I’m addicted to coffee! Every country we visit we search for a good and strong coffee. In Thailand wasn’t different, between all the places we visited in the country, we tried to squeeze a cup of local coffee. But to be honest, we weren’t fully satisfied, until a month ago. We went out of the beaten path in the north of Thailand to experience one of the best coffees we have ever drunk and discovered unique things to do in Chiang Mai.
We left Chiang Mai city at 8 am. The van took us to the Doi Inthanon National Park, a mountain range that comes all the way from the Himalaya and covers an area of 482 square kilometers, the tallest peak is at 2,565 meters above sea level. Bottom line, It’s a big park, with huge hills and even bigger beauty! Took us approximately one hour to reach the park entrance, then more 30 minutes to arrive at our first stop, a tiny village surrounded by mountains and coffee trees.
The mountain village is the home of a Karen Tribe, an ethnic group that migrated from Myanmar to Thailand since the 18th century they try to keep alive most of their ancestral traditions. We were welcomed by Yosae, the father, Mot the son, and Poche, the matriarch of the family also the shyest one in the house.
The smell of the coffee was the spark I needed to ignite my addiction. Robusta and Arabica beans that have been hand-picked, cleaned, dried and now would be roasted by me. It’s not every day that you can have this amazing coffee experience. Produce and drink your own coffee. Oh yeah, I was happy like a child.
We did the process manually, the same way the family has been producing coffee for the past 30 years. I stirred the white beans until they turned black. The smell filled up the air, a mix of smoke, bitter coffee and happiness.
After 20 minutes roasting the beans on the wooden fire, Yosae came to check my work, and he decided that was time to stop the process and have a close look to the coffee. He put the beans in a wooden strainer and swung them in the air. The aroma jumped into our faces, with his experienced hands he picked one of the beans, looked it carefully, chewed it for a while and then told me in a broken English: Not bad! Very good!
Those were the words I was waiting for. First task nailed! Now let’s grind the coffee and boil some water. Next step would be a good chat and coffee-sipping!
While we drink my coffee [that was delicious, strong and full of flavour], Yosae and our guide explained that the coffee plantation on this area dates back to 1979. Thailand’s King introduced the coffee trees in the Chiang Mai mountains to replace the opium crops that were cultivated by the Karen tribe. Trees were planted, people in the village were trained and today Yosae family produces 3 tons of organic coffee per year. One-third of it goes to the Royal Project, and the other 2 parts are sold to the local market and exported.
The coffee changed their lives, and also mine. I never imagined how one of the most traditional beverages in the world could be so incredibly tasty, and in a such small production scale could help people to live better. As well as promote responsible tourism. The village was tiny, not touristy at all, with simple houses, livestock, fruit trees and coffee.
Among all the Thailand tours we did, this one was full of surprises. First was the possibility to make our own coffee. Second, we saw on the same wall a picture of Thailand’s King side by side with the Pope [I end up learning that Karen tribes were converted to Christianity by missionaries]. The third and the most surprising one, we got high on coffee!
I consider myself a coffee addicted, and I thought I have already tried some good and strong coffee [including the Kopi Luwak, from the poop of the civet]. I was wrong! After 30 minutes I was high on caffeine, a mix of energy and happiness. We got an injection of vitality, everything we needed for our next adventure!
We bought a pack of coffee to take home and waved goodbye to Yosae and Poche. It was time to start our trekking in the woods and conquer the hills of Doi Inthanon. Mot was our local guide, we followed him through rice fields, dense forest, freshwater rivers and waterfalls.
The expedition to the Chiang Mai mountains was more than we expected. I know the region is famous for waterfalls and trekking trails, but I thought it would be too touristy. Thank God I was wrong again! Mot lead us by an empty trail, hill up, hill down, and at least three stunning waterfalls on the way. The water was too cold for a swim, but refreshingly good for a sip.
It was a two hours trekking, not too hard. We are runners, so for us was a fun walk, some people might take more time to finish it. But believe me, totally worth, all the sweat and energy we spent was rewarded with a stunning landscape. Not even talking about Mot’s tricks on how to make whistles from rice leaves, spoons from bamboo, hanging on the trees, and the passion fruit he served to us during one of the strategic breaks.
Our Chiang Mai trekking trail finished on the top of the hill, where the car was waiting for us. One more goodbye and we followed our tour schedule. Mot stayed where he belongs, in the middle of nature, in his family’s garden, “the hills of Doi Inthanon”.
In the park there is a huge tourist center, with restaurants, toilets, gardens and parking lot. We had some local food, Rob’s favorite soup “Tom Kha Gai” and fried fish. Although the restaurant was full of locals, the food was perfectly cooked for a foreigner, no spice whatsoever. We had to ask for some extra chili to spice up our soup.
Batteries recharged, back to the road. We drove for a few minutes to reach the Royal Project at Khun Klang Village, where the Hmong hill tribe produces fruits and flowers. The project here has the same purpose as at the Karen village, changes the opium crops for modern agricultural practices.
Colored flowers, orchids, a lake with swans and many tourists. Our tour to the Royal Project was quick because we had another stunning place to visit before the sunset. As people say, time flies when we are having fun. The driver took us by rice fields, forests, a few houses and some empty roads… Almost one hour driving and we arrived at the famous Mae Ya Waterfall.
Mae Ya is known as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Thailand, and one of the King’s favorite. And indeed, it’s gorgeous! A 280 meters steep cliff where the waterfalls on different levels, creating beautiful scenery. We were there in the dry season, I can only imagine how powerful the waterfall looks like during rainy months. This is a good second reason to do the Essence of Chiang Mai tour one more time! [the coffee experience is the first reason of course!]
The trip back home took almost 2 hours. That was fine, after the trekking, the flowers, the waterfalls and the coffee experience we deserved a nap. Thanks to our guide and driver that understood it! 🙂 We boarded on the tour Essence of Chiang Mai looking for a good day in the middle of nature, and end up learning about local culture, sustainable tourism, organic coffee, nature and unique things to do in Chiang Mai. That was awesome!
Before we jump to another topic, let me remind you of two things: take sunscreen and mosquito repellent with you. And don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes and shoes, you gonna do some mountain trekking. 😉
If you want to have a coffee experience in Chiang Mai, but can’t go on a tour it’s worth to check the coffee scene in town. Here are some family friendly cafes in Chiang Mai for you!
The tour we did was organized by Buffalo Tours, a well-known and trustworthy company that operates tours around Thailand and Southeast Asia. This was the first Thailand tour we did with them and now we are excited to have more unique experiences.
If you search online, you will find plenty of information about things to do in Chiang Mai. The city is famous for its beautiful temples, the city gates, massage courses and Buddhist festivals! You must visit all the Chiang Mai top attractions, but don’t forget to have some unique experiences too. On our day tour we breathed fresh air, drank strong coffee, tasted tropical fruits, and gazed stunning landscape. That is what travel means to us!
Chiang Mai is also worldwide famous as the mecca of digital nomads and travel bloggers. It’s our address every time we need to stop and focus on work. You can find all the details about the digital nomad scene, how the expats live in Chiang Mai and how they perceive the city on a special post we published: Why live in Chiang Mai? The home of Expats & Digital Nomads.
Hope our post about unique things to do in Chiang Mai have inspired you to visit the city! Keep in mind that Thailand has much more to offer than only beaches and tropical islands [like Phuket, that is underrated by the tourists but we love it]. So now that you know some amazing things to do in Chiang Mai, let’s go to the practical stuff!
How to get to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is located in the North of Thailand, it’s one of the biggest cities in the country, very famous among local and international tourists. There are plenty of ways to get to Chiang Mai, and we already tried them all.
From Bangkok to Chiang Mai you can take the bus or the train [both run day and night, and are the cheapest option]. By bus, we used the government company: fair price, spacious seats and meals included. For timetable check the official website. On our last journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was by night train and it was great fun! The bed was big, comfy and train rides smoothly. If you are in Ayutthaya, you can also get to Chiang Mai by train. Prices and timetables here.
Chiang Mai Airport is international and receives daily flights from Bangkok, Phuket and other major cities in Southeast Asia. You can find some good flight deals on Skyscanner, especially with AirAsia.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has a huge offer of accommodation. From hostels in the old town to resorts surrounded by rice fields, you can choose a hotel in Chiang Mai that suits your budget, style of traveling and location.
The old town is full of guesthouses and hostels. Most of the backpackers choose to stay inside the city walls due to the big offer of shared rooms, cozy and clean guesthouses. There are plenty of things to do in Chiang Mai’s old town and is very easy to find affordable food there. But don’t be a fool, around the tiny alleys and shiny temples you will find some small and luxury hotels too, beautiful buildings with traditional Thai hospitality.
This is a trendy neighborhood, full of bars, restaurants, local designers shops and expats. The number of boutique hostels and hotels in Nimman is increasing every year. It is our favorite place to stay, and you never get tired of it, every night we spot a new bar or a food stall serving local & international food!
Chiang Mai is big and nature is the city’s best asset. Many hotels are nestled in the mountains offering stunning views, luxury spa treatments, and services that will take you beyond relaxation. Or maybe you fancy staying in a hotel in the middle of the rice fields, don’t worry Chiang Mai has it too.
We stayed a couple of days at Panviman Chiang Mai and we loved it! The resort is located in the mountains near Chiang Mai, surrounded by green and fresh air. The staff will spoil you with Thai hospitality and you can enjoy many activities or just relax.
To find and book the best hotels in Chiang Mai I suggest you look at Booking.com or Agoda. We personally use those websites and always find good hotel deals and trustworthy reviews. Chiang Mai is always busy, so better to book your room in advance 😉
Doesn’t matter where you decided to stay, it’s quite easy to get around Chiang Mai. Tuk-Tuks and Songthaew [the red local bus] run around the city all the time, you can also rent a motorbike or a bicycle to explore the city on your peace.
How is the weather In Chiang Mai
» Best time to visit Chiang Mai
From November to January the weather is cooler, not a proper winter, but you might need a jacket at night-time. It is our favorite season to visit the city and explore the things to do in Chiang Mai. A fresh break from the hot Bangkok or the island’s humidity.
From July to October is the rainy season in Chiang Mai, perfect to see the lush green forest and the waterfalls in full blast. But it will be rainy almost every day, which sucks sometimes…
» Worst time to visit Chiang Mai
March to June is the hot season in Chiang Mai. And March is the worst time ever to visit the city. From the end of February to the end of March it is the famous smoke season, the air is horrible to breathe, you can’t see anything and everybody wear masks.
Come in the best season and let Chiang Mai surprises you too! Remember my words: Go and visit all the attractions, all traditional things to do in Chiang Mai, but also go out of the beaten path, explore the uniqueness and the beauty of this region. And of course, drink coffee, at least two, one for you and one for me! Cheers!
Have you roasted and ground your own coffee? Have you found any other unique things to do in Chiang Mai? Leave your thoughts, plans and your suggestion for amazing coffee!
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PS: Thanks Buffalo Tours for helping us to discover amazing things to do in Chiang Mai. Despite who paid the bill, you always receive our sincere opinion. Also, some of the links on this post are affiliated, which means if book a hotel through here we earn a commission [no extra cost to you]. Thanks!