- Largest city and cultural capital of Northern Thailand (metro population of 1 million).
- Known for its great bargains on shopping, eating, and lodging, Chiang Mai attracts over 5 million visitors a year (of which 2 million are foreign tourists).
- Nickname: The Rose of the North.
- Currency: Thai Baht (THB).
- Spoken languages: Thai. English is also widely spoken.
- Best time to visit: from November to February (the cool, dry months).
- Arriving via airport: public transport (airport taxis) is 120 THB, songthaew is 50-60 THB.
WHERE TO STAY
Most new arrivals stay in Chiang Mai Old City Center, the area within the moat. Also convenient, but much less touristy, is Nimmanhaemin area near Chiang Mai University. The cheaper places can be found just outside of either.
- Used regularly by working class locals, songtheaws offer a great bargain. For short distances in the downtown area, 20 THB is the norm, while destinations to other parts of town run 40-60 THB.
- Tuk tuks often cater to tourists. 40 THB for short trips and 50-100+ THB for greater distances. Bargaining is a necessity!
- Metered taxis, while difficult to hail, can be booked at +66 53 279291. Base starting fee is 30 THB for the first 3 km and then 4 THB/km, though many drivers will refuse to use the meter.
- For the adventurous, motorbikes go for 150-700 THB per day (depending on the size).
CHIANG MAI NIGHTLIFE
- Drinking age is 20 (rarely enforced). Last calls don’t exist in certain venues.
- Hip/local scene: Young, moneyed locals go to Nimmanhaemin Rd, though other up-market discos and nightclubs are sprinkled across the city.
- Out of town/random crowd: Chiang Mai Old City Center is where the backpackers and expats hang. Follow random sois off Muang Mang Road to unearth reggae clubs, girlie bars, sleazy dives, and English pubs. Popular haunts are Zoe in Yellow, Spicy (after-party), and Lucky (after-after-party).
- Riverside Bar & Restaurant is a short ride from the tourist center and a great place for tourists and locals to mingle without “ulterior motives.”
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center provides a great overview of local history and culture via multimedia and more standard displays.
- Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep sits on a small mountain overlooking the city. The trip there is very scenic and ends with a climb up more than 300 steep stairs.
- Go to Baanchang Elephant Park or the Elephant Nature Park for an up-close look at elephants without the exploitation common to other places.
- Note: if you’re new to Thailand’s tropical climate, walking anywhere can be a challenge.
- Follow the moat that encircles Chiang Mai Old City Center for great photo ops of the crumbled city walls. Plenty of restaurants along the way for rest and refreshments.
- Often touted as Thailand’s cultural center, Chiang Mai is a popular destination for Thai holidays and festivals. Of particular note is Songkran (Thai New Year), Thailand’s famous multi-day water-fight, which lasts up to six days or more here – longer than anywhere else.
- Make it a personal mission to try the famous “kao soi,” a local noodle soup dish in a coconut chicken curry.
- Where to find good cheap eats: Thailand is often raved about for cheap delicious food, but many locals agree the cheapest and best is found in Chiang Mai.
- Dangerous areas: Be wary of “women” standing on dark corners at night (many are ladyboys), watch your drink in late night clubs, and use basic common sense when waking at night. All of this especially applies to the Old City.
RECOMMENDED CHIANG MAI GUIDE BOOKS
- Chiang Mai Travel Guide
- 3 days in Chiang Mai – a complete itinerary
- The Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide By A Traveler For A Traveler
- Thai Insider: Chiang Mai
Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days