Chiang Mai: a complete guide

Sander & MariskaIn the mountainous north is Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city. Despite its size, Chiang Mai feels more like a friendly village than a large city. The walled, historical center feels small and familiar and is full of lovely shops, temples, and outstanding restaurants. 70% of the province, of the same name, is mountainous and covered by jungle, which means that you can be surrounded by nature or at the foot of a waterfall in no time at all.

We adore Chiang Mai and understand very well why many expats have made it their home. The kindness of its people and the cool climate act like a magnet. Add to that the vibrant nightlife and the fact that living there is cheap and it’s not very hard to understand that Chiang Mai is just amazing!
– Sander & Mariska

Sights in Chiang Mai

In Chiang Mai you don’t have to worry about running out of things to do. Fun activities are all around. Schedule to stay in Chiang Mai for three days, but don’t be surprised if you end up staying for a week. Chiang Mai is addictive; you’ll keep going back there.

Stairs to Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s main temple, built halfway up the mountain of the same name and with a view of all of Chiang Mai. The road leading up to it is spectacular.

Washing the elephants at Elephant Nature Park

Taking care of abused and neglected elephants in an animal friendly way. You can’t ride them, but give them as much love as possible.

3. Sunday Walking Street

Sunday Walking Street in Chiang Mai

Evening market in the center of Chiang Mai (Ratchadamnoen Road), with street food and the nicest souvenirs in all of Thailand.

Zipline in Chiang Mai

Float through the jungle like Tarzan and Jane. Not just for the adrenaline rush, but above all, for the stunning natural surroundings.

Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai

In the middle of the city center you’ll find Wat Chedi Luang. It’s centuries old and has endured multiple earthquakes, causing the partial crumbling of the stone walls.

Cooking Class in Chiang Mai

Go to the market, buy all your ingredients and then make the best Thai classics ever. You be the judge and taste the dishes you prepared yourself.

7. Jungle Trekking

Trekking in Chiang Mai

Join one of the multi-day treks through the Chiang Mai’s jungle. Small groups and authentic tours, without hordes of tourists. Good fitness level required!

Ladyboy Cabaret in Chiang Mai

Every night the Anusarn Night Market proudly hosts a playback show that’s completely over the top (but a lot of fun). A hilarious night out!

Bua Thong Waterfalls, Sticky Spiderman Falls near Chiang Mai

Better known as the Sticky Waterfalls. You can climb these unique waterfalls, in the middle of nature, like Spiderman.

10. Chiang Mai Canyon

Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai

An abandoned mine flooded with water. These days it’s known as a spectacular cliff jumping location. Enter at your own risk.

11. Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai

Visit the highest point in Thailand, nearly 100 kilometers outside of Chiang Mai. With its 2,565 meters it’s the highest mountaintop in Thailand.

Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution

Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution is the best place in Chiang Mai to go for a massage. The massages are given by female ex-convicts, offering them a chance to reintegrate into society.

13. Warorot Market

Warorot Market in Chiang Mai

Great local market in Chiang where you can buy literally everything. And best of all: it’s dirt cheap!

Cycling in Chiang Mai

Ride a bike through the outskirts of Chiang Mai, along the river Ping, next to the rice fields and visit a local school.

Freedom Yoga in Chiang Mai

Whether you’re in Chiang Mai for a day, a week or several months, try a yoga class at Freedom Yoga. Small-scale and very relaxing!

3D Art Museum in Chiang Mai

The perfect outing for when the weather’s bad and especially for children. A museum full of fun, funny and exciting paintings that fool the eye.

17. Huay Tung Tao Lake

Huay Tung Tao Lake in Chiang Mai

This where the locals spend the weekend relaxing: having dinner and drinks with friends and family in a straw hut, swimming in the lake and enjoying the peace and quiet.

Hotels in Chiang Mai

Even though Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city, it feels surprisingly small and familiar. The downtown area is especially quiet by Thai standards; you can safely go for a bike ride and explore the neighborhood. Hostels, guesthouses, hotels, and resorts here are really cheap. The price-quality ratio is as good as it gets. Because of the abundance of choice, we made a list of 10 of the best hotels in Chiang Mai. We hope it’ll be useful for you!

Swiss-Lanna Lodge

1. Swiss-Lanna Lodge

Authentic Nice atmosphere Friendly staff

$ – The very kind owners turned this traditional house, made out of Teak wood, into a snug guesthouse with beautiful rooms, complete with a balcony, jacuzzi, general seating area and much, much more. And it’s affordable as well!

Rimping Village

2. Rimping Village

Great location Free bikes provided Family friendly

$$$ – Rimping Village is ideal for families or couples. It’s in a quiet location, just outside the center and within walking distance from both the Ping River and the Night Bazaar. Furthermore, it has a swimming pool, a tour desk, 24-hour reception and comes fully equipped with all modern conveniences!

Lamphu House Chiang Mai

3. Lamphu House Chiang Mai

Central location Affordable luxury Swimming pool

$$ – Strategically located in front of the Wat Chedi Luang, Lamphu House’s spacious rooms are equipped with air conditioning, a balcony, a tv and a nice shower. The highlight, however, has got to be the fantastic swimming pool!


4. Awanahouse

Nice street Family friendly Amazing atmosphere

$ – Awanahouse has been among Chiang Mai’s best budget hotels for years. Families are also very welcome; the staff is very friendly while the rooms are colorful and clean. It’s got a roof terrace and a small swimming pool on the ground floor.

Liam’s Suan Dok Mai

5. Liam’s Suan Dok Mai

Very hospitable Small-scale Family friendly

$$ – A fantastic guesthouse just outside of Chiang Mai, quite obviously run with love and commitment. Belgian hostess Daphne will do anything to make your stay as pleasant as possible. Families with children are more than welcome!

Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort

6. Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort

Very hospitable Small-scale Family friendly

$$$ – Rabeang Pasak is a family-run treehouse resort. Yup, you’ve read that right: treehouse! Here you’ll stay high up in the sky, surrounded by jungle and natures sounds. The surrounding area is quiet and has incredible views. We especially like the “Tamarind cottage treehouse”, the highest treehouse of the resort. A childhood dream come true!

You can book your stay at Rabeang Pasak via Airbnb. Not yet a member of Airbnb? Then click here for $ 38 off your first booking!

Rustic River Boutique

7. Rustic River Boutique

By the river Great staff Tidy rooms

$$ – Rustic River Boutique’s authentic and tastefully decorated hotel rooms are surprisingly spacious. It’s small-scale and the staff is very kind. It’s located near the river and within walking distance from the center.

Doi Doo Dao Home Hostel

8. Doi Doo Dao Home Hostel

Best hostel in Chiang Mai So much fun Meet other travelers

$ – For many travelers, staying at Doi Doo Dao is the highlight of their trip. This hostel/home stay, with its cozy interior, is run by Laa – the awesome owner who also arranges day trips and is happy to teach you about Thai culture. Moreover, the location is amazing and it’s a great place to meet other travelers.

The Grand Napat

9. The Grand Napat

Beautiful apartments Fitness area Family suites

$$ – Just outside the city center is The Grand Napat Hotel, sporting comfortable rooms, a gym, and a beautiful swimming pool. The service is excellent and there’s a free shuttle service to the Night Bazaar and to and from Chiang Mai Airport. Breakfast is also included.

S.K.House 2

10. S.K.House 2

Perfect location Feels like home Swimming pool

$ – S.K. House 2 is a more than adequate budget hotel. Sure, the beds might be a bit hard and the bathroom smells slightly musty, but the location is great, the rooms are spacious, the staff is friendly and there’s a swimming pool as well. Not bad for a little over $ 10 per night!

Restaurants in Chiang Mai

There are a huge number of nice and hip restaurants, lunch cafés and breakfast bars in Chiang Mai. There’s a restaurant we recommend on pretty much every street corner. Here food doesn’t only have to taste good, it is also healthy and can be eaten responsibly. If you’re planning on filling your days by going out to dinner, then Chiang Mai is the place for you! These are our 12 favorite places to eat, in alphabetical order.

1. Angel’s Secret

27 MoonMuang Road Soi 5
Our number one breakfast spot in Chiang Mai. Super cute and small-scale restaurant where you can have a gorgeous breakfast or lunch. Order the fruit yogurt for breakfast!

2. AUM Vegetarian Food

Suriwong Road, Soi Suriyawong
Super healthy food, shakes and other tasty items. Downstairs you can sit at a table and upstairs you can lay stretched on the pillows.

3. Blue Diamond – The Breakfast Club

35/1 MoonMuang Road Soi 9
Another place to have some excellent Thai food. Within ten minutes Pad See Ew and stir-fried vegetables will be served on steaming plates. Also a great place to have breakfast!

4. Cooking Love

18/7 Rachadamnoen Road Soi 1
Mango curry, garlic shrimp and even the fried rice are delicious here. Great place to go out for dinner!

5. Farm Story House

7 Ratchadamnoen Road Soi 5
At the small-scale Farm Story House everything is served with care and attention. Occasionally you’ll have to wait a little longer for your food, but it’s worth it. Just relax!

6. Girasole

71 Rachadamnoen
In between all of the Thai food, sometimes you also long for a good pizza. Chiang Mai has a lot of good Italian restaurants: Girasole is definitely one of them.

7. Kanjana

7/2 Ratchadamnoen Road Soi 5
You’ll find Kanjana in one of the small side streets in Chiang Mai’s Old Town. No frills, just great tasting Thai food served quickly. The curries are delicious.

8. Ploen Ruedee Night Market

Chang Klan Road, Amphoe Muang Chiang Mai
A really fun night market with live music and loads of tasty international street food. Especially nice if you want a break from Thai food.

9. Riverside Bar & Restaurant

9-11 Charoenrat Road
Go to the Riverside Bar & Restaurant for a nice atmosphere, the good food and the live music. A fantastic night out.

10. SS1254372 Cafe & Gallery

22/1 Soi Nimmana Haeminda 17 Chiang Mai
Cool little café with arty atmosphere. They serve the best eggs benedict, french toast, veggie tortilla’s and coffee. Perfect for breakfast or lunch!

11. The Hideout

95/10 Soi Sithiwongse
This is where you go for a nice cup of coffee and a good sandwich. One of the best places in Chiang Mai to have lunch.

12. The Larder Cafe and Bar

333/9 Sukkasem rd. Chiangmai
One of the few places in Nimman where you can’t only get a decent cup of coffee, but also a smashing breakfast or lunch with fresh bread, fruit and yoghurt.

Transport in Chiang Mai

From Bangkok

Domestic flight

  • Travel time: 1 hour
  • Cost: ฿ 1,000-2,000 pp

The fastest and most comfortable way to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is by airplane. Flying to the north of Thailand shouldn’t cost more than 2,000 baht. Do keep in mind that Bangkok has two airports that operate flights to Chiang Mai. Suvarnabhumi Airport, where international flights arrive, and the smaller Don Mueang Airport. You’ll be there in the blink of an eye!

Sleeper train

  • Travel time: 13 hours
  • Cost: ฿ 1,000-1,750 pp

The sleeper trains leave from Hua Lamphong Train Station in Bangkok. There are three evening trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: one leaves at 6:10 PM, another one at 7:35 PM and the last train leaves at 10:00 PM. We advise reserving tickets online as it’s a popular route.

Update: since 2017 a brand new sleeper night train operates between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. This new train only leaves at 6:10 PM. Booking in advance is highly recommended.

Overnight bus

  • Travel time: 10 hours
  • Cost: ฿ 700 pp

These days, more and more tourists travel by overnight bus. It’s also the cheapest option out of the three. It has reclining chairs, on board wifi, a stopover in Phitsanulok and a free shuttle service to your hotel in Chiang Mai. The bus leaves at 6:00 PM from Khao San Road and the next day you’ll be in the north of Thailand.

From other destinations

Bus Train Airplane
Ayutthaya ฿ 1,000 – 10 hours – 5 per day
Chiang Dao ฿ 40 – 2 hours – 6 per day
Chiang Rai ฿ 200 – 3/4 hours – every hour
Hat Yai ฿ 1,400 – 2 hours – every day
Koh Samui ฿ 5,000 – 2 hours – every day
Krabi ฿ 1,250 – 2 hours – every day
Lamphun ฿ 40 – 1 hours – every hour
Mae Hong Son ฿ 250 – 6 hours – 6 per day ฿ 1,500 – 35 min – every day
Mae Sai ฿ 500 – 6 hours – 3 per day
Phitsanoluk ฿ 300 – 5 hours – 6 per day ฿ 400 – 7 hours – 3 per day
Phuket ฿ 1,750 – 2 hours – every day
Sukhothai ฿ 300 – 5 hours – 6 per day
Surat Thani ฿ 1,500 – 2 hours – every day
Trang ฿ 2,500 – 2 hours – every day
Trat ฿ 4,000 – 4 hours – every day
Udon Thani ฿ 500 – 12 hours – 2 per day ฿ 1,250 – 1,5 hours – every day

Getting around in Chiang Mai


The red, shared taxi (songthaew) is the best way to get from A to B. Tell the driver where you want to go, don’t negotiate the price and just get in. That way you’ll pay as much as a local would. A ride within the center costs 20-30 baht, to the bus station 60-70 baht.


Ridden a motorbike before and not afraid of busy streets? Then rent a motorbike. Within fifteen minutes you can be surrounded by nature. Go to the mountain temple, Doi Suthep, by motorbike! Rent is 150-250 baht for 24 hrs.


In case you’re a bit hesitant about riding a motorbike, then a bike or a mountain bike are good alternatives. They can often be rented at your ho(s)tel. Explore the center of Chiang Mai in the morning, while the weather’s still cool. Rent is 50-100 baht for 24 hrs.


If you want to visit a landmark outside of Chiang Mai’s city limits (more than 50 kilometers away), you should take a taxi. You will have to haggle over the price. Ask at least three different taxi drivers for prices.

Rental Car

More and more tourists rent a car at Chiang Mai’s airport and hit the road themselves. Always rent a car with an international company such as Hertz, Avis or Sixt. Rent is 800 – 2,000 baht for 24 hrs.

Weather in Chiang Mai

The best time to travel to Chiang Mai is during the cool season from November until February.

November – February

The cool season is the most pleasant season to spend in Chiang Mai. This is when the rain has stopped, nature is green, the waterfalls are filled up and the nights are fresh (and even cold sometimes). Take a warm jacket with you!

March – April

During the hot season temperatures during the day regularly reach 40 degrees Celsius. These are the least enjoyable months to be in Chiang Mai. Not just because of the high temperatures, but also because of the city’s smog.

May – October

The rainy season brings the long awaited cool weather in the form of rain, which usually falls at the end of the afternoon in tropical downpours. The jungle around Chiang Mai is a magnificent green and full of life.

Map of Chiang Mai

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