Tours and Classes
Every other storefront in Chiang Mai seems to be a tour agency, but professionally run. Pick up a list of agencies approved by the Tourism Authority of Thailand before choosing one; the Chiang Mai branch is in a small building on the eastern bank of the Mae Ping River, opposite the New Bridge, open daily from 8:30 to 4:30.
Prices vary quite a bit, so shop around, and carefully examine the offerings. Each hotel also has its own travel desk with ties to a tour operator. The prices are often higher, as the hotel adds its own surcharge. If spending time in monasteries makes you wonder about the lives of the monks, or if you find yourself so enthralled by delicious dishes that you want to learn how to prepare them, you're in luck. Chiang Mai has hundreds of schools offering classes in anything from aromatherapy to Zen Buddhism. The city also has dozens of cooking classes—some in the kitchens of guesthouses, others fully accredited schools—teaching the basics of Thai cuisine. Courses cost from B800 to B1,000 a day. Alternative medicine, cooking, and massage are the other most popular courses, but by no means the most exotic. In three weeks at the Thailand's Elephant Conservation Center near Lampang, you can train to become a fully qualified mahout.
American University Alumni. The alumni group has been offering Thai language courses for more than two decades. Charges vary according to the duration of the course and the number of pupils. 24 Ratchadamnoen Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200. 053/278407; 053/277951; www.learnthaiinchiangmai.com.
Best Tuk Tuk Tours. A Thailand-born American named Paul Collins designs custom tours based on guests' schedules and interests. Fluent in Thai, Paul is a knowledgeable guide to the sights in and around Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai. 084/948–3315; besttuktuktours.wix.com/besttuktuktours. Prices vary based on sights and length of tour.
Nathlada Boonthueng. A TAT-registered English-speaking guide with a deep knowledge of the region, Nathlada "Timmy" Boonthueng is one of the best local independent operators. She conducts half-day, full-day, and multiday tours for groups and individuals. Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai. 081/531–6884; www.chiangmaidestination.com. From B500 for ½-day group tours.
SpiceRoads Cycle Tours. Themed cycling tours and holidays of varying durations are the specialty of this very professional Asian-based company. 1 Moon Muang Rd., Soi 7 , Old City, Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200. 053/215837 ; www.spiceroads.com. From B1,000 for ½-day tour.
Top North. This outfit arranges various one-day mountain tours and multiday trekking tours to hill tribe villages. 41 Moon Muang Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50100. 053/279–6235; www.topnorthtourchiangmai.com.
Chiangmai Cattleya Tour & Travel Services. Hillside Plaza 4, 50/53 Huay Kaew Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50300. 053/223991; www.chiangmaitour.com.
Pu-Chlee Travel. Puwana Mekara (Tony for short) and Thanchanok Wongkhajorn (also known as Ann) run this travel service in the heart of the Old City. Both are fluent in English and highly qualified. Old City, Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200. 083/764–6644.
World Travel Service. From its central office in Bangkok, Thailand's oldest travel agency organizes tours of Chiang Mai and northern Thailand lasting from one to seven days. 100/16 Huay Kaew Rd., Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50200. 053/217850; 02/233–5900; www.worldtravelservice.co.th.