Chiang Mai is a city made for wellness travel; with its stunning temples, intense love of yoga, reputation for outstanding vegetarian food and the misty mountain backdrop, relaxation and rejuvenation is a way of life here. The locals love to keep active; a good time for this is early morning before the temperature starts to rise and before work begins, you’ll see lots of people walking, jogging or on their bikes or heading to an sunrise yoga class. In the evenings my friends love to play sports (usually football) or go out to a dance aerobics class.
Gym bunnies can keep up their regime at Home Fitness, a friendly neighbourhood gym with a wide variety of equipment to choose from. They also run aerobics and yoga classes with an English teacher. They’re open from Sunday – Friday, closed on Saturday.
There are some excellent cycling routes around Chiang Mai, perfect for when you want to get out of the city and surround yourself with nature for a few hours. One of my absolute favourite journeys is the ride from Thapae Gate in the city centre to Huai Tueng Thao, a picturesque lake/reservoir that offers tranquil views, water sports and a number of floating restaurants serving up Thai treats from 100 baht per person. If you’re looking for something quirky to do once you arrive, check out the incredible King Kong puppets made out of rice straw that sit adjacent to the lake. To get there from Thapae Road, head towards Mae Rim district straight to Hightway No. 107, maybe stop to visit the Wat Jed Yod Temple, or Chiang Mai National Museum, then continue on until you see the signs for Huai Tueng Thao Reservoir, ride a bit further and you will find a checkpoint. After passing through you will see the lake, go left or right and follow it around until you reach the entrance and amenities.
Chiang Mai is and Thailand in general is treasure trove of natural beauty products. If you indulge yourself with a treatment or two while you’re here (and you DEFINITELY should!), look out for home grown ingredients such as coconut, lotus, basil, lime and rose oils, turmeric powder, plai (derived from similar plant to ginger and is popular with local massage therapists), galangal, lemongrass, chamomile, saffron, butterfly pea and pandan leaves. If you want to take any beauty products home with you, I recommend a stroll around Warorot & Ton Lamyai Market where you’ll find plenty of stalls selling beauty products, amongst the many street food vendors and fabric sellers that line both markets, which sit next to one another.
Sri Mantra is the best spa in town, open every day between 10am and 8pm, located off Charoen Prathet Road in a cave-like oasis. I love their two hour Srimantra Brighten Chiang Mai package which consists of a crystal body scrub, milky bath and an aromatherapy oil massage, all for less than US$80! There’s a steam room, water experiences, baths and hydrotherapy as well as a whole host of treatments on offer, using mainly local ingredients. The massages here are some of the best I’ve ever had.
DISCOUNT ALERT! Sri Mantra spa would like to offer Urban Adventures’ blog readers a 5% discount on any treatments you book, just mention the code UA-GO75 when booking with the Reception Team.
Thai food has a reputation for being very healthy; fresh local ingredients flash-cooked to retain the flavour and nutrients of the foods you’re eating. Be mindful however that Thai chefs often use a lot of salt, sugar and MSG in their products, while some street food vendors tend to use the cheaper, and therefore more fatty meats in their dishes. So if you’re looking to continue to follow a healthy diet during your trip, try to avoid coconut-based curries (lots of delicious fat and sugar), anything fried (including, unfortunately, spring rolls), pad thai (loaded with oil, sodium and fat) and any Thai tea or coffee (usually topped up with plenty of sugar and condensed milk). Or if you want to avoid the hassle of trying to choose the healthy dishes from the not so healthy, seek out one of the many healthy-eating focused restaurants in the city:
Aum Vegetarian Restaurant is a favourite of mine, dishes are innovative and full of flavour and on the second floor you can relax on floor mattresses with pillows while you indulge yourself with chi chi tofu and lotus root with sesame oil.
Aunty Kanya’s restaurant, known as Jay Kanya (they have no website), sprung up nearly two decades a go after Aunty Kanya’s home-cooking began to attract hungry neighbours. She was so in-demand that she opened up her own restaurant, which the locals still flock to for traditional local dishes like mama (or aunty) used to make.
The Chiang Mai Vegetarian Society is a very special restaurant, run by the local Santi Asoke Buddhist Society for the past 25 years, diners help themselves to some of the city’s tastiest food and are then asked to clean up afterwards and to make a donation towards the next diner’s dinner. You can also shop at their minimart next door, with all proceeds going directly back to the society.
For more vegan and vegetarian dining options in Chaing, Mai (and there are plenty!), check out our local guide Amy’s top picks for the Best Vegetarian Food in Chiang Mai.
Over 90% of the Thai population is Buddhist, most follow the traditions of theravada, one of the oldest forms of Buddhism (also popular in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka). Meditation is a big part of Buddhism, followers look inside themselves for truth and meaning and are tolerant and kind towards others in an effort to reduce suffering. There are plenty of temples all over the city where travellers are welcome to enter and meditate. One of our favourites is Umong Temple; it’s a peaceful place set amongst the trees of Doi Suthep Pui National park. The temple offers meditation classes for those who are looking to refresh the mind.
Chiang Mai lovals love their yoga. My favourite place, which happily has many English-speaking instructors, is Yoga Ananda; they also organise regular yoga workshops and retreats too. Alternatively, get out of the city for the day and practise your yoga poses in front of the region’s most beautiful scenery, such as Mae Kuang Dam or Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Budding masseurs could take a Thai Massage Course at the Thai Massage School, which has been churning out talented masseuses for over 50 years. If you’re looking for something to boost/jump start your career; Chaing Mai is one of the top cities in the world to study for your TEFL qualification, which allows you to teach English around the world.
Excited about your trip to Chiang Mai?! Check out Amy’s top Things to do in Chaing Mai for more inspiration!