My visit to Chaing Mai

Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, but a lot smaller than Bangkok. Built in 1296, this city is very different from the southern part of the country in many ways. Located in the north, it is surrounded by lush vegetation, a vibrant northern Thai culture, relaxed atmosphere, no traffic jams, great fruits, exotic cuisine, and markedly less hot and humid than Bangkok.

The city of Chiang Mai shares the same name as the province. With a population of about 1.5 million, Chiang Mai has become quite popular in the past 2 decades, primarily because it offers a more laid back lifestyle compared to Bangkok. The region was once known as the “Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields” has become a major tourist destination because of many natural wonders. It is also home to many expats.

Chiang Mai does have an airport that is served by several Asian airlines. For Europeans and North Americans, the first stop is usually Bangkok and then a 1-hour flight to Chiang Mai.

So what is there to do in this land surrounded by mountains, rivers, valleys, and lush tropic vegetation?

chiang mai thailnd

Unlike the tall elegant buildings of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a green city with abundant green boulevards and instead of choked traffic with smog, the city can be navigated by foot and the climate is thankfully a lot cooler. A few minutes out of the city and you will be in the tropical rainforest interspaced with exotic waterfalls. Unlike the past, Chiang Mai is much easier to reach today than ever before.

Chiang Mai has also gone modern. You are less likely to acquire yoga and meditation classes anymore; the ancient city now has gone Hi-Tech, modern buildings are being built and the tourism industry is flourishing. New art galleries, coffee shops, delicatessens, dessert parlors and exotic boutiques are revealing the nouveau Chiang Mai. However, unlike the other modern cities in Asia, which have urbanized 100%, Chiang Mai still retains and embraces the older establishment. You will still get the street vendors and Ma and Pa “hole in the wall” restaurants serving authentic Thai cuisine that will satisfy any taste bud. For those looking for the “new” just visit Nimmanhaemin Road where you will experience hard-core westernization. However, despite the speed of progress, Chiang Mai is still a pleasant city with its ancient charm and friendly people.

chiang mai market in thailand

No matter where you stay in Chiang Mai, you will be seduced into going into the nearby forests and mountains. There are so many treks that you need to know what you want and where you want to go. Most tourist treks are similar and include rafting, seeing elephants, and visiting the nearby local people. If you love animals, go visit the Elephant Park that now rescues and rehabilitates these gentle giants.

If you are following in the footsteps of David Livingstone, Chiang Mai is the place to come to. It has many excellent national parks and mountain trails that are within a few miles of the city. You can even pitch a tent or rent one. If you hate lugging tents, then just rent a hut or a cabin –they are not expensive at all ($4-$10). However, you need to reserve them and the waiting list is usually long.

The two national parks that you should see include Doi Inthanon and Ob Luang- both offer dramatic views of the surrounding canyons and rivers running through them. There are waterfalls and caves that you can explore during the day.

blue ridge mountain chiang mai thailand

Just to the northwest of the city is Do Suthep, which is a radiant temple on a mountaintop, and is worth a short visit. You will need to walk hundreds of the Naga steps to visit this functional monastery. While you will get a great view of the city, the weather often can be atrocious and may not permit you to get to the top. If you do go, early morning is recommended because by noontime the crowds and heat will be a turn-off. Better still; get a taxi to take you via the scenic route, which is less tiresome and just as nice.

Just outside of Chiang Mai, there are many nature reserves that can be visited and most have a river where you can cool off. There are many tour operators who offer customized tours and while slightly expensive, you will avoid the crowds and the heat.

Another great activity is bamboo rafting in Mae Wang, where you also come close to the thick tropical forest that is located along the edge of the water.

There is also the Flight of the Gibbons, which allows you to view the green forest from the top. Located in Mae Kampong, it offers zip lining through several kilometers of the jungle canopy.

Doi Inthanon thailand

Over the years, Chiang Mai has developed a bustling tourism industry; now you can also get balloon rides that take you over the city, weather permitting. Try and get the morning flights which are smoother and there is less wind turbulence. The slow-pace of the balloon ride will allow you to enjoy the countryside, see the rice paddies and the hills.

If you just want to relax go to Mae Klang Luang, which is a small town, where you get a good meal and see the hidden waterfalls.

One thing that is common in all of Thailand is foot massage or if you want, a full body massage. If you have never ever had a foot massage Thai style, then you have no idea what it feels like to be in heaven. Do not worry this is not the kinky Thai body massage which is also popular. Thai foot massage is done on the side of the street. You will relax on a beach chair, while a pretty girl applies to oil and uses her hands and special massage sticks to give you the best soothing foot massage for 45 minutes- cost about $10-$15.

The city’s outdoor markets come alive at night. Not only can you buy anything, there is lots of cheap food. If you are looking to purchase a souvenir, just walk along Chang Klan, Wualai, or Ratchadmmoen Roads. You will see ample street stalls that sell everything that you can want to buy. You can haggle the prices but remember, there is a lot of junk being sold on the streets and most of the stuff you will never use even once.


Thai people love to celebrate and Chiang Mai natives are no different. The wildest celebration is the Songkran festival, which is the Thai New year. The cultural activities are centered around the temples but most people spend the time on the streets, splashing each other with water, eating, drinking and have a jolly good time. If you love crowds and water, then this is the one festival you need to participate in.

Perhaps one of the most glamorous festivals in Chiang Mai is the Yi-peng. Held in November, people make paper boat lanterns with candles and set them off in the river. The lighted candles gliding in the water create one of the most beautiful images that you will ever experience.

Like most of the Thailand, Chiang Mai has its fair share of temples. The only two I recommend are the Wat Pra Singh (Temple of the lion Buddha) and Wat Chiang Man.

wat-phra tmple in thailand

When it comes to eating, there are plenty of restaurants all over the city that serve good authentic Thai food. In addition, there are street vendors offering traditional Thai delicacies, papaya salad, spicy hot noodles, (khao soi) intensely hot curries, fish and rice, Tom Yom soup and freshly squeezed juice almost everywhere. If you want to cool off, get a Thai tiger beer or try one of the Thai herbal drinks (be careful, these drinks are loaded with sugar). There are food stalls and restaurants to meet every type of budget. However, unlike Bangkok, a good decent meal will not cost more than $3-$6 (150-400 baht). Of course, if you go to a 5-star hotel or a fancy restaurant, the price will be ten times the amount. There are many expats who have opened up restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Chiang Mai. These places also serve Thai and European foods, but they are slightly expensive. Here you will get to meet your countrymen and women and get some tips on what else to do.

Unlike Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a few degrees cooler and most Thai in the north feel cold. For most tourists from the west, just a long sleeve shirt will do. Only during the night does it get chilly and you may need a sweater. To make up for the chilly nights, most people take a trip to the hot springs at Doi Pha Hom Pok national park. Here you get to hike and enjoy the scenery as well. Over the years, the warm waters of the hot springs have cooled down a bit.

Most of Chiang Mai can be seen on foot or taxi.

tuk-tuk chiang mai