The Ultimate Travel Guide To Chiang Mai

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chiang mai travel guide
Image by xiaolinzi821 from Pixabay

The northern city of Chiang Mai is one of the most popular destinations in Thailand and for good reason. It’s hard to believe that this is the second-largest city in the country, as it could not be any more different from Bangkok.

The laid-back vibe, the beautiful mountain backdrop, and the impressive temples are just a few reasons why Chiang Mai is high on most tourists lists. One thing I love about this quirky, down to earth city is its uniqueness. Compared to other Thai cities, Chiang Mai is one of a kind. 

The city has managed to create just the right balance of conserving Thai culture and embracing tourism. This makes it a welcoming, easy and comfortable place to visit, without the pushy, in-your-face tuk-tuk drivers and market vendors found in other popular Thai destinations. No wonder that in recent years, Chiang Mai has become a trendy, hipster hub for ex-pats and digital nomads.

I had the pleasure of spending one month in Chiang Mai whilst I was studying at a Thai Massage school there. In this ultimate travel guide, I share with you the insider knowledge that I gained, and all the wonders of the city that I fell in love with.

Best areas to stay

Old City

Chiang Mai’s City Center is known as The Old City. This area is surrounded by an ancient walled moat and is home to many of the city’s main attractions such as the temples, walking street markets, and many restaurants, bars, guest houses, and hostels. 

The Old City is perhaps the most popular choice for backpackers as it is right in the center of the action. The convenience of staying here is great as a cafe or restaurant will never be more than a short stroll away.

Hostels are pretty cheap here. Hostel Lullaby, Stamps and Bodega are just a few of the favorites. If you’re looking for a chilled hostel, Hostel Lullaby is for you. Lullaby offers free yoga classes and Thai cooking classes instead of the standard drinking games. Stamps are rated highly among solo female travelers in particular. It’s said to be a great place to meet others and has the perfect balance between party and chilled. Finally, Bodega is the place to be if you want to party. With pool parties, pub crawls, nightly drinking games and day trips, your stay is guaranteed to be action-packed here.

Although there are many nice guesthouses and hotels here if you’re looking for private accommodation you’re more likely to find a guesthouse or Airbnb for a cheaper price just a short distance outside of the city center.

Niman

In recent years Nimmanhemin, or Niman for short, has become the hipster district of Chiang Mai. Long term expats and digital nomads have settled in this area, resulting in the pop up of many trendy coffee shops, upmarket boutiques and quirky co-working spaces. 

Because of the expat vibe, there are many condos in this area that can be rented for a very good price. You can find many of these condos on Airbnb and similar websites. Many offer access to shared kitchens and communal spaces. These condos have a hostel-style setup but are catered to more of the long term stayer, therefore if you are looking to meet people this may not be the best choice. 

For a more social feel, there are some great hostels such as Box Hostel and Bed Addict. For a bit of luxury, check out Lotus Pang Suan Kaew hotel for an enormous rooftop swimming pool and impressive lobby.

Located to the west of the city, Niman is about a 30-minute walk to The Old City or a short 5-minute songthaew ride. Even if you choose not to stay in this area, this is definitely a place you should come to check out and grab a good coffee!

Santitham

To the north of the city center, you will find the district of Santitham. This is a great place to stay if you’re traveling on a budget as it is full of inexpensive guesthouses and cheap restaurants. This is also a great area for vegetarians as there are many low-cost Thai vegetarian and vegan restaurants here. 

There is not much going on at night here, but that’s no problem as the city center is just a 20-minute walk away. This is a great place to situate yourself if you don’t want to be quite in the action, but close enough to it at the same time. 

Riverside

To the east of The Old City, you will find Ping River. Slightly away from the city (but still close enough) there is more of a relaxed atmosphere here. This area is also where the most upmarket hotels are located. It’s the best choice for travelers looking for some luxury, and also for families looking for a quieter spot. 

South of the river you have the most expensive hotels, such as Aruntara and RatiLanna. Closer to the city and the shopping bazaar, there are some cheaper options such as Riverside House Hotel and Riverside Floral Inn. Further north, you will find the 5-star X2 Riverside Resort with its fabulous rooftop pool and bar. As the majority of the hotels here are situated along Ping River, you’ll have a beautiful river view from your window.

Top 10 things to do and see

Chiang Mai is the place to be for culture as it is brimming with history and beautiful architecture. Of course, the one downside is that there are no nearby beaches. Despite this, I feel the majestic mountains, waterfalls, temples and other natural delights are more than enough to make up for the missing beaches. Moreover, after island hopping for a while, you will probably find that this cultural Lanna city makes a fresh change to your travels. 

One thing is for sure, you will never find yourself bored in Chiang Mai. Here are the top ten things to do, see and experience here. 

1. Visit Doi Suthep (& Wat Pha Lat)

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the regal temple on top of the grand mountain that you will notice overlooking the city from the northwest. It’s the place which you will hear about as soon as you arrive from taxi drivers, hotel staff and tour operators. Doi Suthep is Chiang Mai’s most popular attraction.

Located just a short taxi ride out of the city center, you can choose whether to embrace nature and hike up the mountain, or let a songthaew take you up to the top. 

As an avid hiker, I chose to take the ‘Monk’s Trail’ beginning just past the university, to trek up to the temple. What’s awesome about the Monk’s trail is that halfway up, you will arrive at another temple known as Wat Pha Lat. This temple is much quieter than the main attraction Wat Phra That, as it is overlooked by most tourists who take a songthaew up to Doi Suthep. 

I preferred this temple as there were few tourists there so it had a much more zen and blissful feel to it. I was even able to find a spot to meditate without getting disturbed. Furthermore, there’s a tiny coffee shop there that surprisingly makes amazingly good coffee. This is the perfect accompaniment for taking a short break before continuing the hike. 

The hike to the first temple, Wat Pha Lat is a fairly easy 30-minute trek and is suitable for most people, however, the hike from there to Doi Suthep is much more difficult and strenuous, and really only suitable for experienced hikers. This is why most tourists opt to take a taxi or songthaew there. Another option would be to hike to Wat Pha Lat and then jump in a passing songthaew to reach the next temple. 

Doi Suthep is one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand and dates back to the 14th century. This temple is one of the most ‘touristy’ ones I’ve visited and it can get quite busy with tour groups, however, the location is unbeatable. From the summit here, you will see magnificent views of the city and surrounding mountains. There are many small restaurants around this site allowing you to replenish your energy before heading back to the city.

2. Explore Hmong Village in Doi Suthep National Park

After visiting Doi Suthep, most tourists end their trip there. However, Doi Suthep National Park spans a wide mountainous range with much more to see than just the temple. You can get a taxi to take you deeper into the mountain where you will come to Hmong Village. 

This village is home to the ethnic Hmong Hill Tribe and is a great place to visit for some unique Thai culture. Here you can experience the tribe’s way of life, and learn about their colorful costumes and handicraft traditions. 

The villagers sell their traditional crafts to tourists, which can make unique and interesting gifts. Furthermore, there are many small Thai restaurants here offering local food and coffee, alongside their famous ‘strawberry wine’. 

Hmong Village is actually quite accessible. You can get there by private taxi, take a songthaew from the university or Doi Suthep, or go with a tour company for a full day exploring the national park.

3. Take a dip in the waterfalls, Huay Kaew & Wang Bua Ban Pha Ngoep

For a nice way to refresh in the afternoon heat, visit these two serene waterfalls. They are located in the national park next to Chiang Mai Zoo. At the entrance to Huay Kaew, there is a wat and a monument. 

Huay Kaew is an extremely accessible waterfall as it does not require a long or difficult hike to reach. Just past a row of market stalls, you will find the large base of the fall, which you can dip your feet in. 

From here you can climb up to the top of the waterfall or you can take the short hike to Wang Bua Ban Pha Ngoep. I would recommend taking this trek, as the second waterfall is a real hidden gem. Wang Bua Ban is much higher up in the mountain and there is a trail taking you up to a viewpoint that provides incredible views of the waterfall below and the city in the distance.

This large waterfall is popular with the young monks from the nearby temple. If you are visiting in the afternoon you may spot them playing and refreshing in the waterfall. Here there is plenty of space for everyone to spread out. You can swim under the stream and there is also a cool diving spot. 

4. Wander the streets of The Old City

Astonishingly, Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples. You will find many of these within the walls of The Old City. Wandering around the streets of the city center will make you feel like you are in a living museum with the historical buildings, ancient crumbling walls and old townhouses. You will be occupied for hours here as you stop by the temples, find cool cafes and quirky clothing shops. 

With so many temples, it’s difficult to know which ones to visit. There are many popular ‘touristy’ temples. You will spot these as the ones with food carts outside, tourist groups hovering around and high entrance fees. 

If you want to avoid the crowds and experience the serenity of the Buddhist life, I would recommend you visit the temples that look the quietest and emptiest. This is what I did. I avoided the busy temples and instead, I found some lovely small and peaceful wats where I was able to meditate and take in the calm energy undisturbed. 

5. Take a day trip to Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon at 2,565 meters above sea level, is the highest peak in Thailand, If you love nature, mountains, and animals, this two-hour journey out of Chiang Mai is a must. Doi Inthanon is known as a sanctuary for a wide range of wildlife – approximately 362 different species! Moreover, many of these are not found in other parts of the country. 

The scenery here is outstanding and resembles what I can only describe as a fairytale wonderland. This incredible national park is popular not only because of its natural beauty but also for its history and culture. The park is home to Northern Hilltribes which have managed to maintain their traditional cultures within their unique villages. 

You can book a full-day trip to Doi Inthanon from many tour companies in Chiang Mai.

6. Stroll around Niman

Nimmanhaemin Road is known to be the trendiest part of Chiang Mai. This up and coming area is full of cool western-style coffee shops, bars, restaurants, and boutique shops. Whilst wandering around the streets here, you will soon see why this is such a popular place for expats and digital nomads to reside. 

There is a great coffee shop here called Ristr8to, and a nice vegetarian cafe and clothes shop called Free Bird Cafe. If you are a lover of Italian Gelato, be sure to check out 7 Senses Gelato for a real taste of Italy. Your stomach will love an afternoon spent in Niman, your wallet, however, not so much! 

7. Work out in Buak Hard Park’s outdoor gym

The city’s only park is located in the southwest corner of The Old City. Buak Hard Park is beautiful, peaceful and colorful. There is a pond that runs through the middle as well as fountains, flowerbeds, cafes and a children’s playground. 

There is a walking trail around the park too. Along this trail, there is various outdoor gym equipment. All the equipment offers instructions on how to use them, allowing you to create your own free outdoor workout. 

The park is also the perfect spot to practice yoga. There are many free yoga classes held at the park by traveling yoga teachers. The days, times and frequency do vary but you can find the latest schedule on their designated Facebook page ‘Yoga in the park – Chiang Mai’.

8. Take a dip in a rooftop swimming pool

The city gets extremely hot during the day, and with no beach to retreat to, I found myself looking for an alternative way to cool down. Although there is no public outdoor swimming pool, what I did find was some of the upmarket hotels have awesome rooftop pools that they let the public use for a small fee.

The best one I found was Lotus Pang Suan Kaew. This 4-star hotel situated between the northwest gate of The Old City and Niman, allows non-guests to use their gigantic rooftop pool for only 100 baht. The fee includes a towel and use of a sun lounger and you can stay for as long as you like. 

The reason I recommend this place is because it’s quiet and spacious. Aside from the pool being big enough to get some serious laps in, there is a large area around the pool to sunbathe. Therefore, it never gets crowded and there will always be at least some chairs available.   

9. Visit The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary 

Chiang Mai’s Elephant Sanctuary was one of the first sanctuaries in the country to provide care and retirement for elephants that have been previously mistreated and exploited in the irresponsible tourist activity of elephant riding. Here at the sanctuary, they have created an environment for them that is as natural and close to the wild as possible. 

Visitors here can bathe the elephants rather than riding them, and the ticket profits go towards the care and protection of these animals

10. Treat yourself to a massage

After all the hiking and exploring, why not treat your sore legs to a traditional Thai Lanna massage? Whilst you can find a Thai massage shop on any street in Thailand, here in Chiang Mai, they take massage seriously. Chiang Mai is not only home to some of the country’s top massage schools, but Chiang Mai is renowned for the ‘northern’ style of massage. 

This style is slower than a massage you would receive in Bangkok or the southern islands, and they incorporate some of their advanced Lanna stretching. Moreover, massage is extremely cheap here. You can find parlors that offer a 1-hour massage for as little as 100-150 baht!

Best places to eat

Chiang Mai has an amazing selection of food. If you only try one new dish here make sure it’s the traditional northern dish Khao Soi, which is a coconut curry noodle soup. Here are a few of my favorite spots to eat in the city:

●    Khao Soy Maesai, Santitham

Come here for a cheap and tasty traditional northern meal. This small Thai restaurant makes the best Khao Soi for just 60 baht, and they make a vegetarian one too. It’s only open until 4 pm so come for a hearty lunch.

●    Home J Vegan, Santitham

This was my go-to lunch spot whilst I was studying at the massage school nearby. This vegan restaurant is run by a lovely woman who will remember you from your first visit. The food is healthy, cheap and delicious. There is a selection of curries, noodles and vegetable dishes that you can choose from. 

It costs a minuscule 35 baht for rice with 2 dishes, and 40 for three dishes. The curries are awesome but the highlight here is the sticky eggplant and crispy kale.

●    Cats Station Cafe, Old City

If you are a cat lover you will be pleased to know that Chiang Mai has its own cat cafe. You can come here to have breakfast with the cats. Aside from the great company, the food here is really good. I would recommend the fruit shakes, grilled cheese toastie, and cinnamon swirl pastry.

●    7 Senses Gelato, Niman

Real Italian gelato is hard to come by in Thailand so I was pumped to find this place. You can tell how passionate the Italian owner is about his product. The gelato is silky, smooth and divine. They do an amazing selection of flavors including pistachio, espresso and mango. They always have a few vegan choices too. It’s not cheap but it’s certainly a real treat.

●    Thursday Night Market at Central Kad Suan Kaew, Between Niman & Old City

On Thursday evening outside Central Mall close to the northwest gate, you will find this small but diverse street food market. There is a selection of Thai food, Indian food, desserts, and even lasagna, all for low prices. Highlights are the noodle dishes, the Indian curries, and the homemade pie and cake stall.

●    Waroros Market (Kad Luang) at Riverside

This is the oldest and most popular food market in Chiang Mai. Waroros is a three-floor indoor market that offers an impressive array of fresh produce alongside ready-to-eat snacks and meals. Food is ridiculously cheap here and you will find many authentic northern-style delicacies as well as Thai-Chinese cuisine. There is so much choice here, my recommendation is to choose the street food vendors with the long queues, as they tend to be popular for a reason.

You will see more locals here than tourists, but that is what makes it such an authentic experience. It’s open from 6 am to 7 pm. The best time to go is early morning or late afternoon.

Shopping in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a great place to shop thanks to its western malls, giant shopping bazaar, and great walking street markets. Here is where to go for some retail therapy whilst you’re here:

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

For an epic shopping experience check out the giant night bazaar every evening from 6 pm to 10 pm. Located just outside the east gate of The Old City, the market starts at the intersection of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Kroh Road but spreads out for two blocks in both directions.

The night bazaar is a shopper’s paradise, You can find anything that you could possibly want or need. Honestly, they seem to sell everything here! If you require gifts for friends and family back home, this is the place to come. 

My recommendation would be to come early. Not to avoid the crowds but because you are going to need a few hours here! If shopping excites you rather than bores you, then prepare to get lost and amazed in the never-ending stalls of clothes, shoes, purses, wallets, watches, handicrafts, luggage, houseware, furnishings, paintings, spices, buddhas, elephants, jewelry, silver, antiques and everything else under the sun.

Sunday Night Walking Street Market

Every Sunday evening the walking street market in The Old Town is the place to be. The market stretches about 1 kilometer running from Tha Pae Gate towards Ratchadamnoen Road. There is always a fun atmosphere here, and the vibrant spectrum of art, crafts, music, and food makes for a great way to end the weekend.

You will find a wide array of quirky gifts and souvenirs as well as a huge choice of cheap clothing and accessories. The market begins from around 4 pm and usually wraps up just before midnight. 

You’re bound to get hungry whilst shopping here. Luckily, the range of food on offer is just as good. You will find many (unhealthy) delights such as pad thai, fried sandwiches, Nutella crepes, and mango sticky rice. 

Maya Lifestyle Shopping Mall

Maya is one of Chiang Mai’s newest and most stylish shopping malls, so where better for it to be located than trendy Niman. Open daily from 10 am to 10 pm, the mall caters to all budgets. You will find all the famous brand names such as Adidas, Lacoste and Oakley, western high street retailers such as H&M and Boots, and budget shops such as Daiso and Sportsworld.

As the name suggests, the six-story mall is not just retail shops. You will find a diverse food court, supermarket, various restaurants, beauty salons plus an impressive entertainment zone on the fifth floor with a multi-screen cinema and a video game arcade.

Night Life

The nightlife in Chiang Mai is heaving with a varied range of bars and clubs. You will find a bar for every music genre and every type of vibe. Here are a few of my favorites:

Chiang Mai North Gate Jazz Bar

This laid-back live music venue presents a regular line-up of live Jazz bands in a small and rustic venue. Located at the north gate of The Old City, you will find this bar easily as it will be the one with the crowd spilled out onto the street.

Because the bar is so small, it’s best to arrive early to nab a seat. Usually, there are two bands every night, playing from 9 and finishing up around midnight. 

Zoe in Yellow Nightclub

This buzzing backpacker club is the best place to let loose and dance. It’s located in a type of outdoor plaza with various other bars around, creating a crazy, bustling party atmosphere. The music here is super loud, so it’s not the place to come if you want to sit down and chat with friends. There is a large seating area but the majority of people will be on the dancefloor.

The venue pumps out, house and R’n’B music until 12 AM. It’s worth noting that all bars and clubs in Chiang Mai are only licensed to stay open until midnight, so it’s not really the city for staying out all night – unless you find an afterparty!

Roots Rock Reggae Bar

One of the bars next to Zoe in Yellow is Roots. Here, live Thai bands play a mix of Reggae, Ska, Rock, and Roots. I came here on a Friday at 10 PM and a Thai Rastaband was playing Reggae hits. Although the bar is situated next to loud and crazy nightclubs, the atmosphere here is more chilled but still very fun and feel-good.

Rise Rooftop Bar

Niman is home to many trendy and upmarket bars, one of which is Rise Rooftop Bar. Located right in the center of Niman, this small, relaxed bar features beautiful views of the mountains and city skyline, as well as a chic swimming pool.

Rise Bar is renowned for its mixology, classic cocktails, fine wines and good times. Drinks are generally expensive but if you come for the sunset, you can take advantage of their daily sunset cocktail hour. 

48 hours in Chiang Mai Itinerary

Whilst I was fortunate enough to spend one month here, many backpackers just pass by for a few days. Here is how to make the most of 48 hours in the city.

Day 1

Check into your accommodation, freshen up from your journey then head out to explore The Old City. Be sure to have a sarong or something to cover your knees and shoulders as you will pass many alluring temples which you will want to see close up. I find the best way to explore a city is to wander the streets at your own pace with no set itinerary. Chiang Mai city center is pretty small and it’s hard to get lost here. Take a look inside the temples and shops, and stop in a cafe or restaurant for a bite to eat or a coffee. 

Spend your first evening checking out the markets. There are markets on specific days of the week here, but one that’s always open is the night bazaar. This giant market will keep you occupied for hours. You can pick up some souvenirs and try some yummy northern Thai food from one of the many street food vendors.

Day 2

Rise early and take a songthaew to the university. Here you can take another shared taxi up to the famous Doi Suthep. Spend a leisurely morning in these tranquil surroundings or explore further by venturing to the Hmong Village in the mountains. 

Enjoy a traditional northern-style curry for lunch then make your way to Huay Kaew Waterfall. Refresh here then take the short hike up to the next waterfall Wang Bua Ban. Take your time here connecting to nature and replenishing your energy before catching a songthaew back to your hotel. 

Check out a bar in The Old City tonight. If you’re looking to party, then Zoe in Yellow is your best option. If you’d like a chilled but fun evening, proceed to the North Gate Jazz Bar for a night of live music and good vibes. 

Day 3

Spend your final morning in the trendy district of Niman. Enjoy a coffee at Ristr8to and brunch at Free Bird Cafe. Explore the boutiques and sights of this hipster neighborhood before heading to the airport or bus station to embark on your next journey.

Getting to Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is a very accessible destination as it has its own international airport. The airport is extremely close to the city, therefore, most tourists opt for this method of traveling. 

Chiang Mai International Airport (CMX) 

Although it’s an international airport, if you are traveling from outside Thailand you may have to transit in Bangkok. A flight from Bangkok takes around 1.5 hours. If you’re traveling from within Thailand, you will more likely be able to take a direct flight to Chiang Mai. Thankfully, many budget airlines fly to Chiang Mai airport so flying is a cheap and quick way to travel. 

The airport is conveniently located very close to the city center. This means traveling from the airport to your accommodation is quick and cheap. You can jump in one of the taxis waiting outside the arrivals hall, or you can take a Grab. A Grab will cost between 150 to 200 baht to The Old City or Niman depending on the time of day.

Something I found out after I had arrived, is that there is a not very well-known public airport bus that will help you reach the city center from Chiang Mai Airport, and vice versa. The fare is a tiny 20 baht. It runs from 6 am to 10:30 pm and there are bus stops all around The Old City and Niman area.

Traveling by bus or train

Most visitors coming to Chiang Mai arrive from Bangkok. An alternative and cheap way to travel from Bangkok is by train or bus however these journeys are very long. 

Buses run every hour from 5:30 am to 10 pm. The journey takes between 9 and 11 hours and there are a variety of busses available for different fares, with the VIP bus being the most comfortable, by far. Buses normally arrive at Arcade Bus Station, which is a few miles from The Old City.

Traveling by train will take even longer, up to 14 hours. Despite this, rail travel remains a popular option for budget travelers and is a nice way to enjoy the scenic Thai countryside. The fare varies depending on if you opt for the first or second class. First Class is a private, air-conditioned compartment, which definitely helps to make the long journey more comfortable and enjoyable. 

Getting around

One thing I love about the city is how easy it is to get around. The city center is small enough to get around by foot, and the cheap and constant Songthaew service offers convenient and low-cost transportation. 

How Songthaews work

Songthaews are shared taxis used throughout Thailand. Whilst in some areas of the country Songthaews operate via set routes, in Chiang Mai, Songthaew drives will take you wherever you ask for a cheap (pre-agreed price). The price is usually 30-40 baht for short trips within, or close to, the city center.

What keeps the cost low is that the driver can pick up other passengers on the way who are traveling to different destinations. Now, this means that what should be a 5-minute journey, could actually end up being a 30 minute trip around the city. This is because the driver may choose to drop off passengers to the other end of the city before taking you to your destination. Therefore if you are not in a rush, Songthaews are a great choice. On the other hand, if you need to get somewhere by a specific time, then it would be better to order a Grab.

Using Grab in Chiang Mai

Grab is an Asian based ride-hailing company that operates through an app, just like Uber. Like in most cities, Grabs are typically cheaper than private taxis. You also have the choice to book a Grab bike (scooter) if you are traveling on your own. This is even cheaper than booking a Grab car and allows you to travel quickly as you can skim through the traffic. 

Other forms of transport

There is a small and very cheap public bus service in Chiang Mai, but due to the lack of information in English, it’s mainly used by Thais. 

You can hire a scooter and travel around by yourself. Scooters cost between 100-200 baht per day and include helmets. In addition, you can hire a bicycle for a more active way to see the city.

When to visit

Chiang Mai has 3 distinct seasons: hot, rainy and cool. The ideal time to visit Chiang Mai is during the cool season. This is between November and February when the weather is the most pleasant. During this time, the climate is mainly dry, not too hot and the nights are cool. 

November to February is also the best time to visit due to the city’s festivals. In November, Loi Krathong takes place which brings in an influx of tourists, and in February, Chiang Mai holds it’s popular annual flower festival.

Hot season, also known as the burning season, starts from the end of March and lasts until late May. Temperatures rise to 40°C during this time, which can be very uncomfortable. In addition, air pollution is dangerously high, in fact, many locals and long-term residents migrate elsewhere for these months.

The wet season is between June and October when the temperature cools down but the humidity rises. It’s not actually a bad time to visit though, as monsoons are not as bad in northern Thailand as they are in the south, and it rarely rains all day. 

Typical Costs & Daily Budget

Accommodation

A bed in a shared dorm at a hostel can cost between 200-400 baht ($6-$12) per night.

A standard private room in a guesthouse or condo costs between 400-700 baht ($12-$21) per night.

A luxury hotel room will cost in the range of 1500-3000 baht ($45-$90) per night.

Food & Drink

Eating in Chiang Mai can be extremely cheap, in fact, I found Thai food to be even cheaper in the north of Thailand than in the south or on the islands. 

With a meal at a Thai restaurant averaging 40 baht, and a beer costing 50 baht in 7-eleven, if you eat mainly Thai food and drink minimal alcohol, you’ll eat for just 150-250 baht ($4-$8) a day.

If you eat lots of western food and drink alcohol every day, you will spend more in the range of 500- 1000 baht ($15-$30) a day.

Transport

Traveling by Songthaews, you will likely spend around 150-300 baht ($4-$9) per day depending on how many trips you take.

You can hire a scooter for 100-200 baht ($3-$6) per dayA full tank of gasoline typically costs 120-160 baht ($3.60-$4.90).

Taking Grab’s as your form of transport will cost the most but again it depends on the number of journeys, and if you use a car or scooter. The average daily cost would be 300-800 baht ($9-$24).

Activities and trips

Depending on what and how much you plan to do, you should budget between 400-2500 baht ($12-$75) per day for activities. 

Ways to save money

● The Old City is not big and can easily be explored on foot. Save on transport costs by walking around the city. Walking is also a great way to discover hidden gems.

● Eat at markets or in Thai restaurants and avoid western food outlets.

● Join the free yoga classes in the park and take advantage of the outdoor gym there to stay fit and healthy for zero cost.

● Choose to visit the smaller, less touristy temples as these are usually free to enter. With over 300 temples in the city, it’s not hard to avoid the touristy temples and their overcharged admission fees.

● Alcohol in bars and clubs is fairly expensive here (for Thai standards) so save money by pre-drinking with 7-eleven brought alcohol.

● Make the most of the free attractions such as the ‘Monk’s Trail’ hike to Wat Pha Lat and Huay Kaew and Wang Bua Ban Pha Ngoep waterfalls.

Staying Safe

Chiang Mai is a particularly safe city compared to other tourist hotspots, however, caution should be taken everywhere you travel to. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe. 

● At markets and other crowded public places, ensure your cash and valuables are securely stashed away and your bag is closed. 

● Ask your hotel or guesthouse for a base price for any excursion you are considering to avoid getting ripped off by tour companies.

● Remember to take your bank card from the ATM machine. ATMs in Thailand release cash first then the bank card after, opposite to most other countries. Therefore, many tourists take their cash and walk away, forgetting the card is still in the machine.

● Chiang Mai is quickly becoming one of the most polluted cities in the world, partly due to fields in the countryside being burned off. If you are visiting during the burning season, wear a mask whenever going outside. 

Chiang Mai is a must-see when visiting Thailand, and a much-loved destination amongst tourists and backpackers. The city offers something that the tropical islands and beach destinations do not, and it presents a different perspective of Thai life.

If you love nature, if mountains bewilder you, if you want to learn more about the Buddhist culture, or if you just want a taste of the authentic Thai lifestyle, you will fall in love with this majestic mountain city, just like I did!