Think your Thailand travel options are limited to getting your Bangkok creep on and praying that back-alley bender doesn’t come with a lifetime gift, or spending sweaty afternoons watching newlyweds suck face in Phuket? Think again and jet to Chiang Mai, a mountainous city with neighborhoods equal parts crazy and captivating. Best of all: no mention of The Hangover for miles.
This section of Chiang Mai, dubbed the Old City for its temples and other remnants of yesterday, is 21st century raucous. Play hard to get with street vendors hawking cheap yet delicious pad thai, and bargain for legit handwoven silk at the maniacal night bazaar. Grab a 40 of Chang beer at the Playhouse Bar and set the table for a drunken night of beer pong. (Note: Don’t get pong hustled by the two notorious, sexy Thai women who have made many an American bro look foolish.)
This sophisticated street, only a five-minute tuk-tuk ride from the Old City and lined with boutiques, restaurants and spas, is the ideal setting for an elegant evening. Avoid those pesky Ducatis slashing around corners when you duck onto Soi (side street) 9, home of Café Mini, a culinary jackpot no larger than an East Village studio. Chef Moss Veerawat is in back, crafting James Beard–worthy Italian-themed small plates such as New Zealand lamb rack with rosemary sauce. Wash down the meal with a sweet, milky iced coffee from Wawee next door before pounding Jägermeisters across the street at the neon-lit Monkey Club, where scantily clad Thai bartenders sling shots for local hipsters thrashing to vintage Chicago house music.
You’re in Southeast Asia—you might as well get a dose of local culture. Decamp from Anantara Hotel, sleek and serene digs on the former site of the British Consulate, within walking distance of Old City mayhem. Travel east across the river to Charoen Raj Road, where chic art galleries and small cafés line a dusty one-lane road. Be careful walking north: The sidewalks are scary narrow; you might just take a car hood to the ass. Once safe, stop in at Meeting Room Art Café, which doubles as a gallery, to snag a super-funky desk lamp perfect for your man cave–pretend office. Hit another gallery, Colour Factory, where a country’s obsession with elephants is taken to the artistic extreme and local handbag maven Miguel La Salle’s works are available for purchase (a major plus in the lady-pleasing department).
OUTSIDE THE CITY
Rent a motorbike on Huay Kaew Road and floor it up the winding route to Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Lock up your bike, trek down the nature path—or lack thereof—and scope out the Monthathan waterfall before reaching the pristine temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Hoof it back to the main road and flag down a strange-looking covered pickup truck with benches in the flatbed—it’s called a songthaew—to fire you back down the mountain. Shower time. You’ll soon be picked up by Pantawan Cooking School and driven to an open-air teak house where a local couple—Pan and Tawan—will teach you to make killer pad thai and veggie spring rolls. Trust us, this will be the end of your love affair with nasty Thai takeout.