Most people’s Chiang Mai adventure begins in the old city which is a great place to spend a few days to experience the famous northern Thailand hospitality. The old city is packed full of temples, markets, quirky cafes and coffee shops, if you are looking to take in some Thai culture, this is a great place to start.
After seeing the temples and bustling weekend markets in the city, its time to head out into the country and experience Chiang Mai’s fantastic countryside and nature. Chiang Mai has several fantastic national parks, Doi Inthanon National Park is only an hour’s drive south of the city and should be high on your list of things to do. Chiang Dao is another great destination surrounded by nature and one of the largest mountain ranges in Thailand around Doi Chiang Dao.
Chiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai’s old city is the heartbeat of Chiang Mai province. The old city serves as a starting point and a gateway to discover the rest of this vast province.
Chiang Mai old city is a small area located in the provincial capital. Whilst having a square footprint of only 2.2 sqm, it plays a major role and could easily be described as being the heartbeat of Chiang Mai’s capital city and the province as a whole. Ancient ruined walls surround the inner section, where there are an abundance of old temples to discover along with quirky coffee shops, book shops and guest houses.
There is a distinct laid back atmosphere, perfect for a stroll or bicycle ride, whilst exploring the nooks and crannies of the back streets. Along with the ruined walls, there is a moat-like canal, complete with fountains, surrounding the city. Access isn’t a problem as there are plenty of crossing points around the 6 km perimeter.
The old city serves as a starting point and gateway to discover the rest of the vast province of Chiang Mai. The airport is conveniently located around a 10 minute drive from the old city, making it a great place to spend a few days exploring the temples, night bazaars and special weekend markets.
Every Sunday evening there is the famous ‘walking street market’ which covers around 1 km stretching from Thapae Gate, all the way to Wat Pra Singh. Here you will find local handicrafts, clothes and Northern Style Food. In the peak season it can get really busy around 7pm and can be quite exhausting navigating the tight walkways. The market starts late in the afternoon and finishes around 10pm.
Outside of the walled city is more developed, here you will find the bigger hotel chains, along with McDonalds, Starbucks and the rest of the usual suspects found in every major city. There is also a night bazaar which is not to be confused with the Sunday Market. The night bazzar is located towards the ping river on the east side of the city and is open every night.
Accommodation options start from basic backpacker hostels, which are mainly located within the old city walls or just outside. Many of the luxury hotels are located along the ping river which passes through Chiang Mai around 2 km from the old city. There are also 1 or 2 well established night spots along the ping river offering a relaxed ambiance, good food and live music performances.
To the west of the old city is an upmarket area centred around Nimmanhaemin Road, this is the place to be seen in Chiang Mai, if that’s what tickles your fancy. Here you will find fashionable clothes shops, coffee shops, night spots and restaurants catering for cool locals, expats, tourists, and students from the nearby university. There are also regular markets and special events held in the area.
How to get to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is in Northern Thailand, 706km from Bangkok. There are a number ways of getting to Chiang Mai, by air, bus or train. If you are driving, the main road from the south is highway 1 which starts in Bangkok and eventually meets the northern border with Myanamar. Taking highway 11 when reaching Lampang province will take you directly into Chiang Mai’s centre. All surrounding areas within 300km or so will have signposts for Chiang Mai but it is recommended to pick up a map if you are driving yourself. English language road maps can be purchased from most good bookshops in Thailand, they can also be found in 7 eleven convenience stores.
Chiang Mai has an International Airport which is a 15 minute drive from the city centre. Flights from neighboring countries fly directly into Chiang Mai whereas log haul passengers will have to change planes at Bangkok. Chiang Mai is a major tourist destination with domestic flights operating from all of Thailand’s main airports. A typical flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes 1 hour and 10 minutes.
Chiang Mai by overnight sleeper train is a great travel experience and for around 900 baht its cheap too as it will save booking accommodation for the night. From Bangkok the journey will take 12-15 hours, and in the morning, whilst sipping a coffee, you will be greeted by Chiang Mai’s wonderful mountain scenery.
There are at least 6 trains running from Bangkok to Chiang Mai on a daily basis, it is a great way to travel and see the countryside along with being a cultural experience travelling with local people. Chiang Mai’s train station is on the eastern side and is only a 10 minute drive from the city centre. Journey times vary from 12-15 hours depending on the amount of stops, train departures run in both directions throughout the day starting from 7am until 10pm. There are various levels of fares and comfort levels, the later departures have sleeping carriages.
Chiang Mai’s Arcade Bus Station in the north-east of the city is the starting and arrival point for long distance bus journeys. Buses of various classes run on an hourly basis to and from Bangkok with journey times of 8-10 hours and ticket prices starting from 450 Baht. Buses are the cheapest way to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, but can be uncomfortable, especially for tall westerners. Air conditioned VIP buses are the way to go, and preferably during the night so you can get some sleep and save on accommodation for the night.
Photo Tour – Chiang Mai
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