Chiang Mai is often thought of as Thailand’s jungle paradise. A place of treehouse retreats, elephant sanctuaries and mountains in the distance. So we were a little bit confused when we rolled into a city big enough to rival any other in Thailand. Chiang Mai is actually Thailand’s second largest city after Bangkok. Definitely don’t think we did enough research on this one!
But before you strike it off your bucket list as “just another city”, hope is not lost. You can definitely still find all of the jungle sanctuary vibes you’ve been looking for, you might just have to venture a little further from the city and maybe choose some accommodation a couple of hours away. Before we get into the nitty gitty details, here are the absolute essentials that will help you out during your visit to Chiang Mai.
Location & Time Zone
Northern Thailand – Indochina Time Zone (UTC +07:00)
Arriving by air, Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is only about 10 minutes out of the city centre, with direct flights each day from Bangkok as well as many other cities around Thailand and Southeast Asia. A private taxi from the airport to hotels in the city is only about 150฿ for a one way trip.
Many people also arrive to Chiang Mai via an overnight sleeper train. Depending on where they’re coming from, train journeys into Chiang Mai generally take 12 to 15 hours. The train station is located on the eastern side of town, but still not more than 10 minutes away from the centre of town.
Thai Baht ฿. You can find ATMs around in the city and credit and debit cards are generally widely accepted. It is always a good idea to carry some cash on you though for tuk tuk drivers, taxis, markets, or emergency situations when credit cards may not be accepted.
Thailand does not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days for visitors travelling on an Australian or USA passport.
The hot summer season in Chiang Mai runs from March to May, and temperatures can be unbearably hot if you’re visiting during this time. The rainy season runs from May through to October, followed by the cooler winter months from November through to February. Generally Chiang Mai sees nice warm days all year round, but take a light jacket during the cooler months.
Thai is the official language of Thailand, however most people you come across will also be able to speak and understand English.
Getting around the Ancient Town on foot is quite easy, nothing is too far away to walk especially if it’s a nice day. The other two options to get around are either tiny tuk tuks, or a songthaew if you’re going a little further away- which can look a little bit more like a red pick up truck. These songthaews can sometimes be used as shared taxis, so if you’re hiring one to take you to an attraction or location out of town make sure you negotiate that this will be a private ride to avoid wasting time picking up and dropping off other passengers.
Prefer your own adventure? Compare the best prices on car rental in Chiang Mai.
Can definitely be a little harder to come by, especially in the Ancient Town. Most luxury hotels located outside of the Ancient Town (and some inside), will have good connections as well as some bigger or chain restaurants around Chiang Mai, but don’t expect to find a good connection every where you go.
If your mobile number is working in Thailand there are a few different mobile/internet providers who you can hotspot free wifi off. Most of the time they will want to send you a text with a code or password to connect so you need to be roaming to be able to sign up. This works quite well in different spots around the city and can come in handy as a last resort.
If you follow the Night Markets in Chiang Mai you can’t go wrong. Around the night markets, both the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and the Anusan Sunthon Road Night Market you will find luxury hotels and retreats, restaurants, nightlife and everything you can need.
If you’re looking for temples, definitely start in the Ancient Town. This is where you will find most of the major temples and more of the cultural home-stays, local restaurants, traditional shops and just generally local life.
Best Time To Go
The ideal time to visit Chiang Mai is between October and April, during the dry season and before the extreme temperatures of the summer months hit. This is the peak tourist season for visitors to Chiang Mai, and offers the most consistent weather.
Can’t Miss Experiences
+ Explore the Ancient Town of Chiang Mai
+ Shop til you drop at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar & Anusan Sunthon Road Night Market
+ Take part in Monk Chat – have an intimate chat with a local Monk where no subject is off limits and learn everything you’ve always wanted to know about their lives
+ Visit Wat Chedi Luang and the glistening temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
+ Help out rescued elephants at Elephant Nature Park
+ Take a hike through Doi Inthanon National Park for some of the most beautiful landscapes around Chiang Mai
+ Explore Wiang Kum Kam – an ancient underground city
+ Visit the local Karen Long Neck Tribe
+ Check out the Bo Sang Handicraft Village to meet the locals that make beautiful umbrellas and handmade gifts
+ Take a day trip to local town Chiang Rai
+ If you’re visiting in November make sure you’re around for the amazing Loy Krathong (Lantern) Festival
Good To Know
Chiang Mai has some of the most unique and exciting cultural traditions in all of Thailand. If you’re flexible or have the option, why not base your trip around one of these festivals. The Songkran Festival – also known as Thai New Year or the Thai Water Festival – which is held around the middle of April each year; or the Loy Krathong Festival – also known as the Lantern Festival, which is celebrated alongside Yee Peng is usually celebrated during the month of November.
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