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Chiang Mai First-Timer's Guide

Chiang Mai surprised me in the best of ways. My sister had been living there for a year by the time I made my way over for a visit and I knew I was going to like it, but I didn't expect that I would love it so, so much. Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand and it's nestled comfortably in the mountains. Its historic Old City remains encompassed by ancient, crumbling walls and surrounded by a moat. In more recent years, Chiang Mai has become a hub for digital nomads, or those who work remotely, due to its low cost of living. This has brought a modern energy to the city and helps to fuel the excellent café and restaurant scene. I'm going to share some of my favorite sights and activities from my time spent there in hopes it will inspire others to pay it a visit and be as dazzled as I was.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

The temple on the mountain. Grab a songthauw (red truck taxi) and hold on as you wind up the mountain road to this golden temple. Take time to wander around and notice all the exquisite details and don't head back down before taking in the sweeping views of Chiang Mai from the observation area.

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Into the Wild Elephant Camp

I had the most incredible experience visiting the elephants in the hills around Chiang Mai with Into the Wild. They have three elephants that they rescued from a nearby elephant riding business. The elephants now roam free at Into the Wild's beautiful land. Our group was only four people; we fed bananas to the elephants, walked with them down to the water and watched as they ate and drank in nature, gave them mud baths and played in the water with them. Do NOT go to an elephant riding company while in Thailand, the animals are abused and over-worked. Instead, I highly recommend visiting with the elephants in a much more natural habitat at Into the Wild.

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Old City Chiang Mai

Take some time to wander around the Old City part of Chiang Mai - the ancient square surrounded by a moat and remains of crumbling walls. Visit Wat Chedi Luang, grab a bite of street food, and peruse a local market.

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Take a Thai Cooking Class

I took part in a half-day cooking class through Asia Scenic Cooking School in Old City. They brought us to a local market to inform us about local ingredients, showed us their own garden, and we learned how to make four different dishes as well as curry paste. It was so much fun!

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Additionally, the aforementioned lively café scene was one of my favorite parts of the city. I have therefore made it its own post, so hop on over HERE and check that out as well, if you please. As always, comment below with any questions or to share your own experience in Chiang Mai!