Culture and Cuisine in Chiang Mai

Pride Travel’s CEO Marc Kassouf explores a temple and tastes northern Thai food in Chiang Mai.

Outside the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city, lies Chiang Mai, a more relaxed region to the North. Popular for its eco-tourism, Chiang Mai offers a variety of culinary and cultural choices, perfect for your client’s vacations.

The wat at Doi Suthep is an architectural and spiritual gem. (c) PRIDE Travel / S. Nathan DePetris

Doi Suthep Wat (Temple)
Locals believe that if you do not visit Doi Suthep, then, you have not truly arrived in Chiang Mai. The wat, temple hall complex and the surrounding administrative and other buildings showcase the golden age of northern Thai architecture.

To get to Doi Suthep, visitors drive up a mountain on gentle curving roads through the beautiful hill country that surrounds the city. Legend has it that a white elephant was once given a quest by an ancient Thai king. The elephant roamed the countryside, climbed the mountain of Doi Suthep and sat down at the spot that, today, marks the temple grounds.

At the foot of the steep drive up to the temple, a small cable car runs up the hillside for the last stretch. There is also a rather long staircase available to visitors. I recommend that agents encourage clients to use the funicular for the trip up and walk the stairs back down. The trip down the staircase will offer a closer view of the nagas (large serpent guardian statues) — a colorful sight your clients will likely enjoy.

Be sure to tell clients to wear socks with no holes and bring shoes or sandals that easily slip on and off when visiting the temple as they must remove their shoes to go inside. Proper attire, consisting of clothing that covers the knees and the elbows, is also required.

Local Buddhists believe that if you circumnavigate the Chedi building three times with a lotus, light incense and candles, wishes will be granted. Clients can complete a visit to the temple by exploring the main temple complex, with its antique bells and breathtaking views of the countryside below. Suggest that they take a moment to sit on one of the many benches strategically placed for quiet contemplation.

Northern Khantoke Cuisine
An amazing way to wrap up a day of trekking through northern Thailand’s many sights is to relax with great food and a show during dinner. Chiang Mai’s Khum Sai Thong restaurant, for example, offers world-renowned northern Khantoke cuisine and, during dinner, traditional Thai performers showcase their skills. Diners are seated on the floor around a large, circular serving tray and a low table.

After dinner, performers will pose for pictures or join visitors in their photos. Agents should recommend clients purchase a lantern, which they can subsequently “launch” and watch as it floats into the air. For less than $3, clients can experience a famous Thai tradition, which is usually only available during seasonal festivals.

Dinner at one of the recognized Khantoke restaurants will run approximately $12 to $25 per person for FIT travelers and less for groups. When arranging a full Thailand itinerary, keep in mind that dinner shows in Chiang Mai are very different from the shows in Bangkok, so booking both in one trip is not repetitive. Khantoke is focused more on the culinary experience and traditional local and hill tribe dances, whereas the shows in the capital are more about world-class fantastical productions and less about cuisine. Like many itinerary options in Thailand, Khantoke is a value-priced option for a not-to-be-missed experience that your clients will thank you for arranging.

Travel Insider
Marc Kassouf is the owner and CEO of Pride Travel which specializes in catering to the needs of gay and lesbian clientele. Kassouf holds numerous industry certifications, most notably by Cruise Lines International Association, the Travel Institute and various destination visitors bureaus including Thailand, Japan, and Korea. He sits on two board committees of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association. Kassouf has traveled to nearly 48 countries and has sailed on more than 60 cruises.

First published: TravelAge West magazine, August 12, 2011