Planning a solo trip to Chiang Mai? Here’s everything you need to know for your visit:
- Largest city and cultural capital of Northern Thailand (city population of 130,000).
- 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). 1000 TBH = 2.6 USD.
- Spoken languages: Thai. English is also widely spoken.
- Best time to visit: from November to February (the cool, dry months).
- Arriving via airport: taxis are 150-200 THB, while a ride on the songthaew (aka red pickup truck) is 50 THB. Public bus (takes only 20 minutes) is the cheapest option at 30 THB. Alternatively, you can order a Grab taxi via the app.
WHERE TO STAY
- Best hostel for solo travelers in Chiang Mai: Family Home. Realistically: this is as good as hostels get (and there’s heavy competition in Chiang Mai). Super clean and welcoming, with a communal feel and (very) friendly staff. Frequent events organized for guests. Book ahead, especially during high season!
- Most new arrivals stay in Chiang Mai Old City Center, the area within the moat.
- Also convenient, but much less touristy, is the Nimmanhaemin area (or Nimman for short) near Chiang Mai University.
- The cheaper places can be found just outside of either area.
- 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. 50 THB for short trips and 80+ THB for greater distances. Agree on a price before you hop on (bargaining skills will pay off here!)
- Instead of taxis, just order a Grab via their handy app (it’s the popular Uber alternative in South East Asia).
- 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 Road, 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.
- Great bars for solo travelers: The White Rabbit, Bitter Truth Bar (cocktails), Renegade Craft Beer (best beer in town), the rooftop bar at Hotel YaYee, and Latitudes (in the Le Méridien Chiang Mai hotel lobby).
- Looking to dance and party? Head to Zoe in Yellow, meet new friends, then go together to Spicy Cafe & Restaurant (nearby).
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. You can take a tuk tuk or Grab (taxi) to the entrance – go as early as possible in the morning to catch the sunrise (and beat the crowds!)
- Go to Baanchang Elephant Park or the Elephant Nature Park for an up-close look at elephants without the exploitation common to other places.
- If you have an extra day, take the minibus up to the magical city of Pai (timetable). Warning: there are 762 turns in the road along the way, so prepare for some motion sickness. The reward, however, is worth the effort – you may never want to leave Pai.
- Note: if you’re new to Thailand’s tropical climate, walking anywhere can be a challenge. Wear a hat, and drink plenty of water!
- 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 “khao soi,” a local noodle soup dish in a coconut chicken curry.
- Chiang mai is foodie heaven. Some places to try: Mr Green Restaurant (vegan/vegetarian), Anchan Vegetarian, The Good View, A HAN JIN (Chinese), Ruammit 1 Restaurant, StarBang Roti, Why Not? (Italian), Salsa Kitchen (Mexican).
- 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. Don’t forget to try one of the many Mango sticky rice street stalls!
- 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 trip duration: 3-4 days