Chiang Mai Travel Guide Contents
Places To Go | Things To Do | Hotels & Resorts | Tours | Weather & When To Go | Getting There & Around | See & Do | Where To Stay | Day Trips & Excursions | Typical Costs | Money Saving Tips | Safety Tips | Recommended Resources | Transport | Travel Blog
Welcome to Thailand Travel Hub's complete guide to Chiang Mai, Thailand's second-largest city. A beautiful and much more laid back destination with lots of history and culture, and also a great place to escape from the chaos of Bangkok or the throngs of tourists on the beaches of Phuket and Samui. Thailand's "Rose of the North" is around 700 km north of the capital, with a slightly cooler and more bearable climate, and although there is no beach, it's a fantastic place to visit with loads to see and do.
Here you can find the information you need about the best hotels and resorts, the best temples, the best activities and the best places to shop and eat in the city, along with our essential travel tips and advice, travel resources and booking information, all in one place. Chiang Mai has been popular with visitors to Thailand for many years because of it's slower pace of life, it's beautiful scenery and temples, plus the fantastic cuisine of northern Thailand. It's Thailand with a more laid-back vibe, but is still very accessible and tourist-friendly with an abundance of cultural attractions as it was once the ancient capital of the Lanna kingdom, but it still has enough nightlife and entertainment to keep visitors happy.
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Chiang Mai Travel Guide Map
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Chiang Mai Weather & When To Go
Chiang Mai, like the rest of Thailand, has three seasons. Due to its location and elevation, however, it feels noticeably cooler than Bangkok or Phuket, but don't let this deceive you; in the hot season, daily highs can still reach over 30°C. Particularly during the cool season, you will notice that it gets much cooler during the night in Chiang Mai, which means many will be able to sleep comfortably without air-conditioning.
The cool season is October to February when it is noticeably more comfortable during the evening and the night-time. The hot season is February to June when it can be slightly too hot for many, and especially during the middle of the day, it can be too sticky to consider walking far. The monsoon season is June to October, when it is hot and wet with daily highs of over 30°C, with torrential downpours daily.
Another key point to consider when deciding when to come is the burning season. This is when farmers and landowners in the north of Thailand burn their waste products, resulting in terrible air quality with a high number of particulates. This takes place between late February and April and is best avoided for people with asthma or allergies (many ex-pats take holidays away from the city during this time).
Getting To Chiang Mai
There are many different methods of transport to help you get to Chiang Mai, from taking a local bus, express buses, overnight VIP buses, train and by plane.
Plane – To get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, many local carriers are operating out of both Don Mueang airport and Suvarnabhumi. Don Mueang appears to be more competitive and will be easier to get to if you are already in Bangkok city centre. There are flights almost every hour from the capital, from many different airlines including Air Asia, Nok Air, Thai Vietjet Air, Thai Smile, Bangkok Air, Lion Air and Thai Airways as well as flights to and from many international hubs including Doha, Singapore, Hong Kong etc. meaning that you can fly from your home country to Chiang Mai, avoiding the need to stop in Bangkok if preferred. Prices for a one-way ticket from Bangkok start at 800 baht ($26.50) if booked in advance, but can be as much as 2500 baht ($82.70) if left to the last minute. Flight time from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is around 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Buses – There are numerous bus operators in Bangkok which can get you to Chiang Mai with a relatively good level of comfort, with most originating from the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit). You can book a ticket usually at your hotel, local travel agent, Mochit Bus Station or an online booking agent with a one-way trip being about 600 - 900 baht ($20-$30) and taking 9-10 hours depending on the number of stops. The lower class public buses also depart from Bangkok's northern bus terminal at Mo Chit and tickets range from 400-800 baht ($13.25-$26.50) depending on the service. The public buses are not very comfortable, and as they stop in many smaller towns, the journey can take over 12 hours.
Taking an overnight VIP bus to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is probably the best option, the seats on the bus recline quite far back, so it is relatively comfortable and fairly easy to catch some sleep, plus you can save on not having to for a nights accommodation.
Train – Traveling by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a pretty awesome experience, you'll get the chance to experience Thailand's more rural areas and see some beautiful landscapes and scenery. There are a range of different tickets available, we recommend the 2nd Class AC seats only, 2nd Class Sleeper AC and 1st class sleeper. The train journey departs from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Train Station and takes between 11-14 hours, depending on which train you take, the number 7 is the quickest leaving at 08.30 and arrives at 19.30 with a journey time of 11 hours.
Taxi – Despite the distance, you should find that Thai taxi drivers will be willing to make the journey, for a price of course. Expect the journey to take 7-9 hours depending on stops, and to cost you 2500-3500 baht ($83-$116), depending on whether you agree a price or use the meter. With the abundance of budget airline tickets, however, going by taxi makes little sense.
TTH Recommendation: There are a few different ways to get to Chiang Mai, the most convenient and cost effective way is to fly. However taking the train or bus both have their advantages and give you the freedom to stop at places along the way such as Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. It is always best to book your transport in advance, especially in peak season and Thai holiday periods. We highly recommend 12Go Asia, they have an easy-to-use booking website and helpful staff on hand to help you with bookings and tickets.
Getting around Chiang Mai
Visitors will find that many of the city’s attractions are found in what is known the “Old City”, which is the central part of Chiang Mai enclosed by the square moat and the ancient remains of the city walls. This means that, depending on the weather, you may well be able to walk to many destinations – just don’t forget to take some water with you as it can still get very hot even during the cool season. Bicycles can be rented from many places in Chiang Mai for around 50-100 baht ($1.65-$3.30) per day and they will usually supply a lock and helmet.
Renting a motorcycle - If you’re a confident rider with a motorcycle license you can rent a small capacity motorbike for around 250 baht ($8.25) per day. Check the bike over before you agree to rent it, and ask about insurance – even if you have travel insurance you may well find that it won’t cover you in the event of an accident. The combination of poorly maintained, steep and winding roads with distracted and sometimes careless drivers means that Thai roads can be deadly. Take extra care until you’ve gotten used to Thai driving etiquette. Small cars are available to rent from around 1000 baht ($33) per day. Due to more frequent police checkpoints, it is advisable to obtain an international driving permit as the police are now asking for these, they can be obtained online in minutes and printed off for a small fee, or over the counter at your local post office.
Taxis - Taxis are convenient and safe, however, just like in Bangkok they rarely want to use the meter. You should be able to find a driver willing to turn his meter on eventually, or failing that you can negotiate a fair price in advance if you know roughly what the cost should be. Motorcycle taxis are great value at about half the rate of a taxi, and they don't get stuck in traffic. They are not suitable for the faint-hearted, however. Try the Grab app on your smartphone, it is quick and convenient and you can see the price in advance.
Songtaews - Like in many Thai towns and cities, songtaews offer the best compromise between price and convenience, with most trips costing 20-30 baht ($0.66-$1). They drive on fixed routes, to get aboard just flag one down by the side of the road and ring the bell when you want to get off. You’ll see that these are very popular with the locals. To find out the routes you can use the smartphone app, go to tourist information or ask at your hotel.
Tuk-tuks - Tuk-tuks, like everywhere else in Thailand, are more expensive than even taxis with some drivers (particularly in the evenings) quoting silly prices. By all means, try one once if you've never experienced it, but you won't see the locals using them much, if at all.
Airport to city center - The airport is several kilometers from Chiang Mai city center, with the usual gang of taxi drivers hanging around offering expensive taxi rides to your hotel. 160 baht should be the usual price for a taxi, or there are public buses outside for a fraction of that (although the taxi and tuk-tuk drivers will tell you there are no public buses because they want you to go with them). Alternatively, book a taxi with the Grab app to avoid having to haggle and being overcharged.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Old City – Surrounded by the ruins of the ancient city walls, the Old City is a very central and convenient place to stay. It is also home to numerous cheap guest-houses and hostels, so is also a very economical choice if you're on a budget. There are plenty of attractions and places to eat within walking distance (provided you avoid the middle of the day when it can get really hot). The Old City has plenty of temples, markets and museums to see and is a great place to start if this is your first time in Chiang Mai, it is the city's historic center and a fascinating place to stay. The most convenient area would be near to the Tha Pae Gate which is located at the center of the eastern section of the moat, there are several places to stay around there and it's easy to get transport from as it is right on the main road which circles the Old City.
Nimman Road – Nimman Road is home to some thumping nightspots and would be a great place to stay if that's your thing. Northwest of the Old City, the area is much more trendy and modern, being a popular nightspot for the young local Thais looking to unwind in the evening. It is convenient for access to the airport, offers a vast array of drinking and dining options, and despite being super modern and clean still comes in at budget-friendly prices in most cases.
Night Bazaar Area – If you've come to Chiang Mai to fill your suitcases with bargains, then staying in the Night Bazaar area might be up your street. It's a more traditional area but is still a very bustling place with a huge variety of places to eat and drink. It is also very close to the Loi Kroh Road, walkable in fact, which has an abundance of bars and discos so is great for nightlife. It's easy to get to both the riverside and the Old City from here so is a great choice for most people, however, it can get busy so may not be the best place if you're looking to relax. You'll find everything from budget hostels to huge hotels in the area.
Riverside - This area is a bit more relaxed with many nice resort hotels, so would be an excellent choice for families visiting the city. There are many picturesque riverside bars and restaurants to relax at whilst overlooking the Ping river, but you're not particularly close to the city's attractions or shopping options, although transport is readily available. You pay a bit more for having a quieter location away from the nightlife hotspots but it's still very good value by western standards.
Chang Phuak – Chang Phuak is a large region to the north of the city center which encompasses much of the Doi Suthep National Park and much of the city north of the Old City. It is noticeably less touristy than the central areas and offers a more authentic experience with even lower prices for accommodations. There are plenty of attractions, shopping malls and restaurants in the area itself, and it also offers an excellent base from which to explore the city of you want to stay somewhere away from the tourists.
Hang Dong – Hang Dong is a large, less developed district south-west of the city center, but it does have some great temples and the Grand Canyon water park. There are some country clubs and resorts to stay at in the region, but you'll be fairly remote and it's more suited to families and people wanting to explore the great outdoors. It is much less touristy than Chiang Mai city itself. You will need a car or motorbike to explore the area as it's not so easy to find a bus or taxi and the area is fairly spread out.
TTH Recommendation: The city of Chiang Mai is absolutely packed with excellent accommodation for all types of traveler, from budget hostels, guest houses, budget hotels to five star hotels and luxury resorts. It's a good idea to book online before you go, especially in peak season or during Thai holidays. We recommend Agoda.com and Booking.com for online bookings, in most cases you can cancel or alter your bookings just in case your travel arrangement change. You can also take a look at other peoples reviews and experiences about the accommodation, to help you decide on the perfect place to stay.
Check Out The Latest Chiang Mai Accommodation Deals On Agoda
Best Things to See & What to Do in Chiang Mai
Go Trekking & visit the Hill Tribe Villages
If jungle trekking is on your agenda then Chiang Mai is an excellent base, being surrounded by thousands of acres of untouched natural tropical vegetation and sensational scenery. Most jungle trekking trips will be a 1-3 day tour through stunning jungle and rice paddies, with incorporated visits to points of interest such as waterfalls, cave formations, tiny villages and incredible viewpoints. You will also get a chance to visit and stay with one of the famous local hill tribes, where the women have elongated necks from wearing numerous metal rings, plus you will have the opportunity to camp and cook amongst them.
There are many companies offering trekking tours around the Chiang Mai area so take the time to find out which one would suit you best. Many offer fully tailored packages for small groups if you have something specific in mind. Most tour packages will start at 2000 baht ($66) per person per day for the most basic package, but even that should include food and water, transportation, any national park fees, activity costs and insurance.
Trekking in Chiang Mai is now pretty touristy, the hill tribe villages are very used to seeing foreign tourists and are very welcoming. Keep a lookout for charitable and higher end agents, who often donate to local hill-tribes and conservation projects.
Trekking around Chiang Mai is a wonderful way to get out of the city and explore the jungle, rivers and wildlife as well as experience the culture and rural way of life in northern Thailand.
Visit The Amazing Temples of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is packed with hundreds of ancient and spectacular temples, with many being within walking distance of each other inside the walls of the Old City. The most famous temple, however, is the incredible Wat Doi Suthep perched atop a steep hill overlooking the city, a must-see for every visitor to Chiang Mai. As well as the temple complex, the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park even has some easily accessible waterfalls and lagoons and some (fairly basic) bungalows if you'd like to stay the night.
There are many smaller temples scattered all across the city, with some particularly interesting ones inside the walls of the Old City. Wat Chedi Luang was built in 1385 and once housed the much-revered Emerald Buddha, which now takes pride of place in Bangkok. Wat Phra Sing is another ancient temple, but this one was fully renovated less than a century ago and houses a beautifully ornate and gilded main temple building which is home to a huge standing golden Buddha. If you're short on time the temple tours are an excellent option but don't try to do too many in one day or you'll get "templed-out".
For something slightly different – head outside of the old part of town to Wualai Road where you’ll find the odd, but beautiful Wat Sri Suphan – the silver temple. In the evenings the temple is bathed in neon lights, lending an otherworldly, almost futuristic edge to the structure.
Visit the National Parks
Northern Thailand is known for it's beautiful, jungle-covered terrain and natural features, so it should come as no surprise that there are indeed many amazing and relaxing parks to visit in the area. Doi Inthanon National Park is named after Thailand's highest peak and encompasses the 1000 km2 of jungle and hills surrounding it. The terrain is covered in some fairly dense undergrowth but is dotted with various hiking trails and several waterfalls. Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is known as the home of the famous hilltop temple complex, and again, the whole area is heavily forested and home to many species of local wildlife.
Si Lanna National Park is noticeably more mountainous and home to a stunning nine-level waterfall. Ob Luang National Park is noted for its beautiful river canyon, its hot springs, and its interesting cave complex featuring long underground tunnels, with many stalactites and stalagmites. Ob Khan National Park is a tranquil getaway from the city, only about an hour away with some beautiful surroundings, a river that you can swim in, and a campsite.
Visit the Elephant Nature Park
The Elephant Nature Park is a rescue center and sanctuary for distressed elephants in northern Thailand and is around 60 km from Chiang Mai city center. It offers amazing experiences, getting up close with these impressive creatures, plus you will be taken on a guided tour of the reserve and given a chance to learn more about the stories of how they were rescued. Many would have died if they had not been brought here to safety, and most have experienced cruelty and hardship in their lives.
For many people, this will be a truly amazing opportunity and an experience that you are unlikely to forget in a hurry. The animals are extremely intelligent and very well treated by the staff, and your visit goes a way to helping them to continue their work. The cost for a full day is 2500 baht ($83) and half price for children under 11, and it is well worth every penny. Also, a two-day, one-night overnight visit is available for 5800 baht ($192).
Relax with a Massage and Spa Visit
No visit to Thailand would be complete without at least one Thai massage and some cut-price pampering at a local spa. A good quality Thai massage is a rejuvenating experience, and with prices starting from as little as 200 baht ($6.60) per hour you could treat yourself every day if you wanted to. You can choose from a full body massage, a head and shoulder massage, foot and leg massage, a Swedish massage, hot stone or aromatherapy massage and many more options besides.
Plus, a seemingly endless array of spa treatments are available in Chiang Mai, including manicures and pedicures, facials and reflexology, which can be combined with your choice of massage for a full afternoon of bliss without hurting your budget. Chiang Mai is home to numerous fantastic spas at various price points, all offering something slightly different. Some particularly well-known ones include Fah Lanna Spa, Orn Healing Hands and The Giving Tree, but there are massage salons and spas all over the city so don't be scared to give your nearest one a try.
Classes & Workshops
Chiang Mai is no stranger to tourism and offers a vast array of different classes, courses and workshops of all description. There are several camps and gyms where you can learn some Muay Thai moves and expend a serious amount of energy in the process, whether you want just a few hours or 6 months, you will be welcomed. Or, for something a bit less strenuous there are many, many cooking courses where you can learn how to make a sensational Pad Thai or Thai green curry, plus vegetarian and vegan classes if you prefer. If you plan to return to Thailand in the future, perhaps a Thai language course might interest you, you can learn with others or have one to one tuition, all at great rates.
Plus, Chiang Mai offers photography courses, art classes, certificated Thai massage training, fruit carving lessons, yoga classes, martial arts training, and much, much more besides. There is a lot more to Chiang Mai than just the temples and Khao Soi, plus the classes are a great way to meet new people.
Grab a Bargain at the Night Bazaar and Markets
Chiang Mai is full of great markets, and if you've never experienced a Thai market before, you're in for a treat. They offer a bewildering array of goods, clothes, souvenirs, and more importantly food, at rock-bottom prices and are often the thriving, social hub of the area for the locals. The night bazaars are very much an attraction aimed at tourists, as such, you'll find many of the vendors able to speak a few words of English to help things along but expect to find higher prices than at the other markets (look for where the locals are buying for the best deals).
Warorot Market, in particular, has a bewildering array of goods at great prices, but be prepared to haggle for the best deal, especially if you are buying several items from the same vendor. There are dozens of other markets in the city, including the Saturday night market, JingJai, Somphet, Mueang Mai and Tha Pae walking street, plus the Amulet Market is also well worth a visit.
Experience Chiang Mai’s Nightlife
Chiang Mai does have a thriving nightlife scene, although it's noticeably more subdued than places such as Bangkok or Pattaya. Having a few drinks at a riverside bar overlooking the Ping river is a popular pastime with the locals, listening to some live music. Also, there is the trendy Nimman Road which is an up and coming area full of modern cocktail bars and nightclubs, with venues to suit different budgets. A bit more sedate but just as much fun are the beer bar complexes and smaller bars along the Loi Kroh Road, which is the closest Chiang Mai gets to a red light district.
In addition to the bars, nightclubs, restaurants and live music venues, Chiang Mai is also home to several "party hostels", which offer cheap accommodation and food to young travelers looking to make the most out of the nightlife and social scene. If you want peace and quiet, these will not be the places for you, but if you're looking to meet some new friends and party every night, they could be just the ticket.
Explore Chiang Mai's History, Culture & Heritage
Chiang Mai has a long and interesting history, being founded around 1294, and it eventually took over from Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (now northern Thailand). The moat and fortifications were built as a defense against local marauders including the Mongol Empire and neighboring tribes who were a constant threat during the period. Chiang Mai then developed over the centuries, becoming Thailand's second most important city, economically and culturally. However, as the northern Thais are descended from the Lanna people, they have a slightly different identity which you can learn more about during your stay in the city.
There are many places where you can go to uncover the city’s history and the culture of the Lanna people. There is the Lanna Traditional House Museum, the Tribal Museum, the Lanna Architecture Center, plus the Chiang Mai National Museum and many more besides. They are fascinating attractions and a great way to while a few hours away if it’s raining (to save money you can often buy combined tickets for several attractions).
Chiang Mai has some fantastic festivals throughout the year, which attract clusters of people from all over Thailand and the world – from Songkhran – the new year celebrations in mid-April, to the awe-inspiring Loy Krathong festival which takes place during the full moon in November, when thousands of candles are floated down the Ping River in lotus-leaf boats.
Incidentally, Loy Krathong coincides with the Yi Peng festival in Chiang Mai, when hundreds of thousands of lanterns or khom loy are released into the sky, creating a light show that resembles a gigantic constellation of lightly burning orange embers.
Experience the best Northern Thai Food & Learn to Cook
The dishes in northern Thailand are heavily influenced by the surrounding countries of Myanmar, China and Laos, and as such, are slightly different to the Thai food that you may be familiar with. You will note that many of the soups and curries of the region do not use coconut milk, but instead consist of a clear broth heavily infused with local herbs and spices. Less spicy than the cuisine from southern Thailand, and not as sweet as foods from the central region, food up here is predominantly salty, fragrant and bitter, but delicious and a nice change from the ubiquitous pad Thais and green curries.
So forget about coconut milk and fish sauce, which comes from the south of Thailand and get ready for roots, plants and herbs plucked from the jungles and thrown into dishes like nam prik ong, a spicy tomato pork dip made with bunches of dried chillies, and Kôw soy – a fragrant curry-based dish with sides of vegetables and lime, topped with fried noodles and synonymous with Chiang Mai.
There are plenty of food markets to choose from in Chiang Mai but we love the Warorot evening market – where amongst the ambiance and fragrance of the stalls you’ll find dishes such as sai ua (a local lemongrass infused sausage) and kaeng khanun (jackfruit curry) amongst Thai favorites such as mu ping (pork skewers) and Tom yum.
A visit to Chiang Mai wouldn't be complete without learning how to cook some of these amazing dishes from northern Thailand. There are plenty of highly recommended cooking schools in Chiang Mai, they are great fun and fantastic way to meet new people too.
Day Trips and Excursions In Chiang Mai
As you'd expect from such a well-heeled destination, there are many excellent day trips which you can undertake when staying in Chiang Mai, either by doing it yourself or booking through a tour provider. There are dozens upon dozens of tour operators and most packages can be customized to suit you, so don't feel pressured into booking the first one you come across.
Chiang Rai - Chiang Rai is a smaller, older and less touristy city about 3 hours drive northeast of Chiang Mai and is famous for the spectacular Wat Rong Khun, known as the white temple. This temple alone is worth the journey. A full day trip will also take in the ancient 7th-century ruins at Chiang Saen, a stop in the famous Golden Triangle and a boat ride along the Khong River. It's quite a long drive but the scenery along the way is spectacular, and there are plenty of places to stop for some refreshments and local cuisine. A full-day tour costs around 2000 baht ($68) per person, if you have a larger group you may be able to negotiate a discount.
Hill Tribe Villages - A very common day trip involves winding up the mountain roads surrounding the city to visit one of the hill tribes. It's certainly an interesting opportunity and a great place to get some candid photos, but be aware that the steady stream of tourists over the years has changed some of these tribes into almost side-show attractions. There are more ethical tours available and you'd be wise to choose one of these.
Mae Sa Waterfalls - The famous Mae Sa waterfalls complex is only a short drive north of the city center and boasts a beautiful ten-level waterfall, set amongst beautiful natural surroundings with abundant tropical flora and fauna to be found. It's a great spot for a picnic and a spot of swimming in the cool and clear waters. There are many pools suitable for swimming, and some small local style restaurants, plus camping is allowed here for a small fee.
Huay Tung Tao Lake - Huay Tung Tao Lake is another peaceful and relaxing destination where you can easily while away an entire day taking in the fresh air and beautiful scenery. Only about 20 minutes drive from the city center, the lake is lined with Thai-style bamboo huts where you can sit and order food and drinks from local vendors. It's a great place to go with a group of friends to enjoy some authentic local food in the stunning surroundings of the Doi Pui mountains, and maybe enjoy a few beers or some of the local whisky.
Chiang Mai Grand Canyon - The Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is not very well known amongst tourists but offers a fantastic day out, especially for thrill-seekers. If you're willing to seek the place out, you'll be rewarded, especially if the weather is good. The huge canyon is filled with beautifully clear and cool blue-green water and is perfect for swimming, plus the surrounding area is fantastic for enjoying a picnic and lounging in the sun, being Chiang Mai's closest thing to a beach. There are several levels carved into the cliff for jumping into the water, starting at a few feet and going up to daredevil heights.
TTH Recommendation: Travel agents and tour companies are plentiful in the vibrant city of Chiang Mai, offering some excellent tours and experiences. However, if you prefer to book conveniently online then we recommend Get Your Guide and Viator, both are very well established and provide excellent customer service. You can also check out customer reviews and experiences before you make your booking. Most tours and activities have a free cancellation policy as well, just in case your travel arrangements change.
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Prices, Expenses & Typical Costs In Chiang Mai
Accommodation - Amazingly, you can get a bed in a hostel dorm room in Chiang Mai for as little as 80 baht ($2.65) per night. For a private room with air conditioning (advisable during the hot season), prices start at around 300 baht ($10) a night but spending a few extra baht will get you something a little more comfortable in a better location, 600 baht ($20) would be a better bet. Over 1000 baht ($33) should get you a modern, boutique-style guesthouse or hotel in a central location.
Transportation - Short hops of 1-2 km on a motorcycle taxi can be as little as 30 baht ($1), with taxis and tuk-tuks charging something in the range of 60-90 baht ($2-$3) for a similar journey. Taxis and tuk-tuks will almost always try and overcharge. Using the Grab app is the best way to get around without getting ripped off. You can rent a bicycle from 100 baht ($3.30) per day, a motorcycle for 200 baht ($6.60) per day, and a small car from around 1000 baht ($33).
Food and Drink - Chiang Mai offers great value food from both street vendors and at the markets, with a bowl of noodle soup starting from as little as 30 baht ($1), and small restaurants and cafes would charge around 100 baht ($3.30) for a duck red curry with steamed rice and a can of soda. At a more upmarket venue, expect to spend 1000 baht ($33) or even more for a western-style meal with a dessert and imported wine.
Recommended Budgets For Chiang Mai
Backpacker traveling solo with no alcohol or partying: $20-$30 per day per person.
Average traveler, staying at decent guesthouse/hotel, exploring some attractions and a few drinks in the evenings: $60-$80 per day per person.
Nightlife enthusiast staying at 3-star guesthouse or hotel, lots of drinking, entertainment and eating at restaurants: $100-$140 per day per person.
Family staying in a family room in a nice hotel or resort, with attractions, taxi/tuk-tuk transport and restaurant meals, plus shopping budget: $150-$250 per day per family.
Luxury traveler, 5-star hotel, taxis, cocktails and lots of nightlife: $300 and up per day, per person.
Chiang Mai Money Saving Tips
Chiang Mai has always been considered as a good value destination in Thailand, with things like accommodation, food and transport supposedly being cheaper than places like Bangkok and Phuket. Whilst this is in many cases quite true, with the Thai currency now reaching heady 6-year highs against some currencies, it still pays to follow some simple money-saving tips.
Eat street food - Don't be afraid of the street food, the Thais know that some of the freshest and tastiest food is served on the street and it's the best value as well, with meals starting from as little as 30 baht ($1). Chiang Mai has excellent quality street food - don't leave without trying a bowl of the famous Khao Soi. These places might look a little unorthodox to you, with the plastic chairs and rickety tables, but they are clean, tasty and cheap, indeed you can have five street food meals for the price of a McDonald's meal.
Exchange money when you get to Thailand - Don’t change your money into baht before coming, this is a rookie mistake and you’ll lose 10-15% of your money instantly. Money exchangers in Thailand, even at the airports, will offer a much, much better rate than in your home country. Just bring pounds, dollars or euros with you and you’ll be much better off. And don’t plan to use your ATM card in Thailand as the fees are exorbitant, there’s an unavoidable charge of 220 baht ($7.30) at the ATM itself, then your bank at home will charge you a foreign transaction fee, plus you won’t get the best rate. Thus, if you make three withdrawals during your holiday, you could lose almost $100 in fees alone.
Ask for discounts - With fewer tourists in Chiang Mai recently due to the surging baht, there are many great deals to be had. Most guest-houses can and will give a reasonable discount if you book for many nights and pay cash upfront, plus many restaurants and bars will be offering all kinds of happy hours and special offers. Also, keep an eye out for the young ladies handing out coupons (called koo-pong in Thai) in the malls, they can save you as much as 50% on a meal at their restaurant.
Don't waste money on clothes & laundry - Clothes at the markets in Chiang Mai are cheap. So you may be surprised to find that many resorts and hotel chains charge a small fortune for laundry services. However, it is fairly easy to find small shops in the city offering to do your load for as much as 90% less than your hotel, just take care with any designer or expensive items and ensure that they are written on your receipt when you hand your clothes in.
Is It Safe to Travel Around Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is a very safe destination, and you are highly unlikely to become the victim of a crime. However, like everywhere else in the world, petty, opportunistic crimes can and do still occur, but with a bit of common sense, you can reduce the risks of anything happening to you to almost zero.
As of 2019, Chiang Mai is experiencing something of a downturn in tourism, possibly caused by a perfect storm of several factors including a very strong currency, and overly convoluted immigration rules and regulations.
Therefore people may be more tempted by your Macbook Pro or expensive DSLR camera so take extra care with such items. And don't flash lots of money when settling your bills, basic common sense but you'd be surprised how many tourists do it.
What is far more of a risk to you in Chiang Mai are the roads and traffic. The roads in Thailand are generally not well maintained and particularly some of the roads surrounding the city and going up to Doi Suthep can be steep and winding, particularly dangerous at night or during a monsoon downpour. Be extremely cautious if you drive a motorcycle, even if you are a very experienced and accomplished rider, that 6-inch deep pothole you didn’t see could put you in hospital fast. Driving standards in Thailand will not be up to the same standards as your home country, indeed Thailand now has the number one most dangerous roads in the world with many people dying everyday from avoidable accidents. Take extreme care on the roads.
If you are reliant on medication, take plenty with you as Thai pharmacies, although generally very helpful and well-stocked, won’t keep everything that your pharmacy at home does. The tap water in Chiang Mai is considered to be safe, but it is advisable to do as the locals do and not drink it, bottled water is cheap and available everywhere. Like elsewhere in Thailand, avoid being intoxicated in public, as this can attract the attention of undesirables.