After a few busy months of travel we were looking forward to a week in Chiang Mai to relax. The plan was to treat ourselves to a nice hotel, get some work done so we could top up the bank account and eat loads of good food and just generally look after ourselves a bit better for a few days. This became all the more important after having spent a fortnight in Myanmar where I’d been ill pretty much constantly and where we’d had little or no wifi to allow us to work.
Turns out we’d picked the best possible place to spend some time enjoying some much needed r&r. One of the many reasons we chose Chiang Mai was its reputation as a great location for digital nomads as well as being a convenient spot between Myanmar and our next destination, Laos. Whilst the city is bigger than I’d expected, meaning it was also busier, the old town retains its charm and it’s packed with healthy bars, restaurants and cafes. There’s also tons to do, from day tours and hiking to temples and weekend trips. We didn’t manage to do even half of what we would have like – both down to time and budget, most of the activities don’t come cheap, but we still managed a productive week.
So if you’re planning to spend some time in Chiang Mai, here’s how we managed to enjoy a healthy week of travelling that helped us to recharge ready for our journey through Laos and Vietnam.
Healthy Food in Chiang Mai
It was awesome to stay somewhere where eating healthy is so easy. I feel like I’ve spent way too much money eating potatoes, bread and fried food and it’s been so nice to eat freshly prepared Thai food and salads for a week. There are also lots of great smoothie and juice bars to help your detox efforts with most costing less than £1 which is pretty amazing!
Our top 5 healthy eating places in Chiang Mai that are still suitable for budget travellers are:
1. Salad Concept
This place is like a healthy version of subway! You sit down, tick off what you want from the menu – starting with the option of whether you’d prefer a salad or a wrap before adding toppings from broccoli, grilled chicken, quinoa and boiled eggs to just about anything else you can imagine. They also serve juices and smoothies of any combination you choose. We paid around 350B for 2 massive salads and an iced coffee.
2. Khunkae Juice Bar
We wanted to try this all week after reading great reviews and managed to get there on our final day in the city. It’s a tiny little place and was packed when we went – I imagine it’s like that most of the time. The menu has well over 20 varieties of healthy juices all detailing what they’re best for – whether for dehydration, treating colds or just about any other ailment you can imagine. Wheatgrass shots and extra toppings like bee pollen and spirulina are also available if you fancy them. Standard drinks are only 40B each, are all made fresh and taste fantastic.
3. Cat House Restaurant
One of our favourite choices we ate here twice and enjoyed a number of dishes from the red curry and tea leaf salad to the burrito with lentil curry and shakshuka. I wholly recommend the shakshuka which is eggs baked in a tomato and veggie sauce with homemade hummus and pitta breads. Again it’s very affordable with most dishes around 100-120B. They also have a cafe in the old town which offers the same menu.
4. Simple Cafe
We stumbled across this one by chance because I thought it looked like a nice place to eat simple Thai food and we weren’t disappointed. Food is cooked fresh to order, its a lovely little cafe and the curries are brilliant as well as cheap. You can easily eat like a king here for a couple of hundred baht.
5. Night Bazaar Street Food Market
Located just alongside the Night Bazaar, this is more of a hipster place than a standard street food outlet but there’s so much choice and it’s such good food that it’s more than worth a visit. From fresh sea food platters and gyozo to barbecue satay and traditional northern Thai cuisine it has stalls for everything. They also have live music and a large outdoor seating area which is always busy with people relaxing and enjoying some drinks.
These are really just a tiny fraction of the huge number of eateries in Chiang Mai – there are so many healthy options to choose from I think I could’ve happily stayed and eaten at as many as possible over the course of at least a month.
Healthy Activities to Try in Chiang Mai
The final part of our healthy plan was to make sure we didn’t spend too much time in front of screen and tried to do some exercise. Sadly we didn’t do anywhere near as much as we would have liked but we gave it a go!
Some of the best exercise options for travellers to Chiang Mai that we found are:
Trekking / Hiking / Cycling
Really popular but quite expensive there are loads of organised trekking options that take place around the city – many in the nearby national park. These looked like a good option with everything from 1-5 day treks available although the cheapest day hike we saw was still around £20 per person. If we’d had more time and money we would have given one a go for sure.
There’s also some free hiking and cycling locally that travellers can take advantage of. We recommend hiking the monks’ trail to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which took us around 1 hr 45 with a few diversions where we got a bit lost. It’s pretty much all up hill and pretty tough in parts – you definitely work up a sweat but the views are worth it!
Most hotels provide free bikes and some popular cycle routes we liked the look are detailed on this handy blog post.
Yoga Classes in Chiang Mai
There were also lots of adverts for yoga classes if that’s your jam. I’d love to be better at yoga but sadly my flexibility remains about as good as that of a wooden spoon so I gave this one a miss despite taking a look at what was on offer.
Some options that looked pretty good (and say they welcome beginners) included:
Gym & HIIT workouts
Finally this isn’t exactly specific to Chiang Mai but because we’d treated ourselves to a hotel and had a larger (and cleaner) than usual room, I tried out some HIIT workouts that are designed to be done anywhere! Although I ached for days and it was a big shock to the system, I’m determined to try and keep these up wherever I can.
Loved these ones I found online and popping them here for my reference as much as yours:
We cooked an array of delicious Thai food using fresh market ingredients and it’s the perfect way to enjoy a healthy meal as well as spending a day learning about local food and cooking techniques. I’d wholly recommend taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai – if you can afford it the ones where you head out into the countryside and spend the day cooking on an organic farm looked amazing.
How Healthy Were We in Chiang Mai?
So all in all I’d say we were 60% successful in our goal of having a healthy week. We managed a couple of workouts and did a decent hike, and stayed in a lovely hotel that felt like a real treat after months of grotty hostels. Whilst we were pretty good with our healthy eating we probably indulged a little too much – especially when it came to mango sticky rice which I’m basically powerless to say no to.
We definitely managed to relax a bit more than usual though and made a good dent on our freelance projects which means we have some money coming in. A huge relief as we’re seriously broke at the moment and had to book lots of flights last week!
Chiang Mai is a great destination for health conscious travellers with the food and drink options in particular making it easy to make healthy choices. Hopefully we’ll be back here in a couple of months to give healthy travelling another go!
Hotels in Chiang Mai
I think there are more hotels and guest houses per square yard in Chiang Mai than pretty much anywhere else we’ve been – it honestly feels like every other building is a lodging place. Which means there’s loads of options to choose from.
With a focus on healthy living and relaxation we were keen to find somewhere affordable with a spa and gym facilities as well as good food options – these were our top choices.
Budget: Big & O’s Hostels
This is located near the market and looked like a friendly, busy hostel with great reviews. They actually have two properties so even more choice of rooms.
Mid Range: Chedi Home
This is where we ended up staying at a a cost of around £30 per night – so expensive by Thailand standards but still very affordable. They had comfortable rooms, a small fitness centre and offered the best included breakfast we’ve had all trip. From eggs, bacon and avo on toast to fresh fruit salads with granola and yoghurt the food was amazing with plenty of healthy choices.
Luxury: Ban Sabai Village Resort & Spa
We were so tempted by this, as it seems to offer a pretty luxurious experience without being unbelievably expensive like some places. It’s basically like a retreat with yoga and a spa as well as everything you’d expect from a top end hotel. Maybe one day!