Chiang Mai has more than 700 temples, the largest concentration outside of Bangkok, and unique little sites are around every corner. You can hit the highlights in Old Chiang Mai by tuk-tuk, but even more fun is to arm yourself with a map and wend your way from one side of the Old City to the other, weaving in and out of temple compounds. Most temples open from 6am until 6 or 8pm but sporadic closings do happen. If you find yourself locked out during regular visiting hours, find a local monk to open the temple. Donation boxes are in lieu of formal ticket fees.
For other, more interactive activities, how about:
THAI COOKING SCHOOL
If you love Thai food, consider taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai. The priciest cooking classes are offered at top resorts like the Dhara Dhevi and Four Seasons and they’re informative and hands-on. But very reasonable courses abound in town as well, such as those offered at Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, the oldest establishment of its kind in Chiang Mai. It has 1- to 5-day courses, each teaching basic Thai cooking skills; daily menus feature up to seven dishes per day. You’ll have hands-on training and a lot of fun. Classes start at 10am, last until 4pm, and cost 1,450B for the day. Contact them at their main office at 47/2 Moon Muang Rd., opposite the Thapae Gate (www.thaicookeryschool.com; tel. 05320-6388).
Foodies who want to focus on eating more than cooking should consider a street food tour. The aptly named Chiang Mai Street Food Tours (www.chiangmaistreetfoodtours.com; tel. 085033-8161) offers morning and evening tours through the markets with a focus on Northern Thai dishes. Tours are 750B.
The Thai massage schools in Bangkok and Phuket teach the southern style of Thai massage, which places pressure on muscles to make them tender and relaxed. Northern-style Thai massage is something closer to yoga, with the masseuse physically stretching and elongating the client’s muscles to enhance flexibility and relaxation. There are a number of schools teaching this style of massage in Chiang Mai, ranging from vocational schools, to one-day classes that teach the basics. We recommend the long-established Lanna Thai Massage School (www.lannathaimassageschool.net; tel. 05323-2547), near Wat Chomphu. This government-recognized school employs expert teachers for one-day classes on back and neck massages or on how to make herbal compresses (multi-day courses focus on the full body). Prices range from 1,500B to 9,500B for a 10-day session. Other options offering similar programs and pricing are Sabai De Ka (www.masssage-chiangmai.com; tel. 081881-3697) and Art of Massage (www.artofmassage.webs.com; tel. 083866-2901).
Volumes have been written about the practice of Vipassana, but the main idea is to develop mindfulness and observe one’s body, mind, and emotions—to eventually gain “insight” and to see things as they are, without delusion. The Northern Insight Meditation Center, at Wat Rampoeng (Kan Klongchonprathan Road; www.watrampoeng.net; tel. 05327-8620) is a serious and well-respected center for learning Vipassana meditation during a 26-day course (day courses are sometimes available). Most temples offer courses as well, and the Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Center (www.fivethousandyears.org; tel. 05329-5012) is a first-rate choice for all levels with courses lasting between three and 21 days. Participants are commonly asked to wear white, loose-fitting clothes, which are available in temple stores. Courses are frequently free, but you will be asked to make a donation to the temple of whatever amount you see fit. If you only have a few hours, drop-in at Namo (www.namochiangmai.org; tel. 05332-6648) for workshops specializing in chanting, meditation, Ayurveda, and yoga.
Some of the best spa experiences in Chiang Mai, both high-end and affordable, include:
The Dhevi Spa at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi (51/4 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd., 5km/3 miles east of town; tel. 05388-8888; www.mandarinoriental.com) is an enormous complex built of teak to mimic a Burmese palace. The treatments and spa environment are extensive, with the unusual addition of a starlit sauna, or rasoul, and therapies that reflect local Lanna culture.
Oasis Spa offers a good standard of service at its two locations in town: at 102 Sirimangkalajarn Rd. and 4 Samlan Rd. For reservations, call tel. 05392-0111 or visit www.chiangmaioasis.com. A luxury campus of private spa villas, Oasis Spa offers a long roster of treatments and provides free pickup and drop-off from hotels in Chiang Mai.
Ban Sabai (219 Moo 9, San Pee Sua; tel. 05385-4775) is the bridge between the expensive services of a five-star spa and the affordable street-side places. You get the best of both worlds here: A stylish facility at affordable rates. The spa is located in a rural setting 5km (3 miles) northeast of town.
Let's Relax, has three bright, clean, and affordable locations around town. The one in the Chiang Mai Pavilion (on the second floor, 145/27 Chang Klan Rd.; tel. 05381-8498) is perfect for a quick recharge after wading through the Night Bazaar area.
Vocational Training Center of the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution (100 Ratwithi Road; tel. 05312-2340) employs well-trained and non-violent female inmates as part of the prison’s job training rehabilitation. The women complete 180 hours of training so the massages are outstanding, well-priced, and the spa environment echoes that of any other casual spot in town. Foot massages and Thai massages go for 180B an hour.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.