The Authentic Thai Destination – Chiang Mai, Thailand
Top Backpacking Destinations Ranking: 8/10
The majority of people who go backpacking in Thailand spend a short time in Bangkok and then head south to the island resorts that are abundant on both coasts. All those destinations are excellent in their own right, but that travel route results in the backpacker missing out on a gem – Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a beautiful, traditional city with lots to offer, as well as a fantastic surrounding area where you can head up into the jungle and have another totally different experience. The city has been less affected by the tourist influx into South East Asia compared to the southern beach destinations and Bangkok and it is possible to get something close to the authentic Thai experience. I’d highly recommend visiting the local monastery where Buddhist monks wander the paths and are happy to chat to visitors (given they speak English or you speak Thai of course!). Elsewhere it is easy to entertain yourself just taking in the town and watching locals get up to their everyday tasks, whether it’s flying around in tuk tuks at breakneck speeds or just sitting in their small shop windows eating freshly made pad thai. And if that’s not enough then you can head over to Chiang Mai Zoo and do a stint on Panda Watch.
The beauty of this place is that you could easily get stuck relaxing and enjoying everything mentioned above, but Chiang Mai also acts as a hub to go out on tours into the jungle and take your experience to the next level. Backpacker accommodation is easy to find and if you pick a good one they should have details of the tours you can do. One option is a three day trek into the jungle which allows you to stay with locals hidden up in their own small villages and get a sample of the difference between rural and city living – it’s a real eye opener. Some of the vistas you get on these tours are incredible and taken right off a postcard and the freshly made food will blow your local takeaway out of the water. The tours also involve activities such as elephant rides and bamboo rafting which bring a welcome rest after 3 days on your feet. Unless you fall in the river of course!
Whilst not off the beaten track, Chiang Mai is certainly less visited than the southern regions of Thailand and this omission is a major oversight on the part of many travellers. If you’re not just visiting for beautiful beaches and the party atmosphere then it is the ideal spot for the culture vulture to go and get a taste of genuine Thai lifestyle.
Share your own experiences of Chiang Mai in the comments – prove me wrong if you must!
And you can check out other Asian backpacking destinations here.
Why not get the hard copy while you’re at it: Thailand Lonely Planet Guide