Welcome to Chiang Mai
This is my Chiang Mai Wiki page and will be updated on a regular basis. If you have something to add please comment at the bottom of the page so everyone can benefit.
They say that you haven’t really visited Thailand until you have spent some time in the north of the country. It could equally be said that you haven’t really been to the north until you have spent some time in Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่). This is a very popular tourist destination with more than a million people visiting each year. Naturally all of these tourists means you can find some really excellent Chiang Mai resorts as well. Chiang Mai is the main city in the north of Thailand and for long time it was the capital of Lanna – the Northern Kingdom that once had its own king and separate identity from the rest of Thailand.
Chiang Mai has a lot to offer the tourist; you will find most of the comforts that you would expect to find in any modern city. Chiang Mai is full of temples (about 300 of them) and this really has an impact on the look and feel of the place. There is a huge selection of bars and restaurants with new places opening all the time – some are run by ex-pats but most are owned and run by Thais. It is also famous as a ‘book city’ and there is probably no other place in Thailand that has as many second-hand bookshops in such a small area. If you love books then you will have a great time in this city. There is also plenty of accommodation options and something to suit almost every budget. On one hand you will find Chiang Mai resorts costing tens of thousands of baht per night and on the other it is still possible to find Chiang Mai hostels for as little as 100 THB a night! Chiang Mai is as welcoming to the backpacker as it is to the richer tourist.
Chiang Mai has a large ex-pat population and you will else get many repeat visitors who view it as a second home. The nice thing about Chiang Mai city life is that it has almost everything you would want in regards to comforts, but it isn’t as busy as Bangkok. Another reason why ex-pats choose Chiang Mai is that Chiang Mai weather is a bit more favorable and during the cool season you actually might feel the need to wear a jacket. This is a city that manages to mix the best of western comfort with northern Thai hospitality. Chiang Mai is a modern city that still manages to hold on to much of its historical heritage.
Chiang Mai Arrivals and Departures
Chiang Mai is 700 km (about 435 miles) north of Bangkok and there are a number of options for how to get there.
Chiang Mai International Airport has flights to and from destinations in Thailand and other parts of South East Asia. Flights in Thailand are reasonably cheap and arriving by plane is probably the easiest option; especially if you want to travel to Chiang Mai from the islands or beach areas. The aircraft route between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is the busiest in the country. It is possible to pick up flights from Bangkok for as little as 1,500 THB one way.
There are frequent trains to Chiang Mai from Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station. It is possible to choose a number of different ways to make the journey; sprinter trains, overnight trains with sleeper compartments, and standard trains. If you want to travel by sleeper then it is recommended that you book your ticket in advance – you can do this up to sixty days before traveling. Chiang Mai train station is located on Charoen Muang Road which is about 3 km east of the city. The trains are safe and comfortable and there are plenty of refreshments available to purchase on board – it can be a bit pricey for things like beer though. The fastest trains can make the journey in just over eleven hours while the slower ones take about fifteen hours.
If you are coming from Bangkok you will find buses going to Chiang Mai leaving from Mo Chit bus station. These faster buses can make the journey in just 9 hours – this is significantly less time than the train. It is also cheaper (about 500 THB for 1st class air con) to travel by bus, but many people would claim that it is not the most comfortable option. It is also possible to get buses from many other cities throughout Thailand. The buses arrive in Arcade Bus Station in Chiang Mai. If you are staying in the Khao San Road area of Bangkok there are plenty of VIP buses going to Chiang Mai to choose from. There are frequent complaints about these private VIP buses and it is probably better to go from Mo Chit. In the past the Khao San Road buses have been known to try and shepherd people into guest houses of their choosing – most travelers are too tired to argue and the drivers get a nice kick back from the guest house owners.
Getting Around Chiang Mai
There are many options when it comes to getting around Chiang Mai. The roads here can be very busy so it is best to always leave extra time for appointments.
The traffic in Chiang Mai city can be bumper to bumper a lot of the time and accidents are far too common. Those who want to rent a motorbike or car should consider the dangers first of all. The city also has a complicated road system and many people don’t follow the rules of the road. If you are going to be driving or riding a motorbike you will need to be particularly careful around the moat; especially at the Tha Phae side of it. Many hotels, guesthouses, and shops will rent out motorbikes; make sure they provide a good helmet because you might need it.
The Tuk-Tuk gets its name from the noise it makes; although some are quieter than others. The Tuk-Tuk will take you wherever you want to go but you probably don’t want to hire one for long journeys – it would be too slow and would cost too much. It is best to always negotiate the price before agreeing to go in a Tuk-Tuk. A lot of Tuk-Tuk drivers will try to persuade you to hire them for the day or to go on a tour. If this is something that appeals to you and the price seems reasonable it could be a good option; just don’t allow the driver to talk you into this if it’s not something you are interested in.
There is also a regular taxi service. You can flag these down or get your hotel or guesthouse to order one for you. It is probably best to get the taxi driver to use the meter rather than agreeing to the price; although a lot of drivers will be resistant to the idea of using their meter, stand your ground if you want to be safe.
You will see plenty of songthaews following different routes around the city. These look like trucks but they act as buses. The words “song thaew” refers to the fact that they have two benches to sit on; although you will also see a lot of people standing and hanging on the sides of this vehicle. Unless you know the city and can read Thai the best option is to stop the songthaews by putting out your hand; tell the driver where you want to go and they will tell you if this is on their route – you may have to do this a few times. The songthaews are a good choice for traveling round the city because they are very cheap and you get to spend some time with the local population.
What to See in Chiang Mai
Doi Suthep (ดอยสุเทพ) is a mountain that overlooks the city and it is well worth a visit. On top of Doi Suthep there is a beautiful temple called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ). From up here you get a wonderful view of the city below. The steps up to the temple require you to use up a bit of energy but there is a lift for those who want to cheat; many Thais believe that you gain merit by walking up the steps. The temple gets quite busy at times but somehow still manages to keep a peaceful atmosphere. Inside you will find stunning murals and Buddha statues; you also get to strike all the temple bells for luck. You can find Doi Suthep temple about 15 km outside the city; you can go here on rented motorbike or by songthaew.
Tha Phae Gate
Tha Phae Gate is probably the heart of tourist Chiang Mai. This is in the eastern part of the city and there are many nearby bars, cafes, restaurants, book shops, and hotels. This used to be a part of the city where people would arrive by raft and this is how it got its name. These days it is hard to imagine how things once were – even the wall that can be seen there now is not the original. Tha Phae Gate is a good meeting point in Chiang Mai; there are a few benches nearby and it can be good to sit here in the evenings. If you want to get to the tourist area of Chiang Mai you can just tell taxi or tuk-tuk drivers that you want to go to Tha Phae; this will bring you near to most things. If you want to stay in the heart of the action here choose a Chinag Mai gate hotel for your accommodations.
Bo Sang can be found 9km away from Chiang Mai city. This place is more commonly referred to as ‘umbrella village’ because this is what makes it famous. The best time to visit this area is during January when there is an umbrella festival and beauty pageant. As well as umbrellas you will also find plenty of other local crafts on sale as well. Even if you have no interest in buying anything this is still an interesting place to visit.
Huay Teung Tao Reservoir
If you fancy a nice swim then Huay Teung Tao Reservoir can be a good place to go. This can be found 12 km to the northwest of the city. As well as swimming there are also a few activities on the water to enjoy such as wind surfing. It is also just a nice place to go for a picnic or walk. If it is the rainy season it is probably best to give this place a miss.
Doi Inthanon (ดอยอินทนนท์) is the highest mountain in Thailand and was named after a former king of Chiang Mai. This is part of a national park and the summit reaches 2,565 meters. Doi Inthanon is probably the only place in Thailand where the temperature can fall below freezing – something that makes it very popular with the Thais. If you intend to visit Doi Inthanon during the cold season it is highly recommended that you bring a warm jacket. As well as the mountain there are also lots of other beautiful sights to see in this national park including some waterfalls. Doi Inthanon is well over a hundred kilometers from the city but it is well worth the visit if you have the time.
What to Do in Chiang Mai
Party the Night Away
Chiang Mai is the place to go if you are in the north of Thailand and like plenty of entertainment nearby. You will find bars all around the city and there are also a few nice clubs as well. If you are a music lover then you will find venues to suit every taste; blues clubs, country and western, karaoke, Jazz, and Rock. If you want to experience some Thai pop or Thai country music you will find places where this is played as well. Chiang Mai also has a few beer-bars hosted by bar-girls and go-go clubs (see below).
Visit the Night Bazaar
The night bazaar in Chiang Mai is a ‘must-visit’ for all people staying in the city. It is a huge market that sells all types of thing from traditional hill-tribe souvenirs to electronic gadgets – you will also find plenty of copy DVDs and replica clothing. This is really the hub of Chiang Mai shopping for the tourist. The market gets going shortly before sundown but you are probably best waiting until about seven to see the best of it. You will find lots of good value items on sale and there are also some nice bars and restaurants situated near the market if you need some refreshment. If you want to get the best prices at the Chiang Mai night bazaar you better be prepared to bargain – otherwise you will end up paying a lot more than you should.
Go Shopping for Some Books
If you are a book lover you really will have a lot to hold your interest in Chiang Mai. There are many new and second hand book stores in the center of the city and the selection available is quite impressive. Don’t be surprised if you come across books that you read decades ago. The large number of visitors and the fact that they come from so many different backgrounds means that the books in the second hand bookshops are fascinating. There is a large selection of Buddhist books as well as travel related information and of course plenty of fiction. After you have found a book of interest you can take it to one of the local cafes or bars and get lost in it.
There are a few companies offering motorcycle tours of the Chiang Mai city life as well as further afield. Some of these use cross-country bikes so you would need to have a bit of experience with these to go on this type of tour. Motorcycle tours can be really enjoyable and you get to see a lot of northern Thailand that you would otherwise miss.
Visit the Local Temples
Chiang Mai has many Buddhist temples spread out around the city. Some of these are very ancient and give a glimpse into the history of the area. If you try to visit all the popular city temples in one day it can be a bit exhausting; it is probably best to spread these out throughout your visit. There are about three hundred temples in the Chiang Mai area; almost as many as there are in Bangkok.
Learn To Speak Thai
If you want to learn a bit of the local language you will find plenty of places offering this in Chiang Mai. If you want to learn as part of a group you might try one of the Thai language schools. If you prefer one on one then you might be best choosing a private tutor – you will see these advertised in a lot of bars and guesthouses. If you are serious about learning Thai and have a bit of time on your hands you might be able to apply for a one year education visa – this is probably easier with one of the language schools.
Learn Muay Thai or Just Watch a Match
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and it is also an important part of their heritage. No visit to the country is complete until you have at least seen this deadly art up close. If you are really interested you can learn the art yourself. There are a few Muay Thai gyms spread around Chiang Mai and some of these are willing to teach foreigners of all ages and levels. If you just want to go and watch you just have to look out for posters advertising the next bouts – there will be something most weeks.
Karaoke may have gone out of fashion in other parts of the world but it is as popular as ever in Thailand. This is a favorite entertainment choice for Thais and they really put their heart into each song. If you have never been to a Thai karaoke you will find plenty of venues in Chiang Mai. Don’t be surprised if people try to talk you into singing.
Visit the Chiang Mai Tribal Museum
The Chiang Mai tribal museum is well worth a visit if you have the time. Here you will get to find out more about the different hill tribes that live in the Chiang Mai area. The museum has a good selection of traditional crafts and other item of interest.
Go On a Meditation Retreat
There are a few places offering meditation retreats in Chiang Mai. If meditation is always something you wanted to learn then this is a great place to make it a reality. Wat Rampoeng is on the outskirts of the city and here you can go on 10 or 26 day retreats. You will also find places offering shorter courses. There are other meditation courses available at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Wat Suan Dok as well. If you just want to find out more about Buddhism there are regular talks held in the city on the subject.
Play a Round of Golf
The Chiang Mai golf scene may not be up to PGA standards, but there are several very good courses for those interested in playing a few holes while they are in Chiang Mai. The Santiburi Country Club is one Chiang Mai golf venue that gets good reviews consistently. It is located 30 minutes outside Chiang Mai and is a par 72 course designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr.
There are a few travel agents that can organize rock climbing tours for those interested. It is also possible to try out the largest rock climbing wall in Southeast Asia at The Peak Rock Climbing Plaza. You will also find a few bars and restaurants here; although it is advisable not to tackle the wall if you have been drinking.
Learn Thai Cooking
Find a Chiang Mai cooking school that offers courses in Thai cooking. As well as learning to make some of the national dishes you can also learn a bit of northern Thai cooking. This will mean that you can continue to enjoy your Thai holiday long after you have returned home. The Four Seasons Resort offers classes as does the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School which was the first ever Chiang Mai cooking school.
Chiang Mai Zoo
Chiang Mai Zoo is the home of the only panda bears in Thailand and this makes the locals very proud indeed. In fact these pandas are so famous that they can be viewed almost twenty-four hours a day on Thai TV. Lin Bing is the name of one of the youngest members of the Panda family and she is now one of the most famous celebrities in Thailand. If Lin Bing has a sniffle it will be mentioned in the national news. As well as the pandas there is also a lot more to see in this Zoo. The animals look well cared for and it is pleasant place to walk around for the afternoon; if you don’t feel up for a walk there is also a zoo bus service and even a monorail. If the heat of the city is getting to you then you might want to visit the snow dome in Chiang Mai Zoo; this is a fun place and you get to have snowball fights or go for a doughnut ski. And of course you can add to your Chiang Mai pictures collection here.
Songkran in Chiang Mai
Songkran is the Thai New Year, and during this time the whole of Thailand celebrates. Chiang Mai is famous for really making the most of this occasion and this is why many visitors choose to celebrate it here. Songkran occurs in mid-April and lasts for three days. If you are in Chiang Mai between the 13th and 15th of the month you might as well just join in the fun. The whole town is involved in water fights and other celebratory activities; it has to be seen to be believed. If you are expecting to arrive or leave the city during these dates you might want to change your plans – it can be chaos. It should also be noted that most road accidents in Thailand occur at this time of year. Also note that this is not a good time to add to your Chiang Mai pictures as you, and everything you are carrying, will get wet.
Bars and Restaurants in Chiang Mai
There are many bars and restaurants in Chiang Mai with something to suit almost every taste. Chiang Mai nightlife may not be as raucous as that in other parts of Thailand, but you can still have a great time. Here are just some of the most celebrated eateries and watering holes in the city. Bars are meant to close at midnight in Chiang Mai but many go on a lot later than this.
The Riverside is a beautiful restaurant and bar that looks right over the river. This is a lovely place to eat a meal in the evenings and most tourists will pay a visit during their stay. As well as Thai food you will also find a wide selection of international dishes. This is a huge restaurant but still gets quite busy in the evenings – if you want to sure of a table you might want to book ahead.
Tha Phae Gate
Daret’s house is the place to go if you want cheap Thai food. This is a friendly restaurant but it does get busy sometimes. This is also a guest house that offers accommodation for those on a modest budget – you can find a room for as little as 100 THB.
189 Huay Kaew Road
The Pub has been serving drinks for over forty years. It offers a huge selection of beers and spirits and there is also Thai and western food on offer. Like a lot of other pubs in the city you can watch all the major sporting events on a large screen. The Pub is also a nice place to go if you just want a chat.
The Red Lion
123 Loi Kroh Rd
The Red Lion has been around since 1997 and has become a popular hangout for ex-pats and visitors. It can be found right beside the night bazaar and this makes it a good choice if you fancy some refreshments after all that shopping. If you like British food this will be a good place to go for this as well. There is both an indoor and outdoor seating area. You will also find all the major sports events being shown here on large screens and in high definition.
O’Malleys Irish Pub
This is another famous ex-pat hangout near the night bazaar; it is run by a New Zealander and a Canadian so manages an international feel. The food here receives a lot of compliments for the large portions; especially the all-day breakfast and Sunday lunches. If you enjoy playing pool then you will be able to play this here; there is also a bar golf team. If you prefer to just watch sports then you will have no problem doing this as the bar has five televisions showing all the major events.
82 Chaiyaphun Rd
This is where many people will go once the bars around the city have shut for the night for a last taste of Chiang Mai nightlife. This club is made up of people looking for a last drink or on the lookout for a mate for the night. The dance floor is almost always packed and a lot of freelance sex workers are in attendance. Nobody knows why but for some reason Spicy is allowed to stay open later than almost anywhere else in the city.
Girlie bars in Chiang Mai
If you are looking for bar girls then you will find this type of venue mostly located on Loi Kroh road. There is a good selection to choose from on at the end of the road nearest to Tae Phae gate. If you head further down this Soi you will find Chiang Mai Entertainment Centre and here there is a whole arcade devoted to bar girls. The adult entrainment scene in Chiang Mai is a bit tamer than what you will find in Pattaya or Bangkok, but most people will manage a fun time. Not all hotels in Chiang Mai allow guests to take back women to their room so it is best to check first if this is what you intend to do.
Off the Beaten Track in Chiang Mai
San Pa Thong
San Pa Thong is the place to go on Saturdays if you are interested in seeing a live buffalo market. Most visitors to the village will have no interest in purchasing buffalo but it is a nice place to see just the same. Most visitors to Thailand never get to experience village life and this is a good way to do just that. You can find San Pa Thong south of Chiang Mai city.
You can find Bhuping Palace on the same road that you take to visit Doi Suthep. This is actually a winter home for the royal family but visitors are welcome to tour the gardens when the family is not there. The garden is very beautiful and it is a pleasant way to spend the afternoon.
Lamphun is actually a difference province but it is a good choice as a day trip from Chiang Mai – it is only 26 kilometers to the south of the city. Lamphun is the home of some wonderful temples and other historical buildings. It is possible to see most things in a day but if you want there are also a few accommodation possibilities.
Emergencies in Chiang Mai
Like the rest of Thailand Chiang Mai is generally a safe place for tourists. In recent years though, the city has been affected by some minor political unrest. If you see any Thais demonstrating the wisest move is to turn around and walk in the opposite direction – never get involved.
Like other parts of the world there are scam artists, but this usually involves small amounts of money. Never trust somebody who walks up to you in the street and seems overfriendly. If you are traveling by tuk-tuk always insist on agreeing to the price first and never allow them to talk you into going anywhere you don’t want to go. Many taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will try and take newcomers to a hotel or guest house of their choosing because they can get a commission for this; just say no if you don’t want this.
If you are the victim of crime then it is probably best to deal with the tourist police. In an emergency you can contact them on 1155 otherwise you can just dial 053-278559.
If you get in an accident or become ill there are a few good hospitals in the city. Some of these provide care that is on a par with hospitals in western countries. In fact there are many medical tourists who take advantage of the cheaper cost of treatment in Thailand. These hospitals are spread out around the city and most of the doctors can speak reasonable English. One of the top hospitals in the city is Chiang Mai Ram Hospital (053 224861) while a cheaper option is McCormick Hospital (053 241311). There are also Thai government hospitals which offer cheap care which is usually good. If you need an ambulance quickly the number to call is 1669 or 199.
There are also a number of consulates in Chiang Mai for countries such as; USA, Canada, UK, and Australia.
Highlights in Chiang Mai
– The night bazaar in Chiang Mai is definitely one of the highlights of any visit to the city. Even if you don’t want to avail yourself of this Chiang Mai shopping opportunity it can still be nice to have a look around the area or visit some of the local entertainment venues.
– Doi Suthep provides a wonderful view of the city and the temple is one of the most interesting in Thailand.
– The Songkran festival in Chiang Mai is not to be missed. This is celebrated throughout Thailand during April, but Chiang Mai is probably the most fun place to enjoy it.
Where to Next?
– Pai is a small town way up in the mountains that is very popular with foreign visitors. If you are looking for a peaceful oasis for a few days then this would be a good trip to take.
– Chiang Rai is the other big city in northern Thailand. This has a bit of a slower pace than Chiang Mai and it’s the gateway to the golden triangle.
– Take a flight to Phuket and enjoy a bit of beach time.