Is Chiang Mai worth visiting?
Chiang Mai is an intriguing fusion of new and old, making it an incredible place to explore.
On one hand, it is a city that is flooded with culture and history, told through its hundreds of temples, striking Old City and delicious local dishes. On the other hand, the city has become the creative hotspot of Northern Thailand. Attracting digital nomads with it’s eclectic cafe culture, friendly coworking spaces and variety of nightlife.
Chiang Mai is alive with chaotic night markets, vibrant festivals, community initiatives, food to die for and several adventures in the nearby surroundings.
How long to stay in Chiang Mai?
You can probably already tell that Chiang Mai has a lot to offer, which is what entices lots of people to stay for months on end.
If you’re on a 3-4 week trip to Thailand we recommend giving Chiang Mai about 3 days of your time, but for those in Thailand for longer, maybe don’t put a timeframe on your stay?
Or better yet, time your stay to coincide with one of Thailand’s many festivals, as the Chiang Mai locals know how to celebrate a festival! In November, the sky comes alive with glittering lanterns as part of Loy Krathong festival.
If you’re in Chiang Mai on 13th April, prepare to get seriously wet! The famous festival of Songkran sees the streets flooded with locals and tourists armed with water guns celebrating a splashing start to the Thai new year.
Also read: Top 16 Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
Unlike Bangkok’s large number of areas to stay in, choosing where to base yourself in Chiang Mai is relatively easy. You can count the main places to stay on one hand, pretty easy right?
To simplify it even further for you, (who doesn’t like easy travelling) here’s the low down on each of the 4 places:
Location #1: Old City – at the centre of it all
If it’s your first time visiting Chiang Mai, the Old City surrounded by its history-ridden 700 year old walls and stunning moat, is a good place to start.
The Old City is where Chiang Mai first began, and still is the hub of activity, offering temples, markets, delicious food and history right on your doorstep. You’ll be able to spend less time travelling between sites and instead more time relishing in their awe-inspiring beauty, simply by walking around the Old City.
Staying in the middle of it all, you’d probably expect to pay higher prices for restaurants and accommodation, but thankfully this isn’t the case. There is a wide selection of cheap guesthouses but also some more up-market choices if that’s more your style.
Location #2: Nimman – the Mecca for digital nomads and coffee lovers
The city’s university is based in Nimmanhemin (also known as Nimman), which has created a young and lively atmosphere that has inevitably attracted digital nomads to the area.
And where do you find digital nomads? In coffee shops of course! Nimmanhemin has adopted the cafe culture excellently, filling it’s streets with modern and trendy places to grab a coffee or a bite to eat.
Chiang Mai has become one of the most popular digital nomad hubs in the world thanks to the cheap cost of living, stable internet and high number of coworking spaces.
When the sun begins to set, there are also plenty of places to swap that coffee for a cocktail all whilst being surrounded by sophisticated and fashionable decor.
Nimmanhemin has some of the coolest collections of accommodation, mainly in newly-built, vibrant buildings – a big contrast to the choices in the Old City.
Location #3: Riverside – a peaceful escape from the busy city centre
Rivers normally offer a sense of tranquility and peace. Staying beside the Ping river definitely offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.
It’s only a 10-minute drive to the Old City, but the calm, laid-back vibe of the area is perfect for families or travellers just looking to relax. Not being too far from the centre, this area still encapsulates an authentic charm that you can’t help but fall in love with.
With most accommodations boasting a riverside view from your window, some of the nicest and more expensive hotels are situated here. Don’t worry though, if you’re on a budget you’ll still be able to find some cheap but lovely stays.
Location #4: Night Bazaar – a bustling hive of activity and nightlife
When we think of a Bazaar, a flurry of shopping madness and stalls galore fill our minds and that’s exactly what the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is like.
If you love shopping, you’re as close as you can be to the city’s largest Night Market that runs daily, offering handicrafts, clothes, jewellery and much more.
Another level of energy is added by the backpackers that tend to flock to this area, drawn by the lively nightlife and low prices. Think more friendly beer bars than sophisticated cocktail establishments like in Nimmanhemin.
The Night Bazaar area offers everything from cheap guesthouses to well-known, luxury hotel chains. Its convenient location (10-min walk to the Old City) also makes this area a popular alternative to the Old City.
How to get around Chiang Mai
The Old City is best explored by foot, allowing you to really soak up the atmosphere. It’s small size also means you can walk from one side of the city to the other in just 30 minutes.
If you decide to hire a motorbike, it’s probably best to leave it parked outside the Old City as it can get rather confusing to get inside! Outside the walls there are two rings, both running in different directions that can make travelling by motorbike a real hassle.
Top Tip: The journey time on Google Maps is normally always shorter than real life due to traffic. For example Nimman to the Old City will probably take up to 30 minutes.
Songthaew (Red Truck)
Songthaews (converted trucks) are the most popular form of transport in Chiang Mai, meaning that you’ll be able to find one roaming the street pretty much anywhere.
Most of them essentially work as a shared taxi, you just hail one from the street and tell them where you would like to go. If it’s going in the direction you want, ask the price and hop on. The fare is by person and you can get almost anywhere in the city for 30 baht.
PRO TIP: You can even request private songthaews through Grab, which will usually cost around 150 baht or less, for a one-way ride in the city.
Unusually, you won’t see many taxis driving around. They tend to wait at the airport, railway stations, bus stations and malls so most people just stick to Songthaews.
However, if you’re staying further away from the Old City, in Nimman for example, taxis will be more readily available and are very easy to order with the taxi app Grab.
The taxis are by the metreand cost around 100 to 200 baht per ride in the city.
If you’ve been in a tuk-tuk before you’ll know they’re speedy little things but not the most comfortable. They’re also more expensive than a songthaew with rates starting at 60 baht for a short trip and 100 to 150 for longer ones.
If you are looking for one, the easiest option is again to order one with Grab.
Fares tend to start from 50 baht, making them slightly cheaper than tuk-tuk and taxis, but arguably not as safe.
In 2018, Chiang Mai unleashed the City Smart Bus which covers a continuous route around the city, stopping at places like the airport, Nimmanhaemin Road, Wat Gate, Night Bazaar and a load more.
The dark blue buses run from 6 am to 11 pm every day, coming in intervals no longer than 20 minutes and any trip costs only 20 baht!
Your cheapest and most convenient option is to hire a motorbike whilst in Chiang Mai, giving you the freedom to explore the city whenever you want.
You can rent a motorbike for around 150 THB ($4.20) – 200 THB ($5.50) per day. We recommend renting a bike from Bamboo Bikes Chiang Mai, who offer high-quality bikes for good prices.
A motorbike is also the perfect choice if you’re planning on riding to Pai, a famous route amongst backpackers.
Top Tip: International drivers licenses are only valid in Chiang Mai if you have a motor licence. A standard driving licence only allows you to ride a bike of max 50CC and the rental bike only start from 100CC. The police organises almost weekly checkups for this just outside of the Old City walls. The fine will cost around 500 THB ($14.00).
If you’re only visiting for a few days, it’s not worth the effort. The fine is 200 baht and as long as you keep the fine receipt, you have permission to drive around for 3 days (still not a bad deal!).
The police normally only check around the Old City walls so be vigilant around this area to avoid getting caught.
How to get to Chiang Mai
|Leaving from||Duration||Prices from||See details|
|Bangkok||1-14.5 hours||from 530 THB ($14.50)||Bangkok to Chiang Mai|
|Chiang Mai Airport||15-20 minutes||from 20 THB ($0.50)||Chiang Mai Airport to Chiang Mai|
|Chiang Mai Railway Station||15-20 minutes||from 40 THB ($1.10)||Chiang Mai Railway Station to Chiang Mai|
|Chiang Rai||3hrs 10m-5.5 hours||from 220 THB ($6.00)||Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai|
|Luang Prabang||1.5 hours-3 days||from 1,500 THB ($42.00)||Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai|
|Pai||3-3.5 hours||from 100 THB ($2.80)||Pai to Chiang Mai|
|Sukhothai||4.5-14 hours||from 350 THB ($9.50)||Sukhothai to Chiang Mai|
Rimping Village - Treating Yourself
Chiang Mai can be tiring exploring all of the temples and going on day trips, so there’s nothing better than coming back to a luxurious and beautiful hotel. Rimping Village feels like a mini resort nestled in the middle of Chiang Mai.
The exceptional breakfast served in the gardens each morning is likely to be one of the highlights of your trip. What a way to start the day! Then go for a dip in their beautiful outdoor swimming pool or head back to your spacious room.
- Stunning swimming pool
- Luxurious rooms and design
- Beautiful garden
- Exceptional free breakfast
Private rooms start from $88 per night.
POR Daowadung - Mid Range
Everything about POR Daowadung feels like a top-quality luxury hotel. Whether it’s the ultra-modern but comfortable designs of the rooms or the outdoor swimming pool and sunloungers actually in the pool!
The hotel is in a great location, every room has its own balcony and a delicious breakfast is included every morning. Can you ask for much more from an accommodation?
- Great value for money
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Beautiful design
- Delicious free breakfast
Private rooms start from $44 per night.
Chada Mantra Hotel - Budget Friendly
The star of the show at Chada Mantra Hotel has to be its outdoor swimming pool, which is extremely refreshing after a day spent exploring the city. Located within Chiang Mai Old City, just 700m from the Pae gate, this hotel is perfectly located.
The hotel offers free breakfast, wifi in all rooms and common areas, as well as an onsite bar. Here you’ll find beautiful clean rooms with city views and very comfortable beds. The staff are well known to be extremely helpful, always going the extra mile to assist their guests in any way possible.
- Beautiful swimming pool
- Perfect location
- Comfortable beds
- Free breakfast
Private rooms start at $28 per night
Asa Hotel - Budget Friendly
It’s hard to believe that Asa Hotel is a budget-friendly accommodation, but a night here will cost you less than $30 for two people. The hotel is ultra-modern with a beautiful outdoor swimming pool and sun loungers for you to enjoy.
The staff are incredibly friendly and will help you with anything. The hotel also offers free coffee, tea and water in glass bottles to reduce the use of plastic. Here you’re a 15-minute walk from the Old Town.
- Outdoor swimming pool
- Great staff
- Free coffee, tea and water
Private rooms start from $27 per night.
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.
Based in Bali, Maarten’s passion for travel is undeniable. In 2016, he decided to quit his job as a stock analyst and started doing what he always dreamed of: travelling through South East Asia and helping other people plan their trips. When he is not working on Gecko Routes, you’ll find him surfing in the ocean or exploring the best gems of Indonesia.