Thailand is a wonderful country to visit all year round, and Chiang Mai is no exception. Traditionally, the high season in the North is between November to February when the temperatures are pleasant and not too hot. However, to really make the most of the scenery we would recommend visiting during the wet season, between May–October, when the landscape will be at its most green and the waterfalls at their fullest. Don’t worry, it will usually only rain for an hour or two at the most, and on the plus side it will ease off some of the humidity you’re likely to experience. Avoid visiting North Thailand during the burning season (March–April). Smog from the forest fires is common during this period, it is much hotter and the air can be very arid, not to mention most of the vegetation will have died or been burnt.
📅 All year round
Various low-cost airlines of Asia are operating scheduled flights to the Chiang Mai Int. Airport (CNX) and it is definitely one of the easiest ways to get there. From the airport, it’s just 10 min to the Old City by a bus, taxi or red truck (songthaew). Another way of getting to Chiang Mai if you’re already in Bangkok is to take the train (choose the 1st class night train which is more comfortable) that takes around 12 hours but it’s a nice ride and you will enjoy the landscapes. There are also buses (again night buses are recommended) if you’re coming in from the capital, or from any of the major cities of the North. Buses are also the cheapest way to travel around Thailand and during the route between Bangkok – Chiang Mai a bottle of water, a blanket and a stop for dinner is included in the ticket fare.
Chiang Mai city centre is small enough to easily walk around, and its a pleasant way to explore the little alleys with old houses, massage parlours, art galleries and tiny cosy cafes. However, should you be caught in a downpour, or suffer the heat, there are tuk-tuks and shared taxis (songthaews) readily available – just make sure you have practised your bargaining skills as they will want to overcharge you.
Usually, in a songthaew they will pick people up along the way to fill the ride, so don’t be put off, it’s quite common. A short distance shared-ride won’t cost you more than 30baht (around $1). Though if you have anywhere to be at a certain time, perhaps ordering Grab – the Asian version of Uber, is the most reliable way to get anywhere, with a guaranteed cost.
If you fancy being more autonomous, there are scooters you can rent for the day at 250baht and up (weekly rent is recommended) which you can drive up around the roads in the mountains. We also love to rent bicycles which cost only 50baht per day – Chiang Mai Old City is safe and convenient to ride your bike around.
Where to stay
Chiang Mai’s modern-meets-traditional style is present everywhere, from hostels to hotels, from guesthouses to unique Airbnb apartments. Most travellers and tourists traditionally choose to stay in the Old Town where you certainly won’t be short of a bed. Others who choose to experience something luxurious prefer to stay at the riverside area by the Ping River, where hotels like Anantara Resort, 137 Pillars House, X2 Chiang Mai is the top choice or at the Niman neighbourhood.
If you’re on a backpackers budget you can look to spend around 300baht or even less for a bed in a shared dorm, usually with breakfast included, anywhere around the city.
There are also plenty of other options from mid-range to high-end, and you can easily find Lanna architecture for those looking for something more traditional. When we visit Chiang Mai as a couple we prefer to stay in Baan Khun Krab guesthouse where we feel like home and always welcome.
Find below the best value for money hotels or choose from the list of most affordable Airbnbs in Chiang Mai.
What to do
Just a few minutes away from the city there are mountains with rich vegetation, waterfalls, hill tribes, elephant sanctuaries and remote scenic villages waiting to be explored. From Chiang Mai, one can begin his journey to explore the beauty of northern Thailand whether by himself or with a private tour guide.
The Old City of Chiang Mai is a monument itself and the best way to discover the ‘hidden gems’ is to find a local to show you around. How? get into the Airbnb experiences and you will find plenty of choices. Thai Cooking lessons are very popular especially amongst girls, also yoga sessions, temple-walks and photography tours are suggested for those who like to spend a relaxing and amusing day in the city. There is also the modern Coins Museum and exactly opposite the Lana Architecture Center, both are highly recommended for a visit.
If you are looking for more action then book a tour to explore the Doi Suthep mountain or go by yourself and trek the Monk’s Trail. Further adventures that everyone must join are:
- Elephant Sanctuary visit (no riding) – read all about it in this post.
- Samoeng (Pong Kwao) Hot Springs
- Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
- Weekend in the hippie town of Pai
- Chiang Rai, White Temple, Blue Temple day trip
To find more things to do in Chiang Mai and the wider area read our extended guide 25 Cool things to do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a synonym to the traditional Thai cuisine which is considered one of the most delicious in the world. Here the street food is everywhere, it’s super cheap making the city a real paradise for foodies. Almost every corner in the city sells a different kind of local dishes, fresh tropical fruits, refreshing smoothies and of course freshly brewed coffee from the mountains of North Thailand. The best part of it, the food not only tastes good but it is also instantly cooked in front of your eyes using fresh ingredients which makes it healthy and nutritious.
What to taste?
Every part of Thailand has its own regional flare. Northern Thai food has inflexions of Burmese and Chinese spices and flavours, resulting in mouth-watering dishes. Some of them can be really spicy some other less, but always remember to mention the level of spiciness of your food while ordering. Most of the popular specialities are: Khao Soi Gai chicken-noodle soup, Laab spicy meat salad, Sai Oua minced pork sausage, Khao Kha Moo stewed pork leg with rice.
On the lively streets of the city, it is easy to taste, till late at night, different kind of soups with rice or noodles, bbq fish, grilled chicken or pork and the less common crocodile or ostrich meat. Ofcourse, vegans will have plenty of choices as fresh vegetables, tofu and legumes are used widely in Thai kitchen. Western and Italian food can also be found at almost every restaurant but costs 10 times more than a local dish. Don’t forget to end your dinner with the most popular dessert in Thailand, sticky rice with mango.
Where to eat?
It’s really amazing how good cookers Thai women and men are. Almost every restaurant and street vendor serves delicious meals and it’s difficult to go wrong. But despite this, we suggest some of our favourite places to try authentic Thai food and please your tongue.
What about drinks?
With tropical fruits growing all over the country, smoothies and fruit-shakes are the most nutritious way to refresh yourself. Who can resist freshly blended mango or passion fruit shake? Also don’t miss to taste the local coffee, served almost at every coffee store, which is produced on the mountains around Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. Bubble tea is a relatevly new beverage idea that comes from China and Taiwan and everyone seems to adore it. Last but not least one of the most flavourful drink that we have tried is the cold Matcha tea with concentrated milk, order it with minimum ice and you won’t regret it!
Other than that, alcohol beverages are the same as in the rest country making the Asian beers, Thai whisky and rum the most popular choice among locals and travellers.
Read here which are Our favourite cafe – restaurants in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai and Bangkok are considered the best cities to shop in the country. Especially North the prices seem to be even cheaper. Women will love the unique handmade jewelry, hill tribe earrings, silk scarfs, harem-style pants, bags made from rattan or indigo dyed cotton. For men, it’s an opportunity to order tailor-made suits and shirts which will cost half price or less. The art lovers will fell in love with the cultural and artistic side of Chiang Mai. There are a plethora of art galleries in the city and many artisans make a living selling carved wooden statues, blown-glass ornaments, handmade furniture and wooden Bo Sang umbrellas. Silver, gems like sapphire, mango and bamboo wood are commonly used in the area while a few ex-pats own ateliers and use the local high-quality fabrics to create apparel collection for brands in Europe.
Chiang Mai may be the original digital nomad hub. With pleasant weather most of the year, cheap and fast wifi, a relatively low cost of living and an international airport with many accessible locations in South East Asia and beyond just a short flight away, it’s understandable why so many people who work remotely go there.
Chiang Mai is also a great place to meet people and that’s why many travellers who visit the city also prefer co-working spaces to make friends and help each other grow or start their online business. Despite there are numerous cozy cafes offering free fast wi-fi to work on your laptop sometimes it’s better to pay a monthly subscription and co-work from a place that inspires you and makes you more productive. Chiang Mai also hosts weekly meetups. If you want to hang out with digital nomads and socialize with people who share the same interests then those meetups are ideal. There are numerous subjects discussed on every meetup such as passive income ideas, Instagram marketing, e-commerce, cryptocurrency and other interesting projects.
Below are some of the best co-working spaces that operate in Chiang Mai.
- HUB 53
- PUNSPACE @Nimman
- PUNSPACE @Tha Phae Gate
- WAKE UP COFFEE
- THE BRICK SPACE
Not to miss
📌 Eat & shop at the Sunday Walking Street Market
📌 Climb up the Sticky Waterfalls
📌 Trek to Doi Suthep temple through the Monk’s Trail
📌 Drink a cup of tea with the sunset view at the Hmong village
📌 Spoil yourself with detoxication & massage treatments
📌 Explore the art & cultural side of Chiang Mai
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