Chiang Mai is Thailand’s rose of the North and is a cultural and natural fairytale city with ethnic diversity, a variety of attractions, and welcoming hospitality. It is Northern Thailand’s absolute center with approx. 160,000 inhabitants in the city itself but including the hinterland approx. 1,000,000 people. The city is the center of fabrication of handicrafts, umbrellas, jewelry, and wood carvings. Chiang Mai is just an hour’s flight from Bangkok and there are many daily arrivals. Additionally, there are many daily train and bus connections from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. However, this is more time consuming because bus rides last about 10 hours, and a train ride around 13 hours.
Chiang Mai or simply written “Chiengmai” or “Chiangmai” is the largest and most significant cultural city in Northern Thailand, and capital of the province of the same name. The city is located 700 km north of Bangkok, situated between the highest mountains of the North. Through the city flows Ping River related to the Chao Phaya River.
Chiang Mai is one of the few places in Thailand where it is possible to experience both historical and modern Thai culture. Chiang Mai’s old town is surrounded by parts of the old city wall and moat as well as centuries-old temples. Everything lays side by side with modern shops, good restaurants, and boutique hotels. Chiang Mai is more charming and manageable compared to Bangkok, and can therefore be difficult to leave again. Chiang Mai offers everything from beautiful temples to unique shopping opportunities, and is also blessed with pristine natural resources including mountains, waterfalls, and rivers. This is a city where both backpackers and luxury-oriented tourists can enjoy the ultimate Thai holiday experience.
The city’s history is as old as the Thai people. It begins even further north in the city of Chiang Rai whose founder king Mengrai ruled a vast empire that to the north reached up to Chiang Saen by the Mekong River. Mengrai founded Chiang Rai in 1281 but since the Mongol warlord Kublai Khan plundered the Burmese kingdom of Pagan in 1287 he realized that his kingdom was threatened, and he signed a long-term alliance with the rulers of Sukhothai, Thailand’s former capital. Since the border to the south was now ensured, Mengrai annexed the ancient Mon kingdom in Haripunchai in the 1292. To consolidate his rule he founded a new capital in the valley of the Ping River in 1296 and named it Chiang Mai (The New City).
Chiang Mai’s great location in Northern Thailand right between some of the highest mountains makes the air seem wonderfully fresh, and the weather in Chiang Mai can seem a little cooler than compared to for example Bangkok and Southern Thailand.
The ‘dry’ season in Chiang Mai is from November to April. In these months there will be less rainfall and in the late evening and night the temperature may go as ‘low’ as 15-20 degrees Celsius. Temperatures during the day are on average about 31.5 degrees Celsius with plenty of sunshine.
The hottest month in Chiang Mai is April with a daily temperature of about 36 degrees Celsius. It is also in April Thailand has its annual Songkran Thai New Year celebrated as a water festival.
Chiang Mai is a bustling, modern city and you will find many banks and ATMs. The range of restaurants is varied from local Thai street kitchens to McDonalds, KFC, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Sizzlers, StarBucks and others. You will also find many nice restaurants with cuisines from all over the world.
The price level in Chiang Mai is very favorable, and belongs to the lower end compared to other vacation destinations in Thailand.
You can generally go about Chiang Mai and feel safe and secure. Crime is rare but travelers should of course always be extra careful especially at night in poorly lit or remote areas. Also, do not bring valuables with you in a bag or purse after dark. The best advice would be to behave somewhat like the Thais themselves and avoid provoking with too many notes or expensive jewelry.
There are lots of great shopping opportunities in Chiang Mai. The most obvious place for tourists is the famous Night Bazaar located near the center of town. Several hotels have almost direct access to the Night Bazaar, and other hotels offer shuttle bus service to this market. The market opens around 7 o’clock every night. Here you can buy various souvenirs, clothing, spices, basically almost everything imaginable.
A good tip would be to experience the Sunday market which opens Sunday afternoon 4 PM and ends late evening. The market starts at Thapae Gate and continues into the old town up Rajdumnern Road. A similar market takes place every Saturday near Chiang Mai gate, however the selection of goods for sale varies from Saturday to Sunday.
Otherwise, there are also several shopping centers in Chiang Mai. Among others Central Aiport Plaza, or simply Chiang Mai Plaza. This is a 6-storey shopping center which is perhaps the city’s best shopping spot. Only original goods, and brands we also know from Denmark but at Thai prices. There are also restaurants and a cinema in Chiang Mai Plaza. In addition there is Central Kad Suan Kaew which is also a quite interesting shopping center which perhaps caters more to the Thais. New shopping centers keep emerging, the latest addition being the fashionable Promenada which is also worth a visit if you tend to do lots of shopping.
Another nice area for shopping is Nimmenhamin Road which is located in the northwest end of town. This is somewhat reminiscent of an “ordinary shopping street”. Lots of cute small shops selling home decor, fashion, and much more.
In Chiang Mai you can several times a week watch real Muay Thai (Thai boxing). One of the city’s two stadiums is located on Loi Krao Road (Night Bazaar, situated across one of the Starbucks) where you can experience this sport on Monday nights among others. The entrance fee is around 400 Baht.
Chiang Mai has some of Thailand’s best golf courses. We refer to the following two websites which contains detailed information on opportunities to play golf in Chiang Mai:
The opportunities to get a massage in Chiang Mai are plenty. The price ranges from 200 Baht for 1 hour up to several thousand. Often, many of the hotels offer Spa facilities, and here you must expect to pay a higher price.
If you really want to pamper yourself with a massage in Chiang Mai we highly recommend Hotel Ratilanna on Chang Klan Road and The Chedi Hotel (now Anantara) at the Night Bazzar area. Additionally, there is the Oasis Spa in the Old City. Expect an appointment to be required. These places often offer spa-packages, and really get a good pampering.
Getting around in Chiang Mai is both an exciting experience, and a fairly easy one. There are plenty of Tuk Tuk’s, and Songthaews (rebuild pick-up trucks), and even some bike-taxis (samlor – 3 wheels). Sam means 3 in Thai. These bike taxis are often just found in the Old Town or at the Warrorot market. Additionally, there are also regular taxis (taxi-meter).
We also highly recommend Chiang Mai to families. Besides the lovely hotels Chiang Mai offer we here suggest a list of family-friendly attractions you can find in the city and the surrounding area:
Chiang Mai Horse Riding
Horse riding – adapted for both beginners and experienced.
This exclusive horse riding program offers you a fun, safe and comfortable way to discover the Chiang Mai area. It is usually half-day tours on offer, and you are encouraged to contact the tour operator to determine whether you are a beginner or experienced so the tour can be customized to your needs.
Chiang Mai X Centre
Action centre with paintball, go-carting, bungy jump etc.
This X-Centre welcomes family visits, and offers many fun experiences for children of all ages.
Flight of The Gibbon
Flight of the Gibbon, adventure park, from treetop to treetop via suspension bridge or steel wires. Unforgettable adrenaline pumping adventures and thrills. Read more about this trip under the tab Tours and Activities. The admission requirement is a minimum height of 1 meter. However, we would also recommend from 12 years and up.
Chiang Mai Zoo with Chiang Mai Aquarium
Chiang Mai Zoo is an eco tourist attraction for all tourists, a wild life learning center located in one of the most fertile evergreen forests in Thailand. The area with its 212.4 hectares is located at the foot of Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai.
Tiger Kingdom Mae-Rim, Chiang Mai Thailand
Tiger Kingdom is no zoo but more of a combination between a tiger park and a restaurant. Tiger Kingdom is certainly the place to go if you’re a big cat lover, and you will find out that tigers are not as aggressive as one might think.
Mae Sa Snake Farm Chiang Mai Thailand
Mae Sa Snake Farm is, in addition to having beautiful snake shows, also the largest snake preservation center in Northern Thailand. Here the different types of snakes from around the country is preserved, poisonous and non-poisonous, and even the kinds of snakes on the verge of extinction.
Chiang Mai Night Safari
Chiang Mai Day & Night Safari is considered to be the most beautiful night safari in the world. With over 300 acres of natural land it is surrounded by Doi Suthep – Poi National Park. The amusement park offers visitors the opportunity to interact with real wild animals. On arrival at Chiang Mai Night Safari animal shelter you can admire the beautiful entrance of Lanna and African architecture. You get the opportunity to experience the park by a ride through the JAGUAR route. The beautifully decorated carriages depart every half hour. During the day the animals are hand-fed, and in the evening you feel the thrill of having ventured out through the darkness. There will be family-friendly children’s activities and a fantastic water light show.
Maesa Elephant Camp Chiang Mai
The lush tropical jungle in Mae Sa Valley in Chiang Mai is home to a large family of elephants, who live side by side with their mahouts. Maesa Elephant Camp is home to one of the largest assembly of elephants in Northern Thailand. Maesa Elephant Camp’s philosophy is to create a natural and healthy environment for the elephants while working to preserve and breed them because of the dwindling number of Asian elephants left in the wild.
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is located 27 km northwest of Chiang Mai province, on the edge of Doi Suthep – Poi National Park. The garden has an area of about 1,000 hectares. With its vast collection of plant species, 12 exhibition greenhouses, garden and nature trails as well as education and research there is incredibly much to learn and enjoy. A visit here will also be a learning experience as the main objectives of the garden is to serve as a center for the Thai flora for botanical studies and research. At the same time this place is able to offer services related to biodiversity and environmental conservation, and to give the general public an aesthetic oasis.
In addition to the above mentioned activities and experiences there are cinemas and computer games in the malls in Chiang Mai: Airport Plaza and Kad Suan Kaew. The largest shopping mall in Southeast Asia, Central Festival, has now opened in Chiang Mai where you will also find a cinema.
Bowling is available at the following locations:
Bully Bowl, Kad Suan Kaew Complex, Huaykaew Road. (Kad Suan Kaew shopping center) , Lanna Bowling and Billiards, Sriphum Road, UFO Bowling, Lamphun Road.
Chiang Mai has more than 300 temples, and below you will find some of the main temples mentioned.
A visit to Chiang Mai should begin in the temple where the city’s history originates. Wat Chiang Man (The city’s power) was the first temple Mengrai built.
One of the highlights of a visit to Chiang Mai is the Doi Suthep mountain located just outside Chiang Mai city. Here you find Wat Phra Doi Suthep which is undoubtedly one of the most important Buddhist temples in northern Thailand. From the temple you have a unique view of Chiang Mai city. Wat Doi Suthep was founded in 1383, but there was first built a road leading to it in 1935 by the Karen people.
On one of the city’s main streets sits the second most important temple after Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh, which was founded in 1345 AD. The temple’s thick walls manage to almost close the noisy traffic on Ratchadamnoen Road out. The temple is the largest in the city.
Wat Chedi Luang is associated with warnings about accidents. The temple was built in 1401 with the pagoda in Bodhgaya in India as a model, but in 1545 it was hit by a huge earthquake that destroyed the 90 meter high pagoda which is now only 42 meters high.
Just outside the city walls northwest of the city is Wat Chedi Jet Yod which was built in 1455 by King Trailokaraja. As the name suggests (The Seven Spires), it is a copy of the Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, where Buddha attained his enlightenment.
One of the most impressive temple areas, Wat Suan Dok, is located in the direction of the airport approx. 1 km west of the town wall and to the left of Suthep Road. In the northwest corner of the area lies a whitewashed chedis containing the ashes of Chiang Mai’s royal family. The huge chedi in the middle is said to house a Buddha relic. Inside the Bot is a 6 m high bronze Buddha statue from approx. 1550.
Besides the many temples in Chiang Mai, the following attractions are also recommended:
The beautiful Huay Kaew waterfall at the foot of Doi Suthep . Enjoy a lovely lunch in Rachamankhas beautiful restaurant, which is decorated with Lanna lanterns and antique Chinese porcelain. A visit to Studio Naenna is also a good idea. This is a store with lots of textiles from Northern Thailand. You can also participate in a Khantoke dinner, for example in Wieng Kum Kam, an ancient town not far from Chiang Mai. Khantoke is an authentic way to honor guests, and there will be traditional dance and music for everyone to enjoy while tasting dishes from the eastern part of Thailand. If you also want to gain experiences outside of Chiang Mai, a visit to the town of Mae Kampong is recommended. The city is located in the mountains, and you can take a walk in the woods and see how people grow tea and coffee. A visit to the spectacular Mae Kampong waterfall is also recommended, and you can enjoy lunch here if preferred. If you enjoy visiting museums, we recommend the city museum, but Chiang Mai Tribal Museum is also worth a visit. Additionally, a boat trip on the Ping River is definitely a good relaxing and enjoyable experience where you get to see the Chiang Mai area from the water.
Festivals & Events
Bo Sang Umbrella & Sankampang Handicrafts Festival
The Bo Sang Umbrella and Sankampang Crafts festival is held in January. The festival is held in Ban Bo Sang, Sankampang, about 15 km west of Chiang Mai, where the village’s main road is blocked and converted into a “street fair”. Shops decorated with traditional lanterns and umbrellas in typical Lanna style on both sides of the street create a fantastic look and a festive atmosphere. In addition there will be competitions, exhibitions, cultural performances, local entertainment, and various shows.
The 2nd Orchid Fair
This festival is also held in January, and is the biggest orchid festival, with an orchid market, activities, and more.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Chiang Mai’s Flower Festival is an annual event held in the first weekend of February. The city is completely dressed in vibrant colors, everything from electric orange, various shades of pink, purple, and even white. The abundance of Bougainvillea, petunia and other flowers which appear here has helped give Chiang Mai its flowery name, the Rose of the North. The cool, clear February evenings as well as the cozy atmosphere during the Flower Festival attract a lot of visitors, and a good advice would be to book your stay far in advance.
The Songkran festival is celebrated as the Thai New Year around April 13 to 15. It is celebrated throughout Thailand, and in some areas it is extended for people to enjoy the festivities for longer. The most obvious sign that you are in the middle of the festival is when you get soaked by someone pouring a bucket of water over you or sprayed with water from a water gun. This tradition comes from when the water was first poured over holy statues, then over people, as this water was expected to bring good luck. The well-wishing now takes form of a free for all water fight, and you will undoubtedly get wet, so think about how to dress for the occasion. At the same time it is also a way to stay cool in the hot and humid month of April.
Loi Krathong Festival
The Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai is held around the month of November. Loi Krathong is a visual treat with colorful paper lanterns with lit candles inside which provide buoyancy. Additionally, many beautiful girls show up in traditional colorful parade outfits, and there will be tons of tasty Thai food and delicacies, and fireworks to top it all. Loi Krathong festival is a 3 day long event, and the last night of the festivities usually falls on a full moon. The festival is held in Mae Jo, a small town just north of Chiang Mai. The launch of the festival is very scenic with hundreds of hot air balloons or “Khum Loy”, as they are called locally, are sent up at the same time. This special way of arranging Loi Krathong by simultaneously sending paper lanterns into the sky is a unique aspect of Chiang Mai, and the traditional way means that when these huge lanterns float away together, the community’s residents’ problems also float away. There will also be plenty of entertainment during the festival in the form of various competitions, light and sound presentations on the Ping river, and cultural events with traditional Lanna folk music and performances. This is a “must” if you are staying in Chiang Mai during this time. The festival is very popular and attracts lots of people, so a good advice would be to book well in advance if you would like to experience Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai.