Despite my last post being a little…questioning…I love Chiang Mai – I mean, I’ve stayed here about a year longer than I initially expected. I’m kind of a fan. But the town it itself can be…dingy. There are some really charming, even beautiful, spots and the city is relatively clean, but there are also a lot of areas that look worn out. There aren’t a ton of trees or green spaces, and hastily thrown together ‘coffee shops’, tourist agencies and guest houses clutter the streets. If someone was only passing through town and here for a couple of days I could understand if they were…underwhelmed.
The real beauty of Chiang Mai lies outside of town in the country roads, hills and jungles. And while it may seem easier to stay in around the city center, it really doesn’t take much effort to go further out.
The best thing about being able to live or spend more time in a place is discovering the things, places and activities outside of the immediate tourist track. I never would have heard about or gone to the following three spots if I hadn’t spent a lot of time here, but they’re each an easy trip just outside of town perfect for a morning excursion or afternoon break.
Huay Tung Tao – One of the most simple and enjoyable things I’ve done here is spend an afternoon at lake Huay Tung Tao. Located just a quick 25-30 minutes from Chiang Mai’s city center, visitors can spend hours in a cabana by the water ordering drinks and dishes to share from the restaurants situated around the lake.
- Go: Get a motorbike and head toward Mae Rim on Canal Road. You’ll see signs (in English) for Huay Tung Tao on your left. You could also talk a tuk tuk into taking you out there or get a group of people to rent a songthaew (shared truck taxi). The driver can work out a deal to take you there and pick you up to come back at a specified time. *Note: there is a 20 baht fee to get onto the park grounds. Parking is free.
The Samoeng Loop – It’s no secret that I love motorbikes. Whether driving or riding, I’m completely content to spend all day watching everything pass by. It really is the best way to see Northern Thailand (and Southeast Asia general) and isn’t as intimidating as it might seem when you first touch down in the Land of Smiles. There are plenty of drives just outside of town and one of the best is the Samoeng Loop. Good roads, interesting stops and great views make the trip an easy getaway. While the first part of the drive takes you through I guess what you would call Thai suburban sprawl, once you get on the main road and away from town the hills will open up for you.
- Go: From the old city’s north gate, head north (again toward Mae Rim) on Highway 107. After about 15 minutes turn left onto Highway 1096…that’s it. From here you will loop around emerging to the south of the City on Canal Road. If you’re going quickly the loop could take just 90 minutes or so…but if you have more time you can drag it out stopping along the way. For more details check out this guide.
Mon Cham – A Royal Project site (Thailand’s Royal Family has various agricultural projects throughout the country helping villages and hill tribes better produce crops), Mon Cham is essentially a strawberry field in the hills – with a killer view (just look at the first photo). Enjoy the drive up (less than an hour and a half from town) Come here for the nice drive and stay for lunch at the garden’s outdoor restaurant situated right on the ridge. While not many tourists know about the spot, Thais certainly do and travel up here for numerous photo opps. At 9am on a Friday morning I was one of two foreigners taking in the view, but was surprised by the number of songthaews, cars and tour minivans that were already there. It still didn’t feel overcrowded though and was a great example of how Thai people love sightseeing…and taking pictures. For those who want to stay longer, there’s camping (tents and bungalows) at Mon Cham as well as at several spots on the road up.
- Go: Like the Sameong Loop, head toward Mae Rim on Highway 107 and turn left at Highway 1096. Go past the elephants farms and botanical gardens until you see signs for Nong Hoi/Mon Cham and turn right. Once you turn right it’s about nine kilometers of steep incline. Mon Cham is at the very top of the hill when you can’t go any further. There’s a 10-20B fee for parking but no entrance fee.
Live or spent some time in Chiang Mai? What did I miss? Tell me your favorite day trip spot in the comments below. for more photos check out the Paper Planes Facebook Page.