Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is located among some of the highest mountains in the country and is the the main base of activities for most travelers who come up north. Chiang Mai is full of culture, friendly people, beautiful landscapes, and amazing ruins. It’s become something of the new “it” spot for expats and a lot of people foreigners now live here. I love Chiang Mai. In a country known for its food, Chiang Mai is a in a league of its own.
- Hostel Prices: Dorm rooms can be as little as $3, and guesthouses start at around $4 per night. For a nicer room with air-con, expect to pay about $13 USD per night. Most of the hostels and cheap guesthouses are located within the old city.
- Budget Hotel Prices: Budget hotels start at $17 per night and go upward from there for a room with hot water, a comfy bed, and air conditioning.
- Average Cost of Food: Chiang Mai has some of the best street food in Thailand and dishes cost $.75-1.50 USD. Most restaurant meals cost around $5 for a main dish and a drink. Western food begins at that price.
- Transportation Costs: The most common way to get around Chang Mai is by songthaew (covered shared taxis). The regular fare should be around $.60 USD for trips around town.
Top Things to Do
- Doi Suthep and the 304 Steps - Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, perched high on the flank of Suthep Mountain, 1,022 m (3,000 ft) above sea level, is Chiang Mai’s most famous temple. The pagoda in its center contains some of the relics of the Lord Buddha. The temple is visited throughout the year by thousands of tourists and Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world. The temple is approached by climbing a steep Naga (serpent) staircase comprising 304 steps (however, you can also ascend by funicular railway).
- Tour all the temples - Located within the old area of the city and around the wall, are many amazing temples. There’s about 8 main temples worth seeing that provide a look into different Buddhist views and periods of Chiang Mai history. If you aren’t temples out by this point in your trip, do a half day tour of the temples.
- Bargain at the Night Bazaar – Chiang Mai is the main handicraft center of Thailand and the Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road is the largest center for the selling of all sorts of crafts in Chiang Mai. Everything is sold at non-fixed prices and you can bargain battle to your death. Almost anything can be purchased here from cheap ‘brand replica’ clothing, accessories and souvenirs to up-market furniture, designer clothing, silks, silverware, jewelry and wood carving, weaving, textiles, rattan items, ceramics, and more.
- Take a cooking class - Chiang Mai is the most popular place in Thailand for cooking classes, offering a great variety of classes and amazing deals. You begin your class by going to the market and learning about Thai produce before heading back to the kitchen to cook a few dishes and eat a lot of food.
- Go Jungle Trekking - This town is a main starting point for all sorts of jungle trekking tours. I like the 3 day ones the best but the long the tour, the more interesting and secluded places you visit. Be careful who you sign up with as many guides simply walk with you and don’t tell you much about the land or wildlife. Moreover, if you visit a tribal village, make sure the money stays with them and they aren’t being exploited, which happens a lot up here!
- Go on an Elephant Trek – The Pong Yang Elephant Training Camp is the main destination of a 30 km tour along the Mae Rim-Samoeng route, inside the Mae Sa Valley. Along the road are many tourist attractions like the Mae Sa Waterfalls, the Mae Sa Butterfly and Orchid Farm and the Chiang Mai Snake Farm. During the 40 minute show, elephants demonstrate their formidable and highly valued forestry skills – moving large teak logs as if they were matchsticks, a skill employed for more than a century in the teak forests of the North.
- Eat a Kantoke Dinner - Experience both the Northern food and culture at the same time! Kantoke Dinners provide a good way to get to know both the Northern food and culture at the same time. At this event, visitors are seated in the floor around a circular tray with Northern dishes on it and eat while watching traditional Thai and Northern dances and hill tribe culture shows.
- Cruise down the river - Cruise down rural Mae Ping on a 2-hour journey that will take you past beautiful scenery in the heart of Chiang Mai. Enjoy the pleasant pace of the boat. Stop to visit a local farm and its herb and fruit gardens – or relax and have Thai dinner on board.
- Bargain hard - At all of the markets, when Thai people realize you can speak a bit or you know some of your history you can immediately spark friendship and save yourself money when buying.
- Eat from the Street Stalls - The cheapest way to eat is at street-side noodle shops, where a bowl of Pad Thai costs just $.75 USD. A decent curry in a proper, though humble restaurant costs about $2 USD.
- Take the Songthaew - At $.60 for anywhere in the city, this is the cheapest way to get around (other than walking).