There is no lack of activity at any time of the day in Chiang Mai, from elephant tours for the animal lover, to an energizing Thai massage for the more languid. In the evenings following an excellent Thai or western meal, be entertained by a Muay Thai fight or down a drink or three at any of the numerous bars, discos or nightclubs.
Expect private time with elephants, including feeding and bathing them in a river, an elephant ride through the jungle and a small training course on some basic commands. Baanchang Elephant Park is one of the cheapest places to appreciate these wonderful animals while Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for rescued and distressed elephants, seeks to prove that free elephants are a viable alternative form of tourism to beating and training elephants to accept riders. Mae Sa Elephant Camp feat has an elephant show, which includes elephants playing football and painting.
Thai boxing is the national sport of Thailand and there are three stadiums which hosts fights. There is Kalare Boxing Stadium, Tha Phae Boxing Stadium is the largest of the three, and Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium which is surrounded by girlie bars, where during fight breaks, a group of ladyboys will put on a dance and occasionally strip.
Easy to find, there are numerous spas, health resorts, and wellness centres to suit every budget. For the uninitiated, a full Thai massage session typically lasts two hours, and includes rhythmic pressing and stretching of the entire body, pulling of the fingers, toes, ears, cracking the knuckles, walking on the recipient’s back, and manipulating the body into many various positions.
Food in Chiang Mai very much circles the globe, from Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, through to French, German, Italian, Spanish and Mexican; although Northern Thai favourites to try are khao soi, yellow wheat noodles in a curry broth traditionally served with chicken or beef. Another local specialty is hang ley, Lanna-style pork curry.
Chiang Mai is well known for its sprawling markets during the day and night carrying items from cheap trinkets to skilfully made local craft. There is the more touristy Night Bazaar (6pm to 12am), while Warorot Market (7am to 5pm) is where the locals shop. Over the weekend, you will find the smaller Saturday Walking Market (5pm to 11pm), and the larger Sunday Walking Market (4pm to 11pm).
Chiang Mai’s nightlife scene is the most happening in the North, although still a far cry from Bangkok’s hot spots. There are discos, karaoke bars, and live music everywhere, with the busiest nightlife zones near Tha Phae Gate, Loi Kroh Road and along Charoenrat Road on the eastern bank of the Ping River.