Earlier this year I decided that I wanted to spend some time abroad in the summer to do some voluntary work and after looking around at different countries and places I settled upon Chiang Mai. I spent the whole of the month of June living and volunteering in Chiang Mai so think I have a reasonable amount to say about this lovely city. I have written about the various aspects that I feel are useful to know about when considering going somewhere but have not written about them in too much detail as this is a general review.
===Some basic info===
Chiang Mai is the second largest largest city in Thailand (Bangkok being the largest) and is situated around 700km north of Bangkok. I didn't want to go to Bangkok and thought that Chiang Mai would be easier going, and while I have never been to Bangkok and therefore can't comment, Chiang Mai is certainly a very laid back city. The city is not particularly built up and I saw very few skyscrapers. Personally I liked this as I am not a fan of huge built up large busy cities.
Chiang Mai consists of two parts - the old part surrounded by the moat, and the newer part which is where the majority of restaurants are. Chiang Mai was founded in 1926, and as with the rest of Thailand the majority religion is Buddhism which explains the huge array of temples (otherwise known as wats) around the city. These temples are just amazing. The detail on some of them is so intricate it is breath taking. As soon as you arrive into Chiang Mai you will see mountains across the landscape which is just beautiful. There is also a river that runs through the city known as the river ping, but personally I just think this river looks a bit grubby and nasty! Monks are everywhere! They all wear some kind of orange robes and personally I was amazed to see them go everywhere that 'normal' people go - including phone shops etc.
The traffic here takes a while to get used to - the amount of traffic is ridiculous and you tend to have to just walk out and hope for the best when you want to cross the road. Considering the lack of driving skills I often saw I am impressed that I never saw any road accidents!
Chiang Mai is very patriotic ( I assume it is the same of Thailand in general?) and the king is everywhere! There are posters of him everywhere and if you disrespect him or the royals then you could find yourself in a Thai prison! The currency here is Thai baht with a rough exchange rate of 45-50 baht per pound at time of writing. You will often be required to take your shoes off so you might want to make sure that your feet look nice before you go
Thai people greet each other with what is known as a 'wai' where you press your hands together (almost like you're praying) and bow your head to your hands. The position of the hands also changes varying upon levels of respect needed - e.g. hands in front of chest for an 'equal' and thumbs by forehead for monks.
I arrived at the very beginning of June and as soon as I walked out of the airport I could feel the heat and humidity. It was rarely all that sunny but equally it never rained too much either. Although if it rained - it rained! After torrential rain, crossing the road was like crossing a river. I found the heat itself was fine, it was the humidity that I found hard to deal with. It is not a pleasant feeling to feel as though you need about 5 showers a day! I believe the humidity around the time I was in Chiang Mai was at 80%! Very different to my nice fresh air near the sea.
There are 3 key seasons here which are:
* The cool season (approx November to February)
* The hot season (approx March to June)
* The rainy season (approx July to October)
I think that the names of the seasons make them pretty much self-explanatory.
===How to get there and costs===
I flew from London (heathrow) to go to Chiang Mai but this was not a direct flight and had to change at Bangkok. The flight time from London to Bangkok is around 12 hours (can't say this part was much fun!) and the flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai at just over 1 hour. If you want to make this slightly cheaper you can get a train or a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. I believe a bus takes around 12 hours. I would assume the train time is similar but as I have only flown I cannot comment too much on other methods of travel. The price of flights of course depends on how far in advance you book and who you fly with. I booked my flights around 5 months in advance and the price for them all was around £620. On my return flight the gentleman next to me paid £1600 for just the return flight as he had booked less than a week prior to departure so I definitely recommend booking as early as you can. I flew with Thai airways who were the cheapest that I could find, and I would definitely recommend flying with them if you can get it at a good price.
===Cost of living===
Although it costs a little to actually get to Chiang Mai, once you are there it is incredibly cheap. If you are willing to eat Thai street food (unfortunately I am not a fan of the food) then you could quite easily eat a good meal for 50p-£1. If I ate at western restaurants then I could have a meal and a drink (soft drink) for around £3. Public transport is cheap (but more on that later) and I frequently passed hostels/guest houses that advertised beds/rooms for sometimes as little as 100baht a night - around £2-£2.50 dependent on exchange rates. If you want to travel/go somewhere cheap then this is definitely a good place to go! Thailand seems a little poorer (not sure if that's politically correct??) than I was expecting and wondered if this was linked to the cost of living. However I have also visited the Gambia which is unmistakably a developing country yet the cost of living there was higher. Either way I am really not complaining and was incredibly happy about how far my money would stretch! I would say that almost no day trip would cost more than £20 and considering some of the ones that I went on, that this got you a lot for your money.
There are a few ways of getting around Chiang Mai - personally I found myself walking a lot as particularly in the older area of town nothing is really very far apart. You can rent a bike if you wish for less than a tenner for the day. The main other transport I used was what I thought of as a local taxi - a songthaew. This is basically like a small truck that has been hollowed out so that there are 2 seats which sit sideways and can cram 10-12 people in at the same time. These are red and will go to anywhere in town for 20 baht (around 50p) although they may try to charge you more if you are travelling just on your own, or if they just think you're a foreigner who doesn't know any better. Nowhere in the immediate city should cost more than 20baht but if you go out of the city then expect to pay a little more.
Another form of transport which I think is very well known when one thinks of Thailand is the tuk tuk. The drivers of these really irritated me asking me if I wanted one every time I went past one, or indeed just beeping their horns as they drive past in the hope that you might want one. I think it is understandable that they want as much money as they can get but the 'tuk tuk?' calls get very annoying after a while. Having said that....riding in a tuk tuk is so much fun! Much more exciting than going in a songthaew but also more expensive. What would cost 20baht in a songthaew will cost 40-50 baht in a tuk tuk. This is still hardly any money but after some time in Thailand does seem expensive compared to the usual local taxis.
There are of course 'normal' taxis as well which are metered and more expensive. Personally I never felt the need to use one of these until I needed to go to the airport and so can't comment too much on prices. A taxi ride from where I was staying to the airport (around a 10 minute drive) was 300 baht (roughly £6), however this was at a very unsociable time in the morning so I am not sure if this is reflective of prices during the day.
Personally I recommend using the songthaews as much as possible as these were the cheapest option and also the way that the Thai people use to get around if they do not drive themselves. You can also rent motorbikes although I never looked into this for pricing etc. personally considering the way that people drive in Chiang Mai, even though they drive on the same side as us, I wouldn't want to drive/ride a motorbike here as it seems very dangerous.
Shopping is a great attraction in Chiang Mai - mainly consisting of various markets and two shopping centres which are slightly out of the city centre. The two shopping centres are called central plaza, and airport plaza. Both are easy to get to by using a songthaew and should cost no more than 20baht. I would say that both have a good range of shops and restaurants but that the airport plaza seems to be much more modern. The shopping centres are good for shopping but in my opinion shopping at the various markets is far more exciting.
There are various markets in Chiang Mai - a Chinese market, Saturday market, Sunday market and the night bazaar. The Chinese market and the night bazaar are available every day. The Chinese market sells pretty much everything - cosmetics, food (including bugs...yum!), clothing (old fashioned), bags, ceramics etc..in addition to there being street food and some people doing nails. The Chinese market is handy for having a wander and a browse throughout the day but in my opinion the Saturday and Sunday markets are far better.
The Sunday market is held in the square in the old town near the moat in front of but also past Thapae gate. There is a HUGE variety of things sold here and vendors are often very friendly. The fantastic thing about markets here is that you can haggle to your heart's content. This is also the case with the Saturday market and the night bazaar although the night bazaar tends to be more touristy and prices inflated. It would be impossible to list all of the things that you can buy at the markets but here is a brief list to give you an idea: clothing; purses; bags; thai style souvenirs, bedding; food and drink; jewellery - especially silver jewellery, stationary; phone accessories; paintings and artwork and sometimes fake designer goods too. Prices for the same thing vary from vendor to vendor and some seem to really enjoy a bit of bartering whereas some seem to almost appear insulted that you dare offer less than what they have said. The markets are definitely worth a look and bartering is always good fun.
One of the main appeals for many tourists coming to Thailand appears to be the cuisine. Personally I am a fussy eater here in England so Thai food was a nightmare for me rather that something to be excited about. Thai food is literally everywhere (why wouldn't it be?) but there is also a wide range of other tastes to suit all. There is street food which I have heard is delicious (especially the pad Thai) and according to the locals you should be safe to eat it as long as the vendor and the establishment look reasonably keen. There are the usual fast food chains for those wanting to avoid the Thai food although having said that there are also Thai options in MacDonald's and KFC. There are various speciality restaurants around - e.g. Vietnamese, Indian and Vegetarian. There are also general international restaurants that sell Thai food but also more westernised food. Personally I would recommend the 'tiger kingdom in town' as an international restaurant. This restaurant is always clean ( I went here quite a few times!), always has some kind of live music, and is very cheap. I often had a grilled beefsteak with chips and a coke which came to around £3! What a bargain! Although this place is fab the service isn't brilliant. I'm not sure if it is just here or a general Thai thing but the food comes out bit by bit so it is rare to expect for your whole party to all be eating at the same time. Another restaurant that I would recommend is 'the river market'. This place was by far the nicest restaurant I went to in Chiang Mai. It looks fairly new and is situated by the river ping. Prices are reasonable and the menu varied - I would suggest that this is more of a Thai restaurant than a western one, but does not serve the traditional Thai dishes. Definitely worth a visit, just for a glass of wine overlooking the river if nothing else. An absolutely beautiful place.
===Things to do===
I managed to occupy myself with various things during my month stay here and I could have quite easily found some more! There is a huge variety of things to do here, with something I believe for everyone.
By far my favourite trip was one that was focussed upon elephants. Myself and a friend went to Ran Tong Elephant Training Camp (not sure of the reasons for the name because it certainly didn't strike me as a training camp) which cost 1800 baht for a shared elephant for the day. This was around an hour and a half drive from the city centre and you were picked up from where you were staying. After arriving at the camp you get to feed, ride, and wash the elephants. The tour guides provide you with clothing so that you do not get yours dirty and take pictures of you all day which they later put on a cd for you to take home. Fantastic value and the elephants seemed to be very well treated here. This is the place that I would really recommend you to visit for elephants but there are a huge number of elephant trips in Chiang Mai, I just suggest researching before you go if you want to ensure that the elephants are well treated.
There are a huge number of trips related to animals in Chiang Mai, and one that seems to cause some controversy is the tiger kingdom. I couldn't seem to decide whether to go or not as there were rumours around whether or not the tigers were sedated which I would be happy with. After researching the place a little bit there seemed to be explanations for why they were not sedated and so I felt ok going to visit. I can't remember quite how many tigers are housed here but it is a fair number. There are 4 sizes of tigers here - smallest, small, medium, and large. You can either just walk around this place or pay to go in the enclosures with the tigers and the prices vary accordingly. To give an example I went in with 3 different sizes which cost around 1300 baht (roughly £26) and 15 minutes was allowed within each enclosure. You can also get a professional photographer to take 50+ pictures of you which is at a small additional fee. When in the enclosures the tigers were very playful and definitely didn't seem sedated! The tigers seemed well treated so I didn't feel as if I was doing something I shouldn't. I'm really glad I went (when else would you get the opportunity to be that close to a tiger?) and would recommend to others. Located in the same area as the tiger kingdom are a monkey farm and a crocodile farm. Personally I'd heard that they torture the animals here (not sure if that is true or not) and so did not visit these.
===Chiang Mai Zoo===
In addition to the various animal parks in the city is Chiang Mai Zoo. This cost slightly more to get to in a songthaew as it is a little out of the city - expect to pay around 40baht each. Entry was incredibly cheap - 100baht and the zoo seemed pretty large for such a small price. You can also pay an extra fee if you wish to go into the aquarium (I can't remember how much this was but it was expensive) or if you wish to see the pandas - another 100 baht. I highly recommend seeing the pandas, especially because they are in a lovely enclosure and there is a baby panda. The zoo is quite hard to get around on foot (don't think it would be too much fun for anyone with walking difficulties/in a wheelchair) but there are buses that can take you around the zoo for a small fee. The enclosures weren't the biggest I've ever seen and I'm not sure how I feel about the seal show but overall I would say that the animals seemed to be treated well and the zoo is definitely worth a visit.
There is a huge number of temples (otherwise known as Wats) throughout Chiang Mai with some more impressive than others. Probably the most well known is Doi Suthep which is up in the mountains just outside of Chiang Mai. You need to climb up around 300 steps (if memory serves me correctly!) or you can take a lift at an extra charge. If you are Thai then there is no entrance fee for Doi Suthep but if you are a foreigner there is a charge of 20baht. This temple is breath taking! The temple itself is magnificent and grand but the views over Chiang Mai are just amazing. I genuinely can't adequately describe in words just how glorious this place is. You are definitely missing out if you don't go to Chiang Mai and visit Doi Suthep. Another Wat which is worthy of a visit is Wat Umong (temple of tunnels). Wat Umong is underground and something very different to the majority of other temples. There is a lot more to see here than your typical wat including a large fish lake where you can feed the fish. The scenery here is lovely. These are the 2 temples that I particularly recommend visiting but to be honest all of the temples I ever saw were just fantastic. When visiting temples it is important to remember that you are well covered (no chest, knees, shoulders on show) and shoes must always be removed. If monks are in the temple then it is respectful to keep your head lower than theirs and females must never touch monks. The same applies with men and nuns.
There are numerous waterfalls in Chiang Mai which are lovely to spend an afternoon at cooling down. They are not the most spectacular things I have seen but they definitely a nice visit for a couple of hours. There is a nature park nearby Chiang Mai called Doi Inthanon national park which is home to various wildlife and also the highest mountain in Thailand. Sadly I didn't manage to find the time to visit here but it is definitely on my list for next time! If you book with an agency expect to pay around 800-1000 baht to get here/entry etc.
Trekking is another appeal of Chiang Mai and I found myself hard pressed to pick one in particular! Many of the treks are very touristy which I am sure appeals to some but not to me personally. These treks tend to include some walking, some elephant riding, some water rafting and also a visit to a hill tribe. I have seen some of the hill tribes and am undecided on how I feel about this. It was incredibly touristy and I couldn't quite decide if it seemed as though they were being exploited or if they needed the money that tourists donate and so were ok with the change in lifestyle. I only saw them once and I wouldn't choose to see them again although it was very interesting to learn about them. For example the long neck tribe - the rings are so heavy that it makes their shoulders go lower giving the impression that they have long necks. These kinds of treks that include a bit of everything tend to be cheaper than a non-touristy one and could be a good option if you want to squeeze a lot in a short time. I went on a one day trek (it is easy to find longer treks up to 3 days or so in length) through the jungle (around an hour and a half drive away) which was more challenging than expected. Make sure you're fit and healthy if you want to do one of these! To give you an idea of pricing, my one day trek cost 800 baht - around £16. And also worth every baht in my opinion! Some of the views you get are incredible.
Massage here is everywhere! From ones on the backstreets to ones that are far more glamorous. I highly recommend a Thai massage - you are basically bent and stretched and clicked. Thai massage on average is a mere 150baht - roughly £3 for a whole hour! Every other type of massage also seems to be offered with varying prices but usually incredibly reasonable. If you really like Thai massage you can also take up a course for a period of time that suits you. Personally I would just want somebody to massage me rather than me learn to massage someone else!
In addition to massage schools there are also various cooking schools situated around chiang mai. Personally I never went to one of these as the food doesn't appeal but from others I have heard they are well worth doing. People staying in the same house as me were picked up from the house, cooked around 7 dishes of their choice and received a recipe book to take away with them which included ingredient substitutions if some could not be found in their home countries. They did this for half a day which cost around 900 baht - £18 or so. There is a huge variety of cooking schools which do both half day and full day courses so if you really like your Thai food then this could be a good way to spend the day.
I spent one evening watching some Thai boxing - very different to normal boxing, seems to rely mainly on feet. This was fairly cheap at 400baht and was surrounded with bars so you could enjoy a few drinks as you watched. I didn't find it particularly violent and I think that this is a good way to spend one evening watching something that is very traditionally thai.
In addition to all of the above that I have mentioned (and I have more than likely forgotten something), there some other towns/cities within close proximity to chiang mai that may be worth a visit if you have time. I especially recommend Chiang Rai where you can see the white temple and the golden triangle, and pai which is well known as a pretty river town.
I didn't go to Chiang Mai with the intention of going out every night although I did go out a few times during my stay. Nightlife seemed reasonable with different kind of bars/clubs. The rooftop bar is fairly nice and enables you to see over the city. Zoe's is a more westernised bar/club area. Generally speaking I would say that the nightlife here is ok but quite tame compared to going out in a city in England.
I could sum this whole review up in just 4 words - I love Chiang Mai. The place is pretty (although not so much at night when the cockroaches and the rats come out to play!) and on the most part seems very safe. I had been expecting to see a lot of drugs, robberies, car crashes and old men with young Thai girls! I saw very few old men with young Thai girls, no car crashes, no drugs and heard of one robbery. The robbery seemed a bit nasty with a bag being cut off a girl (who had it across her body facing away from the road) by 2 men speeding by on a motorbike. This was unfortunate and horrible but for the most part I felt very safe here, even if I was on my own. In general the Thai people are absolutely lovely here (I don't know if it is similar throughout the rest of the country?) and would help you with anything as best they could. Everything here is cheap, there is a huge amount to see and do...I honestly couldn't ask for more and will definitely be returning one day!
Sorry if this review seemed a little long but I had a lot to say!
Thanks for reading
Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and second only to Bangkok in terms of facilites and things to do. The city is split in two: the old quarter of the city which is symbolised by the moat that surrounds it and the four gates that allow entry (the old quarter was protected by city walls) and the more progressive new town which contains a vast array of restaurants, bars and shops with the night bazaar a particular highlight.
I stayed in the old quarter of the city which is easy to explore because it is a relatively small square area within the city walls. The old quarter is generally pretty quiet but I enjoyed the ambience of the place. The walkways are leafy and pleasant, and there are a number of nice restaurants available to relax and enjoy the fantastic Thai food. I would particularly recommend trying the fruit shakes which I discovered in a few restaurants around the old town, the are fantastic and really cheap at around 30 baht (60p) a glass and all fresh! The main points of interest in the old quarter have to be its many temples known in Thailand as wats. For such a small area there really are a large number of temples available to explore. I would recommend doing them all in one go so that you can appreciate the different feel of each individual temple as well as gaining a good understanding of the Buddhist religion. If I had to recommend one to visit I would say Wat Phra Singh is a good option.
As far as the new town goes I didn't get out to explore so much of it as it seemed to be more geared towards tourists and the more modern way of living you would expect in a big city anywhere. However the night bazaar is definitely worth a look. The streets of the new town come alive at night with the market sprawling across a number of streets selling clothes, handicrafts, bags, shoes and a whole lot more. Don't expect to get round the whole market as it is huge! However there are plenty of bargains to go round and make sure to have a good barter with the locals - in South east Asia bartering is expected and part of everyday living, people enjoy partcipating in a good barter and make sure you do it in good spirits as this is what its all about in essence.
There are a number of other attractions around Chiang Mai to go and see. A lot of people go to visit hilltribe villages and often stay overnight. I would definitely recommend doing this, although put as much research into your trip as you can in order to get the most authentic experience. A common complaint is that a lot of villages are exposed to mass tourism and people coming to stay is the norm, indeed people are often asked for money or sold things by villagers showing that this is a mass tourism exercise. I did my trip to the hilltribes in Chiang Rai which is a bit more off the beaten track however I heard of some decent trips going out of Chiang Mai as well, just exercise some caution.
A trip to Chaing Mai zoo is a must. The zoo set over a large area of land just outside the city is a fantastic day out for all. There are a large number of animals to including tigers, hippos, elephants, crocodiles and the highlight pandas! All these wonderful animals are set in spacious quarters in a beautiful, leafy area indeed the zoo is so big there is an option to get on the monorail to get round or jump on the little bus that goes round. There is also a safari area where you can experience animals in the wild which is a nice difference from the tight enclosed zoos in other places. Also within the zoos grounds is a huge aquarium, you have to pay more to get in here and but it is worth the extra money because again it is a very large and well maintained area with a large array of wildlife to observe.
A trip to the zoo can be combined with a trip up Doi Suthep - a hill which overlooks Chiang Mai. Sitting on the slopes of Doi Suthep is a pleasant temple from which you can take in some very nice views of Chiang Mai and snoop around this age old temple where you will see Buddhist monks still praying and worshipping. To get up to the temple take a songtheaw and then its up to you whether you ascend the huge number of steps to the temple or take the train to the top.
All in all Chiang Mai is a nice place to spend time, it combines old temples and buddhist culture with new modernism and markets.
Chiang Mai was an unfortunate disappointment. Having spoken to a relative who'd visited the place, albeit some years ago, we arrived expecting a cultural mecca, a place of beauty, culture and history. Instead we were greeted by back packer hostels at every corner. Western style burger or pizza joints as every other building and tuk tuks charging even more than those or the taxis in Bangkok!
Chiang Mai was a tourist swamp, there was little to see that was not touristy or unspoilt. It was dirty, somehow soul-less and the ever present old men with young Thai girls made me feel uncomfortable.
Having said that, there were some positive aspects. There was a great foot spa (one of many) with nibbling fish which ate the dead skin on your feet and legs, leaving them soft, clean and comfortable. There was an abundance of good quality and delicious food available in a huge array of restaurants mainly aimed at tourists. The food was delicious and very cheap. If you ventured into local style eateries, the food was more traditional and a tasty insight into what the locals ate.
Thai massage, available everywhere was excellent and available for a couple of pounds an hour, it really helped my back and shoulders which sometimes were tense and painful.
I did quite enjoy my visit to Chiang Mai and had fun, but it would certainly not be a place I'd be in any hurry to return to.
Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand and sometimes referred to as the Capital of the North. We found this city to be a lovely relaxed city to spend a few days. When we were there we stayed in the Old Quarter of the city which is surrounded by a moat and a (now fallen down) wall.
Something to experience whilst in Chiang Mai is its famous night bazaar. The night bazaar is an enormous night market, selling lots of local handicrafts, clothes, shoes...pretty much everything you can imagine. A great place to get some souvenirs and presents for family and friends (if you're feeling generous). One disadvantage of the market is its size, we spent approximately 2 hours looking around the market and only saw about half of it. A tip whilst at the night bazaar is to bargain for the items you want to buy. The vendor doesn't expect you to pay the original price they tell you as it is commonplace in this part of the world to haggle for the price. Always do it in a good natured way (as it is considered a big sin for someone to show aggressiveness in public in Thailand) and don't ask for a price of an item which you can no intention of buying. Enjoy, because it is a wonderful shopping experience.
Whilst in Chiang Mai I would really recommend a visit to the hilltribes which live in Northern Thailand after they have come across the borders from Burma and Tibet. The villages that the hilltribes live in are very remote and it would be impossible to visit them without a guide. The hilltribes we visited were called the Long Neck Karen Tribe. The women wear heavy iron rings around their necks from the age of 5 upwards to push down their shoulders and collar bones, giving the impression of a really long neck. They believe that the longer neck they have the more beautiful they're considered to be. It is nice to take sweets for the children when visiting the tribes, as they live on a diet of rice only so it exciting for them to eat something other than rice. A really interesting place to visit.
There are also a lot of treks you can do from Chiang Mai which vary in length and experience.
Overall, Chaing Mai is a great city with a nice atmosphere, with plently to see and do in the area.
When I decided to go travelling, everyone who'd been to Thailand told me that I had to go to Chiang Mai, so after I'd done a bit of reading up I realised that it would be ridiculous to miss it. We decided to end our travels in Thailand, mainly to top up our tans! We arrived into Bangkok and after one night there decided to head down to the islands in the south west. We spent two glorious weeks island hopping before heading on up to Chiang Mai.
We decided to get the train up from to Chiang Mai as, the buses weren't that comfy and the horror stories about people stealing from your bags were terrifying. We had to get a minibus from Phuket to Surat Thani, where we got the train to Bangkok; we had to wait a while in Surat Thani before getting the last train, and even then we had had to book the most expensive sleeper as they were all full. There was no denying the cosiness of them though. Once in Bangkok we got another train to Chiang Mai, this time getting 2nd class seats, which were perfectly adequate and a much better price.
When we arrived into Chiang Mai there were the usual 20 or so people trying to take you to their guesthouses, we went with Julie's guesthouse as it had been recommended to us and they were lovely. We then spent a fabulous week exploring Chiang Mai.
We did a Thai cookery course, which I would recommend to anyone, we made six different dishes, and you have about 36 to choose from, I chose to try the classic Thai green curry and it was incredible. The best thing we tried though was mango sticky rice, it is absolutely amazing!! They sell it everywhere but I hadn't tried it till now, and from then on I had it almost everyday.
They run numerous treks from Chiang Mai, all different lengths and different routes. We decided to just do a two day trek, and it was fantastic. We started off my having a delicious lunch before riding elephants for an hour or so. It was incredible!! And we had by far the biggest elephant. Then we left the elephants and began to walk through the forest. It was absolutely beautiful; until it came to a 3 hour uphill trek. The ground was to dry it was hard to not slip down. We then spent the night with a hill tribe village in a bamboo hut. They cooked us the most incredible meal, naturally including green Thai curry. We all sat around the food on rugs on this kind of bamboo balcony overlooking the most amazing view of the valley. The people of the village were so friendly and made us feel most welcome.
On the way down it was even more painful that the way up, as our legs were so achy. It was very steep in places; I am the clumsiest person in the world and managed to slip over six times when others didn't fall over at all! We made a stop at a waterfall, and then followed the river until we got to the white water rafting station; this was tremendously fun, being thrown around all over the place. Part way down the river we changed to bamboo rafts, which was the perfect end to a fabulous trek, being punted down the last part of the river to finish off with another delicious meal.
Back in Chiang Mai, we explored the various restaurants, ate copious amounts of mango sticky rice, and went for a massage in the women's prison. It was quite an experience prisoners that are about to be released in less than six months can train and be paid to give massages, this was definitely needed after the trek. You cannot go to Chiang Mai without visiting the famous night market; it is endless and incredible but be prepared to barter.
Chiang Mai is a fantastic city, if you are going to Thailand it is essential not to miss it. It has something for everyone and you will never be bored, two days is definitely not long enough to make the most of this amazing city, allow a minimum of 5 days. Its extraordinary.
Chiang Mai is a city of northern Thailand that I visited when I was in Thailand last year.
I travelled from Bangkok to get to Chiang Mai. It took about twelve hours on the train. You can fly in about two hours. This is more expensive. From the train you get to see the countryside which is quite worth seeing, and train travel in Thailand is an experience, as I have written it my previous reviews.
The train was comfortable and on such a long journey there is no choice but to book a bed. There are two meals offered, dinner and breakfast, and these are good quality although a bit more expensive than normal food. If you want to read more about train travel in Thialand, please visit my review on the State Railway of Thailand.
Arriving at the train station in Chiang Mai, the train is met by a lot of people who want to take you where you're going in their tuk-tuk or songthaew. The songthaew is cheaper but the tuk-tuk is more of an experience so I'd go with this one every time!
As I entered the town, I thought it seemed very beautiful. There are some historic features that are immediately apparent, such as the old town walls. There are lots of little backstreets which are good for getting lost in (and easy to do so) but which are charming.
I found food and drink to be priced much cheaper in Chiang Mai than it is in Bangkok or in other parts of Thailand. I had a meal for under one pound here and it was very tast.
Chiang Mai is usually used a base from which to explore the surrounding area. It is popular to go hill walking to see the local tribes but there are sustainability questions over this and I wonder how much money goes to the tribes people so I didn't do this.
There is also an elephant park nearby where you can ride elephants. I didn't do this either as I think it is cruel.
There is a popular statue on the outskirts of the town of a religious figure (whose name I've forgotten) that I went to see. It is expensive to get here though so sharing with some friends would be a good idea.
However I did enjoy the town very much. Chiang Mai is known for its markets. There is a weekend market and there are night markets as well. These are wonderful places to buy Thai items and gifts for those back home.
The town plays host to some wonderful festivals and these are popular times to visit so accomodation should be booked ahead.
Some of the accomodation is quite expensive here, for what you get, so I would advise paying more money, stay close to the centre and expect to pay fifteen or twenty pounds a night for a nice single room.
Overall I would think carefully about visiting Chaing Mai because although it is beautiful if you are not going for the hill walking or elephants, and you are not going at the time when there is a festival on, you will not have much to do. I stayed here for two nights and it was plenty.
SK is without a doubt the worst place we have ever tried to stay at. We arranged it in Bangkok through an agent. The brochure looked fantastic but upon arrival the place looked like a complete s***hole. The only thing they did right was pick us up from the bus stop. The rooms were disgusting. The bed sheets had cigarette stains and marks all over them and the 'bathroom' was more like a cramped toilet that happened to have a shower nossle coming out the wall. Whatever you do never book a tour through them as they are competly non-refundable. If you die in a crash your tour must still be paid for no matter how early the notice is (and they are overpriced). The staff were absolutely pathetic, rude and totally insensitive. You would think out of the money we paid they could've cracked a smile. STAY AWAY!
Please be advised! We stayed at SK House, Chiang Mai in July 2008, and had to leave in the middle of the night when we found we were being bitten by bed bugs. We turned on the light to find the mattress crawling with them! We told the night clerk what had happened and he said to come back in the morning. We got a much cheaper and much cleaner room at the Libra House down the street, and returned to SK the next day to try to get a refund. The staff wouldn't even talk to us. They literally gave us the cold shoulder and refused to even walk up to the room so we could show them that they have a problem (they had already rented it to other people!). When we tried to warn friends we'd met while staying at the hotel, the clerk began yelling and threatened to call the police. Please spare yourself this awful experience, and the health risk it incurs, and do not stay here.
Stayed at SK House Chiang Mai in July 2006. Was booked for 3 nights but could only stay one. This inexpensive guesthouse is cheap for a reason - rooms are not maintained (fans broken, air con not working, fittings and fixtures old and broken), service is non-existent and cleanliness is an issue. The staff at the front desk will not acknowledge you or go out of their way to assist you. There is a definite issue with the cleaning of this guesthouse.
Ended up staying at the new boutique hotel Raming Lodge which was beautiful. Negotiated 1000Bt per night in low season. Restaurant nice, staff helpful and efficient, rooms perfect.
Chiang Mai is one of the biggest cities in the North of Thailand and I?m lucky enough to have recently returned from there. I visited Thailand for a fortnight as a break from a trip to Singapore visiting relatives, and although I?ve been to Thailand before, this was my first trip to the North and to Chiang Mai. I had spent 2 days in Pattaya before we set off on the journey up to Chiang Mai, that took a 2 hour trip to Bangkok and then a 16 hour coach ride to take us to Chiang Mai itself. To be perfectly honest, I was dreading this and would have then preferred to spend some more time in Pattaya but it proved worthwhile! Part of me was also quite looking forward to this leg of the trip too as I?d been told that Chiang Mai was a nice quiet retreat after spending time in the bustling atmosphere of Bangkok and Pattaya. My first impression of Chiang Mai ? Woooah this place is different! I?ve visited Thailand a few times and never known somewhere quite so peaceful or beautiful. The first thing to strike me was the mountains, everywhere you looked there was mountains. Ok, so that may strike some people as boring but honestly, it was absolutely beautiful. Then I noticed how clean the city was, and the lack of street sellers, incredibly different from the Thailand I knew! The landscape surrounding the "capital of the North" was breathtaking, every morning I'd open the curtains and need to pinch myself because it seemed so unreal! Doi Suthep The day I travelled up to Chiang Mai actually coincided with the day my boyfriend was coming out of hospital, after a burst appendix and his missing Glastonbury and apparently a close shave with death, and so I decided to go up Mount Doi Suthep to do the Asian thing and pray to Buddha. I hadn?t seen him for a good 2 weeks by this point (the boyf not Buddah!!) as I had left a few days before he was admitted to hospital and hadn?t seen him or spoken to him, so you can imagine I was
quite scared. Anyway, I?m not actually a Buddhist but I have prayed on various occasions, like to my grandparents as they were Buddhist, so I decided that this might be a good idea. Mount Doi Suthep is actually a temple set right above the city of Chiang Mai, and as you walk round you can see the whole of the city down below. The temple is incredibly old and sacred and every year on Buddha?s birthday, hundreds of people gather together and make the walk up the mountain together in memory of Buddha. You can walk round the temple although you can?t enter the Monk?s quarters, especially if you?re female as we?re considered not clean as such because of menstruation. If you enter the temple you must remove your socks and shoes and make sure that you?re suitably clothed, you must wear a skirt or trousers that fall below the knee or otherwise rent a Thai skirt to wear (not too tasteful, unlucky me had to get one, argh no!!) Inside the temple, there are joss sticks and flowers readily available for free for anyone to pray to Buddha. Very few westerners appeared to be trying it when I visited which I think is a real shame because it can give you an incredible insight into the world of others, regardless of your usual religion. Another way of praying is a ritual by which you pray and then shake a tin full of sticks, and the first stick to fall is yours, and you take the number from the stick and collect a piece of paper on which there is a Buddhist prophecy. I did this aswell as praying in the traditional manner and I got a positive paper - its split half and half so you cud get a horrible one! Mine read something along the lines of people always wanting to help me and that I'd never have many problems in life...oh, and that I'd always get the boy I wanted ;) My mum found this amusing because all through my life my Ama (grandma in English!) said I'd got better looking everytime she saw me, and everytime I was faced with a problem, someone always
seemed to solve it for me so it was quite fitting! I?d recommend having a go at praying to anyone, I never believed in inner calm as much as I did after that, it takes away everything you?re worried about and lets you focus on being yourself for a while. It really helped me deal with the problems back in Leeds and helped me to stop worrying that bad things would happen to the people I love, most of all, it brought me closer to myself. If you aren't too sure about what to do just watch the people around you, honestly it's really easy! There are boxes around the temple that are open for donations for everyone because this is what the temple survives on as they charge nothing for joss sticks or flowers. Life Life in Chiang Mai is very different to life in Bangkok and Pattaya, everything is slower and much more laid back. There are still a vast number of the original Hill Tribes that inhabit Chiang Mai and the tourists are their source of income. In the evening, they frequent the night bazaars selling handmade belts and such like. It?s a really nice sight to see as it?s rare that people stay in such not advanced circumstances anymore but these people do. It's rare that you sight beggars in this area, although you may see the odd woman with a baby from one of the hill tribes who are asking for money. Chiang Mai is an altogether quiet place, like the countryside is to us in England I suppose, like a retreat away from the everyday rush of life. Everybody is incredibly friendly and will do whatever they can to make you feel at home. Nightlife Being on holiday with my mum and my 2 year old sister, unsuprisingly this wasnt at the top of our priorities! I did notice that the nightlife wasn't as rife as that in Bangkok or Pattaya and was frequented by less old men looking for young ladies. Accommodation Personally, I stayed in this HUGE hotel, it had like three wings and was abso
lutely huge. Nice as it was, I got lost every time I tried to get anywhere! Accommodation is readily available though and the prices are fair, for our stay at a luxury hotel we paid only £20 per night for 2 adults and an infant. Recently I've been researching cheap accomodation in Chiang Mai for the purposes of travellers, like inn's and hostels. I have as yet managed to find only a few hostels i Chiang Mai but a lot more in the more Southern areas of Thailand tho I'm sure there are lots of places to stay! I've found that it would cost somewhere between 4 and 8 pounds to stay overnight per person in one of these hostels =) Eating Thailand, undeniably, isn't the best place for Vegetarians to eat! I had difficulty finding food I really liked but the sea food was in full flow (much to my dismay!). Apparently the meat was good though!! Stuff like chicken and fish were available everywhere, restaurants do have some vegetables although it's basically the same everywhere you go. We did find that there was a small area in Chiang Mai that atually catered for Muslims and had loads of arabic food where we ate one night and it turned out to be really nice! Shopping Ok, this is the smallest part of the opinion as it?s nothing terribly amazing! The food is much much cheaper, fruits, like lychees, longans and mangostines, they?re all considerably cheaper than they are in other parts of the country as a lot of the harvesting is done in this part of the country. On the souvenir front, they?re readily available! There are jewellery stalls everywhere and you can even buy hand made vases and jewellery from the Tribes people. Clothes are also in high stock with all the usual rip off labels! The night market in Chiang Mai is much the same as any other place in Thailand, big, cheap and worth bartering at! We picked up some gorgeous batik clothing and material and handmade vases, you can get some really beautif
ul, ornate trinkets made from banana trees and other cool things! On the whole, I would reccomend Thailand to anybody! Before I left Singapore I wished that the flight was home to England not out to Thailand, but it turned out to be a fantastic place to visit with amazing cultural value. I hope to get back over there next year on my year travelling =)
Chaing Mai is the capital of the Northern Thailand province of Chaing Mai. With a population of just over 160,000 people it is the perfect urban getaway from the strangling density of Bangkok. The weather is also a little cooler than the capital and its centre is beautifully contained within a square moat. There are a range of options available in getting to Chaing Mai from the capital. We took an overnight train which left Bangkok at 10 in the evening and arrived in Chaing Mai at 12 noon the next day. You can also bus it which takes around 12 hours. Many of the agencies on the Khao San road offer a VIP bus to Chaing Mai. The last alternative is to fly which would probably be best for those with limited time. Our single train journey cost us 500 Baht each (12 Euro). ACCOMMODATION We stayed in 2 guesthouses while in Chaing Mai. The first, SK house was chosen for us by our trekking agency. As part of our trek we would get the night we arrived in Chaing Mai and the night after the trek for free. SK house is centrally located just off Thanon Moon Muang down a small soi. It boasts about the garden on its premises but on inspection the garden turned out to be nothing other than a tree in the centre of a small courtyard. The room we were given was a very basic double with bathroom attached. The walls of the room badly needed painting and the ensuite layout was cramped to say the least. That said the restaurant was cheap and cheerful and its central location (near the Irish pub) did add to its attractiveness. We spent the majority of our stay in Chaing Mai in the Royal guest house. An inexpensive jewel this one as it has a pool and a large selection of spacious air-con rooms for 350 baht (10 euro). The guest house is based in a lane just of Kot-Cha-Sarn road and is within easy reach of the Night Bazaar. Th
ere is a free security room for valuables and the Chinese styled restaurant is wonderful if a little pricey. The hotel has a tour information desk which is well staffed. The hotel offers a visa service and can arrange transport to many of the main cities and towns in Thailand. They also have a deal with one of the local motorbike rental companies. At 200 baht for a days rental (petrol not included but in Thailand it is dirt cheap) you can choose from a large selection of bikes. NIGHTLIFE The Rooftop Bar The Rooftop Bar was as chilled out a pub as you could get. You have to remove your shoes at the entrance and then climb 5 floors to get to the small bar. There is nightly entertainment provided by a sunglasses adorning, bandana wearing dude. The house special is a litre of whiskey and 4 cokes for 200 baht. Sam Sung whisky is absolutely lethal but it tastes nice in the open air feel that the rooftop bar creates. You'll find it on Thanon Ratchason which runs parallel to the moat. Kafe Our favourite bar was Kafe which is on Thanon Moon Muang which has contemporary wooden furnishings and a unique homely feel. The cheapest beer available is the Amstel they have on draft (slightly unusual as the Thai's tend to prefer bottled beer). Kafe shows Premiership games at weekends and don't normally abide by Chaing Mai's loosely applied curfew of 12 o'clock. Irish Pub As plastic as they come. This so called Oirish pub was actually opened by an Irish woman and her Thai husband in 1994. They have long since departed leaving the current Thai owners to carry the flag. Inside the pub there is all the usual paraphernalia you would expect, they even sell Guinness (in a can!) that is allegedly imported from Dublin. Worth a laugh. EATING OUT You are
spoilt for choice for food in Chaing Mai. Rice is the speciality with hundreds of different types available. Phonnon Cafe This small restaurant is situated near the Phae gate and manages to match good value for money with quality. You can watch the busy vehicles race up and down Chaing Mai's busiest street while basking in the comfort of the soft wooden furniture. We had a breakfast fry up with coffee for 50 Baht each. Service was efficient and courteous and there is a tour service available at the front desk. Bierstube Bierstube right in the middle of the night Bazaar caters for German tourists. Although it has some comfortable seating outside it is quite expensive. If you just want a coffee you'd be better served going to Starbuck's Coffee next door. Art Cafe This air-conditioned restaurant on a corner facing the Tha Phae Gate. Serving mostly western dishes it affords an alternative to the fried rice/noodle dishes which so predominate Thai food. Prices are a little above average but the standard of the food they serve is quite high. Art Cafe is nearly always busy which is a good measure of its quality. Galare Food Centre Ok, this place is a little bit of a tourist trap but it's a nice one. There are free dance shows and Muay Thai (Thai Boxing - show fights only) every night and the huge choice of food available is inexpensive and tasty. The Galare food centre is smack bang in the middle of the Night Bazaar. Red Lion English Pub If you pine for a little bit of western European food then this is the place to go. It might be a little bit more expensive than other restaurants but the Shepherd's pie was a nice break from the customary noodle/rice dishes. ATTRACTIONS <
br> Trekking This is the premier activity that Chaing Mai has to offer. Most guesthouses lay on deals and there are innumerable trekking agencies spread throughout the town. There is a huge range of choices available ranging from single day treks to week long ones. Most offer free elephant rides and bamboo rafting. The trek we chose cost us 4000 Baht each for a 3 day/2 nighter and was affiliated to the SK guesthouse. It was a great experience overall even if the guide was totally disinterested. Comfort is one thing you will not be getting on a trek, the sleeping quarters are bamboo huts without mattresses but it all adds to the authenticity. Food was included in the deal although by the third day we were staring menacingly at the village hens. The hill tribes in the mountains surrounding Chaing Mai are slowly being usurped by modern ways and it is predicted that 20 years from now they may have vanished altogether. While large-scale trekking could be blamed for this situation a lot of tribes depend on the income generated from trekkers to survive and attain a better standard of living. One tribe we visited had recently opened a school as a direct result of donations from trekkers. Wats (temples inhabited by monks) Chaing Mai has almost as many temples as Bangkok which gives the city a colourful facade. Wat Buppharam on Thanon Tha Phae has strong links with Chaing Mai royalty. It was built in 1496 by King Phra Muang Kaeo and is characterised by the tinkling bells that adorn its various buildings. One of the more interesting ones is the octagonal room where entry is prohibited to women. The library/museum is lavishly styled in teak and provides a useful resource to the dozens of monks that study there. Thai Massage Chaing Mai is well know for its array of Thai Massage establishments. On the whole the
prices are much lower than Bangkok (150 Baht for a one and a half hour full body workover) and there are many schools that provide training courses. We went to Jumjim on a small lane off Thanon Changklan which gave a mildly aggressive but ultimately relaxing massage. Huay Teung Tao Reservoir We decided to make our way to this lake by motorbike as it is only 12 km out of town. Three and a half hours later we has an extremely kind local man driving in front of us showing us the way. Getting to the reservoir sounds easy but you really do need a local map. Nancy Chandler's map of Chaing Mai is considered about the best. The reservoir itself is a pleasant way to spend a day. There is authentic seating and a good selection of food is served. The views around the lake are spectacular. You can hire paddle boats for a nominal fee but I wouldn't fall in as the water is dark brown. Doi Suthep This national park is 16 kilometres out of town and boasts a summit peak, waterfalls and plenty of places to picnic and hike. SHOPPING The Night Bazaar There is something more interesting about shopping at night than during the day. Perhaps it's the fact that if you get bored you can always nip into a pub for a pint. For those who think this way the Night Bazaar is a godsend. Stretching on both sides of Thannon Chang Klang between Thanon Tha Phae. & Thanon Si Donchai it contains just about every item imaginable. You have to bargain and aim low. Department stores, fixed prices.. There are several good bookshops in Chaing Mai. The best we came across was Gecko books just off Thanon Tha Phae. As well as selling second hand books the shop offers good prices for anyone willing to sell their own books. There are huge fiction and non-fiction sections
in several languages. The shop did seem to lack a comprehensive travel section however. You are spoilt for choice for internet options in Chaing Mai. Most places offer a standard 1 hour for 30 baht. Our favourite cafe was My Corner.com which you can find in the outdoor pavilion that has a huge climbing wall on Thannon Tha Phae. The cafe is very well run, friendly, air conditioned and for your 30 baht you also get a free coffee. Chaing Mai is a smaller, better laid out version of Bangkok. It's got the nightlife, the vice (at least half a dozen go go bars), the shopping and lots of attractions. Where Chaing Mai excels however is in the natural charm of its people and the relative tranquility that you can find all over town. As the Thai's readily admit themselves, you haven't seen Thailand until you've seen Chaing Mai.
Chiang Mai is known as the Capitol of the North and is the biggest city in the north. Unlike Bangkok, Chiang Mai has trees and clean air, and the main areas are relatively uncrowded. There are many Wats (Buddhist temples) in the city, but the best one, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, is on a nearby mountain (Doi Suthep) a short songathaw ride away. You should see it just for the 300 step Naga staircase leading up to it. The view of Chiang Mai from the Wat is unmatched anywhere else in the city. The real action in Chiang Mai, however, is the Night Bazaar. It's shoulder to shoulder here, but you can get some of the best deals in the country here, especially on Northern crafts. The stall owners seem to start out asking at least double what the item is worth, so make sure your first offer is about half what they asked. Some items are even more overpriced...for instance, I was offered woven silk prints for 100 baht each and ended up getting them for four for 100. Be careful of the tribeswomen walking around; if you show even the barest interest, they will follow you around. They take 'relentless' to a new level. There are many guesthouses in Chiang Mai that offer accomodation for 100 baht or so a night, and they all offer trekking opportunities. I hear the treks from Chiang Mai are okay but very easy and tourist-y. I went from Mae Hong Son myself, which makes for a very different type of trek. This is a city not to be missed, and with the airport and the numerous, affordable flights (4 flights a day from Bangkok at less than 30 quid each way), it's easy for a backpacker to get there.
Whilst in Thailand last year, I took the overnight train from Bangkok to reach Chiang Mai. This is a very convenient and comfortable way to travel. Most of the trains leave Bangkok in the evening and arrive in Chiang Mai the next morning at about 9am. When we arrived in Chiang Mai, there were a number of touts for guest houses offering free transport. Luckily we had already picked our guest house from the Lonely Planet while on the train, and one of the touts was from there (Banana Guest House). So he drove us there for no extra charge. All the guest houses are really keen to sign you up on their trek-as far as we could tell, the same basic trek is available at all the guest houses. It usually involves a visit to some hill tribes, a night or two staying in basic accomodation, an elephant ride and some river rafting. So after comparing prices we decided to go on the trek with banana guest house. Prices seemed to be quite similar wherever you went. The trek was really good, and i would highly recommend it. However, not much trekking was actually involved!! We only walked for aout an hour each day. We left most of our luggage, and our valuables at the banana under lock and key, and felt that it was a safe place. Also in Chiang Mai, we went to the Chiang Mai Thai cookery school. This was a great experience. Not only do they give you all the ingredients ready prepared, but you also get to try all the fruits that are in season. Stay away from the duryans though! (you will know one when you smell it...it puts you in mind of open sewers)You also get a cookery book with all the meals you have made, and some more too. i have to say though, nothing i have made since tastes as good as the food we made on the course! Chiang Mai's night market is quite famous among travellers. it's huge, and you can get everything from papercrafts, to wooden games, to fake brand names. There are also a number of shops which sell good quality silk. if
you know someone who can sew, you can get some really cheap dresses. Other than these attractions, Chiang Mai is a lovely place to just walk around and soak up the atmosphere. there are plenty of temples etc(if you are not sick of them by now!), and other beautiful buildings. Of course, it is quite 'geared up' for tourists so there are plenty of handicrafts shops, and lots of hotels etc. this might not be some people's cup of tea! You can also fly to chiang Mai from bangkok, but i think it is about 6 times the price. You need to buy train tickets a week or so in advance, and book the return leg in chiang mai as soon as you get there...the trains are very popular. well, i hope this has helped anyone who is planning a trip to thailand. I know that I would jump at the chance to go back
I first visited Chiang Mai whilst in Thailand in 1997 as part of a Round-The-World trip and out of all the weird and wonderful places I went to, this is the one I fell in love with the most. I've been back three times now, the last trip earlier this year for a full six months. You could say that Chiang Mai has become my second home now. Chiang Mai is located in the North of Thailand and is the country's second largest city - but whereas Bangkok has a whopping 8 million population, Chiang Mai has a mere 350,000. As a result, and also I think as a reflection of the city's design and layout, you never really feel like you're staying in a big city, its much more like a small community atmosphere. The city itself is centred around a (roughly) square mile of land surrounded by a moat and what remains of a wall - the best example of this being perhaps Tha Pae Gate on the East side. The climate is hot, but thankfully nowhere near as humid as in Bangkok. The coolest time of year is around December when temperatures can drop to the teens / low twenties, but by the time of the rainy season in late April, temperatures will have risen to the high thirties. The people in Chiang Mai are a universally friendly bunch, and prices are cheaper than in the South of the country. You can fly to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, the flight takes about an hour and costs approx £25. Alternatively you can take the train (the overnight sleeper is recommended) or - if you're really on a budget and feel like braving the kamikaze drivers - the bus. Both of these methods take 12 hours give or take an hour or two. Getting around in Chiang Mai is simple enough. If you're finding it too hot to walk around for very long then there's a legion of tuk-tuks prowling the roads, or better still just hail one of the red songthaews - a flat rate of 10 baht operates within the city, although the driver will probably try and charge you at least
double that. There are plenty of places where you can hire cars or bikes, and if you're especially looking to do a motorbike tour during your stay then do check out the www.bikesiam.com website. As with the rest of Thailand, Chiang Nai caters for all levels of accomodation from the upmarket hotels to the backpacking hostels. You'll find a good selection located between Tha Pae and Loi Kroy Roads, and on the side Soi's off Moon Muang Road. If you're planning a long stay (a month or more) then you should be able to negotiate a preferential rate. Places I've stayed at include Thapae Place Hotel, Veerachai Court, Smile House and Friendly Guest House, all fairly centrally located. Cuisine is varied too. As always the markets and stalls often provide the cheapest and tastiest of the local flavours, but if you're after good cheap western fare then the Bierstube on Moon Muang Road is highly recommended. Chiang Mai is a very laid back place, a great place to just take time out and chill away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. There's still plenty to see and do around the area however. Many backpackers visit here as a base to do a trek. These can be anything from one day up to a week, and can be booked at most guesthouses or the many outlets along Tha Pae Road and Chiang Klan Road. A typical three day trek will involve spending a couple of nights with the local hilltribes, and will usually comprise of some elephant riding, rafting - and plenty of walking! Certainly well worth doing as long as you're averagely fit, and relatively inexpensive too. Chiang Mai has plenty of temples to visit, the most impressive being at Doi Suthep which overlooks the city from the West. Its a short journey up a long and twisty mountain road, best arranged with one of the songthaew drivers at Chiang Puek Gate - who have fixed rates. Travelling East of the city you can take a trip to the Elephant camp, or the arts & crafts centre a
t Bo Seng. Also within reach is Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest peak, and a number of waterfalls. Arts & crafts are a particular speciality in Chiang Mai, and you'll find an array of bargains located every evening at the night bazaar on Chiang Klan Road - silks, carvings, paintings are all available at silly prices - along with the usual array of bootleg clothing, CDs etc. There's a huge shopping centre at the Kad Suan Keow complex located on the North West corner of the city, in addition to which are a newly opened bowling alley and ice skating rink, plus a four screen cinema. Nightlife seems much tamer after experiencing the excesses of the capital, but there's always somewhere to go. Many of the larger hotels organise their own cultural entertainment with live music and traditional thai dancing. The Bar Beer Centre off Moon Muang Road holds Muay Thai boxing matches twice weekly. Moon Muang Road and Loy Kroy Road also have a vast array of bars open late, my personal favourites being Johns Place, Gans Place and The Sax Music Pub - a very friendly family run bar with the best selection of music in town. Live bands can be found in the restaurants lining the River Ping, notably the Riverside and The Brasserie. The latter is frequented by talented guitarist Took who plays excellent blues and rock tunes. No review of Chiang Mai would be complete without a quick mention of the Festivals. The people here really know how to have a party, and this is certainly the place to be for a big occasion. In mid-November they celebrate Loy Kratong with a mass of fireworks, launching huge balloons and sailing lighted candles on lotus-shaped kratong on the river. In mid-April they celebrate Songkran, the annual water festival which basically becomes one huge water fight for a whole week (tip - if you don't want to get wet, don't leave your room). In February they hold a Flower Festival which includes a huge procession of decorated fl
oats through the town. These are jut some of the things which add up to make Chaing Mai a wonderful place to visit. I'll certainly be returning again soon!
Thais call this city the Rose of the North and it certainly is beautiful place to go and visit. I have added an update at the end of this review. It is about 370 miles north west of Bangkok. This means a 70 minute flight, or 12 hour ( or longer ! ) train, bus or car ride. Personally, if you have time, I recommend the overnight sleeper express which takes around 12 hours or so (the Rapid takes 15hours!) . 2nd class costs 671baht, 1st class 1200, if you buy from a travel agent there will be commission on top ( anything between 150 and 400baht ). See my review of the train for more details. The beds, once made up, are surprisingly comfortable, the carriage is air conditioned so no problems with the heat and a dining car and waiter service is available if you are hungry. It also has the advantage that you are not on the road ! Belief in reincarnation is fine but when your driver doesn’t really mind if he kills himself, I draw the line ! There are many places in the world have driven, Spain, Portugal, Greece, but nothing compares to the way the Thais drive! Once you arrive, there is the usual collection of modern buildings and busy roads but if you look, you will find areas of calm and tranquility with beautiful traditional Thai architecture not far away. If you are a keen visitor of Wats ( temples ) then you will be in heaven here. There are hundreds in the town itself and in the surrounding area. The best known being Wat Doi Suthep 11km outside town in a nature reserve. It will give you a great view of teh city and surrounding countryside. A songthaew (taxibus) will take you there for anything between 45Baht one way to 250baht. It depends how good a negotiator you are ! For shopping, it is probably the best in the region but you will disappointed if you are not after the regions specialties - hill tribe carvings or jewelry. More general shopping is best left to Bangkok. The night bazaar that takes place f
rom around 5pm, is again probably the best in t he region but apart from the specialties mentioned before there are better markets in Bangkok and Pattaya. But having said that, it is still worthwhile going and having a wander - and remember always negotiate ! Whatever price you paid, no matter the protests, they will be making a profit and probably a healthy one. A local will always pay less than you. But given the cheapness because of the exchange rate don’t let an extra 10 or 20 baht“ make you feel you were cheated, its only 20p or so!! If you are after night life, well there isn’t a wide range but there still a choice of clubs and discos to dance the night away and there are always the bars. A variety of places will have live bands as well. There is a wide range of hotels, from backpackers to 5 star, so you will find something you will like. One of the best places to get an idea on price is www.hotels/chiangmai-online.com If you are going in the low season approx April - August it will probably worthwhile waiting until you arrive before booking the hotel as you may get a better deal. The town is used as launching pad to people travelling in this corner of Thailand for moving from city to city or for day trips. There are certainly plenty of travel agents more than willing to sell any trip you want from mornings to 7 day treks in the jungle. One of the other types of place that are many is the cookery school. So if you want to learn how to cook Thai this is one of the places to come to. And of course there is the traditional Thai friendly people where ever you go. Depending on your interests, you may actually find that after a few days that you have done all you want because it is a relatively small town but don’t let that sway you. Its still well worth going no matter what interests you have. There is the usual heat but the air is much cleaner than Bangkok so you don
217;t notice it as much. Update - Oct 2002. I managed to pay a quick visit to Chiang Mai coming back from Chiang Rai. The city centre is now as developed as almost every other tourist destination in Thailand and there seems to be even more souvenir shops round the night market area. All the usual suspect shops are now here including Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and so on. It seems the price of progress is uniformity. It has spoiled the atmosphere of the centre somewhat as it is more samey of everywhere else than it used to be, which is a real shame. New Summary Even with the changes, it is still a place to go for a break from Bangkok or to see somewhere else. A few miles out of town you will start to see the real Thailand. So even for that alone, it is worth going to visit.
"Chiang Mai (in Thai เชียงใหม่), also sometimes written as "Chiengmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand, and the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located at 18°47′20″N, 98°59′00″ECoordinates: 18°47′20″N, 98°59′00″E, some 700 km north of Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city stands on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river."