Chiang Mai, also known as “The Rose of the North” is Thailand’s fifth largest city and is elevated at 316 metres with a surrounding of dense green jungles and mountains. It could only be accessed by river or by elephant until the 1920s, and this remote location enabled its authentic charm to be retained. If this South East Asian beauty is part of your itinerary then read on for top tips on what to do and where to stay.
Friendly locals fill the Sois, going about their everyday business, so the top thing to do as soon as you arrive is hire a 50 baht bicycle (be prepared for some pretty vintage designs) and get rolling about. You’ll really get a feel for the community and score some delicious cheap roadside eats.
Songthaew taxis are in abundance in the city and are the best and cheapest way to get around. The red ones wander the streets with no particular routes, picking randoms up who flag them down. Just don’t forget to haggle!
Things to do
You’ll notice Chiang Mai has a ridiculous amount of ridiculously beautiful “Wats” (temples). Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is the temple to see, as it’s a massive Buddhist temple still in all its glory. Situated on a mountainside, it grandly overlooks the city and is open to the public (roughly 30 baht entrance fee). Many catch a Songthaew (pick-up truck taxi) up the huge winding hill, but if you’re feeling daring (and you can’t drive a scooter), load one up with your bicycle and take a white-knuckle ride back down to the city.
Take a walkabout in the massive Night Bazaar that is on nearly every night. It’s a massive pull for tourists and it’ll feel like you’ve walked for miles with stalls upon stalls selling goods! It’s great for picking up gifts, but the stalls begin repeating themselves after a while. In addition to this, every Sunday there’s the Sunday Walking Night Market where you can see crafts and try some fantastic food that can be so authentically spicy it will truly blow your face off!
Be prepared to find some seriously cheap street food. Not only is it delicious and healthy, but authentic and pure. Who can argue with a noodle soup for 30 baht?! Afterwards, head up to THC Rooftop Bar. Blindly feel your way in the darkness until you reach the top where there’s glow-in-the-dark graffiti adorning the walls – it’s a great place to drink and kick back. There’s no raucous partying like in the South of Thailand, so quiet places with good music are where most people head to.
If you’re not in the mood to relax, go watch some fighting. Muay Thai boxing matches are some of the most intense fighting you’ll witness in Asia and mustn’t be missed on your trip! Kalare Boxing Stadium (behind the Night Bazaar) have real fights (not sissy tourist demonstrations) every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday starting at 9:30pm for four hours (400-600 baht) – that is if you’re not squeamish!
Where to Stay
The great thing about Chiang Mai is its abundance of hostels. Dorms are rife and so cheap, which is a nice alternative to Bangkok/the South’s plethora of guesthouses. They make great places to meet new travelling buddies too! Same Same has some excellent dorms and rooftop toilets, but has great vibes and hammocks to lie back on in the midday heat. However, Julie Guesthouse is the place to try and get a bed. Not only does it have a great communal space, but, it’s well trusted in the backpacking community to give the best prices for worthwhile Hill-Tribe treks and night buses/trains out of Chiang Mai. It’s a hostel in high demand, but even if you don’t get a bed, they’ll welcome you for dinner and games of pool. Visit www.julieguesthouse.com for more information.
If you do crave a little luxury, Puripunn Baby Grand Boutique Hotel provides a lavish but comfortable stay, without risking culture or history. The 30 guest rooms, café, lounge and swimming pool resonate the Lanna-Oriental architecture from Chiang Mai’s colonial time, and are just as stunning, while the serving of traditional high tea in Punna Cafe and an aroma massage in Sala Spa are welcome additions to any traveller.
By Sophie Saint