About Chiang mai
Chiang mai is situated in the North of Thailand and is it’s second largest city after Bangkok. It can be much cheaper than the South of Thailand and the food is not only healthier but also tastier and more vegetarian friendly in my opinion. The old city in the centre of Chiang mai can feel almost like being in a tourist bubble – while Chiang mai retains it’s beauty and history it has greatly succumbed to tourism, the eastern side in particular being heavily laiden with Thai guesthouses, tuktuks and farang restaurants and bars.
While the old city is full of temples, scenic sois and the Chiang mai night market walking street, outside the Chiang mai old city is more modern and local. For the average person from Bangkok to Chiang mai, three days would probably be a suitable amount of time to spend about Chiang mai but it also depends on how many activities each individual wants to take part in.
Wat Phra Singh, the largest temple within the walled city
Bangkok to Chiang mai
You can generally travel by bus from Bangkok to Chiang mai for around 500 baht or take a train, a first class sleeper costing around 1300 baht. You may want to book in advance to be safe though. The train takes roughly half a day from Bangkok to Chiang mai and the bus is similar also. Planes tend to cost around 1500 baht each way but can vary in price – Nok airways and Air Asia are the cheapest airlines for this route from Bangkok to Chiang mai and take only 1 hour 15 minutes; domestic flights often leave from Don Muang airport in Bangkok.
How to get from Chiang mai airport to the city
Make sure to get a ticket from the taxi counter once about Chiang mai airport – it allows you to get a taxi for the fixed price of 120 baht to anywhere in the old city of Chiang mai. It is very clearly marked.
Travel Map Of Chiang Mai
Key areas of Chiang mai for tourists
Thapae gate, at the eastern end of Chiang mai old city, is the most convenient area for tourists to stay about Chiangmai; it’s brimming with both cheap and luxury accommodations alike, packed with charming and delicious restaurants, bars and ‘van’ bars that pop up on the sidewalks at night. You won’t struggle to find what to do in Chiang mai if you stay around Thapae gate. It’s easy to arrange tours and transport as there are plenty of travel agents; it is also in very easy walking distance to the Chiang mai night markets and famous Loi Kroh road.
For pure comfort and luxury, De Naga Hotel is perfectly situated in the heart of the old city at Thapae gate. A cheap nearby alternative to stay around Thapae gate is Pepper House costing from only 350 baht per room. There are many other cheap places along the road of Pepper House to choose from though.
Chiang mai old city is actually quite small and compact, being around 1.5km in length each way so it is perfectly feasible to explore the area by foot. Transport is actually a little lame about Chiang mai old city if I am honest – something to do with the mafia so I have read – so you will not find taxis around, only tuktuks and Songtaews left to wreak havoc on tourists and charge whatever they feel like.
Most Chiang mai guesthouses offer bicycle or scooter rent though – you really don’t need to look hard to find some place renting them out otherwise. Scooters cost from 200 baht while bikes start from 50 baht. The roads are relatively tame and not too busy within Chiang mai old city, however surrounding the walls is a super busy, multi-laned, heavily trafficked system which may be quite terrifying for some people.
What to do in Chiangmai
- Rent a bicycle and cycle the pretty sois to explore the old city of Chiang mai at your own pace. Stop at souvenir or clothes shops, characterful cafes and the many temples that scatter the old city. See above for info on bike hire about Chiang mai.
Wat Jet Lin, one of Chiang mai’s lesser known temples that are dotted around the old city
- There are many guided trekking tours available. Treks vary in the number of days they take and usually involve a waterfall visit, rafting and an overnight stay with a hilltribe. Check Travelhub in Chiang mai for a good selection of activities.
- Horse riding with Thai Horse Farm. Explore the natural beauty of Chiang mai on the back of a horse by day and camp in the wilderness by night.
- Drive a trail bike or ATV through the jungle, go bungee jumping or try your hand at xorbing with Xcentre or many of the other companies offering extreme sports activities in Chiang mai.
- Stuff with elephants! Riding an elephant is a must for most tourists in Thailand… however without sounding too preachy, it is important to bare in mind the ethics and treatment of the animals by each particular company when partaking in elephant related activities. You can read more about elephant cruelty in tourism here. Patara Elephant Farm are a good company and their programme allows people to own and take care of an elephant for the day in Chiang mai. It’s not cheap, but you get what you pay for (i.e. good karma and a clean conscience!). I also do not recommend Tiger Kingdom in Chiang mai as the morality and animal friendliness of this is questionable.
- Visit Pai. Pai is a popular mountain village amongst Thai tourists and young travellers. It is a peaceful and colourful retreat with a creative spirit ideal for a place to just simply hangout. Buses in Chiang mai leave hourly for only 190 baht bookable through most travel agents and hotels.
- Visit the historical, ex-capital city Sukhothai and it’s vast ruins in the Thailand countryside.
- Do a cookery class – not very original but still easy, fun and great to meet people nonetheless. Generally, the price (average 800 baht) includes a trip to a market, a recipe book and the making/eating of around five Thai meals (depending on the school). Basil and Thai Cottage are good schools about Chiang mai but there are many others to choose from.
- Eat! Dining out is so much cheaper in Chiang mai than it is in the South of Thailand and in my opinion, way tastier. Dada cafe, on Ratmakka Road near Thapae gate road, do very good vegetarian and healthy food as well as great smoothies. ‘Gat Glang Wiang’ is a very pretty, hidden courtyard of restaurants and cafes sometimes with live jazz music on an evening. It is located smack bang in the centre of the old city, on Ratchadamnoen Road, with a Wawee Coffee shop at the front of it. For authentic and cheap Thai cuisine in Chiang mai, make sure to stop by the infamous Aroon Rai restaurant between Thapae gate and Loi Khor road.
Hot Chilli at the Gat Glang Wiang courtyard
- Relax in Queen Sirikit gardens or the Doi Suthep national park and temple grounds. Picnic in Huay Tung Tao lake a few km north outside of the old city, either by scooter or pushbike – for more cycle routes and info visit chiangmaicycling.org
- Umong temple, an unusual and somewhat unorthodox temple situated in the forests outside of Chiang mai, offer weekly meditation classes and talks in English every sunday at 3pm.
What to do in Chiang mai at night
See the performances at the night bazaar’s food court
- Visit the Chiang mai Night Market Bazaar on a weeknight. Sample the food, be entertained by the free shows, marvel at the lights and spend all your hard earned money on the silks, wooden carvings and jewellery.
Chiang mai night bazaar
- On the weekend make sure to check out the Walking Street (Chiang mai night market) – it seems to go on forever (in a good way) and has some really unique items for sale including loads of paintings and artwork. There are many people giving performances and playing live music in the middle of the roads too. On Saturdays you can find the Chiang mai night market walking street on Wualai Road just at the southern gate of the old city, on Sundays it is on Ratchadamnoen Road which starts at the eastern Thapae gate.
- Drink. Loi Kroh road is the most popular road for nightlife among tourists in Chiang mai, however despite the immense number of bars it can be a little samey and also more geared towards men. There are mainly ‘bar girl bars’ along here but you can still find other bars if you look for them and it’s worth a gander anyway even if you do find it to be a tad sleazy. Chiang mai is really quite relaxed and mellow in comparison with the South of Thailand – meaning tuktuk drivers arent so pushy and Loi Kroh road is more subtle and chilled out without any hassle like say, Patpong in Bangkok.
Random cocktail car on south Ratpakinai Road – the south eastern side of the city.
- For a different scene, grab a Songthaew out of Chiang mai old city to Nimmanhaemin Road, a much more modern and fresh area of the city where the young locals and Thai students hangout.
Quirky accessories/ furniture shop nearby Nimmanhaemin Road
From Bangkok to Chiang mai… Looking for more travel ideas for what to do in Thailand? End your holiday with a relaxing visit to the beach for some island hopping.