• Chiang

Chiang Mai

Thailand

The former capital of Thailand’s Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai's history stretches back over 700 years. Unlike the rest of the country, Chiang Mai remained geographically isolated up until the 1920's, and as a result, it still retains a strong sense of its heritage and laid-back way of life. Despite a recent development boom, Chiang Mai still teems with colourful markets, cottage industries and deeply rooted traditions that have long vanished elsewhere, prompting many visitors to call it the ‘real’ Thailand.

The historical centre of Chiang Mai is the Old City, a centuries-old fort protected on all sides by a watery moat and crumbling brick walls, and containing over 30 historic temples that are still in use today. Revelling in Chiang Mai’s status as the cultural heart of Thailand, the city and surrounding areas are home to scores of galleries, day and night markets and workshops, making it a haven for shopaholics and culture-buffs alike.

That’s not to say that shopping and temple-hopping are the only two things to do in Chiang Mai however. Drive just a few minutes’ outside the city and you’ll discover a multitude of exciting nature getaways amidst jungle-clad hills and lush rice paddy fields. The adventurous can choose to learn how to ride elephants, explore winding jungle rivers on a bamboo raft or embark on overnight treks to visit remote hill tribe villages. And of course, no trip to Chiang Mai would be complete without sampling its distinct Northern cuisine, before ending the day getting pampered by a traditional Thai massage. Chiang Mai reveals a whole new side to Thailand than the one most visitors are used to seeing – a side that many unexpectedly end up falling in love with.   

Read More:

The Insider's Guide to Chiang Mai

Why Go?

The ancient capital of Thailand's Lanna kingdom, Chiang Mai is a haven for culture and nature lovers.

When to Go

The weather in Chiang Mai is tropical but with distinct seasons. November to February is the cool season and the best time to visit, with daytime temperatures at a pleasant 20°C (70°F) and dropping to 12°C (55°F) at night. Avoid the hot months of April to June, when temperatures can reach a scorching 40°C (105°F) and the northern region is blanketed in a thick haze, courtesy of illegal slash-and-burn farming. For the ultimate Thai experience, go during the festival periods of Songkran (Thai New Year) for a citywide, no-holds barred waterfight; or Loy Krathong, a truly unforgettable spectacle where millions of floating lanterns are released into the sky and waterways to transport away bad luck.

Average Temp

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

High °C

30

33

35

37

35

33

32

32

32

31

30

28

Low °C

15

16

20

23

24

24

24

24

23

22

19

15

                         

High °F

86

91

95

99

95

91

90

90

90

88

86

82

Low °F

59

61

68

73

75

75

75

75

73

72

66

59

 

 

Book to Pack

Fieldwork: A Novel by Mischa Berlinski, a riveting tale of murder, cultural conflict and obsession set amongst the Lisu hill tribes of Northern Thailand.

  • Loy krathong festival in Chiang Mai
  • Doi Saket temple in Chiang Mai
  • Clay pots and elephants in Chiang Mai
  • The Old City
  • Chiang Mai night market
  • Hills in Chiang Mai
  • Northern Thai cuisiine
  • Doi Suthep temple, Chiang Mai
  • Chiang Mai's Old City is filled with historic temples
  • Buddhism is infused into the Thai's everyday life

Things to Do

  • Shop till you drop: visit the famous Saturday and Sunday Walking Street night market held every weekend along the old city streets to pick up handcrafted souvenirs and soak up the festive atmosphere.
  • Make the climb up the 309 steps to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple and its iconic gold-plated chedi overlooking the city, where you will be rewarded by views stretching across the plains.
  • Sample the famous Northern Thai cuisine, which is milder and less fiery than its Southern variation. A must-try is Khao Soi, a rich coconut-curry broth with rice noodles, meat and pickled cabbage topped with fried shallots, lime wedges and other delicious garnishings.
  • Visit an elephant sanctuary, where you can enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to interact with, bathe and even feed Chiang Mai’s rehabilitated and orphaned elephants.
  • Feast on a traditional Khan Toke dinner, a sampling of Northern-style dishes arranged on a bamboo tray and served to diners seated on the floor.
  • Embark on an overnight trek to visit remote minority hilltribe villages and drift down a sleepy river on a traditional bamboo raft.
  • Delve into the bustling activity at Warorot Market to pick up exotic dried herbs and spices, locally-grown highland fruits, vegetables and flowers; or sign up for a cooking class and learn to prepare traditional Thai dishes.
  • Indulge in the famous Thai massage, which uses a variety of yoga-like positions to invigorate the body without the use of oils.
  • Dine at the city’s trendiest restaurants and bars along Nimman Haeminda Road, Chiang Mai’s hip neighbourhood for the young and creative-minded.
  • Shop for locally-produced handicrafts, teak furniture and antiques at the wholesale Baan Tawai Handicraft District in Hang Dong.

Chiang Mai temple
Hmong lady in Chiang Mai

Getting There

NOTE: Travel information such as flight, train, bus and boat schedules and fares are subject to constant change. The information below is intended as a basic guide only; please check with the relevant companies/authorities before planning your journey.

By Air

Chiang Mai International Airport is the city's airport, serving both domestic as well as international flights from around the South-East Asian region. The Bangkok-Chiang Mai route is one of the busiest in the country, with flights arriving and departing almost every hour. Domestic airlines are very affordable and include Nok Air, Bangkok Airways and Thai Airways, linking the city to other parts of Thailand. International airlines include AirAsia, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Lao Airlines, Korean Air, SilkAir, Scoot and Tiger Air.

The airport is conveniently located about 3km from the city centre, a short 10-15 minute drive. Airport taxis are readily available and cost approximately 120 THB to the city centre.

By Train

Another popular way for visitors to get to Chiang Mai is to take the overnight sleeper train from Bangkok. This takes approximately 10-12 hours and passes through beautiful country scenery, rice fields and forests along the way. A first-class sleeper costs approximately 1,400 THB for a private air-conditioned cabin with two bunks, while a second-class sleeper costs approximately 900 THB and consists of an open convertible bunk with a privacy curtain. Daytime train services are also available without sleeping accommodations. Tickets can be purchased up to 60 days in advance at any train station within the country. The Chiang Mai Train Station is conveniently located 3km of the city centre and is well served by public transportation.

By Bus

Chiang Mai is served by two bus terminals: the Arcade Bus Station, serving buses from outside Chiang Mai province including Bangkok and Luang Prabang (Laos); and the Chang Phuak Bus Station for buses to nearby towns, including Mae Rim, Samoeng, Hot and Chiang Dao. Buses are affordable, but note the tendency of Thai bus drivers to drive fast and recklessly, often accompanied by loud music.  

Getting Around

By Tuk Tuk

The tuk-tuk is Thailand's ubiquitous 3-wheeled mode of transport, consisting of a covered seating area attached to a modified motorcycle. These are relatively easy to flag down but the fare will depend on your bargaining skills. Expect to pay approximately 50-100 THB to get from the Old City to the riverside, or 100-150 THB to the airport, train or bus station. 

By Songtaew

These red and yellow covered pick-up trucks are Chiang Mai's equivalent of a bus system, covering fixed routes around the city area and nearby towns while picking up passengers along the way. Red songtaews operate within the city limits while yellow and white ones head further afield. To hail a songtaew, flag one down on the street and inform the driver of your destination to get a price. Some bargaining may be necessary with fares starting from 20 THB and up. Once you reach your stop, inform the driver by pressing a buzzer located on the ceiling.   

By Taxi

Chiang Mai is served by metered taxis, although it can be difficult to convince drivers to turn them on. Most travellers will have to resort to bargaining a fixed fare.

By Bicycle

Bicycles are a cheap and convenient way to get around the Old City, although we advise against venturing beyond the city walls due to Chiang Mai's heavy traffic and reckless driving behaviour. Bicycle rental shops can be easily found inside the old city.

By Motorbike/Scooter

Like most South-East Asian cities, the motorbike or moped is one of the most popular ways to get around Chiang Mai. However, this should only be an option for experienced drivers due to the city's traffic congestion, busy highways and poor driving standards. Most motorbike rentals cost approximately 150 THB per day for an automatic 110-125cc model and are easily available. 

The Essentials

Visa Requirements

The majority of nationalities can enter Thailand without a visa or by obtaining a visa upon arrival. We advise visiting the Thailand Immigration Bureau website for current guidelines. Entry permit duration will depend on nationality and entry point; however most visitors are permitted to remain for either 15, 30 or 90 days.

Currency

Thailand uses the Thai Baht (THB), which tends to fluctuate wildly in value. As a general indication, US$1 is roughly equivalent to 30 THB. Visit xe.com for the latest exchange rates.

Restrictions & Laws

In spite of its freewheeling image, Thailand has very strict anti-drug laws. Possession of marijuana will result in a prison sentence and heavy fine, while amphetamines and ecstasy are regarded as Class A drugs on the same level as heroin. Like most South-East Asian countries, Thailand enforces a mandatory death sentence for Class A drug trafficking and possession of over 20g; a rule that also applies to foreigners.

Thailand's Lèse Majesté laws make it a criminal offence to make critical or defamatory comments in any form about the King or other members of the Royal family in Thailand. This is a law to be taken seriously as it is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years, with foreigners having been convicted in the past.

Health & Safety

Chiang Mai is relatively safe even at night, and violent crimes are rare. As always however, travellers should still take precautions against pick-pocketing and snatch thefts, especially when walking in dimly-lit areas. Mosquitos can be a concern depending on the time of year, as they can carry dengue fever (although seldom malaria). Use mosquito repellent when outdoors especially during dawn and dusk or when entering jungle areas, particularly during the rainy season from July till October. It is not advisable to drink tap water; bottled water is cheap and readily available.

Karen Hilltribe girls

Learn the Lingo

Thai is the official language of Thailand. Basic English is also widely spoken in urban areas.

Hello - sa-wat-dee kap (male speaker) / sa-wat-dee kha (female speaker)

Thank You - kop-khun kap (male speaker) / kop-khun kha (female speaker)

What is your name? - kun cheu ah-rai?

How much is this? - anee tao rai?

Excuse me / sorry - kor toht

Goodbye - laa gon na