Looking for something different to do in Chiang Mai? Tired of the usual tourist activities? In this post we tell you about 3 fun and unique things you can do in Chiang Mai, we did all of these in one day so if you haven’t got much time you can still fit some interesting experiences into your itinerary.
Try a Fish Spa
It’s easy to get a fish spa in Chiang Mai, there are several places that offer them in the main tourist areas. They advertise their prices based on how many minutes you want, so if it’s your first time you might want to try 15 or 20 minutes, to see how you like it.
First you wash your feet, then just take a seat and put your feet in the tank. Some tanks are shared others are single. It is interesting if you share with someone, you’ll see whose feet the fish prefer! In our family it was the boys who had much more fish than the girls. So how does a fish spa feel? A strange ticklish sensation, also the feeling of suction and nibbling. The big fish really made me jump!
L loved this experience, S took a while to keep her feet still so she kept scaring the fish away, when she finally got the hang of it the time was up. She did it a week later in Bangkok and enjoyed it more. It seems like something you’ll either like or not really be into, but you need to allow a bit of time to get used to it. Afterwards our feet felt lovely and soft.
Chat to a Monk
While in Chiang Mai we heard about a thing called a ‘Monk Chat’. By this time, we’d seen quite a few Monks and the kids were curious about it. A great way to get your questions answered and get a unique perspective on Thailand and Buddhism that you wouldn’t normally get as a tourist is to participate in a Monk Chat. There are several temples that do them at different times. We went to Wat Chedi Luang, they have Monk Chats daily, and we wanted to visited this particular temple anyway.
It is easy to find them on one side of the complex, sat under some shade with a big sign saying ‘Monk Chat’. It also says ‘don’t just stand there looking, come over and say Hi’, so I guess they get a lot of people who aren’t too sure how to approach them.
What do you do at a Monk Chat? Well it is pretty simple you go and talk to a Monk, in English. For the Monks the purpose is for them to practise their English and tell people about Buddhism. For the tourist you can help them with their English practice, learn more about Buddhism and a Monk’s life.
Preparing for a Monk Chat
First of all know your etiquette when talking to a Monk, for women remember to dress modestly covering your knees and shoulders, do not touch the Monk and do not sit too closely to him.
It does pay to come prepared with some questions so it isn’t all awkward silences. We prepared by doing some reading online and then making a list of questions we wanted to ask the Monk about. He was happy to answer all our questions and also asked some about our travels and life in New Zealand.
It is usually fine to have your photograph taken with them, just ask first and remember not to sit or stand too close to them.
The Monk we spoke to was 20 years old, from nearby Chiang Rai province. He had been a novice for 4 years and had recently been ordained, but he expected that he wouldn’t be able to continue as a Monk as he would need to support his parents. Monks have 227 rules, Novices follow just 10. Some examples are: Monks don’t have dinner, they cannot play sport, they shave their head to ensure no vanity. There are also important rules like: Do not kill, do not steal, do not have ‘sexual relations’. Traditionally a rule for Monks was that they could not touch money but he told us in the modern world this is almost impossible to follow.
He told us that the best thing about being a monk for him was the teaching of the Buddha and meditation. He explained his daily routine. He rises at 5am for chanting and meditation before going to collect food. At 8am he has breakfast, then he spends time cleaning / doing chores and then studying. He must eat before midday because he isn’t allowed to eat in the afternoon or eat dinner. In the afternoon he studies at the University, in the evening there is more chanting and meditation. Overall it was an interesting and lovely experience to spend an hour with this thoughtful young man. If you go it is polite to leave a small donation to the temple when you visit.
The bonus about the afternoon Monk Chat is you can then see the temple at Sunset and when the light is golden and beautiful to photograph.
Elephant Parade House
Elephant Parade is a social enterprise combining Art, Business and Conservation. They run the world’s largest art exhibition of unique, decorated, life-size elephant statues. The exhibitions raise awareness of the need for elephant conservation while the sale of limited edition, handcrafted replicas and products raise funds for elephant welfare and conservation.
So a visit to Elephant Parade House is a visit to a shop, but in fact a beautiful gallery and it’s shopping for a good cause. My favourite kind! Having spent the previous day at Elephant Nature Park’s Saddle Off project this was an awesome way to continue the elephant theme. The shop in Chiang Mai also offers a workshop where you can paint your own designs on a small model elephant – around 10-15cm. Given the previous success of art classes and activities we decided to spend our morning doing this.
Hot tip for Mums and Dads, the gorgeous café next door makes a great takeaway coffee while you wait for the kids to do their painting.
This activity took a couple of hours, you need to paint a base colour on your elephant first and dry it between coats with the aid of a hairdryer. You can take inspiration from the many beautiful designs on display in the shop or do your own design. It isn’t easy so allow yourself plenty of time to relax and enjoy.
If you have more time in Chiang Mai you can visit Elephant Parade Land – a little outside the city where you can see a museum, behind the scenes look at production, and do the painting workshop. I’m not sure how busy it is there but when we went to the shop in town we were the only ones painting for the whole morning.
On another Elephant note you can visit the Poopoopaperpark in Chiang Mai, where they make paper from Elephant poo! It sounds silly but is in fact a genuine, sustainable tourism experience, with fair trade products that are environmentally friendly too. We purchased some Elephant poo paper products in Cambodia, the recycled paper is beautiful.
In Chiang Mai we stayed at the Roseate Hotel, the staff were very friendly and our two rooms very comfortable. Location was walking distance or short tuk tuk to the all the key sights in the old town.