Forget taxis. One of the best ways to glimpse Northern Thailand’s teeming religious and culinary capital is via tuk-tuk, a three-wheeled, doorless motorized rickshaw that rides like a golf cart on steroids. Before adventuring, check into 137 Pillars House (from $331; 137pillarshouse.com), a nineteenth-century teak mansion whose old-world trappings include claw-foot bathtubs and four-poster beds. From there, embark on a customizable outing with Best Tuk Tuk Tours, run by Thailand-born American citizen Paul Collins—Chiang Mai’s sole farang, or foreign, tuk-tuk guide. The vehicles seat up to three, in addition to the driver, and start at $50 per person for eight to nine hours, but should be booked at least a month in advance by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. (Alternatively, raise a hand to hail a tuk-tuk on the street and negotiate a rate; expect to pay $3.50 to $7 an hour, with a tip of at least $1 an hour for good service.) Though Collins is happy to curate an itinerary, create your own by starting at sprawling, sensory-overload Warorot Market (Chang Moi Rd. at Chang Klan Rd.), where vendors sling mangosteens, a spiced sai ua sausage, and local handicrafts. Next, commune with Buddhist monks at sacred Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Huai Kaew Rd.), which sits atop a 5,499-foot mountain. Climb 306 steps or take a tram to the temple for a panoramic view of Chiang Mai. Afterward, grab a banana-flower salad and purple-tinted anchan juice at the namesake Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant (Nimmanhaeminda Rd., opposite Soi 13; 66-83-581-1689), which opened last fall. Just save space for the city’s specialty—khao soi, or crispy and soft wheat-flour noodles in a coconut-curry broth, best inhaled at ramshackle, open-air restaurant Khao Soi Lam Duan (352/22 Charoen Rat Rd.; 66-53-243-519), a favorite of Pok Pok Ny chef Andy Ricker. Too full to walk? The tuk-tuk will take you home.
The thrill-o-meter: Minor buzz.