Lokal Guide to Exploring Chiang Mai

By Kelley Louise

Sawadee (that's hello!) from Thailand! We spent a week exploring Chiang Mai, a city in the northern part of the country, to bring you all of our recs on the must-see's and off-the-beaten-path adventures. The urban gem is a quick 1.5 hour flight from Bangkok, and a laid-back, but still buzzing, city.

Where to Stay

A calm oasis in the urban destination, Tanita House is an incredibly charming and welcoming boutique hotel off of the main tourist track (but still centrally located). The main house in the family-run business is a traditional Thai-style teak house that's more than 150 years old.
Even for those not staying at Tanita House, the hotel is worth stopping by to check out their vintage shop of curiousities that are far superior to the traditional tourist souveniers.

What to Eat & Drink

Thai Iced Coffee
Thai iced coffee is made with cardamom, condensed milk, almond flavoring and strong coffee. Perfect for a refreshing pick-me-up, the drink is ideal in March, one of the hottest timeframes in Thailand. We picked up this cup of coffee at the coffee shop at Tanita House, and it's made from fresh grinds from the Doi Saket district, but you can find Thai iced coffee over the city – travelers will quickly discover that Chiang Mai is a hotspot for adorable coffee shops.
A Traditional Dish
Chiang Mai is known for Khao Soi, a dish that translates to “cut rice” in Thai, although it’s made with traditional cut noodles. The rust colored dish has depths of flavor with a slightly spicy taste that builds over time. When in Thailand, we recommend ordering different dishes family-style and sharing with friends.

What to Do

A Hidden Temple
There are more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai, but Wat Pha Lat is easily one of our favorites. You can take a car to the entrance, or hike about 30 minutes up — the latter of which we recommend so that you can soak up the views. Since the temple is outside of the Old City, you’ll find yourself surrounded by fewer people for a more relaxing experience.

An Ethical Fashion Brand
Studio Naenna is a sustainable indigo fashion and textile company located just off the beaten path in Chiang Mai. Visitors can learn more about the boutique shop’s approach to slow, sustainable fashion, as well as the process and history behind the textiles. For example: when using indigo as a dye, fabrics initially come out as a green color before oxidizing and transforming into the deep blue indigo shade.

Learn How to Cook Akha Food
A trip to Thailand wouldn't be complete without an experience (or three) around food, and we love the Thai Akha Kitchen. The Akha people are a group of people in northern Thailand who immigrated in the 1900s from China, Laos and Myanmar and became Thai citizens. The class covers the how-to's of making 11 dishes, and celebrates what makes their culture and traditions unique. The cooking classes are an innovative way for them to share their traditions, so you're also helping to preserve a local culture through an immersive travel experience.

A Weekend Getaway
Craving an escape from the city? We love Lisu Lodge, a community-based tourism ecolodge located about an hour from Chiang Mai. Upon arrival, visitors will immediately feel relaxed as they're welcomed onto the beautiful property. The Lisu Lodge team goes over and beyond to make sure that travelers who are visiting have an exceptional stay – helping connect them with locally-run tours, whether that be visiting a tea plantation, adventuring on a white water rafting trip, or connecting with locals through village tours or cultural performances.
Fun fact – Did you know that white tea, green tea and black tea are all made from the same plant? Tea is made from different parts of the plant, which differ in size and age. White tea is the only type of tea that is made without the stem – which means that it's also the only one without caffiene. Learn more facts like this when exploring Araksa Tea Plantation, one of Chiang Mai's oldest tea gardens, which you can visit as part of a cultural immersion experience when staying at Lisu Lodge.

Escape from the City

An Adventerous Day Trip
Chiang Mai is known for its city life, but we’re firm believers that for the best experience, travelers should plan some nature time into their itineraries. We love Mae Wang waterfall, which is perfect for a quick escape from the city. For the adventurous, climb to the rocks pictured on the right of our image, and leap as far as you can out into the pools below.

Take a Walk With Elephants
When in Thailand, visiting an elephant sanctuary is a must. The once-in-a-lifetime experience of interacting with the gentle giants will leave you in awe (and with some pretty epic photos to share with friends). Pro-tip: as more and more travelers have become aware of the negative impacts of riding elephants, there's also been a rise in elephant "sanctuaries" that don't have the elephants' best interests in mind – brands who are using "no riding" advertisements as a way to attract travelers (and then behind the scenes, are not treating the elephants properly). We recommend doing your research and finding a reputable, sustainable sanctuary that you can support with your tourism dollars.

Kelley Louise

She's the Marketing Maven at Lokal and a travel entrepreneur passionate about storytelling and social good - you can find more from Kelley over at The Culture Collective and Impact Travel Alliance where she's working to transform the travel industry.