We are not sure where to stay -- in the city or on the outskirts and are wondering what are the things we should absolutely not miss while we are there!
Not sure of your budget but my husband and I got a private driver to take us to a few different temples and the Elephant Sanctuary/Hospital. I believe we went here: Thai Elephant Conservation Center http://www.thailandelephant.org/en/
If you get a good driver, they act as a tour guide! I don't remember what we paid but I do remember being surprised at how affordable it was for a full day.
You definitely should check out the Night Bazaar for some fun shopping. And if you are there on a Saturday, hit up the Wualai Road Saturday Night Market. Great food and shopping!
It's a really fun city to just stroll around or take a tuk tuk. Great art, shopping and food all around.
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In the old city is a must. There is so much to see and do on foot. Try stay close to the east wall of old city if you can. If you stay far away you will need to get transport in all the time.
You definitely need to see the elephants! There are a lot of places which will claim to be sanctuaries, but they still use instruments to control them, have them engage far too much with people and still use them to perform. I worked in elephant tourism there for almost three years and what I saw was heartbreaking. Head to Elephant Nature Park. It is a true sanctuary with elephants who have been rescued from the tourism industry and other dire conditions. Here, they get to live freely in their own family herds. Day trips let you head to the park and observe the elephants as they live and mingle together. You can also feed them and bathe them. The money from your trip goes directly back to helping them and the park operate.
You should also check out Doi Suthep. It is the peak north of town and is home to a spectacular temple. Head up early to beat the crowds and get a gorgeous view of the city.
Depending on the day of the week you are visiting, there are two famous markets -- the Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets. Shop here for handmade home goods, art and more, plus cheap massages and eats.
If you want some street food, go to Chiang Mai Gate.
For more on what to do in Chiang Mai, check out my site ... it's loaded with stuff!