Chiang Mai full travel guide

When you are you going to Chiang Mai Thailand sea resorts will not be available as there is no sea in this part of the country. However, Chiang Mai Province can offer a lot of other interesting things: amazing mountains and valleys, which you can’t meet in the south or in the central part of the country, ancient temples, unique architecture, delicious food, and authentic culture. Near Chiang Mai, there are many distinct peoples who have kept their traditions since ancient times. It is a home to world-famous Karen tribe for whom a woman with a long neck and big ears is an icon. The women use rings to extend their necks to epic proportions.

Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna kingdom back in the time when Bangkok was a tiny village that was known only to the inhabitants of neighboring villages. The city was built in 1296 and now, Chiang Mai is the cultural capital of Thailand. There is a well-developed infrastructure with hotels, restaurants and bars; there are many travel agencies offering tours of the province. There is also nightlife and hot entertainment, but it’s not as obvious as on many popular resorts.

So, if you like that sort of historical sites, then Chiang Mai is certainly worth visiting.

Weather

Chiang Mai weather is pleasant because it is not so hot here as in the rest of Thailand where the heat is kept even at night. Here, after the sunset, it gets cooler, and in the winter months, the thermometer can drop below 20 degrees above zero, of course. The tourist season lasts all year round and the best time to visit is the cold season from December to February because comfortable warm weather sets and it rains little.

There are three seasons in Chiang Mai:

  1. Cold season lasts from November to February. Daytime temperatures are very comfortable, but the nights can be cool and you need warm clothes. There’s almost no rainfall. It’s the best time to visit the city and the province.
  2. Hot season lasts from March to June. It’s the hottest time of the year with daytime temperatures reaching up to 40 degrees. It doesn’t rain much, but the humidity is very high. The problem is that forest fires in the jungle are frequent in this period and, as a result, there’s much smoke, inability to enjoy the scenery and go hiking in the jungle. This time is even called the “fire season” and is not recommended for a visit.
  3. Rain season lasts from July to October. The temperature is quite comfortable, but there’s high precipitation. Fortunately, the rains are usually short-term, though abundant. It’s quite a good season to see the sights in and around the city, but not the best choice for trekking trips in the mountains or villages of exotic tribes.

Tip: Though the climate in Chiang Mai is tropical, nights can be quite cold, especially in winter, especially in high mountain areas. Therefore, when going there, take warm clothing, for example, a light jacket or sweater.

Photos

If you need a preliminary meeting with Chiang Mai Thailand Photos of this city and province will help you a lot. Be ready to see not only unique places of interest and nature beauty but also a lot of other unusual things:

  • Planes are constantly flying above Chiang Mai as the airport is located within the city.
  • In Chiang Mai, there many international couples. But mostly they are young and middle-aged people.
  • In Chiang Mai, the streets are cleaner than in Bangkok.
  • In Chiang Mai, there are almost no products with the symbols of Bangkok.
  • In Chiang Mai, as well as in Pattaya, massage parlors are at every turn.
  • In Chiang Mai, there are bike paths, what is not typical for Thailand.
  • In Chiang Mai, on every corner, you’ll see a bicycle rental.
  • On the streets, there are many sidewalks. This is another fact which distinguishes the northern capital from other cities of Thailand.

How to get to Chiang Mai by air

There are both domestic and international flights to Chiang Mai. The route from Bangkok is one of the busiest in the country (Thai Airways fly every day, almost every hour, and offer additional flights during the high season). Other Airlines operates direct flights to Chiang Mai, including:

  1. Low-cost AirAsia and NokAir. The planes depart from Bangkok’s old airport Dong Muang. AirAsia is the cheapest option if you book at least a week before departure – you will pay about 1,400 baht (plus fees for baggage, meals, seat reservation) from Bangkok and 2,000–2,500 baht from Phuket. Promotion may be even cheaper.
  2. Just from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport, there are Bangkok and Samui Airways flights to Chiang Mai. Surprisingly, Bangkok Airways often offer the cheapest fares, even cheaper than the low-cost airlines, especially if you book a ticket for just one or a few days before the departure.
  3. Kan Air flies to Chiang Mai from Khon Kaen, Pai Nan, Mae Hong Son and Phitsanulok.
  4. SGA, recently renamed Nok Mini, flies from Chiang Rai (twice a day), Mae Hong Son (once a day), Nan (daily) and Pai (once a day). You can book the tickets online on Nok Air web-site.

As for the international flights, you can get to Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur, some cities in China, Australia, and Singapore. There are seasonal flights from Hong Kong, Seoul, and Taipei.

The airport is located about 3 km southwest of the city center, just 10–15 minutes away by car. An official airport taxis charge a fee of 120 baht per passenger up to 5 people for a ride anywhere in the city. If you take a taxi with the meter, the fee will start from 40 baht to 50 baht + the service Meter Taxi counter. Taxis depart and drive up to the exit in the northern part of the terminal. After the baggage claim and / or customs clearance go to the reception hall and turn left. Or you can take bus number 4 to the city center for 15 baht or take a tuk-tuk or songteu for 50-60 baht per person. Most hotels and some high-quality guesthouses offer cheap or free shuttle service.

How to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok

In addition to flights from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, there are lots of other ways to get to this city.

By bus

Buses to Chiang Mai from Bangkok run from the bus station MoChit. There are day and night buses and they go almost every half hour. Usually, tickets are always available, but if you need to leave at a certain time or by a certain class, then it’s better to buy in advance, especially during Thai holidays.

If you travel by public buses be ready to frequent stops in every little village. The trip takes about 12 hours and costs 200 baht. Non-stop buses with 24/32 seats and 1st class buses, belonging Nakhonchai Air, for instance, provides more seats and food, making a long trip more comfortable. They cope with the route for 9 hours and the trip costs 550–800 baht.

MoChit North Bus Station is a 15-minute walk from the subway stations Mochit (BTS) and Chatuchak Park (MRT), they are located near each other: one of the branches is above ground (BTS), another is underground (MRT). You arrive at Chiang Mai at the bus station Arcade Bus Terminal. Next, the easiest way to get to your place is to take songthaew for 20–60 baht. As a rule, they go to the Old City, a central part of the city, located in the square. There are a lot of cheap guesthouses and cafes there.<

By train

You can get to Chiang Mai by train, as well, but it will be slightly more expensive than the bus trip, and often there are no tickets for sleepers (reclining seats are always available), especially during the holidays. It is necessary to buy tickets in advance, a week before you leave. The cost of an air-conditioned 2nd class sleeper is about 800–900 baht. The 3rd class seat in an ordinary train cost about 300 baht.

In Bangkok, you will need the railway station Hua Lamphong, which can be reached by subway. The station is also called Hua Lamphong (MRT), you will not get wrong. Be ready that if there are no train tickets, you will be offered to travel by bus, but the prices are twice higher than if you go from the bus station MoChit.

Chiang Mai Railway Station is about 3 km east of the city center. A lot of songthaew and tuk-tuks are waiting for the arrival of each train. If you want to walk, exit the station, go through the open area in front of the building and turn left at the first main road (Charoen Muang Road). This road goes straight to the city center.

How to get to Phuket from Chiang Mai

If you want to travel from Chiang Mai to Phuket, you can take a direct flight by Bangkok Airways. The flight will cost about 3000-4000 baht minimum, flights are carried out several times a day. There are also flights with a connection in Bangkok.

The second option is to go by bus. Since 2011, there are routes between Chiang Mai and Phuket, which runs between the two cities once a day. The journey lasts 24 hours and costs about 1,500 baht. However, it’s quite tiring to go the whole day. It is better to drive to Chiang Mai Bus Station MoChit (all buses make a stop there) and transfer to a bus to Phuket.

What to do in Chiang Mai

There are lots of interesting things to do in Chiang Mai.

Relax

Tourists often come to Chiang Mai to improve their health. Here, you can both enjoy a low-cost and high-quality massage (from 150 baht, usually 180-200 baht) and complete training in one of the most qualified Thai massage schools in Thailand. The choice of schools is great. For example, International Training Massage School (ITM) offers courses from three days to three months (three-day course costs 4,200 baht). Other schools offer shorter courses (cost-per-day rate – 1,300 baht). Courses are popular, some graduates after several months of training open their schools or find work in spas in different countries.

Shopping

In Chiang Mai, there are both outdoor and indoor shopping facilities. As for the first, it’s Sunday Market, or Night Market. Here you can buy all possible souvenirs made by local craftsmen. In search of global brands, choose two shopping centers (in fact, they are even four, but the two are easier to get). Airport Plaza is more modern with a lot of Asian and global brands. There is a cinema showing films in English (150–200 baht). Kad Suan Kaew is the first Shopping Mall in Chiang Mai. The prices are almost the same, you can find inexpensive food, fruit, and vegetarian dishes.

Ecotourism

For every taste: the biggest zoo in northern Thailand (150 baht), night safari, elephants, tigers, snakes, hot springs and waterfalls. This may also include a trip to the highest point in Thailand – Doi Inthanon (which is part of the park). You can visit all these places both independently (by motorbike) and using the services of numerous travel agencies. With regard to the highest point, do not expect that you will climb as you can go by bike or taxi almost to the top. If you are lucky and the weather is clear, you can enjoy scenic views.

Bike travelling

You can go on a short journey by bicycle or motorbike. The first one is perfect for exploring the city itself, while on a bike, the freedom of movement increases and you can easily go to the nearby cities (Pai, Chiang Dao, etc.). Usual bicycle costs 50 baht per day (sports – from 150 and more). To rent a motorbike, you should pay 100–250 baht per day (150 baht for an automatic one, 100 – for a semi-automatic). Add 50 baht for insurance. If you are going to use the bike outside Chiang Mai, add more 50 baht.

Though bicycles and bikes on the road are full participants in traffic and everyone treat them with respect and accuracy, unpleasant incidents sometimes happen. Wear the helmet! You can rare see the police. But they can stop you to check the license or because of the lack of a helmet.

Sport

Yes. That’s it – sport. If you come to Chiang Mai for a couple of weeks, maybe it’s not so interesting, but if you are going to spend here a month or more, do not miss it! The most exciting is climbing. Climbing area is a 40-minute drive of the city. The local climbing school CMRCA helps you to get to the rocks, to find a partner or give you the initial training. In addition, there are excellent schools of Thai boxing, the 50-meter swimming pool, golf, biking, rafting, kayaking, and many other opportunities.

What to see in Chiang Mai

As there is no sea here, many tourists ask what to see in Chiang Mai. Thailand is a unique country where every region is ready to amaze and entertain you. If you come here for a day or two, you can’t manage t all the sights. Then choose the most interesting places in Chiang Mai in the old town and take a trip to Doi Suthep Mountain with the viewing platform and one of the main temples. Yet, it is desirable to have 4–5 days to see everything with sense and feeling. And not just a tick, I was here. Depending on your preferences, you can create your itinerary, visit something in the first place, other things omit if you’re not interested.

Temples

Chiang Mai attractions are first of all historical monuments and natural beauty. Just inside the Old Town, there are more than 30 temples (as within the entire city, there are about 300). You can reach them on foot (or by bike / motorbike). Take the time to wake up early and visit the temples before lunch, because after 10–11 o’clock they will be crowded by other tourists. The main are:

  • the biggest Wat Chedi Luang,
  • the oldest Wat Chiang Man,
  • the highest Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (located on Mount Doi Suthep),
  • beautiful wooden Wat Phan Tao (especially in spring when flowers bloom backyard).

Their architecture differs from modern temples of Thailand. Around 18.00 in many temples, Chanting begins (this is not a prayer to God, as in Christianity, but rather a tool for enlightenment). It’s quite an interesting cultural experience, even if you are indifferent to all religions. Do not forget that in front of the temple you need to take off your shoes and that clothing must cover the shoulders and legs below the knee.

Museums

Several museums deserve your attention, as well. There you can get acquainted in detail with the history of these places and the life of the local people. The most interesting are three museums near the statue of the Three Kings (pay 180 baht per visit to all three museums), if you know English. Here, you will learn a lot of new and interesting information about the Kingdom of Lanna, Chiang Mai, stories of arrival of Buddhism in northern Thailand. Another museum is Art in Paradise (3D Art Museum). Language skills are not required, only a camera and good mood (300 baht).

Old Town

Let’s go back to the Old Town. It is square and surrounded across the area with the old and destroyed walls and a moat. Almost everything inside these walls can be called the museum exhibits. Old Town is a very important part of Chiang Mai with the ancient Buddhist temples and one of the most popular activities among tourists – the market mentioned above (Sunday Market). In the market, you can see the traditional dances performed by children, hear an amazing play of blind musicians, eat, and buy different handmade goods.

Zoo and Water Park

These attractions are located in the same place, a few kilometers west of the old town. The zoo is one of the best in Thailand because of the pandas from China named Lin Hui and Chuan Chuan. They attract not only tourists but also the Thais living in other cities. In addition, there are lots of animals from different parts of the world: the white tiger, Australian koalas, elephants, hippos, parrots, etc. Every day you can watch free shows with animals. Entrance to the Zoo costs 100 baht, but to see the pandas, you have to pay another 100 baht. Aquarium with a variety of marine life is also located here. You should buy the ticket separately and it costs 500 baht.

Festivals

The most beautiful and interesting festival is a national holiday Loi Krathong, which usually starts in the second half of November. During the festival, the locals make a lot of interesting rituals. One of the most interesting includes launching of small boats, which resemble a lotus flower by its shape. Today, miniature boats are baked from the dough, while many years ago the locals made them out of banana leaves. You should put some coins, sweets and fruit, as well as a small lighted candle in the boat, and then gently pull it to the water. It is believed that after this ritual the water Spirits can help to successfully complete all the rites of purification and to tune in a positive way.

So let’s sum up (and add something new), what to do and see in Chiang Mai:

  • Large shopping centers,
  • Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden,
  • Centers of meditation and yoga,
  • Royal Garden Royal Flora, where a large-scale festival of colors takes place,
  • Zoo with pandas, Aquarium and snow home,
  • Thai boxing Muay Thai,
  • Thai massage of northern schools that differs in quality from the south,
  • Healing hot springs,
  • Buddhist temples,
  • Sunday Market, Night Market and Warorot Market,
  • An unusual museum with the wonders of nature and insects,
  • Villages of elephants (one of them with the royal elephants),
  • Farms with orchids, snakes, monkeys and even beetles,
  • Museum of 3D graphics,
  • Night and day safari,
  • National parks and lakes,
  • Travel through the mountains by mountain bikes or horses,
  • Golf, cricket, tennis, table tennis,
  • Flight on the Gibbon Adventure Tour (over the jungle),
  • Jeeping, rafting, go-carting, airsoft, rock climbing, bungee jumping,
  • SPAs with a full range of services,
  • Cooking School, as well as Thai massage and boxing schools, where you will learn all these arts,
  • Festivals and holidays.

And the list is still not complete or detailed.

Elephant Park in Chiang Mai

If you want to visit Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai is one of the best places for this. Elephant Nature Park takes the territory of 800 hectares in the province of Chiang Mai, where people take care of sick and injured animals. It is a rescue center for all elephants in Thailand, founded in 1990. The park is located in a valley with a river surrounded by thick forests.

The founder of the park was born in a mountain tribe in northern Thailand, his grandfather was a man of the jungle and taught his grandson to communicate with wild elephants. The Elephant Nature Park is home not only to the wounded animals but also to those who can not work in the logging industry or tourism because of their age. All of them receive qualified medical assistance and care. Most of the park staff are local and foreign volunteers.

Elephant Nature >Park has received international recognition. The magazine “The Times” in 2005 called it “Asian hero of the year.” References to the park are found in the films on Animal Planet, BBC, National Geographic and CNN. The park received many awards, including one from the Smithsonian Institution.

While visiting the Natural Park of elephants, you can get a lot of interesting knowledge about the animals, see how they are washed and fed. You can also try to train elephants, but only under the guidance of professional trainers. In total, the park staff rescued more than 37 elephants across the country. It is important that the animals here are kept in their natural habitat while receiving continuous care.

Nightlife

In the northern city of Chiang Mai Thailand nightlife is not so bright as in Bangkok, but still there are a few bars in the east of the city. There are gay-friendly places, as well as various shows. So, you can find interesting entertainment in Chiang Mai.

Do you like dancing and disco? Then look for the big hotels in Chiang Mai (Hotel Space Ruble and others). Such places usually charge entrance fees and cost no more than 100 baht. A drink from a local bar is usually included in the price. Dance clubs at hotels are more European like when the local Thai clubs may seem a little more interesting. Learn in advance about the opening hours, some are open until early morning, others – up to a certain hour.

Bars are scattered throughout the city, yet most of them are concentrated on the east bank of the Ping River, as well as in the western part of the island on the street Thanon Nimmanhemin, full of local students. The most popular bars in Chiang Mai: Babylon, Heaven Beach, and Utopia. The visitors are tourists and local youth. Music is unusual and modern. Moreover, you can meet legendary Thai singers in these bars.

Like Phuket, Bangkok and the rest of Thailand, Chiang Mai have pretty lady-boys, and cabaret show is the best place where you can easily identify the cutest and most talented of them all. The range of topics in cabaret is vast: from charming to the fun, but colorful musical performances are always interesting. Now, you can enjoy the best show at the night market in the southern part of the market Anusarn. The beginning is at 21.00.

One of the new trends, becoming so popular in Chiang Mai, are van bars. Full-scale vans are converted into mobile pubs made with full bar counter, music and even chairs. Some even have a retractable roof and a color-sound system. The most common place to find the bar is opposite Tha Pae Gate, near the bar THC.

Street Thanon Chang Phuak and nearby Soi are geared for people with different sexual identity. Basically,these are small and cozy gay-friendly bars.

Cuisine

If you like delicious food, you will like Chiang Mai Thai Cuisine. The city is considered the second gastronomic capital of Thailand after Bangkok, and the main here is cooking school from north of the country.

The northern Thailand has inherited the culinary traditions of the once powerful Lanna Kingdom. A special sign of the northeast Thai cuisine is the use of tomatoes in curries and other dishes, while in other parts of Thailand tomato, as a rule, is added to vegetable salads.

One of the best dishes to try in Chiang Mai is Kao Soi – a kind of noodle soup, one of the most famous culinary contributions of Chiang Mai in Thai cuisine. The classic version combines two types of noodles, wheat noodles and crispy egg noodles fried in curry sauce with coconut milk, cooked meat (Heya) or chicken (Kai). It serves with pickled cabbage, a slice of lime, shallots or red onion, and paste of roasted pepper. Today, Kai Soi is very popular as a street food, you can try it in almost any restaurant, cafe, but the dish is not often available in Thai restaurants in other countries.

Nam Prik Ong is also a traditional culinary specialty of northern Thailand; it’s chopped pork with tomato and chili, somewhat like Bolognese sauce. While being in Chiang Mai, do not miss an opportunity to try Kaang Hang Lai, a delicious dish, which is often served at festive table. It’s pork curry in the style of Lanna cuisine, flavored with peanuts and ginger.

Khao Niao Ping (sticky rice with beans). It’s a wonderful food that refers to the local snacks (Khan Om), which is sold by street vendors or in the markets of Northern Thailand. Sticky rice is mixed with moong dal and small beans, then filled with sweet coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed over the coals. Khao Niao Ping serves as a light lunch or a hearty snack. Eat it warm.

Where to eat in Chiang Mai

There are restaurants with vegetarian cuisine, as well as places that specialize in seafood. Those who are tired of spicy Thai food will find a good variety of restaurants with Western cuisine, from pro-American burgers to quasi-Italian pasta. The main tourist catering places are located in the Old Town near the gate of Tha Phae gate.

Try street food – it’s very delicious and quite safe. The food is prepared on the spot, and the choice is not limited to some sandwiches or buns. They cook rice and noodles, all sorts of different soups and broths, sauces. In many places, you can even sit and your food at a table. Tables and chairs are very simple, plastic ones, and often stand right on the sidewalk, or slightly away from the curb. The lunch or dinner with 1-2 dishes will cost you 100–250 baht for two. There are flatware (spoons, chopsticks, and forks), wipes, various sauces, and peppers.

There are also local eateries. There are usually tables that occupy a small area, there is an awning or canopy. The plates and flatware are fairly simple, the choice of dishes, is not great either: rice, chicken, noodles, seafood. And there are cafes that specialize in a single dish: for example, only meat and cooked rice are served. Though there is no sea near Chiang Mai, you can find seafood in a wide range everywhere: in the market, by street vendors, and in café-restaurants.

As for the latter, do not miss the North Gat Jazz Café, a small cafe in the north of the Old Town (almost opposite). It is particularly interesting on Thursdays. If you are fond of cats, you will like the Catmosphere cafe. In addition to delicious coffee and cake, you’ll get a positive charge from the surrounding cats which feel at home there. And you are their guests. Pay attention to the Restaurant Art Cafe. It serves Thai, American, Italian and Mexican cuisines. The windows of the restaurant go directly to the square of Tha Phae gate. Restaurant The Riverside Bar & Restaurant has been operating for nearly 30 years and managed to gain popularity. The restaurant is located near the river; good food and live music are at your disposal.

Chiang Mai is a historic and cultural center of Thailand. If you do not know what else to see in Thailand, go to Chiang Mai. You’d better choose the dates of national holidays or festivals. The city will make a special impression on you. It will not leave anyone indifferent.