Chiang Mai (150,000 citizens) is a city approximately 430mi north of Bangkok and about 120mi southwest of Chiang Rai. It is an ideal location to have as a basecamp for excursions. Out of Chiang Mai you can drive to the jungle or visit the famous "long necks" (Karen hill tribe). Chiang Mai itself has a lot to offer as well. There are many temples in the city center including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man. It’s also recommended to visit the Night Market. At this busy and lively market you can buy many different goods at low prices, if you are willing to negotiate. Chiang Mai has also many locations offering courses such as cooking courses, massage courses, meditation courses and yoga courses. You can book these courses from a day to a full month.
Sights and Tourist Attractions
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Location: 10mi from city center - 30 minutes | Category: History and Culture
The Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple is located on Doi Suthep Mountain and is seen as one of the most important temples in Thailand. Upon arriving a steep climb of 309 steps have to be taken to reach the temple. If you don’t feel like climbing all the steps, you might want to take the elevator for 20THB. At the top you can enjoy a magnificent view of the area. In this temple there is a small museum where old relics can be seen.
Wat Phra Singh
Location: 600yd from city center - 10 minutes by foot | Category: History and Culture
Wat Phra Singh temple is located in the old center of Chiang Mai. The construction of this temple was started in 1345. This temple houses a large Buddha statue. The origin of this statue, Phra Buddha Sihing, is unknown. According to a myth the statue was moved from Sri Lanka to Ayutthaya and then brought to Chiang Mai. There are two of these statues, the other one is in the National Museum in Bangkok. Most of the buildings have been renovated in 2002.
Wat Chiang Man
Location: 0.6mi from center - 15 minutes walk | Category: History and Culture
The Wat Chiang Man Temple was built in 1297 and is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. This temple, situated in the old center, has been extremely important for a long time. In fact it has been built because the king stayed here for the founding of the new capital of his empire. Especially the roofs of the buildings are very beautiful. They consist of multiple layers and some are covered with gold.
Wat Chedi Luang
Location: 0.5mi from center -10 minutes walk | Category: History and Culture
The 600 year old Wat Chedi Luang temple is also in the old center. This temple was the original place of the Emerald Buddha. This Buddha is now standing at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. However the king ordered the construction of a replica which has been given to the temple and is shown in the eastern part of the Wat Chedi Luang Temple. In the courtyard artists are often selling their products.
Wat Jet Yod
Location: 2.5mi from center - 10 minutes drive | Category: History and Culture
The Wat Jet Yod temple is a copy of the temple which is found in Bodhgaya, India. This explains the different style in comparison to the other temples in Chiang Mai. The temple was built in honor of the 8th World Buddhist Council, held in the 15th century. Although this temple is not very popular with tourists, it’s definitely worth a visit. The exterior is very detailed and there are a lot of statues.
Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre
Location: 2.5mi from center - 10 minutes | Price: 90THB | Category: History and Culture
The Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre explains the history of the region in a fun and educational way. Starting with the first population 7000-12000 years ago to the present day. The exhibition displays the kings, tribes and life in general of this region. The main focus is on Buddhism, Hill Tribes and other religions in the region and consists of sound and vision, models and wall drawings.
Location: 12mi from city center - 30 minutes drive | Price: 300THB | Category: Nature
The Dokmai Garden is a botanical garden spanning almost 10 acres. Here you can see over a thousand different kinds of flowers, trees and plants. After a short introduction you can choose to walk individual or to be guided by the centers specialist. Beside the many plants, you can also find all forms of life, such as birds, butterflies and fish.
Baanchang Elephant Park
Location: 34mi from city center - 60 minutes | Price: from 2.400THB | Category: Nature
At the Baanchang Elephant Park you can take excursions on the back of an elephant. These excursions range from 1 to 3 days. In the morning you will learn the basics of elephant riding. After lunch you will go on an elephant into the nature north of Chiang Mai. After 1.5 hours you'll reach a river where you can bath the elephant. After returning to the Baanchang Elephant Park center you will be brought back to your hotel.
Karen Hilltribe (Long Necks)
Location: 90mi from center - 3 hours drive | Price: Excursion around 2.400THB | Category: Culture and Nature
The best known tribe for its long necks with brass rings is the Karen, in particular the subtribe Padaung. Therefore they are also known as the Long Neck Tribe. This tribe is originally from Myanmar and are mainly found in small villages at the mountains of Northern Thailand. Most of these villages can be visited with organized excursions. Unfortunately due to tourism the authenticity of these villages has been lost. The excursions take an entire day, the visit to the tribe is combined with a visit to the Golden Triangle near Chiang Rai (the border with Laos, Thailand and Myanmar).
It’s possible to explore the old city center by bicycle. Outside the old city center it’s a lot harder because of the noisy and chaotic traffic. In the old part you can rent bikes at a lot of places. The prices of the bikes will be about 50 to 250 THB per day. West of Chiang Mai you can go mountain biking. There are daily tours organized at the Doi Suthep National Park .
Flight of the Gibbon
Out of the village of Mae Kompong daily zip-lining trips are organized. In this village you will be welcomed and after a short introduction you will go into the forest. In total you will glide 3.5mi through the treetops. This makes the flight of the gibbon the longest aerial ropeslide in the world. It lets you see nature from a unique point of view, you’ll see things that you will never see from the ground. These tours can be booked for approximately 3,300 THB
In Chiang Mai are a lot of places where you can follow cooking courses. These courses range from one day to a full month. In Chiang Mai you can follow courses at your current level even if you have no experience at all. This is the fun way to really learn to cook traditional Thai receipes. The prices are very diverse because of the many possibilities, but start at about 900THB.
Entertainment and Nightlife
In Chiang Mai there is always something for everyone. Besides the Thai cuisine there are also several international restaurants. You can dine at any price range, budget restaurants up to exclusive restaurant are spread throughout the city. The most restaurants can be found in and around the night market. The prices are quite low compared to Bangkok.
The Night Market
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar or the night market is found in the city center on the Chan Klan road. This market is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the city. It’s famous for its many crafts and paintings. But all kind of goods are for sale at the night market, from cheap toys to jewelry. This makes it an ideal location to buy souvenirs. The entertainment at the market is also very good. There are various traditional Thai dance performances and often there is also live music.
All over the city there are pubs and nightclubs. Chiang Mai has a vibrant nightlife where you can stay until the break of dawn. But it is nothing compared to the nightlife in Pattaya, Phuket or Bangkok. Most pubs can be found in the surroundings streets of the night market. For nightclubs you have to go to the larger hotels.
How to get there
Chiang Mai can be reached in various ways, by plane, train, car or bus.
At the Chiang Mai International Airport both domestic and international flights of different airlines arrive and depart. Domestic flights to and from Bangkok, Phuket and Koh Samui arrive and depart on a daily basae. In addition to domestic flights, there are regular flights from abroad. Mostly flights from Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan arrive and depart Chiang Mai.
Daily trains depart from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. During the day you can buy tickets for the 2nd and 3rd class. It is advisable to take the night train. In this train it is possible to book 1st class, where you will have air conditioning and a bed. Since this trip takes about 13-14 hours, some level of comfort is welcome. In the train there is also a dining/restaurant wagon where you can eat and drink. The price of a 1st class train ticket is about 1.500THB .
Everyday busses depart from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The trip normally takes about 11 hours. Like the train some level of comfort is welcome. A 1st class ticket costs about 200THB. For that price, you have more comfort and the journey time will be approximately 9 hours. For the low-budget traveler taking the bus is an ideal solution. Note that the "VIP" coaches which are often offered at Khoa Sarn Road are not first class, but often 2nd or even 3rd class. To avoid surprises after booking a "VIP" coach you should go for the state bus.
If you are travelling through Thailand by car, then the ride Bangkok - Chiang Mai is a beautiful road trip. During this trip of about 470mi you will pass many places where you would want to stop to see the scenery. It is advisable to take some navigation equipment to avoid getting lost.
In and around Chiang Mai you can stay in accommodations for every budget, from cheap guesthouses to luxurious hotels. Even for Thai standards, the costs of staying in Chiang Mai are relatively low. Prices range from approximately 300 to 2,500 THB per person per night. Most hotels and guesthouses can be found in and around the center.