1 Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
This mountaintop temple is a must-see in Chiang Mai. Wat Doi Suthep’s central shrine contains a much-revered, seated Buddha, and is one of the most popular attractions in the city. You can reach the temple by hiking up the mountain (a sweaty but surely memorable endeavor), renting a motorbike, or hopping into a songthaew(red trucks that essentially operate as communal cabs). The drive is a short one, so you can do this whole trip in about two hours. At the base of the staircase leading up to the temple, you’ll find vendors selling souvenirs, antiques, and snacks. Brace yourself for the climb because the staircase is steep, but the effort is well worth it. Statues of two demons guard the entrance to the temple precinct. Generally only two of the six gates leading to the gallery and the chedis are open. The gallery is adorned with statues of Buddha in the Chiang Mai and Sukhothai styles. The temple itself is ornate, with many representations of the Buddha, detailed dragon statues, and elephant carvings. There is also a small museum on the premises.
On a clear day (and most of them are clear, unless you’re visiting during the rainy or burning seasons), you can look out over the entire city and spot the chedis atop other wats poking out among the clustered buildings. If you’re wearing shorts, you will be required to put on a sarong-like wrap to cover your legs. It is advised to cover your shoulders and your legs at least past your knees when visiting any temple. There is a small fee to enter the temple complex.
2 Doi Pui
This small Hmong village is admittedly more tourist oriented than authentic. Yet there is a small exhibit of a traditional hill tribe home, and information on the history of the many groups that have settled in the Thai mountains in past generations. If you’re feeling particularly touristy, you can dress up in ethnic garb for a photo shoot. There are many small shops where you can purchase hand-woven textiles, handmade jewelry, tea, and other goods.
There is a large garden with a diverse array of plants, and the view from the village is breathtaking. Stop for lunch at one of the small restaurants overlooking the greenery below and order a hot bowl of khao soi, Chiang Mai’s most famous dish. Add this to your itinerary the same day you visit Doi Suthep, since you only need drive a bit further into the mountains to reach Doi Pui. Enjoy the ride; it’s a beautiful one.