I took a bus from Sukhothai and finally got to Chiang Mai, a few hours later. I was very excited to finally discover the city called Rose of the North in Thailand! I could tell you more about what are the things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand but a bit of Thai history won’t hurt. 🙂
The Lanna Kingdom
Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai as the second capital of the Kingdom of Lanna towards the of end of the 13th century. The former is an old city surrounded by a square-shaped, stone wall that used to protect it from external invaders. Many still succeeded in taking over Chiang Mai, namely the Burmese and the Thai people of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. In 1774, it was annexed to the Kingdom of Siam.
Centuries later, one can still feel the tension emanating from a sense of affiliation to another kingdom. Northern Thailand for example tends to be opposed to the ruling regime, especially that of King Rama IX. They would rather be ruled by a communist government and such a political initiative would of course be encouraged by China.
Due to such political tension, Northern Thailand gets discriminated against whenever street demonstrations are organized. The king would order a curfew starting 10 PM or sometimes 8 PM to stop his communist enemies from taking to the streets.
A French guy living there told me something similar happened during July and August of 2015. One of the consequences is that bars would close early in the evening and supermarkets don’t have the permission to sell alcohol after midnight.
Not all the local people are aware of the opposition taking place between communists and those who support King Rama IX because in Thailand, no one mentions politics. No one even mentions the King, of whom countless pictures are hanging all over the country. Talk about personality cult !
Well, the King does provide some sort of stability to the country and I’m in no position to choose sides. I’d even advise you not to talk about politics with Thai local people, especially with taxi drivers. They sure know how to get that information from you so don’t get all excited to give it out. Why not, you say? Well, because in totalitarian regimes, taxi drivers are usually tempted to sell that sort of information to secret services.
I’m in no way trying to freak you out but it took some time for me to get that myself and I think if you can understand the general context of the region you’re visiting, you’d always be a step ahead. I’m sure most people travel to get away from issues like these and if you do, I totally respect that, I’m sure you will hardly notice anything. It’s just me, I’m too curious about stuff like that and sometimes, I can’t hold back my curiosity.
Long story short, you should rest assured. Chiang Mai is a safe city and you don’t need to worry about security. I haven’t had any issues with that, not even very late at night. I even asked people I met there about it and no one seemed to have had safety issues in Chiang Mai.
How to Go to Chiang Mai ?
From Bangkok, you have three options to choose from: plane, bus or train.
If you’re going there by plane:
Duration: 1 hour 10 mins.
Price: around $47 if you buy your ticket in advance, otherwise could cost more, especially during high season (November to February)
Recommended airline: Air Asia
If you’re going by bus:
Duration: 9 to 10 hours.
Price: around $20 for VIP bus and $15 for a regular ticket.
If you’re going by train:
Duration: 15 hours
Price: $25 for first class (with a sleeping compartment)
I wanted to see Ayutthaya and Sukhothai so I decided to mix things up a bit. I took a train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya then took two buses from Ayutthaya to Sukhothai then from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai. I wanted to try both transportation means and it was a great experience! The train is really cool if you want to enjoy the passing landscape although it’s not the most comfortable thing in the world to sit in for hours and it’s rather slow. I recommend trying it at least once just for the fun of it. Both buses were very comfortable (even if you don’t have a VIP ticket) and roads were well-maintained so we reached our destination rather quickly.
Cheap Guest House in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai isn’t a very big city as you will come to notice so as long as you stay within the old city (see maps below), all the tourist attractions will be accessible on foot or on a bike! I stayed at the Chang Home guest house and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a place to stay because it has affordable prices and is conveniently located near the night bazaars.
The second time I went to Chiang Maï, I stayed at the Battery Park which is a sort of a capsule hotel (like the ones in Tokyo) very convenient and with a great location. I also recommend it, specially for backpackers.
If you plan to stay a longer period in Chiang Mai, feel free to also check out this guide about cost of living in Chiang Mai.
Now that you know how to go and where to stay in Chiang Mai, here’s what you have to visit !
The Saturday Night Market & the Night Bazaar
Night markets are what characterizes Chiang Mai best. The Saturday Night Market is one of the most well-known markets there, except it’s only open on saturdays, as its name suggests. It is located towards the southern end of the old city.
If you’re not in Chiang Mai on a Saturday, don’t worry! You can still visit the night bazaars that are open every night and that are located in the east of the city.
If you’re curious about what is sold in these markets, let me tell you: everything!
There are many traditional Thai dishes to try and enjoy as much as you like. My favorite is Pad Thai; it’s a mixture of sautéd noodles with vegetables, a fried egg, chicken or pork, bits of crushed peanuts, and seasoned with slightly hot spices and some lemon juice. Simply delicious! I would have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner when I was in Chiang Mai!
It’s not like Bangkok where you’d rather avoid eating out in dirty fast food restaurant for fear of catching something nasty. In Chiang Mai, you can indulge in the tasty local cuisine.
If you’re thirsty, you’ll find where to get freshly squeezed fruit juices, although too much sugar is added most of the time, so much that it spoils the taste of the fruit ! So remember to ask politely for less added sugar.
You can buy nice souvenirs in night markets but don’t expect prices to be cheap, they’re not. So dont’ be shy to bargain, it’s part of the culture. 🙂
Chiang Mai Temples
Rumor has it that there are around 200 temples in Chiang Mai! You could bump into one on every street corner if that’s true! I visited many temples myself so here are a few pictures of two of them. You can visit many more of course, the choices are endless!
- Wat Phantao Temple
- Wat Chang Taem Temple
Chiang Mai Grand Canyon de Chiang Mai and Doi Suthep Pui National Park
If you hop on a scooter, head towards the southwest and ride out of town for about half an hour, you’ll get to the Grand Canyon as it’s called where you can sunbathe and even swim!
You’ll have to pay at most $2 to enter and they’ll give you a fresh ice-cold drink with herbs for free! Choose the purple drink, the other one is not terrific.
You can swim in the Canyon’s lukewarm water either by slowly going down a safe slope or, if you’re not the kind of person to get butterflies all over your stomach, you can jump off 8 or 12-meter cliffs. Um, I did the 8-meter jump and left the other one for another time.
I ended up staying around two hours in the Grand Canyon, had lunch there and got back on the road to get to the Doi Suthep Pui national parc. It looked like a very common tourist attraction so I didn’t want to stay there all day.
The national park was nothing like that. I just came across a few Thai people who were having a picnic there. The park is half an hour away from the Canyon and an hour away from Chiang Mai.
There’s a river running through the park and its water is much cooler than the canyon’s but once you’re in, you’re in for good! Swimming up the river between both riverbanks just made my day!
Chiang Dao and Bua Thong Waterfalls
In Northern Chiang Mai, Chiang Do is a beautiful region you must visit.There are endless forests and numerous waterfalls to enjoy there. So I decided to go to Bua Thong which was just an hour away from Chiang Mai (exact location here). So I went there by scooter with three French people I met during my stay. The highway part was a bit boring and lasted around 40 minutes but once we got to Chiang Dao, the trip became a lot more interesting, the road was more than suitable for scooter rides and the landscape was gorgeous.
By the way, if you never want to get lost on the road, use this tip, it’ll change your life and your trips!
When we got to Bua Thong, there was a beautiful clearing where a group of scouts were having some practice time. We finally got to the waterfalls and there was something peculiar about them; as the water keeps falling, a layer of thick white moss forms on the rocks and makes the climbing much easier. You should still be careful not to fall…in the waterfall. Oh, come on, it’s a good one, I’m sure you fell for it! 😀
So we had lunch there and even took a short nap (life is hard, I know). We figured we should go for a quick random road trip since the weather was on our side. We ended up in beautiful settings like an old dam or an isolated café with a breathtaking view. Here’s a glimpse of what we found:
Here’s a last tip before I let you go: try not to stay too late in Bua Thong because traffic in Chiang Mai between 5 and 6PM is just horrific.
That’s it for Chiang Mai guys! It was the last place I visited in Thailand before leaving for Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). If you’ve got time on your travel plan, you can also visit Chiang Rai and its magnificent white temple. It takes 5 hours to get there from Chiang Mai and it is located towards the northeast of the city. Apparently there’s also a hippie village called Paï , lost in the middle of mountains, waiting for people to come and admire it! It is located towards the west of Chiang Mai and is 3 hours away. I think I’ve got myself good pretexts to get back to Northern Thailand as soon as possible! More info on what to do in Pai here.
And if you are into yoga, you should also read this: Yoga Retreat Chiang Mai.
I hope this blog post helped you in any way and that you liked it. If you did, please share it around and leave me comment below if you have any questions, I’ll make sure to answer them.
Don’t leave just yet! Here’s a video of my trip to Thailand, for you to enjoy:
Talk to you all very soon,