival, lights up the sky over Chiang Mai. Thousands of candlelit paper lanterns are released into the night sky, carrying the wishes of those who send them off. Throngs of people gather on the banks of the Ping River to pay their respects to the goddess of water by offering floating "krathongs" of banana leaf, flowers, bamboo, incense and candles. The city is at its most festive at this time of year; expect fireworks, beauty contests, spectacular parades and a spirit of celebration. Dates change each year, as they follow the traditional lunar calendar. See 


Chiang Mai is not at its loveliest in March and April; the weather tends to be hot and dry, and an increasingly dire smog problem caused by rural backburning affects air quality. Overtourism has also become a problem. During Chinese New Year, visitation peaks and crowds can be overwhelming. Visit during other months for a more relaxed stay.

Kristie Kellahan travelled to Thailand as a guest of AKARYN Hotel Group.