Essential guide: Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, is the most popular city in the North of Thailand. It is now a major destination on most peoples itineraries and who can blame them. Chiang Mai offers a great mix of culture, history and modern city life. Theres plenty of things to do and see; from the beautiful temples, great shopping, incredible views and not to mention some of the most delicious foods. Chiang Mai is a place that you could easily stay a while in.

Chiang Mai is easily reachable by bus, air or train from Bangkok. The overnight sleeper train being the most popular option with tourists. Trains leave Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong station daily at around 7:30pm and take approximately 15 hours. There are 4 different types of trains with different classes of cars. Personally, I think that second class sleeper is perfectly fine. If you are short on time, flying is the fastest option, have a look at some of the budget airlines for decent fares. Thai airways, Airasia, Lionair and Nokair.

When you arrive I would just take a taxi to the centre or to your accommodation. It’s relatively cheap and very easy. Just remember to ask for the METRE!!

THINGS TO DO

Theres plenty of things to see and do and Chiang Mai, so here is quite an extensive list of the best places to do those things;

Exploring the temples

Theres a wide range of temples to explore in and around the city but the 3 most popular places to visit are;

Wat Phra Singh– 20baht entry. It is is one Chiang Mai’s most respected temples which draws sightseers for its resident buddha and marvellous artwork and architecture.

Wat Chedi Luang– Theres no entry fee to this temple but a donation is welcomed. Wat Chedi was once one of the tallest structures in ancient times but it suffered large-scale damage in an Earthquake.

Wat Phra Doi Sutep– 30baht entry fee. This temple looks over the city from high on top of its mountain home and is one the most sacred temple in the North of Thailand. The best way to get to the temple is by flagging down one of the many red songkhaew taxi trucks you will see bustling around the city. Once you get there, you will have to take a 306 step walk up to the top, which is intended as an act of meditation. It is so worth it though as the temple is amazing and the views are spectacular.

inside-doi-sutep
Doi Sutep

Learn to cook

Learn some new culinary skills at some of the best cooking schools in town.

Asia Scenic Thai Cooking offers classes starting from 900baht. They have both an out of town location and an in-city location.

Chiang Mai Thai cooking school offers classes from 1450baht. Classes are run by TV chef Sompon Nabinan and is one of Chiang Mai’s first cooking schools.

Baan Thai offers courses from 900baht and you get to choose the dishes you want to make prior to arriving.

Shop until you drop

The markets in Chiang Mai are some of the best to pick up some handicrafts and to learn the art of ‘haggling’. The night market every day from 6 pm is a must as well as the Saturday and Sunday walking market. If you are after something more local then Talat Warorot is a great place for souvenir shopping, knick-knacks, everyday essentials, people watching and snacking.

Chiang Mai night market

Try a meditation or yoga retreat.

There’s a wide range of retreats in this laid back city to experience.

International Buddhism Centre is situated within the Doi Sutep temple. It offers beginner to advanced retreats lasting from 3-21 days. This is the most popular retreat and would need to be booked in advance.

Wat Sisuphan offers an introduction to meditation, which is perfect for any first-timers. They are open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

Namo offers yoga classes from 220baht and they are open Monday- Saturday. Namo offers drop-in classes as well as a variety of workshops.

Trekking

Chiang Mai is blessed with some beautiful surroundings and who wouldn’t be tempted to trek into the luscious green jungles. It isn’t recommended to go at it alone, so here are some of the best tours you could go with;

Green Trails– offers a variety of different treks and tours.

Trekking Collective Co.– Renowned for taking you on unique personal journeys focusing on the Lanna region. Create you own personalised itinerary around your interests, fitness ability and personal schedule.

Animal Encounters

Chiang Mai is known as the place to go for the once in a lifetime encounters with animals, but with recent exposure of animal tourism in Thailand, I’m not going to promote anything but good on this blog. Encounters with animals can still be had but it’s important to practice good tourism.

Chiang Mai night Safari– Entry fee is 400baht for children and 800baht for adults. Most bookings would have to be made through a tour agency, which can be found all around the city and in hotels. This is because they will need to arrange transfers because the safari is 12km outside the city. English language trains leave at 7:45 pm and 9:30 pm.

Elephant Nature park– I talked about this place briefly in my post about Animal Tourism. Elephant Nature park is a sanctuary for injured or rescued elephants that have had a life in tourism. Visitors can help wash and feed the elephants but there is no riding them or no show. The park is 60km outside the city centre.

Relax with a massage

Want to relax after a long day exploring? Well if anything in Chiang Mai there is absolutely no shortage of massage parlours, so go on treat yourself. There’s that many that I can’t even begin to tell you which ones are the best. All I did was scout out the prices and seen which one I liked the best and went for it. I’ve never had a problem doing that.

WHERE TO STAY

There isn’t a lack of places to stay in Chiang Mai, so here I have chosen 3 options, 1 for each luxury, mid-range and budget.

LUXURY- Rachamankha is in the heart if the old city is hidden away near Wat Phra Singh Temple. Rachamankha offers a relaxing zen atmosphere with beautiful gardens, an open-air massage covering, a library with thousands of books and a 20m pool. Rooms start from 8000baht a night.

MID- RANGE- Sri Pat Guesthouse is centrally located, with well-lit rooms, air-con and wifi as well as a relaxing swimming pool area and an in-house restaurant. What else do you need? Rooms start from 1000baht a night.

BUDGET- Julie’s Guesthouse is a place that nearly every budget backpacker knows about. If you are after a place to meet new people and a laid back chill atmosphere then this is the place for you. It does offer wifi and a cool rooftop with hammocks but you can forget about private bathrooms as they are shared with cold water showers, but for 80baht a night for a dorm or privates starting from 100baht a night then you can’t really complain.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

There is absolutely no shortage of restaurants in Chiang Mai. From local eateries to international restaurants, your appetite will be fed here.

Kow Soy Siri Soy– because no trip to Chiang Mai would be complete without a bowl of Kow Soi. Otherwise known as Chiang Mai noodles. Seriously, the most delicious thing ever.

 

Khao Soi ข้าวซอย
Khao Soi ข้าวซอย

Salsa Kitchen– Not Thai food but Mexican, and if you have been in Asia long enough you will probably be craving some good old Western style food. This place is a hit with everyone, even the locals love it.

There’s also plenty of bars to sit back and chill with friends over a few bottles of Singha but if after that you are looking for a place to party then there really is no other place in town to go and that is;

Zoe in Yellow– Head there and I promise you will have the best night, it just seems that everyone is there, expats, tourists and even locals. This place does close at 2 am but so does most places now after the military coup back in 2013.

I hope this guide can help you out if you are ever stuck for ideas of what to do in Chiang Mai. 

This article is now available as a mobile app. Go to GPSmyCity to download the app for GPS-assisted travel directions to the attractions featured in this article.

23 Comment

  1. A great comprehensive post. It’s definitely a place I’d love to visit and you’ve made it so easy to plan! The only bit that worries me is that you say it’s on most people itineraries. Does that make it very touristy, and also very busy?
    I would definitely have to try one of the cookery schools. Getting creative in the kitchen is one of my real passions. And I’d need to go to the elephant park. My time at the elephant orphanage in Nairobi has encouraged me to look out for other ethical ‘animal experiences’.

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      Thank you very much!
      It is on everyone’s itinerary and it is quite touristy but you see why when you get there. I find it much more relaxed. Prices aren’t as much as the islands because they are super touristy. It is quite cheap compared to other heavily touristy places. It’s busy but a different kind of busy I find. It’s difficult to explain.
      Ethical animal experiences is a must now especially with how Thailand has been highlighted in the media over the past few years. When I fist went to Thailand 4 years ago I was one of those terrible people that did choose to go for the touristy animal experiences. I regretted that, but I was naive and very new to travel. I wrote a blog post about it here; https://alittlestepfurther.com/big-mistake-i-supported-animal-tourism/
      There are plenty of options in Chiang mai just make sure you do your research first.

  2. What a great trip – looks like a lot of fun. Love your photos

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      Thank you, It is just simply the best place in my opinion

  3. Chiang Mai is such a wonderful place – I fell in love with it and am trying to plan a trip back soon. I heard great things about Zoe in Yellow but didn’t make it, I really loved all the excellent restaurant and street food options there!

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      It is, isn’t it? Zoe is such a great night out. You end up meeting so many people there. I could sit and eat my way around the city on one trip. So many options there

  4. Looks like there are so many things to do there! I haven’t been to Asia at all so I saved this post for later. I think Thailand and Chiang Mai in particular sound like a can’t miss!

  5. What a wonderful post and your pictures are most tempting! Chiang Mai is at the top of my list for sure! I’m actually hoping to spend my next birthday there!

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      It’s the best place, you should definitely make it a doable

  6. Love how informative this piece was! I haven’t been to Asia but its definitely on my list now 🙂

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      Thank you!

  7. Lovely post!! I’m planning to visit Chiang Mai in November! Glad I found your guide for helpful tips! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      Thank you very much. I am jealous, I would love to go back soon

  8. Can you believe I’ve been to Thailand five times now but never ventured up north? Chiang Mai looks like something I should do next!

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      What?? You MUST!! it will blow your mind

  9. Chiang Mai looks so beautiful. I’d never heard of it until last year, and now it’s close to the top of my list of places to go. The elephant sanctuary sounds really cool. It would be incredible to get up close to such fascinating animals in a positive setting.

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      It’s really a beautiful place. One of my favourite places in the world. Stole my heart so be careful. Always do animal things with good tourism in mind.

  10. I would have never thought about making a visit to Thailand a priority and then today, doing my usual catching up on travel blog sort of things, I’ve read like 100 posts on Thailand so I think the universe wants me to visit soon lol

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      I feel like that with India. Something is telling you to go there. DO IT!!

  11. Great post with loads of information. Will have to make my way there soon.

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      Thank you! absolutely go now before it gets more touristy than it already is

  12. I’ve never actually been to SEAsia but this was such a simple to read, comprehensive post that didn’t make me want to scratch my eyes out so I’d be sure to use it in the future if I was planning a trip there! Thanks 🙂

    1. Louise Allonby says: Reply

      Thanks very much! be careful it will steal your heart.

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