Top Things To Do In Chiang Mai And Chiang Rai

“Nowhere have I eaten so well, so cheaply, so grandly and with so much joy as in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai.”

Thailand boasts an impressive gamut of exciting markets, but few are as intriguing and diverse as the markets in Chiang Mai, located in the Northern region. Modern yet resolutely traditional, spotlessly clean while never sterile; easily navigable but filled with a thousand hidden treasures, urban and chic, Chiang Mai contains a veritable cornucopia of exciting gems waiting for people to unearth.

Everything is on offer in their numerous markets. From little trinkets to strangely delightful eats, all the magic happens right on the streets.

Come sunset and watch the area all the way from Tha Pae Gate through Ratchadamnoen Road magically transform into Chiang Mai’s Sunday Market.

Expect a vast plethora of handcrafted artefacts by local vendors, as well as all sorts of authentic trinkets. Artists and musicians add to the vibrant atmosphere with their dazzling performances every Sunday evening. Tha Pae Gate and the Wat Sum Pow temple, located at the intersection of Rachadamnoen Road and Ratpakinai Road, are filled with an exhaustive collection of restaurants and food stalls, offering an extensive selection of dishes, from the mundane to the exotic. They are all equally delicious.

Every Saturday, from 17:00 onwards, the bustling Wualai Road turns into a huge pedestrian zone. Be sure to take a stroll down the Saturday Night Markey Walking Street. Wualai Road starts just southwest of Chiang Mai Gate and was once the centre of the silversmiths of Chiang Mai. Some artists still practice the art of silversmiths and demonstrate their skills by producing unique crafts made from zinc and alloy.

Chiang Rai may not hold as much clout as Bangkok as a bustling hub, but the city pushes back on this notion with its modern-art-meets-buddhism approach. Located in Chiang Rai are two temples of distinct colour: Wat Rong Khun, also known as The White Temple, and Wat Rong Suea Ten, known as The Blue Temple. In glimpsing both buildings, it is clear where their monikers came from.

Wat Rong Khun is a dazzling monolith representative of Chiang Rai’s inner beauty. With its stark white walls and detailed roofing, its colour is synonymous with purity and the knowledge of Buddha himself. At the end of the 20th century, the temple actually stood in disrepair, that is, until local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat pledged his own funds to begin the renovation of this heritage building with the hopes of it becoming a place learning and meditation for Bhuddists and even those not of the practice. Currently, it stands unfinished and is expected to be fully completed only in 2070, and will eventually house not only an art gallery and monks’ living quarters, but also a meditation hall, shrine and an ubosot (also known as an “orientation hall,” it is the holiest room in the buddhist temple).

Kositpipat believes his work on the temple to be an offering to Lord Buddha himself, with eternal life as its return. Every year, visitors, both foreign and local, flock to Wat Rong Khun to visit the grounds. Visitors are welcome to donate funds that will go towards the renovation; however, anything above 10,000 baht will be rejected - Kositpipat refuses to be influenced by affluent donors.

Drive for 30 minutes and you’ll soon reach Wat Rong Suea Ten. Compared to the spotless and pure facade of the white temple, this building not only is covered in a refreshing sea of sapphire blue (of course), but also splashes of vibrant yellow mirroring the Thai sun. A lot of information out there neglects naming the mastermind behind this temple, but it was in fact designed by a man named Putra Kabkaew. To no surprise, he studied under Kositpipat, hence his equally ambitious undertakings with this project. Visitors will be apt to notice that the White and Blue temples hold certain similarities in their structures, including carved ornaments and statues of incredible detail.

Both of these temples are definitely worth the trip, offering a look both at a historical Thailand and its approach toward a modern aesthetic. Some have even described them as resembling alien artefacts sent down from space and beyond.

It is clear why many tourists are so enamoured of Northern Thailand for its quiet, unassuming charm. It's time to pack those bags and get a ticket now!