Chiang Mai was one of my favorite cities we visited in Thailand. It was founded over 700 years ago and is the most culturally significant city in the north of Thailand. We only spent 3 nights in Chiang Mai, but we could’ve easily spent more time here. There’s so much to do and see in this beautiful, historic region.
The White Temple
We took two day trips when we were in Chiang Mai. We booked them through our hotel in Chiang Mai. The first was to the nearby small town of Chiang Rai.
Here we visited one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen in my entire life, Wat Rong Khun also known as The White Temple.
The temple is entirely white with fragments of mirrored glass.
The white represents purity and the mirror represents reflection.
The main building of The White Temple is reached by crossing a bridge over hundreds of reaching hands. The hands represent human suffering and hell. The bridge represents crossing over from death into a state free from suffering.
Inside the main building is a golden mural of Buddha. I snapped this picture before I realized you weren’t supposed to take pictures in here.
Tip: Be sure to look closely at the murals in the main building!! While most temples have murals that depict scenes from traditional Buddhist stories, the murals in the White Temple are colorful, super contemporary representations of good and evil. Modern day superheros and villains from popular cartoons and movies (Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Angry Birds, Neo from the Matrix, Kung Fu Panda and more!) are incorporated in the murals. I was so focused on the giant gold Buddha I completely missed these!!
Among all the bright, pure white buildings, this very ornate, golden building definitely stands out. You would think it held something very important, like a shrine or meditation hall. To our surprise, we found out these were the restrooms! And they’re just as ornate on the inside as it is on the outside. Definitely the fanciest bathroom I have ever used!!
The Black House
Combining a visit to the White Temple with a visit to the Black House is a fitting experience.
The Black House is the antithesis of the White Temple.
Where the White Temple is a glimpse of heaven, The Black House is an artful portrayal of hell.
The Black House is a complex of nearly 40 black buildings designed in various styles with unique materials.
Inside the houses are very intricately arranged animal skins, bones, and horns. The general feeling of the Black House is very mysterious.
Interestingly, the Black House was designed by a student of the architect who designed the White Temple.
The Golden Triangle
Chiang Rai is Thailand’s most northern province and shares a border with Laos and Myanmar. After visiting the White Temple and the Black House, we visited the Golden Triangle, where the three countries meet.
A fun way to explore the area is to take a longtail boat ride on the Mekong river.
You can get up close to the border of Myanmar, and even visit a small island in Laos.
The island is just a market that exists exclusively for tourists, but it’s fun if you just want to say you’ve been to Laos. You don’t need a visa to visit the island, so you can decide to go at the last minute if you want.
On a hill nearby is an ancient temple believed to date back to the 8th century, Wat Phra That Pu Khao.
From the base of the temple you have the best view of the Golden Triangle. You can see the river, all three countries, and the lush mountainous landscape dotted with small villages and hilltop temples.
Chiang Rai is also famous for its hot springs! For one of the bathroom breaks on our tour we stopped at this fun market to see the hot springs up close. Locals were evening selling snacks like bamboo and hardboiled eggs that had been cooked to perfection in the 208 degree F water.
Hiking with Elephants
One of the most amazing experiences I had in Thailand was hiking with elephants in the mountains of Chiang Mai.
The concierge at our hotel in Chiang Mai helped us book a full-day tour with Chiang Mai Mountain Sanctuary. There are many companies that offer elephant experiences in Thailand, but we chose this one because it was one of the most humane. They do not permit riding or the use of use of hooks with their elephants.
We had an incredible morning feeding and learning about the elephants. We were provided with clothes to wear and unlimited bananas and bamboo to feed the elephants. The trainers were very entertaining and did an excellent job of educating us about the elephants.
In the afternoon we took a 3-hour trek through the lush jungle in the mountains with our own elephant by our side. We were provided with a bag we could fill with as many bananas and as much bamboo as we wanted to give our elephant during the hike. If you like elephants but the idea of a hike doesn’t appeal to you, you can choose the half-day tour.
After the hike we took a zip-line across the river to get back to camp!
Watch the video above to see our interaction with the elephants and zip-lining across the river!
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
We stayed at the Khum Phaya Resort & Spa in Chiang Mai, a Centara Boutique Collection hotel. This quiet, peaceful resort combines luxury and old world charm. The rooms feature classic Thai architecture and teakwood interiors.
The resort itself feels like a tropical oasis. A large, lagoon pool and lush garden wraps around the resort. The rooms overlook the pool — some rooms even have direct access into the pool from the balcony!
Classic Lanna-style Thai architecture
Spacious, teakwood interiors
Giant, wrap-around pool
Private beach chairs on your own little island
A tropical oasis in Chiang Mai
Direct access to the pool from your room!
Totally serene environment
Beautiful architecture all around the resort
The resort also offers a luxurious spa, fully equipped fitness center, two restaurants, and two bars. Daily breakfast is complimentary.
You could easily spend a few days just relaxing in this serene environment and beautiful surroundings.