Like Bangkok, Chiang Mai is one of the most visited cities in Northern Thailand. What was once the old capital of Thailand is now the cultural center of Thailand—so expect a lot of temples and ruins scattered throughout the area.
Fortunately, Chiang Mai is but a train ride away from Bangkok, and what you’ll find here is unlike any other place in the Asia.
Below, we put together a complete guide for you to get started.
- Where to Stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Where to Eat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- What to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- Enter through Tha Phae Gate
- Pray at Wat Phra
- Visit the Long Neck Karen Tribe
- Hit Up a Sports Bar
- Watch a Cabaret Show
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Where to Stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Since Chiang Mai is so dynamic, each area has its own unique personality. Before you book the most popular hotel chain, consider the kind of vibe and activities you’re up for.
Baan Hanibah is located in Chiang Mai’s Old City quarter, right in the heart of town. The area is filled with 700-year-old fortresses and ancient temples, making it the ideal location for some historical sightseeing.
Plus, it’s a five-minute walk away from Tha Phae Gate, the epicentre of tourism in Chiang Mai, so it boasts more bars, restaurants, and cafes than anywhere else in the city.
Just west of Old City is the more modern district of this otherwise historical place. Since the local university is located in the area, expect a young and lively atmosphere with a lot of cheap diners, shops, and exciting nightlife establishments. Sanae’ Hotel is a 10-minute walk away from said university, which means it’s also close by to all the festivities.
Rimping Village Hotel
If you prefer a slice of tranquillity, then Chiang Mai’s Riverside might be for you. Rimping Village is located in Wat Kat, or what used to be the trading area of Chiang Mai along the Mae Ping River.
The main drawing point of this hotel is its excellent staff, beautiful hotel groups, and the nearby night bazaars scattered around the area.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
While Thai cuisine is heavily influenced by neighbouring countries such as Burma, Laos, and China, local food in Chiang Mai has its own distinct identity. Here are some of the best places to try their specialities.
Huen Phen Restaurant
Every trip to Northern Thailand should begin with a bowl of khao soi, a soft egg noodle dish that’s drenched in a curry-like sauce. This local dish is so popular that you can find it everywhere, but not all bowls are the same. In fact, many restaurants cook it with their own combination of ingredients and consistency.
Food blogger Luke Charny recommends Huen Phen Restaurant, which makes their khao soi (and other dishes) in a homemade style using old family recipes. At 40 years old, the restaurant is one of the most established ones in town— and for good reason.
If you’re looking for something healthy and not too oily, then a plate of thai suki should suit your palette.
Suki Koko is an evening food stall, also located in the outskirts of Old City, which serves up a variety of thai suki to cater to every type of foodie. From pork and stir fry to napa cabbages and mixed seafood, you’re bound to find your favourite.
If you’re the type who orders food to-go, then you’ll be happy to know that SP Chicken allows entire chickens to be bought for takeaway.
This establishment, located in Old City near Wat Phra Singh, roasts their food on vertical spits with the heat source coming from the side (instead of the bottom). This technique prevents the oil from dripping down to the coals, which is what causes some chickens to taste “burnt.” That way, every order is bursting with full flavour.
What to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Of course, food isn’t the only thing great about Chiang Mai. Here are some of the other activities you can do while you’re in the area.
Enter through Tha Phae Gate
As mentioned, Tha Phae Gate is the reason why a lot of tourists visit Chiang Mai in the first place. This landmark is the east entrance to Old City and used to be the only way monks, traders, and diplomats could enter Chiang Mai. Most walls that connect Tha Phae Gate have decayed, but that adds to its historical appeal.
Pray at Wat Phra
Resembling a golden star at the summit of the Doi Suthep mountain lies the ancient temple of Wat Phra. This place is one of the most spiritually significant places in Thailand, being a pilgrimage destination for Buddhist locals for almost 700 years. You can even take a couple of meditation classes yourself.
Visit the Long Neck Karen Tribe
The Karen are a tribal group who are initially from Myanmar but fled to Thailand during times of political unrest. Today, they live in small villages just outside of Chiang Mai, and are more than happy to share their unique culture with visitors.
However, it goes without saying that these people aren’t paintings in a museum for you to enjoy. Remember to observe proper respect and etiquette when interacting with such tribes.
Hit Up a Sports Bar
The heart of Thailand’s nightlife is usually thought to be Bangkok, but there’s an equally bustling scene in Chiang Mai—and it’s partly due to the growing popularity of sports bars.
A guide on tips to bet in Thailand shares how betting can make your experience more exciting, even if you’re not the biggest sports fan. Locals, however, can normally be found cheering and betting on their favourite teams during games, so it’s good to immerse yourself in this Thai past time.
The UN Irish Pub is one of the go-tos in Chiang Mai where you can bask in the wild energy over a few beers.
Watch a Cabaret Show
Like Bangkok and the rest of Thailand, Chiang Mai is also known for its “ladyboy” performances. If you’re in the mood for some glitz and glamour, the Anusarn Night Market hosts plenty of these events on a nightly basis.
While the market may be huge, these performers are an instant standout among stalls of souvenirs—donning feathers, ball gowns, and glittering costumes that are a sight to see.
As you can see, Chiang Mai is a melting pot of culture. It’s easy to overlook the city in favour for Bangkok, but don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind gem. There’s something for every kind of traveller here in Chiang Mai, so you can be sure to leave with memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime.