Chiang Mai is a city rich in beautiful landscapes, with a relaxed vibe, stunning temples, incredible food markets, friendly locals, and full of culture. It is the most culturally significant and largest city in northern Thailand. This city makes a perfect base for the travellers on the Thailand tours holidays that plan to explore the remote and northern regions of the country.
A visit to Chiang Mai is a great alternative to the lively capital city of Bangkok with leafy and long boulevards. Rather than having the traffic filled urban sprawl, tourists to this city get to enjoy a scenic downtown that is easily explored by foot while the climate is cool and the air is clean.
A journey out of town on a scooter or bicycle makes it possible to explore the dense rain forest countryside that is rich in waterfalls. The old town in this serene city is a great site with 30+ temple spires and local monks seen in the mornings, while the street traders appear at night.
Even though this city has a lot of trains and planes arriving with tourists, it is still able to maintain its laid-back and calm atmosphere. A tour of Chiang Mai is certain to appeal to those that wish to get a break from the more traditional sightseeing activities, and enjoy the back streets that are rich in traditional Thai attitude and atmosphere.
While a large modern city has developed around the old and ancient parts of Chiang Mai, it is still possible to quickly get back to the lush-green countryside of this part of Thailand. By entering the pristine rainforest on a chartered rót daang or hired motorbike it is possible to explore peaceful country villages, bubbling hot springs, serene forest wát and churning waterfalls. Plus, there are a few souvenir markets, elephant sanctuaries, and adventure camps to experience on the Thailand tour holiday packages.
The temperature in Chiang Mai is slightly cooler compared to most areas of Southern Thailand and enjoys three different seasons. The preferred time to travel is during the cool season (December to February) when the temperature is approx 30° C by midday, but will cool down in the morning and evening when it benefits to wear an extra layer. Plus, it is practical to take along a jumper or jacket when planning to take a motorbike trip into the mountainous regions.
The most intense heat is noticed from April to June when there is very high humidity and the temperature can reach 40° or more. The rainy season lasts from May to November which does experience a lot of heavy downpours, but they aren’t long lasting and will give the more peaceful travel experience on the Thailand tour packages.
How to get there
Chiang Mai is located about 700 km from Bangkok and easily reached using a variety of transport methods. By flight the journey is in the region of 70 minutes of the capital city, or 12 hours by overnight train or 11 hours by bus. Even though the journey by train is quite slow, it is able to offer great scenery along the route, including the villages, forests and bridges.
Chiang Mai has its own international airport that accepts both regional international and domestic flights, with the flight path from Bangkok one of the busiest in the country.
Certain areas of Chiang Mai are easy to walk around on foot, especially in the old city because of the low traffic and the many stunning places to explore.
Local transport options include the songthaew and tuk-tuk which are both easy to pick up and relatively inexpensive to use. The cost of the Songthaews is in the region of $0.60-$1.85 (depends on the length of the journey) and the tuk-tuk is slightly more expensive at $0.90-$3.00. The public transport options can get more inexpensive at night-time and on special occasions.
Scooter hire is widely available in town and costs in the region of $4.50-$9.50. This is great for the relaxed trips out of town that can include trips to the wonderful mountains or other local scenery.
Where to stay
Chiang Mai has plenty of low-cost, mid-range and upscale guesthouses and hotels throughout the city. For the budget traveler, there a several hostels and budget hotels that cost in the region of $3.50-$12.50 per night. The more expensive rooms come with air-con. The majority of the low-cost places to stay are found within the old city.
A stay at the Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa is perfect for the traveller in search of the more upmarket accommodation. It has 19 plush rooms with natural bath products, Persian carpets, rain showers and teak furnishings. The cost is quite expensive at $120 per night.
The Sala Lanna Chiang Mai has a great atmosphere with peaceful river views and located in the old town. The 15 elegant rooms are very appealing with simple and clean designs, while luxury features include the rooftop swimming pool. The cost for the double room costs about $70.
A relaxing night or two at the Rachamankha on the Holidays to Thailand is certain to appeal to the travellers in search of the more upmarket accommodation. It has 25 rooms that exude sophistication with other features like a library, tranquil courtyards and antique-adorned halls. Plus, there is an attached restaurant that serves high-quality northern Thai and Burmese Shan dishes. The cost per night to stay at the Rachamankha is about $180.
Eat and drink
The street food scene in Chiang Mai is one of the finest in Thailand with dishes costing in the region of $0.70-$1.40. This is more attractive than the prices for restaurant meals which can cost $5 or more, including a drink. Plus, the cost of the western food is usually more. Great food spots include the Sunday Market, Chaing Mai Gate Market and Dada Kafe.
The Blackitch Artisan Kitchen is a great restaurant with a different menu for the day and evening. By day, the menu includes staples like salads and spaghetti, while in the evening there is a high-quality menu consisting of seafood inspired dishes such as seared scallops and a varied range of sauces. An evening meal with four courses costs in the region of $35.
A visit to the relatively small Farm Story House is a great choice for the travellers interested in thoughtful comfort food. Many of the dishes rely on organic and locally produced ingredients. Simple servings include Karen-style nam prik with vegetables and sticky rice for about $2.50.
A major attraction for travellers to Chiang Mai on the Thailand family tour is the great shopping scene. Chiang Mai is well-known for its Night Bazaar and Saturday and Sunday markets, which are very busy when in full flow. Some of the popular items include the handmade goods that are created by the local artists. Beyond the markets, there are several other places to shop that are less crowded, such as small shops located within a short distance to the markets.
Things to see and do
Wat Doi Suthep
A well known temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Doi Suthep which is located high up on Suthep Mountain which involves walking up 304 steps. This temple is open year-round and popular with both Buddhist pilgrims and tourists from across the world. The mountain top location is appreciated for its stunning views and in the evening it is possible to watch as the monks start their chanting. Also, for those travellers unable to climb the stairs, there is an alternative route using a funicular railway.
There are plenty of choices when it comes to cooking classes for travellers in Chiang Mai. Most of the best classes start by visiting the early morning market to buy the ingredients before returning to the kitchen to prepare a few of the most popular dishes in Thailand.
Chiang Mai is a great starting point for the travellers on the Indochina tour packages that want to sign up for a local trekking tour through the jungle. The organized tours can last for one to three days or more to get a full appreciation of the more secluded and interesting places. A tour guide should have the ability to speak English and talk about the local wildlife and land while on the jungle trek. Also, on these tours it is possible to stop and visit some of the tribal villages.
Elephant Nature Park
The Elephant Nature Park is located about 60 minutes outside the city and a sanctuary that takes care of injured and abused elephants. A day trip to the park is an enjoyable experience, while it is also an option to volunteer for a week or so to help take care of the elephants. This is a great way to give back to the local community and really understand more about these magnificent animals.
A visit to the Tribal Museum makes it possible to learn more about the minority hill tribes that live throughout Thailand, and includes exhibits that relate to reconstructed tribal huts, jewelery items and tribal clothing. Plus, there is the occasional tribal market that has the locals selling goods that are made by hand.