Chiang Mai is lovely because it can be touristy in some areas, but those touristy areas are easy to get away from.
Finding transport to fun places on the weekend in Chiang Mai almost always starts with hopping into the back of a red truck. These trucks are one of my favorite modes of transportation because they are easy, efficient, and cheap. All you have to do is walk up to the first one you see (or wave an empty one down), and tell the driver where you would like to go. The charge is almost always 30 baht per person unless you are going somewhere far away. I have been getting better at speaking to the driver in Thai; it makes communication a lot easier because the drivers usually speak little-to-no English.
The back of a red truck has this magical power of accumulating all of the exhaust, so it is a good idea to have something to cover your mouth and nose for breathing.
I haven’t spent many weekends in Chiang Mai because of easy travel to neighboring countries, but here are some fun things I have gotten to do with friends and with my program:
Sticky waterfalls– about 45 minutes outside of the city is a beautiful park with very unique waterfalls. The falls have limestone deposits (making them “sticky”), and aren’t too steep in most places, making it a great trip to go climb up the falls and cool off on a hot day. Beware: if you ever make it to the sticky falls, don’t leave your backpack on the ground. If you do, then you will return to a backpack infested with fire ants and you will not be happy about it. I was able to find a nail on a tree and I hung my stuff on that (and it still had a few ants on it!).
Doi Suthep– one of the most famous attractions in Thailand, Doi Suthep, is a must-do when in Chiang Mai. A red truck up the mountain takes about 40 minutes on a winding road, and the views of the city are absolutely worth it.
Night markets– these pop up everywhere, and there are a few that run every single evening! There is a Saturday night market, a Sunday night market, a night bazaar every evening, and many other markets that can be found around almost every corner.
Monk chat– my Buddhism in Thai Society professor took our class to a temple “monk chat” one day for class. This was something that I would have never done on my own for fun, but I highly recommend and would absolutely do it again. At monk chat, you sit down with one or two other monks, and discuss literally anything with them. I learned a lot about life as a monk, and I was actually quite surprised at most of the answers the monks gave me.
Of course, there are about a million and a half fun things to do in and around Chiang Mai. These are just a few of my favorite things that I have done and highly recommend.