Hidden Gems in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the beating heart of Northern Thailand with so much to explore and enjoy, including some hidden gems worthy of a visit.


Hidden Gems Chiang Mai - akyra Manor Chiang Mai Hotel


Wat Pha Lat

This secluded jungle temple is one of the true hidden gems of Chiang Mai, and lies halfway up the lush Doi Suthep mountain. Wat Pha Lat got its name from this location which loosely translated means Monastery at the Sloping Rock.

It was previously a resting place for monks making the arduous pilgrimage to the larger Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A road was laid in 1935 and Wat Pha Lat is now a place of relaxation and meditation for monks.

The temple complex blends in with the beauty of the natural surroundings. There are steps all around leading you to the viharn, pagodas and other areas of interest. A series of caves built into the mountainside hold robes, statues and other historical artefacts.



Monk’s Trail

Monk’s Trail is a relatively short hike up Doi Suthep in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. It was traditionally the route monks took to reach Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The trail begins at the end of the Suthep Road, which runs from the western wall of the Old City. It continues for around 3km, ending at Wat Pha Lat.

While the Monk’s Trail isn’t a difficult hike, there are some relatively steep sections that can challenge you. If you’re lucky, you may encounter some monks along the way, although they are few and far between on the trail these days. Trees along the trail are decorated with bright orange cloths indicative of the monks’ robes, and these assist in demarcating the rough trail.

Once you’ve reached Wat Pha Lat you can continue along a narrower, steeper trail to the more popular Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, or you can commence your descent back to Suthep Road.



Terracotta Arts Garden

The Terracotta Arts Garden is tucked away in Chiang Mai’s Old City, a short walk from the Chiang Mai Gate. It’s hidden behind a decorative wall and easy to miss if you don’t know it’s there. Once inside, your escape from the hustle and bustle of the city is complete, and you can relax as the sounds of trickling water and bird chatter wash over you.

The tropical-style garden is laid out in a rustic fashion and contains clusters of clay pots, garden statues, sculptures and wall hangings. Many of these are years old and authentically broken, adding to the allure of the space. Seating areas are dotted around, but for a more substantial break, visit the little garden café that serves coffees, confectionary and light meals.

While the Terracotta Arts Garden may seem top secret, it’s actually a showroom for a terracotta shop well-known in Chiang Mai’s local art community.



Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders

A visit to the Museum of Word Insects and Natural Wonders is a welcome break from learning about the history and culture of Chiang Mai. There are examples of more than 10,000 species to view, including specimen from all 459 known mosquito species in Thailand.

The museum is located adjacent to the Green Palace Hotel, between Chiang Mai Old City and Nimmanhaemin Road. Although hard to find, the museum is a treasure trove of mounted insect specimens interspersed with eccentric works of art. The insect exhibition is a personal collection belonging to Dr Rampa Rattanarithikul, a world leader in mosquito research, and her husband, Manop who is an expert in the field of Malaria.



Huay Kaew Waterfall

Huay Kaew Waterfall is a natural waterfall, about 10m high and located just outside Chiang Mai in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Water flows throughout the year, although the level is at its lowest at the end of the dry season, just before the rainy season kicks in around April. The best months to see the waterfall in full flow are between July and September.

The lush vegetation around the waterfall attracts picnickers and families with small children who can play in the small rock pools. More energetic visitors can enjoy the hiking trail from the waterfall up to the Wang Bua Ban viewpoint. Huay Kaew is the closest waterfall to Chiang Mai, and certainly worth a visit.



Royal Park Rajapruek

About 20 minutes from Chiang Mai is the Royal Park Rajapruek, a sprawling botanical park of more than 800m². The area is broken up into smaller, themed gardens, comprising both international and Thai flora. It also incorporates a butterfly sanctuary, Bug World, and a children’s play area.

A highlight of the park is the Ho Kham Royal Pavilion that stands regally in the garden as a centrepiece for all to see. Built in the traditional Lanna-style, the pavilion has a multi-tiered roof and high ceiling, and the interior is decorated with paintings and other works of art. A sweeping boulevard edged with statues leads up to the Pavilion, which was built in commemoration of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne.

The park is too large to explore on foot but a tram service operates within the park at a nominal charge. Alternatively, you can hire a golf cart or bicycles to help you get around.



Wat Umong

Wat Umong is the only forest temple in Chiang Mai and dates back over 700 years. It was a fully functional temple until sometime in the 15th century when it was abandoned for reasons that remain unknown.

Wat Umong is located in a forested area at the foothills of the Suthep. It’s famous for the meditation tunnels that gave the temple its name as Umong is the Thai word for tunnel. The temples are rarely used for meditation any more due to the tourists visiting this Wat, although it’s one of the least-visited temples in the Chiang Mai area.

The tunnels lie under a large unpainted chedi built in the traditional Lanna style. The complex also houses a working monastery and it’s not uncommon to find monks wandering the scenic grounds and circling the chedi in prayer.



Thai Farm Cooking School

Thai Farm Cooking School is located on an organic farm about 17km from Chiang Mai city. Here, you learn to create authentic Thai dishes, using fresh, organic and locally produced ingredients. The experience includes a tour around a local market and a walk through the organic farm where you’ll have the opportunity to pick some of the fresh ingredients you’ll use in creating your dishes.

You’ll work closely with the owner and chef who will explain how the farm came about and what processes are involved in nurturing and managing his crops. The idea behind the cooking school is to teach foreigners the value of using simple ingredients to create flavoursome, authentic Thai dishes, and the skills involved. The completed dishes are served on an outside terrace, overlooking the farm and the mountains beyond.



Chiang Mai Gate Morning Market

Chiang Mai Gate is the southern entrance into the old city, built into the wall that protected the city from the late 13th century onwards. It’s also home to the morning market which runs from 04h00 until 07h00.

The market is primarily for fresh meats and produce, and vendors arrive early to set up their wares in the dim light of dawn. Many of the local restaurateurs visit the market daily to buy their stock for the day, but it’s also an attraction for tourists to the area who get a taste of local life as they wander among the tables laden with all the fruits and vegetables you can imagine, as well as fresh poultry and dairy products.

Some ready-cooked snacks are available, however this is more a feature later in the day when the evening traders arrive to setup for the night food market.



Bua Tong Waterfall (Sticky Waterfall)

Bua Tong Waterfall is an easy hour and a half’s drive north from Chiang Mai. It’s commonly known as the Sticky Waterfall and was given this name due to the limestone rocks. These have a pumice feel that provides sufficient friction and makes it easy to climb up the five levels of the waterfall. If you prefer an easier route to the top, there are stone steps up the side of the waterfall that most visitors use to get back to the bottom.

From the top of the falls there are beautiful views across the surrounding mountains and jungle landscape. It’s a popular picnic spot for locals, and a child-friendly pool provides a wonderful opportunity to cool off.



Huay Tung Tao Lake

Huay Tung Tao Lake is relatively popular with locals, but not as well-known among travellers to the area. It lies about 25 minutes north of Chiang Mai, surrounded by the Doi Pui Mountains, in a serene, peaceful setting. It’s the perfect place for some time out from the hustle and bustle of sightseeing.

One part of the lake is surrounded by bamboo huts providing shade and a comfortable place to eat your lunch. There are around 20 food outlets to choose from, with menus in both Thai and English offering traditional cuisine at reasonable prices. Active visitors can choose to cycle or run the perimeter of the lake which is about 4km. Alternatively, you can simply rest, relax and enjoy the stunning surroundings.



Pha Chor Canyon

The Pha Chor Canyon is located in the Mae Wang National Park, just over an hour’s drive south west of Chiang Mai. The canyon was formed many years ago when the Ping River changed its course. The change of direction created a hill which, over time, eroded and created the canyon walls and pillars which in some places are as high as 30m.

You need to do a fair amount of walking in order to view the canyon properly, but the scenery is lovely and the views from both the top and bottom create wonderful photo opportunities. It can get very hot in the area, but a well-located café provides some shelter from the heat and is a welcome rest stop after climbing up and down the stairs to view the canyon.



Baan Kang Wat Artist Village

Lovers of arts and culture will enjoy the unique experience that the Baan Kang Wat artist village provides. It’s situated in a university neighbourhood about 20 minutes south-west of the Old City. The village comprises ten buildings built around a communal amphitheatre.

Baan Kang Wat developed from a desire to showcase local artists and their creations. Each unique building houses an independent business, all of which have a focus on local, handmade, and sustainable products. You can find ceramics, jewellery, art, pottery and woodcrafts. Some of the artists run workshops, while others operate their studios and showrooms from the huts.

There are a couple of small cafes where you can enjoy local cuisine, and on Sundays Baan Kang Wat village holds a farmers’ market with organic vegetables and local produce.




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Su Thep, Muang Chiang Mai District,

Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand


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