When I mention that I am returning to Thailand, one question I keep hearing is I have always wanted to visit Chiang Mai. But why do so many people want to visit Chiang Mai? So I thought I would do a bit of research for myself.
Where is Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is located in the North West of Thailand and is one of the biggest cities in the region. The region itself is heavily influenced by its surrounding heavily forested mountains and offers some of the best scenic views.
How do I get to Chiang Mai?
The best way to reach Chiang Mai is to fly to Chiang Mai International Airport. This will take around 1 hour 15 minutes if you are flying from Bangkok. This will cost around £80 - £100 per person dependent on time of year. This is not the cheapest way to get there but is definitely the quickest. Ticket for budget airlines in Thailand can also be much cheaper if you buy them last minute, so don’t be afraid to have a look.
Alternatively you can take an overnight bus which will be much cheaper, but will take you a lot longer to arrive. Usually this will take around 11 hours, but you will save yourself a lot of money. The cost for 2 adults to take the bus will be around £25. This can be quite confined and an alternative to this could be the train. The train takes around the same amount of time as the bus and will cost you a little more. The average train will cost around £50 for 3 adults. The biggest factor with this is you can book a sleeper train so you will arrive refreshed.
How do I move around Chiang Mai?
There are many ways to get around Chiang Mai, but on arrival I would advise getting a licensed taxi to get you to your hotel. This will cost you around 160 baht to the old city from the airport. This will be different if you are travelling by bus. Once in the old city, the best way to see it is to walk around. Songthaews are the cheapest way to get around at a cost of 20 baht per trip. But these are restricted to set routes and you will have to make sure you get on the correct one.
One of my personal favourite ways of seeing any city is to take a tuk-tuk. These are slightly more expensive than songthaews but will take you directly to where you want to go. The only downside is they are very noisy and you may get a face full of exhaust fumes. But still this is a great way to see some of the attractions in the city.
What attractions are there in Chiang Mai?
One of the things that you will find a lot of is Temples. These can be found all over the city. You should definitely go in and take a look around. One of the best temples I want to visit is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is located around 30 KM outside of Chiang Mai and it is advisable to take an arranged tour if you can. These can often be arranged from your hotel reception or you can arrange before you travel. This is one of the most impressive temples in Chiang Mai, but it is also one of the busiest.
Are there any other temples in Chiang Mai?
There are lots of other Temples to visit that include Wat Phra Singh, Wat Saen Fang, Wat Sri Suphan and Wat Suan Dok. There are lots more that this but I wanted to keep this fairly short. Each one of these will offer some amazing photo opportunities along with the opportunity to learn more about this beautiful city in Thailand. Some of these are located within the old city walls.
The Old city
The Old city is one of the most interesting points of interest in Chiang Mai this I would like to see. You will often find tours of the old city starting at the Tapae gate on the eastern wall. You can of course look around yourself. There are a number of activities that take place each and every day in the old city. You can visit the Lanna Folklife Museum or the Chiang Mai Art and cultural centre. Both of these offer a lot in the way of cultural knowledge and experience. Expect to see a lot of tourists visiting these.
There are a few activities that occur each day of the week which are worth a look. The first you will encounter is Sunday Walking Street. The best time to visit this is in the early evening if you are looking for the best bargains. There are lots of stalls selling everything from food to souvenirs all over. You can also find some amazing creative handicraft and art here. Just take a look around.
Another thing to visit is the Saturday Market or Wualai Walking Street Market. This is a bit misleading as it occurs every day. This is very similar to the Sunday Walking Street but a lot less crowded and possibly more interesting. The options are more like ornaments and statues along with lots of handcrafted treats. There is also a lot of great food stalls for you to try some new foods.
Are there any other activities to do in Chiang Mai?
One of the most interesting museums in Chiang Mai is the Tribal Museum of Chiang Mai. Given the historical heritage of the hill tribes in the region, this is there perfect place to learn more about their culture. This is only open during the day until 4pm each day so be sure to arrive early if you plan on visiting.
The Chiang Mai National Museum is another great place to visit. There are a number of interesting exhibits that will allow you to learn more about the history of the region. There are also some great artefacts to see dating back through the years to the 19th century.
Are there any adventurous activities to try?
The most popular adventure activity to try is the Rainforest Canopy Zipline Adventure. This will offer some spectacular views of the rainforest. You may even see gibbons in the wild. This is one I would love to try. It is best if you book this as a tour as it is outside of Chiang Mai and could be difficult to find. This could become quite expensive though with prices starting at around £75 for half a day’s experience. You may even get to interact with the gibbons whilst you trek back at the end of you visit, but this is not guaranteed.
There are also loads of other activities to try that include white water rafting, kayaking on the river, Quad biking and many hiking routes to try. There may even be some wildlife around that you did not expect.
What other wild life can I see in Chiang Mai?
Thailand has some quite impressive wildlife and in Chiang Mai there is no exception. One of the best activities for seeing it is the Lanna Kingdom tour. Here you will be able to visit and interact with Elephants whilst learning all about them and their role in Thailand. I am never too keen on visiting animal sanctuaries as many seem to just want your money and don’t really meet the needs of the animals. But this tour appears to be different, the guides will allow you to spend most of your time with the elephants and demonstrate how these gentle giants are cared for. Prices for this start at 3500 baht for a full day at the sanctuary.
There are lots of animal sanctuaries located around Chiang Mai, so it may be worth looking around to see. If visiting any of them though, please do not ride the elephants, mainly because it can be inhumane and more importantly, your insurance may not cover any accidents with them if you fall off.
So why do so many people want to live here?
Given the fact that Chiang Mai has so many cultural attractions I think the main reason is the cost of living. Chiang Mai boasts some of the lowest costs of living in Thailand. Rental of an apartment can be done as low as £250 per month. This does not mean that you will have a poor standard room either. The rooms appear to be priced on a size basis, the bigger the room, the more you pay. Most rooms will come with some sort of air conditioning and have loads of modern appliances. These are perfect if you are planning on staying in Thailand for a period of time. Digital Nomads will find these apartments very appealing.
Why do digital nomads come to Chiang Mai?
The freedom of being able to work remotely offers a great deal of appeal to digital nomads. These people who have learned their particular skills (mainly in IT) love to base themselves in Chiang Mai to make their money stretch a lot further. The low cost of living plus the added benefit of widely available high speed internet, makes Chiang Mai very appealing. Many of the local coffee shops make most of their money from digital nomads, mainly by offering free Wi-Fi. This will be used to work remotely or just browsing the internet.
Another reason why the digital nomads will often come to Chiang Mai is for networking. Given the diversity of the technological world, it never hurts to know someone who can fix a problem that they may have. They can even pass work on to each other from time to time. It feels like more of a community than a group of strangers in a city and helps to create a friendly atmosphere.
Is there a friendly atmosphere?
The whole of Chiang Mai appears to be different from the rest of Thailand. It does not have the party city atmosphere that many of the coastal cities have. Everything happens at a much more relaxing pace. Given that people from all over the world will travel to Chiang Mai, many of them with their families. Chiang Mai offers them an opportunity to just chill out and do your own thing. That may just be going for a stroll around or just relaxing with a quiet cold beer, that’s up to you.
There may also be another reason for cooler heads in Chiang Mai. That is because it can feel a lot cooler than the central and southern parts of Thailand. As the city is located at altitude it will often feel much more hospitable than Bangkok or Phuket.
Are there any times of year to not visit Chiang Mai?
The rainy season will often bring about extremely heavy downpours of rain. Thailand is known for this between May and September. In Chiang Mai you can expect up to 60% chance of rain each day during some months. But do not let that put you off as there is always something to do in Thailand.
During the months of January and February you will notice that the air is much more polluted than usual. This is caused by the burning season. This is where Thai farmers in the region will begin the process of burning their fields in preparation of the following year’s plantation. This practice is illegal, but still occurs every year. If you suffer from allergies you would do well to avoid the region during this time. Many people will wear facemasks to help protect them from the thick smog that occurs during this. The official end to this is the Songkran festival that occurs in the middle of April.
Festivals in Chiang Mai
Songkran (The water festival) is possibly one of the most participated festivals by tourists. This symbolises the start of the New Year in Thailand. The festival is one big water fight during the 3 days that it goes on for. This occurs from the 13th April and carries on until 15th April. In many places in Thailand it can go on for longer, it is really up to each location how long it lasts. If you plan to participate then be prepared to get wet. Everyone will have a water gun of some capacity and they will make you wet. It is always best to wear ear plugs as some people will squirt water in your ear and this can be quite painful. But it is the most fun you will have in Thailand. Be aware, even the elderly get involved and their ice water is particularly cold.
Another festival that takes place in Thailand is Loy Krathong. This is celebrated on the night of the full moon during the 12th calendar month each year and is a way of trying to persuade the local serpent ruler, Phaya Nak, to stop the monsoon rains. During this period Thai people will build small hand size floats from sections of banana tree trunk and bread flowers. These will then be released into rivers and canals. It is a time of change for many Thai people. The feelings for holding grudges and feelings of anger towards others is let go and new beginnings are encouraged. The ping river can be quite a sight with the thousands of floats that are released.
The Yee Peng festival is another that is particularly awe inspiring. This occurs during the night of the full moon during the second calendar month. This is very similar to the Loy Krathong festival in terms of its spiritual sense. Thai people are encouraged to let go of ills and misfortunes from the previous year. This is symbolised through the releasing of lanterns into the night sky. This again can be a spectacular sight to see. Just grab some food from one of the many street vendors and stalls and sit back and watch the show.
Where can I eat in Chiang Mai?
The city is famous for is many food stalls that sell every kind of food you could imagine. There are thousands of stalls all over the city with a colourful array of local treats. These should be worth a try. These will often be your best way of trying local food as their prices are often a lot less than restaurants. But the quality is just as good.
If you do not fancy trying food from one of the many stalls then there are many great restaurants in Chiang Mai to suit any taste. Many of these are located by the river and offer some amazing sights when viewed during the dusk period of the day. There are just too many restaurants to run trough in one post.
So why do so many people want to visit Chiang Mai? I think I have my answer.