This post is part of the series Chiang Mai
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This post is part of the series Thailand
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Travel Stories to Inspire Your Wanderlust
Learn more about Thailand!
We visited Thailand for a month in March 2018 but our journey would not have been complete without the time spent in Chiang Mai! Chiang Mai is the largest and most important city in northern Thailand. The vibrant city is full of culture, incredible markets and restaurants, more than 300 beautiful Buddhist temples, beautiful landscapes and nature, stunning mountains, waterfalls, and jungle … Chiang Mai is a cultural and an adventure lover’s paradise.
Over the past decade, Chiang Mai has become a popular place for digital nomads in SE Asia. But what makes Chiang Mai a favourite place for digital nomads and travellers? Whatever the reasons may be I hope my travel guide to Chiang Mai helps you in planning your trip.
Chiang Mai at a Glance
After Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and the largest city in Northern Thailand. It was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and is considered one of the most culturally significant cities in Southeast Asia. There are about 200,000 people living in Chiang Mai City and over 1 million in the metropolitan area. In 2018 Chiang Mai is still the spiritual capital of Thailand!
Chiang Mai’s City Center known as the Old Town is surrounded by a 1.6 km walled moat. The city area of Chiang Mai is home to about 300 Buddhist temples. Chiang Mai is also home to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand which is just about 2.500 m high.
Weather, Climate and Seasons in Chiang Mai
Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has some cooler temperatures than Bangkok or Southern Thailand. The best time to visit the city is between October and April. During these months the weather is cool and pleasant.
Chiang Mai has three different seasons:
From November to February: The best time to visit Chiang Mai is in November as the temperatures are about 25° with a few rainy days. The cool season begins in December and ends with February.
From March to May: This is the hottest time for visiting Chiang Mai. The temperature often reaches 40°! There are almost no rainy days during that time of the year.
From June to October: This is the monsoon season in Northern Thailand. It does not rain every day, but it is not the best time to visit the city.
February to 1st rain in March: Avoid The Burning Season in Chiang Mai! In March the air is polluted with a lot of smoke and dust as the local Farmers are burning rice fields and Chiang Mai gets a little haze.
Travelling to Chiang Mai
If you are not travelling for months, probably the best way to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is by air. Several airlines make that 1 hr and 15 min flight directly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. We travelled with Thai Airways and I got completely overwhelmed by their service! The ticker p.p cost about EUR 60,00 and it saved us more than a day! You can do a search on a flight aggregator to find the cheapest flights available. The airline operating between the cities are Nok Air, VietJet, AirAsia, Lion Air, Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, and Smile Air.
If you have more time than we did, you can go for the overnight sleeper train, which costs pretty the same as a flight on a low-cost company 😀 Travelling by train takes about 14 hours.
Getting around Chiang Mai
Song Thaews: The Red Car or Song Thaew is the most popular choice for locals. The Song Thaew is a red truck that fits 10-12 people and usually has a set route. The Songthaews are about EUR 0,80 per person from destination A to B and anywhere along the route.
Taxis, Grab Taxi: the taxis are not allowed to drive around the streets, they will have to be booked in advance. Taxi to the Airport costs about EUR 5,00.
Tuk-Tuk: The biggest scams in Chiang Mai are still the tuk-tuk drivers! You better call a Grab taxi or take a songthaew (EUR 2,50 – 8,00).
Scooter: It is cheap and the best way to explore the city. You can easily rent a scooter for about EUR 8,00 per day plus EUR 2,00 fee for petrol.
Public Transport: while there is supposed to be a public bus system, you will never see it …
Things to Do in Chiang Mai
It’s absolutely impossible to get bored in Chiang Mai! From temples to restaurants, from parks to sanctuary, from meditating schools to the party scene – there is something for everyone! You can go trekking, cycling, rafting, swimming, and hiking…
If you spend a few days in Chiang Mai, it’s possible to do a little bit of everything!
Chiang Mai is home to more than 300 Buddhist temples. Some of the temples were built in the Himalayan Foothills at the very beginning of Chiang Mai’s development (1296). During that period, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (1296-1768). Nowadays, the city is still the spiritual capital of Thailand and is well worth a visit.
A Silver Temple. A Gold Temple. A White Temple. A Mountain Temple. A Big Stupa Temple. A Lanna-Style Temple. An Indian Style Temple. An Everything-You-Wish-For-A-Temple
Chat with Monks
With 99% of the population of Thailand being Buddhist it may be interesting to have a chat with a monk to find out more about their lifestyle and the do and don’ts.
Every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. you can attend a monk chat that happens in almost every temple in the old town of Chang Mai.
In Thailand, almost all young boys become a monk (sometimes just for a little while). This is a great way for them to get a better education and learn English.
Before travelling to Thailand, one thing was certain to me – we are heading to Northern Thailand and we are going to spend some unforgettable time with elephants! When visiting Thailand, many people want to have experience with elephants. But not many people think about this experience in a responsible way.
The Elephants in Thailand has become a controversial topic during the last couple of years. Elephants have been captured and abused for the amusement of tourists to ride for decades. They have been abused and taken out of their natural habitat. The result of this is an unaccountable tourism.
By raising awareness of why riding an elephant is erroneous, together we can help to end this form of tourism. We can start by informing people why riding elephants is wrong. One way to make a difference for the elephants’ welfare is visiting the elephant sanctuary:
Be prepared to indulge in food. The best food we had in Thailand! From the wonderful Mango Sticky Rice or Chocolate Pancakes from the street to local Northern Thai restaurants. There are delicious, inexpensive food choices everywhere you look!
Some of Chiang Mai’s specialities are Khao Soi (Egg Noodle Curry), Khan Toke, Sai Oua (Grilled Herb Sausage), Nam Prik Ong/Nam Prik Nume (Red/Green Chilli Dip), Gaeng Hang Lay (Burmese-style Sweet Curry), Kanom Jeen Nam Ngeow (Rice Vermicelli with Soybean Curry), Miang Kham (Bite-sized Wrapped Snacks), Tam Khanun (Young Jackfruit Salad), Roast Chicken and Pork.
My winner for the best Roast Chicken and Pork in Chiang Mai is “SP Chicken”:
And the winner for the best Green Curry Soup is Miranda’s Cafe:
… And a favourite place for drinks and music is My Bar Chiang Mai:
There are several local markets like Warorot and the market near the Chiang Mai Gate. Here you can find everything much cheaper and the markets are full of colour and local life. There is a night bazaar in the Anusarn which is a nice place to walk around. On the other hand, the Sunday street market at the Tha Phae Gate is the weekly highly. There is also a Saturday market that starts around the Chiang Mai gate (outside the old city). Good to know: the Kalare area is good for eating.
There are a few waterfalls that are an easy day trip out of Chiang Mai. Take an afternoon to go cool off and chill out in nature.
Chiang Mai host some of the coolest festivals in Thailand. In early November, you can attend the Yee Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals. It’s a popular event that attracts thousands of tourists every year, making it one of the most vibrant times to be in the region. If you enjoy flowers, then you may want to go in February to attend the Chiang Mai Flower Festival.
The Thai New Year (Songkran) happens from April 13-15 every year. Chiang Mai is probably the best place in Thailand to celebrate the Thai New Year, as the entire city turns into a massive water fight!
Always check ahead on the calendar for holidays and festivals so you don’t miss out when planning your trip to Chiang Mai.
Meditate, Relax And Get a Massage
There is no doubt that Chiang Mai is the spiritual and meditation capital of Thailand. Here, you will find many yoga studios in town and many retreat opportunities outside the town. The most popular Meditation Center is Doi Suthep Vipassana that offers meditation courses from 4 days up to 23 days for beginners or advanced.
In Chiang Mai, you can also find many relax and massage studios located everywhere in the city! We have tried a range of low to high-end places and I can say that just because you are paying more money it doesn’t automatically mean you will get a better service 😉
What Vaccinations Do I Need?
Do you need any vaccinations for Chiang Mai these days? Well, I think it’s up to you and your own piece of mind and it also depends on where you are going and what you are doing. Chiang Mai is more developed than other regions in South East Asia when it comes to hygiene. I, personally, would not travel to Southeast Asia without some basic vaccines like Typhoid, Hepatitis A + B, as well as Diphtheria and Tetanus. But the same vaccinations are important for travelling anywhere in the World!
Whatever you decide to do with your vaccinations, you should start planning at least 7 weeks before departure – some vaccines need to be done twice, e.g.
Typhoid and Malaria do occur rarely in Chiang Mai, but Dengue Fever could be a problem. As far as I know, there is still no vaccine against Dengue Fever so you have to prevent the mosquito bites as far as you can (by 50% DEET spray!). The same thing is with Malaria – there is no vaccination available. Malaria could be a problem if you’re hiking through the jungle or doing mountain trekking during the rainy seasons. The best solution: use 50% DEET spray, wear long sleeves and trousers and sleep inside mosquito nets.
Rabies is an issue in Indonesia and also in Chiang Mai. The rabies virus is usually transmitted through a bite from infected animals. Rabies vaccination is still no must if you travel to Bali, but try to avoid the street dogs and monkeys.
Travellers diarrheal is a common problem too. I would recommend you to choose what and where you eat more carefully, and also to bring some anti-diarrheal pills (like Imodium) with you.
Chiang Mai Costs
A dorm bed in a hostel: EUR 3,00 – 12,00
A (very) small basic room: EUR 10,00 – 25,00
A (very) basic shared: EUR 20,00 – 70,00
A nice room at 4* Hotel: EUR 70,00 – 130,00
A nice room at 5* Hotel: from EUR 130, 00
Song Teaws. EUR 0,80
Tuk-Tuk: EUR 2,50 – 8,00
Scooter rental – EUR 8,00 per day plus EUR 2,00 fee for petrol
Taxi to the Airport – EUR 5,00
Laundry: EUR 1,30 /1 kg + Pick up at the hotel and delivery! The best one we came across is the WashDrop, you can make your laundry online 😀
Massage (1 hour): EUR 4,00 – 10,00
Path Tai Street Food: EUR 1,00
Bowl of Khao Soi Noodles, Street Food: EUR 1,00
Meal in a Local Restaurant: EUR 2,50 – 10,00
Big Leo Beer (7/11): $1,00
Beer in a Bar: EUR 1,8 – 3,00
Coffee: Starting at EUR 1,00
Coconut (Street): EUR 1,00
Coconut (Restaurant): EUR 1,50
Mango Sticky Rice: EUR 1,50 – 3,00
Western Food (Restaurant): from EUR 10,00
Hairdresser’s Shop: from EUR 3,00
A trip to an Elephant Sanctuary (Full Day/Half Day): EUR 65,00 – 45,00
What to Wear
Chiang Mai is a laid-back city and you’ll probably never have to get dressed up like you would in Bangkok! It is always worm, so it is best to come with your summer outfits. It’s warm, even during the coolest months, so it’s best to come in comfortable summer attire. You will not see a Thai man walking down the street without a shirt on or stripped down to a bikini. Be respectful!
When visiting the temples in Chiang Mai keep in mind to dress respectfully – shoulders and knees should be covered.
Safety in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is an incredibly safe place to visit. I cannot really come across a situation where I felt insecure or uncomfortable. No matter during the day or night. But just like in any big city around the world, you should better follow the basic safety rules, and everything will be fine.
The tap water in Chiang Mai is not drinkable. Anyway, you can find many refill water stations all over the city. This is the best option if you want to have some fresh water and cut down on plastic waste. Win-win!
Protect against mosquitos! Dengue fever is a concern all over SE Asia. The best solution: use 50% DEET spray, wear long sleeves and trousers and sleep inside mosquito nets.
Be aware of the police! If you drive a scooter without an international or Thai driving license it will cost about 300 BTH.
Another illegal thing in Thailand, that many are not aware of are the e-cigarettes. There is no joke. Vaping in Thailand could face up to 10 years in prison.
The biggest scams in Chiang Mai are still the tuk-tuk drivers! You better call a Grab taxi or take a songthaew.
Don’t bring, buy or do drugs! It can take years to get to court even if you are able to get released. It is just not worth it.
Enjoy the day!
*This post contains Affiliate Links. I only recommend high-quality items and services I am confident about. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
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