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.
More recently, it has become the creative hotspot of Northern Thailand, attracting digital nomads with it’s eclectic cafe culture, friendly coworking spaces and variety of nightlife.
The city is alive with chaotic night markets, vibrant festivals, community initiatives, food to die for and several adventures in the nearby surroundings.
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 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.
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 accomodation, 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 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 cheap 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 meter and 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.
Similar to normal taxis, you won’t really find these cruising around the streets. Instead, they are mainly clustered in groups wearing pink vests at Chang Phueak Bus Station and Arcade Bus station.
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 150-200 baht 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 not valid in the Old City. You’ll either need to get a Thai drivers license or a temporary one for Chiang Mai.
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||1hr 15mins-12hrs||580 THB-1,150 THB ($19-$38)||Bangkok to Chiang Mai|
|Chiang Mai Airport||15mins-20mins||20 THB-150 THB ($0.70-$4.90)||Chiang Mai Airport to Chiang Mai|
|Chiang Mai Railway Station||15mins-20mins||40 THB-150 THB ($1.30-$4.90)||Chiang Mai Railway Station to Chiang Mai|
|Chiang Rai||3.5hrs-5.5hrs||220 THB-2,050 THB ($7.50-$68)||Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai|
|Luang Prabang||1.5hrs-3 days||1,500 THB-2,050 ($49.50-$68)||Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai|
|Pai||3hr-3.5hrs||200 THB-210 THB ($6.50-$7)||Pai to Chiang Mai|
|Sukhothai||4.5hrs-9.5hrs||270 THB-3,300 THB ($9-$109)||Sukhothai to Chiang Mai|
My favourite places to stay in Chiang Mai
Stamps Backpackers Hostel
Looking to stay at a fun, social and centrally located hostel? Then Stamps is definitely the place you want to be! The private cube dorms offer you all the privacy you’ve been dreaming of through your travels. Located just a short walk from the Nightmarket, Old Town and numerous other sights, this hostel is set in the perfect location. The staff are extremely outgoing and welcoming, you will feel right at home immediately.
The hostel organizes outings for almost every night of the week, including free tours through the night market, Muay Thai fights, nightclubs, cooking classes and so much more. They will assist you in booking a day with the elephants, renting a motorbike, directions or planning your onward trip. Often referred to as Thailand’s best hostel, Stamps is, without a doubt, the place you want to stay when in Chiang Mai.
Prices start at $19 per night
This charming guesthouse located in the heart of Chiang Mai is full of character with it’s Mickey Mouse theme. Within walking distance to numerous sites, the night market and shopping, it’s the perfect place to stay. The staff are extremely friendly, welcoming and helpful.
They will help you with directions and transportation to nearby sights, assist in arranging tours, and even help you plan the trip to your next destination. The hotel offers free wifi, an airport shuttle service, breakfast and there’s even a bar on site. The beds are comfortable and the rooms are clean, it’s the perfect budget-friendly guesthouse.
Private rooms start at $17 per night
Chada Mantra Hotel
Well, we can’t offer a beach but we can offer you a dip in this hotel's 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. Beautiful clean rooms with city views and very comfortable beds. The staff is well known to be extremely helpful, always going the extra mile to assist their guests in any way possible. This hotel is clean, classy and comfortable.
Rooms start at $28 per night
If you’re looking for a little more comfort and an ideal location, the Gusto House is a great option. The hotel is located just a 10-minute walk from Sunday Walking Street Bazaar and Wat Pra Singha temple. If you’re interested in exploring Old Town and temples, this a perfect place to stay.
The staff is more than happy to go out of their to assist you with all your special requests. The rooms are extremely clean, the beds are very comfortable and a wonderful breakfast is included daily.
Rooms start at $40 per night