There is a place called Tiger Kingdom just north of Chiang Mai where, for ~$12 USD, you can go into a holding area and expose yourself to wild tigers. You literally just walk around petting and taking pictures with them as if they were house pets. It’s pretty crazy (and a little scary). We didn’t do a ton of research on the place in advance but they went to great lengths to market themselves as a humane “zoo” and explained why the tigers seem so tired (apparently they are nocturnal and sleep most of the day). Oh, and they also have a lion and a bunch of baby tigers you can play around with. No big deal.
Another pretty cool thing we did in Chiang Mai was a (very vertical) hike to Doi Suthep, the most famous (and religiously significant) temple in the city. We hiked two hours through dense jungle straight up a mountain to get there (Everest Base Camp prep!). Although we are a bit “templed out” at this point, the feeling of accomplishment in hiking to a temple at the top of a mountain made this one more rewarding.
You can also take cooking classes pretty much anywhere in Thailand and we did one in Chiang Mai, making six dishes throughout the day. Next time you have a thai curry, realize that stuff is hard as hell to make! You basically have to manually grind a bunch of ingredients into a puree. Takes a lot of time and arm strength. Maybe we’ll remember some of the recipes when we get back (although the curry is already forgotten, never making that again).
Chiang Mai recap – this is the primary travel destination in northern Thailand, providing a variety of options for activities, nice views of the mountains to the west, and slightly cooler temperatures. Alison and I both agree it was our favorite city yet in Thailand!