Chiang Mai - Where to Stay ? What to Visit ? How to arrive from Bangkok.




Chaing Mai

How is Chiang Mai ?

Good, very good. Chiang Mai is a pleasant city, probably the best in Thailand.
Chiang Mai is a big city but not huge like Bangkok (it has about 1 million with the surroundings). People are much more relaxed and friendly compared to Bangkok. The old city is nice and easy to visit by walking. There are cute cafés, good restaurants, nightlife and many beautiful temples.
Chaing Mai

Chiang Mai - Orientation

Look at the following map. Click to enlarge :
Chaing Mai
It's very easy to get oriented in Chiang Mai because the old city is surrounded by a water canal (see the canal in the following photo). The old city is a square of 1.6 Km wide, you can walk from one side to the other in about half hour. The old city is the main attraction and life center of Chiang Mai with beautiful temples and cafés.
At both sides of the water canal, there are roads. In the external road the traffic is clockwise and in the internal road, counterclockwise, and there are lots of U-turns points, so riding a motorcycle is very easy in Chiang Mai.
To the right of the old city is the river Ping, and between them is the main nightlife of Chiang Mai with the night market (night bazaar).
The Airport is at a very short distance to the south-west.
At a short distance from the old city to the west, there are mountains and the famous attraction Doi Suthep is there at 8 Km (15 Km on the road).
Chaing Mai
See this interactive Google Map :
In red marks : Airport, Train and Bus central stations
In blue marks : Temples and other Tourist attractions
In orange marks : Shopping

How to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai ?

Chaing Mai
Chiang Mai is at 600 Km (aerial) distance from Bangkok.
By plane : There are lots of flights between Bangkok and Chiang Mai and the prices are really fine for a flight. The common price is around 1300 Baht. It takes just 1 hour of flight. Some flights go from Suvaranabhumi airport and others from Don Muang airport in Bangkok (see them on Map).
Some of the aerial companies that fly to Chiang Mai :
Thai airways (the Thai national company, usually not the cheapest option).
Air Asia (the famous Asiatic low cost company).
Also : Bangkok airways, Nok air, Thai Smile air, Thai Lion air and more...
By train : It takes around 12 hours between the two cities. There are day trains and night trains with sleeping coaches and they are quite pleasant. Prices are around 900 Baht. You can buy the ticket at the train station or at travel agencies with a small commission.
See the location of the train station in Bangkok (Hua Lamphong station).
See the location of the train station in Chiang Mai.
If you want more details about the trains in Thailand, see the excellent site Seat 61.
By Bus : Cheaper than the trains, around 600 Baht. It takes around 12 hours, There are day and night buses. The regular buses are going from Mochit, the central bus station in Bangkok for northern destinations. There are also private bus companies that collect the passengers from the hotels (at the Khaosan area, for example).
See the location of the bus station in Bangkok (Mochit, northern destinations).
See the location of the bus station in Chiang Mai (Arcade station).
Chaing Mai

How to get from the airport of Chiang Mai to Town Center ?

Chaing Mai
As you can see from the photo above, the airport of Chiang Mai is very close to the city center, the old town. It is less than 2 Km from the west side of the old city, so you can even walk it, but you better don't do it with suitcases.
Taxi : There are Taxis with a fix price of 160 Baht that takes to any point in the old city. There are also Taxi-meter with about the same price.
Minibus : They cost about 40 Baht to the old city, but you will have to wait that they get filled with people before they leave and till then you will probably give up and take a Taxi, because they are not very expensive, after all.

How to get from the Train and Bus stations of Chiang Mai to Town Center ?

Chaing Mai
Look at the following map. Click to enlarge :
(Or see on the interactive map above)
Chaing Mai
The train station (and the bus station) are located to the east of the old city at a distance of about 3 Km.
You can arrive to the city center with a shared SongTaew (the red trucks) for 20 Baht (this price if you are very lucky) or a private ride with them, probably 100 Baht.
There are also Tuk-Tuk (the 3 wheels vehicles), also probably 100 Baht.

How to move inside Chiang Mai ?

Chaing Mai

The SongTaew - the shared Red trucks - Pick up truck

The ones that are running inside the old city are red (yes, they also exist in other colours). They pick up passengers along the way and they modify the trajectory according to the people's need.
So you will have to explain to the driver in a fast way, before the ride, where you want to arrive and you better choose a well known spot in order to simplify things, for example, choose one of the gates of the old city or a famous temple.
The normal tariff is 20 Baht, unless the driver is trying to take advantage that you are a tourist and that you are not used to SongTaew in your country.
These trucks can also take you as a private ride, in that case you will have to negotiate a price.

Tuk-Tuk

These are the funny 3 wheels vehicle of Thailand. There is place for 2 or 3 persons on the back. It is a private ride, so you'll have to negotiate the price.

Taxi

In Chiang Mai, somehow, you cannot stop a Taxi on the road. You have to reserve them by phone or be at the airport. They have a Taxi-meter.

Rent a motorbike

This is the coolest way to explore Chiang Mai (unless you do an accident).
It is easy to ride a motorbike in Chiang Mai, you always know where you are thanks to the square shape of the old city (and the GPS on your smartphone). With a motorbike you can explore the nearby mountains and the famous temple Doi Suthep.
The rent price is usually 200 Baht per day. Gasoline is cheap.
Chaing Mai

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai ?

Let's look again at the orientation map :
Chaing Mai
You want to be in the old city and you want to be close to the main nightlife zone, so the ideal (theoretical) point is the Phae gate, the gate on the right side of the old city (a green star on the map).
Note: the right side of the old city is more animated than the left side.
If you plan to rent a motorbike you will not have a problem to live anywhere, the distances are not huge in Chiang Mai. Also, if you can walk, it will not be a problem to live anywhere inside or close to the old city.
I stayed at the top part of the old city and I was very happy.
See Hotels inside the old town of Chiang mai
See Hotels near the night Bazaar of Chiang Mai
See Hotels in all parts of Chiang Mai

How is the weather in Chiang Mai ?

About the same as in Bangkok, maybe slightly cooler. At day time around 32 Celsius. At night, the average is 21 Celsius.
There is the dry season from November to May and the rainy season from June to October. If you visit the mountains around, it is definitely cooler.
Here the average temperatures in Celsius :

Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Nov
Dec
Day
30
33
35
37
34
33
32
32
32
31
30
29
Night
15
16
20
23
24
24
24
24
23
22
19
16

See also the temperatures in Bangkok.

Where is the main nightlife zone of Chiang Mai ?

Look at the following map, click to enlarge :
(Or see on the interactive map above)
Chaing Mai
The main nightlife zone is the night bazaar (night market), that operates every evening and is located between the river Ping and the old city.
Chaing Mai
The zone has many places to drink and restaurants and of course a lot of stands with textiles and souvenirs. Don't forget to take a look at the nearby Ping river at dusk, it has nice illuminated bridges.
Chaing Mai
The horizontal road that goes from the old city to the night bazaar (Loi Kroh) is very animated with "red bars".
The Phae gate and its surroundings are also animated and there are some good Italian restaurants.
The right upper side of the old city has little streets with bars and cafés at night.

Where to do Shopping in Chiang Mai ?

Look at the following map, click to enlarge :
(Or see on the interactive map above)
Chaing Mai

Night Bazaar

You will be at the night bazaar anyway, because it is the main nightlife zone of Chiang Mai. In the night Bazaar you can buy products of this style :
Chaing Mai
Or art :
Chaing Mai

The Sunday Market

It is an evening market, it starts at 16:00 and only on Sundays.
It has about the same products as the night bazaar but some of the items are more original.
Chaing Mai
One of the sides of the market is at Phae gate, the eastern gate of the old city. Here in the photo, the Sunday market as seen from an Italian restaurant where I had a Pizza and a beer :
Chaing Mai

Waroros Market

A day market beside the Ping river for food and textile. It is oriented to locals, not with products for tourists. Part of the market is covered. The area is nice, because it is beside the river.
Chaing Mai

Maya mall and Central Airport mall

If you want a big modern mall, then go to one of these malls. Maya is especially new. In the following photo the view from the terrace at Maya mall.
Chaing Mai

What to Visit in Chiang Mai  ? (hint: temples...)

Temples

There are many temples to visit in Chiang Mai (more than 300 in the area). There are dozens of them inside the old city and they are all very beautiful.
Tip 1 : Try not to visit more than 3 temples a day, otherwise you will have a strong sense of "deja vu" and you may want to go to the beach.
Tip 2 : A temple may hide another impressive monument, so always enter inside the courtyard, don't just look from the street.
Tip 3 : If you are limited in time, then visit at least :
  1. Outside town : Wat Phra That Doi Suthep .
  2. Inside town : Wat Chedi Luang + Wat Singh.

Famous Temples in the old town of Chiang Mai :

Look at this map with the temples mentioned here,  click to enlarge :
(Or see on the interactive map above)
Chaing Mai

Wat Chedi Luang + Wat Phan Tao

A Buddhist temple, construction began in the 14th century.
Chaing Mai
Inside :
Chaing Mai
Wat Phan Tao is beside Wat Chedi :
Chaing Mai

Wat Phra Singh 

A Buddhist temple, construction began in 1345.
The temple has an important Buddha statue.
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai
There are beautiful gold elephants :
Chaing Mai

Wat Chiang Man

A Buddhist temple, construction began in 1297.
Nice elephants.
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai

Wat Saen Lhuang Khuang

A Burmese temple
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai

Wat Lok Molee

A Buddhist temple, first mentioned in 1367.
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai

Wat Buppharam

Was built in 1497
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai

Famous Temples outside of Chiang Mai city :

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Chaing Mai
This is a "must visit" for all tourists. Everyone is making a picture in the famous stairs that lead to the temple on a hill. The stairs has 2 dragons on the sides.
Chaing Mai
There is a small fee to pay (for foreigners) to access the temple upstairs.
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai
There is also a nice view over Chiang Mai city.
Chaing Mai
How to arrive to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep ?
The temple is located 15 Km (road distance) from Chiang Mai, at the north-west. See the place on the interactive map above.
Option 1, Motorbike : If you can ride a motorbike then rent one and you will be master of your time and also will be able to visit the other sites around (mostly Doi Pui village). It is very easy to drive to Doi Suthep: Start from the upper left corner of the old city, then take the road that goes to the mountains. You pass the zoo and then climb the mountain, there are signs. Take a warm cloth for the ride, it can be cool. The road is in good condition.
Option 2, Organized tour : Any travel agency will propose you a half day trip to Doi Suthep, including the pick up from your hotel and a visit at Doi Pui village. The cost is about 600 Baht. The disadvantage is that you depend on their schedule, you cannot stay at the temple as much as you feel.
Option 3, with a shared SongTaew (red pick up truck) : There are SongTaew trucks going to Doi Suthep from the upper central gate of the old city (Chang Phuak gate). It costs about 60 Baht per person. The disadvantage is that you have to wait till the truck fills with passengers (and it can take time...)
There are also shared trucks going to Doi Suthep from the Chiang Mai Zoo, which is on the way.
Once you'll arrive to Doi Suthep you will see more SongTaew trucks awaiting  to continue to Doi Pui village and to return to Chiang Mai.
Option 4 , private ride: Negotiate with a SongTaew (red truck) to take you there, privately.

Doi Pui village - the hill tribe village

Chaing Mai
It is located 4 Km after Doi Suthep temple, in the mountain. Usually you visit both of them. See the place on the interactive map above.
Chaing Mai
It is a village with nice gardens and many tourists arriving all the time (but it's still quiet and nice). There are stands that sell souvenirs.
Chaing Mai
Don't forget to sit at the café at the top of the gardens.
Chaing Mai
Note : There is also a royal palace (Bhuping palace) between Doi Suthep and Doi Pui.
The palace can be visited in the mornings. It has beautiful gardens.

Wat Phra That Doi Kham

Chaing Mai
The attraction in this temple is a huge Buddha and also a nice view over the city.
Chaing Mai
Chaing Mai
How to arrive to Doi Kham ?
It is located in the same mountains as Doi Suthep, but more to the south, you need a different road to get there.
The easiest way to arrive is with a motorbike : First arrive to the airport zone and then continue towards the mountains (there are signs).
See the place on the interactive map above.
Other options to arrive : Negotiate with a SongTaew truck or check organized, one day tours.

Royal park rajapruek

Chaing Mai
This park is located just before Doi Kham temple. So if you arrive by motorbike, you can visit both.
See the place on the interactive map above.
Chaing Mai
The place is huge and there is a Tram that makes a tour inside for 20 Baht. The entrance to the park costs 100 Baht.
A visit here can be relaxing if you really like gardens and you have a lot of time and you are heat resistant.

More "one day trips", out of Chiang Mai

Chaing Mai
I have mentioned the main attractions outside Chiang Mai, but there are many more. You can visit them alone with a rented motorbike (or car) or you can take an organized, one day tour.
Chaing Mai
One of the popular tour is to visit an elephant camp and then ride them.
Some of the elephant tours are more ethical and instead of riding an elephant, you take care of them during one day. The issue is that the elephants are trained cruelly so that tourists could ride them. In my opinion, if you care about animals so the best is to be Vegetarian and not to eat them (visit my Veg page).
Another one day tour (a long one) is to the golden triangle, the border in the north, between Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma).

Chiang Mai - The Vegetarian food paradise

Chiang Mai is a pleasant city and there are many expatriates who choose to live for a period of time in this particular town and apparently many of them are Vegetarians.
Once you arrive to Chiang Mai, you notice immediately the many Vegetarian signs in the restaurants, even without searching for particular places. This is in big contrast with Bangkok which is not good to Vegetarians (see the Bangkok Veg page).
In Chiang mai, in addition to the pure vegan and vegetarian Thai restaurants, there is also a lot of International cuisine with Vegetarian options. I'm talking mainly about Italian restaurants which are everywhere and also Indian restaurants. The quality of the Food is very good in Chiang Mai and restaurants usually costs less than in Bangkok.
Here in the photo you can see an excellent Veg breakfast I had inside a nice garden (yes, I do eat eggs).
Chaing Mai
Use the excellent Happy Cow smartphone application to find vegetarian restaurants near where you are at the moment. Here in the photo, one plate I received in a Vegan restaurant in Chiang Mai. It was the first time I ate leaves.
Chaing Mai
This is a Tofu burger. In my opinion, they really exaggerate with Tofu in Asia. The burger in this picture is a big Tofu piece. There are many other ways to do a Vegetarian burger.
Chaing Mai
A known local Thai dish is the Khao Soi Kai, there is also a Vegetarian version of it. Here in the picture a stand selling Khao Soi in the night Bazaar.
You can read my page about being Vegetarian.
Chaing Mai

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