We went on a 3-day trip to Chiang Mai last weekend. Chiang Mai and Phuket are the two biggest cities after Bangkok. When people ask about Chiang Mai, we usually compare the city to how “Chiang Mai is equivalent to Kyoto, while Bangkok is equivalent to Tokyo.”; though a “big” city, Chiang Mai is still perceived as small, when compared to Bangkok. Known for its “slow-life” culture, everything just seems a bit more relaxed and time seems to be a bit slower there. It’s what gives Chiang Mai its charm.
First of all, if you have a handful of days in Chiang Mai, we highly recommend doing a nature-related trip or activity. My personal favourites would be spending half a day climbing up and down (literally) the Bua Tong Waterfall and spend a morning hiking at “Kiew Mae Baan” up on Doi Inthanon… but more about the nature stuff later!
The “city” parts of Chiang Mai would be the “Nimmanhaemin” area, the “Old City” (around and inside the moat), and the Night Bazaar. (Of course there are plenty more places to explore, but if you have a few days, you’ll probably just be rotating back and forth between these three areas.) Thus, I highly recommend staying in Nimmanhaemin. It’s gotten much busier and tourist-swarmed in the past few years, but it is still a convenient location as it has everything you need in that area and you can spend a few hours wandering around, exploring coffee shops or cute, boutique stores. We were in Chiang Mai for three days and we spend most of our free time exploring (well, just eating) Nimmanhaemin.
We stayed at “The Craft” hotel in Soi 9. Absolutely loved it. The decor of every corner is picture-perfect and there’s this “calmness” to the hotel that makes you feel like you’ve escaped from the “hustle and bustle” (of Nimmanhaemin (and of course, Bangkok). A quiet escape, a heavenly comfy bed (still miss it), and most importantly, a very convenient location. Around the hotel are several cute cafes, a massage place, and plenty of “local” restaurants. The only complaint we’d have is that the breakfast was a disappointment (a few sandwiches and instant noodles), BUT like we said, there are plenty of cafes to visit near the hotel.
One of the cafes we frequented often (sometimes up to 3 times a day) was the Baristro, which is across from the hotel. It’s an all-white Kinfolk-esque cafe that’s a part of the hotel Barisotel. We love the pleasant and chic atmosphere there—as every corner you look compels you to take out your camera for a photo. It was pretty much always full every time we went, but it was still quiet and very relaxing to rest in. Try their coffee (of course) and their salted-caramel cheesecake. IT WAS SO GOOD.
The next place we recommend is just a few steps away from Baristro. It's a full-on all-over PINK ice cream shop. To be honest, we didn't even know what the places sells—we were just attracted to its pink walls. On Cloud Nine sells a variety of ice cream flavors and toppings that come in cute boxes (literally boxes). They have a number of gimmicks, such as huge cotton candy or rainbow/unicorn “color” toppings, that will make your ice cream melt completely by the time you finish taking photos, adding filters, and uploading on Instagram. We recommend it solely for the purpose of getting photo-ops. The ice cream was good too, but we were just so distracted by all the pink and gimmicks to play with in the shop.
Another place we’d recommend on Nimmanhaemin is The Booksmith. This is the perfect place for book lovers to spend browsing. It’s a sweet, small independent bookstore (which Chiang Mai doesn’t have many of), which good selections in both English and Thai. We always end up leaving with at least one book. They always have unique books that we don’t see in chain stores like Kinokuniya. And being on the “I’m traveling” mindset, we always end up splurging. Definitely check it out if you have time.
There are countless cool cafes and shops in Nimmanhaemin. Just spend a few hours strolling through all the little streets and you’re bound to stop every few meters to check out a store or order some kind of drink or dessert. It's a “modern culture” part of Chiang Mai, in a way, which is worth checking out aside from all the nature, temples, and historical monuments. Let us know if there are any places you'd recommend for us the next time we visit Chiang Mai!