Chiang Mai, located 700 kilometers from Bangkok, is one of the most important cultural and religious centers in Thailand as evidenced by its more than 300 Buddhist temples. Surrounded by mountains and a jungle environment of great beauty is very popular among nature lovers, trekkers, and adventure sports. In this Chiang Mai guide, you will discover everything about this city to prepare your trip.
Founded in 1296, Chiang Mai, once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and all of northern Thailand, today is a thriving city that has managed to maintain its cultural identity. Most likely, its geographical situation, which kept it relatively isolated until the 20s of the last century, was the cause of its heritage, its essence, and its personality.
Although the city is changing by leaps and bounds and the modern Thai lifestyle is already noticeable in almost every corner of Chiang Mai, it still has a calm and peaceful pace that has nothing to do with that of Bangkok. This relaxed atmosphere is complemented by a very cosmopolitan atmosphere. There is an important expatriate community, in addition to a large number of tourists it receives. Not surprisingly, it is the most visited city in northern Thailand.
What to see in Chiang Mai
If something is not going to be missing in Chiang Mai, these are things to see. The city has much to offer in this regard.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
It is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai and one of the most revered in northern Thailand. Located 18 km from the city on Mount Doi Suthep is a must-see.
The old City
In the past, this city was a walled city with a moat that surrounded it to defend against Burmese incursions. There are still several remains of the walls and the moat remains intact. Within the limits of the ancient city, there are a good number of temples to visit.
The temples of Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai and its surroundings, there are more than 300 temples. Among the most important within the city can be highlighted: Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chang Man, or Wat Jet Yod, among many others.
Among the most interesting museums are the Lanna people museum, the museum of insects and natural wonders, the national museum of Chiang Mai, and the center of arts and culture of Chiang Mai.
Hmong tribal villages
On Mount Doi Pui, there are two Hmong villages, Ban Doi Pui and the most interesting Ban Kun Chang Kian.
The Royal Winter Palace
Phra Tamnak Bhu Bhing can be visited when the royal family is not in the palace. It is famous for its gardens.
Several gardens are worth visiting among which the Dokmai Garden stands out. Other very interesting are the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek and the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden.
Its night market and its weekend markets are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. They are good places to make your shopping or to enjoy good Thai food at a great price.
What to do in Chiang Mai
Some people stay long times in this city. It is a place with an excellent atmosphere and that has a lot of things to do. If you are an active person, you will find a thousand plans to make in Chiang Mai.
The north of Thailand and especially Chiang Mai with its national parks are ideal for lovers of outdoor activities. Among the most popular activities are trekking, rafting, climbing, and mountain biking.
Spas and massages
Chiang Mai has countless spas and massage centers so you can enjoy and relax at any time of the day.
Rent a motorcycle and explore Chiang Mai and surroundings
Unlike Bangkok, in this city, you can move with a motorcycle and explore the city and its beautiful surroundings. Spend a day losing yourself in the mountains and exploring the area.
Take some course of something
The cultural influence of this city is also noticeable in a large number of schools and courses there. Learn some Thai language, Buddhism, traditional Thai massage, cooking, or Muay Thai.
Attend a Muay Thai evening
In northern Thailand, there is a great tradition of muay Thai and in Chaing Mai, there are some of the best training camps in the country.
Go to their markets and buy handicrafts: Chiang Mai is an ideal place to buy and take a souvenir of the country. Go to their markets, enjoy its atmosphere and buy some small pieces of tribal crafts.
Enjoy its cafés and restaurants
In this city, there is an important coffee culture. You will find hundreds of places to enjoy excellent coffee. You will also enjoy the culinary richness of this city, second only to Bangkok.
Attend one of their festivals
Several festivals follow each other throughout the year. If you are lucky enough to attend any of them, you will have an unforgettable experience. The most interesting is the flower festival, in early February, the Songkran, in mid-April, and the Loi Krathong, October-November.
Admire and buy art
Chiang Mai is one of the cultural poles of Thailand and also a refuge for artists. In the city, there are countless galleries and art exhibitions.
Experience your nightlife
Chiang Mai nightlife is the most active in northern Thailand. It does not reach the level of Bangkok but you will still find a wide range of bars and clubs, and you will surely have fun.
Accommodation in Chiang Mai
Although in recent years the city has suffered a certain price increase, accommodation in Chiang Mai is still quite cheap even for what is usually usual in Thailand. The city offers a wide range from cheap guesthouses to luxury resorts. Also, a growing number of small boutique hotels with charm and personalized attention are being opened.
The best areas to stay in Chaing Mai are the ancient city, which is determined by the quadrangular perimeter of the moat, the surroundings of the Thapae gate, and the river area.
The cheapest prices are around 100 bahts that can cost you a bed in a shared room in the cheapest hostels. A very simple double room with air conditioning and a single bathroom can be obtained for around 400 bahts.
Looking a little you can get good deals on rooms in five-star hotels for just over 2000 bahts. You can search for the best deals in the city at the following link:
When to go to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai like the rest of Thailand has three seasons: the cool season, from November to February, the warm season, from March to June, and the rainy season, from July to October. Any time is good to visit Chiang Mai, however, the best is during the cool season when temperatures are mild and it doesn’t rain.
It is also very interesting to visit this city when one of its most famous festivals such as Songkran, the Thai New Year, is celebrated in April; the Flower festival in early February; or Loi Krathong in late October or early November.
How to get around Chiang Mai
There are frequent flights from the main airports in the country, especially from Bangkok. Several low-cost airlines also operate. Some such as Air Asia or Nok Air fly from Don Mueng airport in Bangkok.
Another popular formula is by train, and especially using the night trains that allow you to sleep on a bed, save a hotel night, and arrive in the morning at a good time.
The cheapest option is to use the bus. There are different categories of buses at different prices. Interestingly, as a general rule, the bus, in addition to being the cheapest means of transport, covers the Bangkok Chiang Mai route faster than the train. You can expand the information in this Chiang Mai guide in this article: how to get to Chiang Mai.
How to move around Chiang Mai
The size of the city makes it possible to move on foot within the ancient city. If you do not feel like visiting the city on foot, another of the most recommended ways is to rent a bicycle, or better yet a motorcycle and move freely around the city. Traffic has nothing to do with the one in Bangkok and driving through its streets is not a problem.
Public transport is limited to songthaews (vans that work as buses or taxis) and tuk-tuks. Prices are negotiated with drivers. Songthaews can charge you between 20 and 60 baht per way within the ancient city and between 60 and 100 baht for taking you outside the ancient city. Tuk-tuk is somewhat more expensive and will charge you between 50 and 60 bahts for short runs, and from 100 bahts for somewhat longer runs.
It is very difficult to stop a taxi down the street. It is also very simple to rent a private car with a driver to make excursions around the city. Check with your hotel or with any travel agency.
Where to eat in Chiang Mai
Only in Bangkok, you will have a more varied culinary offer throughout Thailand. Chiang Mai is full of small restaurants and food stalls where you can enjoy the specialties of northern Thailand and the rest of the country. It eats well, with very fresh ingredients, and really cheap.
Some of the typical specialties of the area are Khao Soi (the most typical dish of the city and consisting of a kind of soup with curry, noodles, and meat), Hang Ley (a traditional dish with Lanna roots), and Sai-Ua.
You will eat well both in the best restaurants in the city and in the market stands. As a general rule, the hygienic conditions of the market stalls are acceptable, and their food is delicious and cheap. In the city, there are also a large number of international restaurants serving all kinds of food (Italian, French, Mexican, Spanish, hamburgers, Hindu, etc.).
Purchases from Chiang Mai
It is the most important handicraft production center in Thailand, so Chiang Mai is one of the best places to buy your souvenirs from Thailand. You will find the same type of products as in other places in the country but the greater variety and with better prices. This city is a good place to buy art, antiques or crafts.
In addition to the typical modern shopping centers with the best-known brands, you will also find a large number of small boutique shops and art galleries that sell local products from local designers and artists.
On the other hand, market culture is very important in Chiang Mai. You can not miss the night markets such as Night Bazaar, or weekends such as Saturday Walking Street or Sunday Walking Street.