…on the cheap! I like naps and lazy sunny afternoons, but there are not a whole lot of options in Chiang Mai to chill outdoors. (I’ve noticed the locals don’t tend to nap in public areas, which is a favorite past time of mine.) If only the city planners created large parks in the city or fixed up the moat a bit, CNX would be much more community-friendly! Luckily, the city is surrounded by beautiful hills, so here’s a list of the peaceful areas I’ve checked out:
Arboretum – Really wonderful shaded area just west of the CMU campus. It’s always basically empty, so you know you’ll be able to meditate in peace here. It’s large, grassy, covered with lush trees and complete with BBQ tables – perfect for an afternoon picnic with friends. There are also a few food stands at the parking lot and a sunlit cafe next door.
Nong Buak Park – Most popular place to picnic and exercise. While quite small, it’s the only park in Old City, so on sunny days, it’ll be crowded with families and 20-somethings enjoying the good weather. SW corner of Old City.
Tweechol Botanical Garden – Want to escape for the weekend? The Garden is on a huge plot of land with hotel and conference rooms available. See the petting zoo, eat an organic home-grown meal, take a swim or just walk among the trees. About 20min. away from the city.
CMU – Taking naps on the lawn, isn’t that what a college campus is for?
Quarry – 30min. south of Old City and worth it. I wrote about it here.
Huay Tung Thao – It’s a national park, so there is a 20THB entrance fee, which is nothing compared to what you get. THE perfect place to lounge around a lake, take a swim, eat great local food, hike and catch some views of the Chiang Mai skyline. 15min drive from city.
Mae Ngat Dam – Another lake, but a lot larger and cleaner. You won’t see backpackers here. It’s a spot only expats and Thais venture out to to spend a weekend away from the city. The lake is surrounded by hills and scattered with floating houses. You should book a room beforehand so you get a good spot on the lake. About 30min. north of the city, once you arrive, catch a motorized boat to your house. Bring your own food, alcohol and BBQ. The houses provide life jackets and rental kayaks. Some houses even have diving boards on their docks, which is the best part of the trip!
FAR AWAY (More than 45min from Old City):
Bua Tong (a.k.a. Sticky Waterfall) – Great for picnicking, hiking, and spidermanning a waterfall! Wrote about it here. 45min-1hr from the city
Muang On Cave – This is also the rock-climbers’ mountain. Driving to Muang On is absolutely beautiful! You’ll get gorgeous views of the countryside with oddly interesting temples along the way. It may be a bit difficult to find your first time around, but you won’t mind getting lost. The cave is 10-20THB, depending on if you look Thai or not, and is a fun little exploration. Huge phallic stalagmite and sleeping Buddha inside. From the cave, walk all the way up the stairs to get stunning views of the surrounding forests, hills and city. The San Kamphaeng Hotsprings are just next door to the cave.
Chiang Mai Beach Club – Haven’t been here yet, but it’s on my list once winter is over. I hear there is a small beach, volleyball, tubes for rent and free lockers. About 1hr away from Old City. Check it out here: http://www.chiangmaitubing.com/en/
Doi Inthanon – It’s touted as the tallest mountain in Thailand with spectacular views and scenery. While it is the tallest, it wasn’t worth my Saturday I spent driving out there and back. Only go if you plan on camping there. It’s about a 2hour drive to the top from Old City and there is no view once you get to the top. However, there is a convenience store and restroom. Some friends and I took a walk in a more forested area along a wooden pathway, which was supposedly the start of the Himilayan trail. We then visited the King and Queen pagodas, which did have some cool views. The pagodas and their gardens were perfectly manicured and there were escalators from bottom to top. This was not a trip to write home about.
I’m keen on the 4-hour massage type of thing, but if that’s not your jam, then here are some other options.
Neo Cafe – Near the new Convention Center, on government land. Because the area is technically a national park, no one can buy land there besides the residents who had already owned property. This makes for a lovely short drive along the narrow roads to the cafe. Neo Cafe was converted from a house recently, sporting a peaceful garden atmosphere with the sounds of rushing water in the background. Inside, there are two upper levels filled with pillows, sofas and kitschy decor. Good spaghetti and great place to spend a couple hours.
Wawee Cozee – Across the road from the Convention Center. This branch of Wawee doesn’t have a sign outside, so it’ll be easy to miss. I didn’t even know it was a Wawee until they told me. Keep an eye out for a wall covered in vines, through which you’ll find a ‘secret garden.’ It’s mostly a refined crowd of expats busy working away on their laptops or enjoying conversation with each other. Located here.
Centre of the Universe (Indoor/Outdoor) – Boasts itself as having the only saltwater pool in Chiang Mai. I’ve actually never been because of the 200THB fee, but it’s supposed to be a great place to tan, swim without screaming kids splashing you, and grab a cocktail.
TCDC – I am in love with this addition to the Chiang Mai creative scene. They have free changing exhibits around the theme of innovation, a hipster cafe, and a fantastic art library. While you can’t rent books, there are comfortable sitting areas for you to work, read or use their envy-inducing huge iMacs. You can also reserve private screening rooms to watch their movies (not a large variety of choices). In the corner of the library, there is a cool textile exhibit where you can feel dozens of swatches and read about how each material is typically used in the world.