Thailand: Chiang Mai Travel Guide
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In 2016, Thailand ranked ninth in the top ten most visited countries in the world, with more than 32 million international tourists. A huge percent of the tourist influx comes to Chiang Mai, one of the country’s largest cities, which ranked third in the Travel + Leisure magazine’s World’s Top 15 Cities in 2017.
About Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is the giant looming Northern Thailand. It is the capital of one of the country’s historical kingdoms that ran for solid give centuries. It remains to be one of the most culturally and historically significant cities in the country at present.
Home to several stupas, shopping streets, beautiful landscapes, and historical destinations, Chiang Mai City, and the province of the same name where it is a capital of, is a must-see.
How to get to Chiang Mai from Manila
Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Philippine Airlines are just some of the airlines that offer connecting flights from Manila (MNL) to Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX). The shortest route is via Bangkok. As of now, there are no direct flights from Manila to the Chiang Mai Thailand.
Getting Around Chiang Mai
There are many ways of getting around Chiang Mai. Here are some of the modes of transportation that are available in the city:
- If you want to 1) immerse in the local culture; 2) get a full view of the city streets; and 3) save loads of cash, ride a songthaew. This is the Thai counterpart of the jeeps in the Philippines. Sometimes, tourists who travel in huge groups can negotiate with the driver so the songthaew can function like a private taxi. You can get to almost all tourist destinations for as low as 20 Thai Baht—and that’s around Php 32 only.
- Tuk-tuk. Another common and absolutely must-try way of getting around is the tuk-tuk. This one looks just like the Philippine tricycle (and works like a tricycle too). This public vehicle has a smaller passenger capacity than the songthaew, and fares range from THB 60 for short trips (Php 95.25) and to THB 150 (Php 238) for longer rides.
- If you want to tour around the city with the ultimate experience, ride a samlor. Samlors are rickshaws… imagine how fun it would be to go sightseeing in that.
- Motorcycle taxi. You read that right. Here in Chiang Mai (and most of Thailand), you can rent a motorcycle and have a driver take you to whichever part of the city you desire. Fare starts at THB 50 (Php 79).
- Compared to neighboring Asian countries, buses are not a common mode of transportation for getting around, although it is the most preferred vehicle when transferring to and from CNX. Fare is THB 40 (Php 63.50).
- If all other transportation is not available (which is highly unlikely), use a taxi.
Chiang Mai Bus Stations
Chiang Mai has two official bus stations, consisting of 3 terminals:
- Arcade Bus Station (Bus Terminals 2 and 3, Tel. +66 53 242664) — At the far end of Kaeo Narawat Rd just before it meets the superhighway. Buses from and to destinations outside Chiang Mai Province use this station. It effectively has two terminals, separated by a tuk-tuk stand and a road.
- Terminal 3 is the larger of the two. It has an Internet cafe, small food vendors, ATMs, the ticket windows for Green Bus (cannot book online, but the schedules are), which serves Chiang Mai province and the rest of Thailand with more comfortable but more expensive seats that the local buses (at
- Chang Puak Bus Station, see below), and numerous other ticket sellers. Buses for Bangkok, Phitsanulok, Ubon, Korat, Nan, Luang Prabang, Mae Sot depart from here.
- Terminal 2 has a tourist police office, ATMs, food vendors, and many ticket sellers, including the booking office for government buses. Buses depart from here for Bangkok, Phitsanulok, Udon. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to what buses go to which destination from which terminal. There is a good deal of overlap.
- Chang Puak Bus Station (Bus Terminal 1, Tel. +66 53 211586) — Off Chang Phuak Rd, on the north side of the moat, about 1 km north of Chang Puak Gate. This station handles local bus service within Chiang Mai Province including Mae Rim, Chiang Dao, Fang, Tha Ton, Phrao, Hot, Chom Thong, Doi Tao, and Samoeng.
- see travel mobile applications that also provide timetables, maps, tickets, landmarks or visit Tourism of Thailand (TAT) webpages. Source: Wikitravel
Best time to visit Chiang Mai
If you want an ideal vacation in Chiang Mai with sunny or cloudy days, plan a trip from October to April. During this time, the weather is pleasant and the city is festive everywhere. On the other hand, avoid June to early October if you do not like the rain. If you want to chance upon the summer heat, come on March to May.
Best Places to Stay in Chiang Mai
HOSTEL by BED
Location: 54/2, 54/4 Singharat Road | Si Phum Subdistrict, Chiang Mai 50200
Cheapest Price: Php 580 via Agoda.com
There is an abundance of hostels in Chiang Mai, and they are arguably the more popular accommodation option compared to hotels. HOSTEL by BED has spacious rooms, a friendly staff, and clean bathrooms. It’s like living in a huge student dormitory that feels like a hotel but for the price of a hostel.
Arch39 Art & Craft Hotel
Location: 21 Maneenopparat Soi 2 Road | Sriphum Subdistrict, Chiang Mai 50200
Best Price: Php 362 via Agoda.com
Although it has the word “hotel” in its name, Arch39 offers rooms for as low as Php 362. If you are a solo traveler, it is highly recommended to get a room here. Aside from the cheap rate, it is wide enough for one person, and it is located at an ample distance from downtown.
Raminglodge Hotel & Spa
Location: 17-19 Loikroh Rd., Changklan District Muang, Chiang Mai 50100
Lowest Price: Php 2,748 via Agoda.com
All the rooms of Raming Lodge Hotel & Spa are fabulous—in fact, the entire hotel is designed to look traditional. Each room is equipped with WiFi, 32-inch LCD television, complete toiletries, and bathrobes, to name some. What’s so great about this hotel too is that it’s located near tourist hotspots like Night Bazaar.
Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai
Location: 89/8 Chang Klan Road, Chiang Mai 50100
Price: Php 10,048 via Agoda.com
Like all Shangri-La hotels in the world, the branch in Chiang Mai attracts people with its award-winning hotel services, elegant rooms, and strategic location. If your Chiang Mai itinerary is jam-packed, retiring in a Shangri-La hotel room will instantly make you feel like a king.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai
- David’s Kitchen – If you want to have a taste of Thai’s best fine dining restaurant, visit David’s Kitchen. This restaurant is most especially known for its French dishes. The ambiance here is the best, too, so if you are having trouble finding a good place to have a romantic dinner date, look no more.
- Tikky Café – Tikky Café is extremely popular with both locals and foreign tourists. They have a very affordable menu, and they are vegetarian-friendly. They serve the best Thai dishes here, especially those that originate from the Indian subcontinent, like yellow curry and tikka.
- Sababa Israeli Restaurant – Falafel is a famous traditional Middle Eastern food that is like the Asian counterpart of doughnuts…except that they are made from fava beans and chickpeas. This is one of the most ordered food here at Sababa Israeli Restaurant…and is a definite must-try.
Internet Access in Chiang Mai
Most hotels and cafés offer wireless Internet connection, but in the cases, you need to surf the net while on the go, you can purchase a SIM card easily from the nearest 7 Eleven. If you are a tourist and mainly need data, the best SIM to buy is a Prepay Data Plan SIM card.
If you can, I highly recommend you get Smart Travel WiFi before leaving the Philippines, though. It saves you the hassle of looking for a store to get a SIM card in Thailand, plus the hassle of following the instructions, which are usually written in the local language. Smart Travel WiFi costs as low Php 390 and is available at high speeds in many international destinations, including Thailand.
Best Things to do in Chiang Mai
- Visit stupas – Many pilgrims visit Chiang Mai. There are many centuries-old stupas like 13th century Wat Chiang Man, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Srisuphan and Wat Phra Singh. Many are located near Chiang Mai Old City.
- Haggle in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar – This is every tourist’s shopping paradise. Handicrafts, clothes, food, and hundreds of souvenirs are being sold here. The street is approximately 1 Km long, and your wallet can last long if you step up your haggling game, especially in shops!
- Go bird watching in Doi Inthanon – Inthanon National Park the highest point in the whole of Thailand, at 2,565 meters at the summit. This is the perfect place to go if you are a nature lover, or if you simply want to hit the legs and challenge yourself for some hiking. Visit the Suriphum Waterfall here, too.
- Learn local culture at Lanna Folklife Museum – There is no better way to learn the local culture than by visiting the local museums. Lanna Folklife Museum showcases artifacts and information on the Thai Lan Na Kingdom, which ran from the 13th to the 18th
- Take an “I did it!” selfie by Bua Thong Waterfalls – Nature lovers, don’t miss Bua Thong Waterfalls. It is sometimes called Bua Tong “sticky” Waterfalls because the limestone deposits by the falls make the rocks climbable and “sticky”, even without climbing gear. It is still very challenging to get here, so once you do, make sure to take a success selfie.
Best Places to Shop in Chiang Mai
- Bo Sang Handicraft Village – This Village, which is a bit far from central Chiang Mai, is often visited because of the handicrafts. The locals who have shops here are always more than happy to show you how they make crafts like paper lamps, fans, and umbrellas… which make the perfect souvenirs.
- Wualai Walking Street – If you can visit the Saturday night market Wualai Walking Street. Not only do people sell the best (and most affordable) authentic Thai silverware, you can also get the tastiest snacks here.
- The best place to visit Chiang Mai, as we mentioned above, is from October to April. But watch out: this is peak season. That means you have to book hotel or hostel rooms months ahead.
- Respect dress codes, especially when visiting stupas. Women, cover your shoulders and legs.
- Thai street food is the best alternative to restaurants, especially if you are a foodie like me. If you are a Filipino, you will easily feel nostalgic and fall in love with Thai street food, which are mostly grilled and fried, just like ours! (Bonus: try the grilled cricket.)
- Time your visit during local festivals, like the Sky Lantern Festival and Loy Krathong Festival. The city gets twice as vibrant and lovely.