Where is Chiang Mai
Thailand Chiang Mai – located in the north of Thailand, surrounded by mountains, jungles and rice fields and is approximately 700 kilometres from Bangkok. The city itself is distinctively quieter and more relaxed than Bangkok and the popular beachside cities to the South of the country.
The old city area lies inside old walls and a moat which form a perfect square. The moat is in perfect condition filled with water and surrounded by tree-lined streets although the walls themselves have deteriorated greatly in many parts and have only really been restored at the corners. The large gates and moat crossings are a beautiful feature of the city.
A City Full of Temples Thailand Chiang Mai
Many of the cities temples lie within the old city and are best seen on bicycles. Inside the old city is a beautiful maze of small laneways, quiet streets, temples, hostels, hotels, parks and gardens. The area is full of trees, gardens and vegetation which provide shade and create a peaceful setting.
Hiring a bicycle for the day usually costs US$1 for an older Asian shopping style bike with a basket at the front, and a relaxing morning or afternoon can be spent cruising around the streets inside the old city and visiting some of the beautiful and well-kept temples.
Most of the temples inside the Old City are usually quiet during the day, although you may find at some there are monks going about their daily prayer and activities. It is easy to ride your hire bicycle into the grounds of each temple, and secure it to a pole or fence (you will be given a padlock and chain when you hire it) while you explore the grounds of the temple, the garden and the inside of each building.
Remember, it might be easy if you wear shoes that are easy to take on and off quickly as you will need to remove your shoes when entering inside the temple.
Markets and Shopping
Outside the moat is where the newer buildings and modern parts of the city have been built. Within close vicinity of the old city, there are many markets including the Warorot Market that sells fresh fruit, vegetable and flower markets during the day, the well known and very large Night Bazaar where you can find anything from dinner, clothes, shoes or souvenirs.
The Ping River that runs through the city is also a nice attraction and a very pleasant walk. The streets around Loi Kroh Road are lined with restaurants (many speciality vegetarian restaurants), bars, second-hand book shops, cafes and travel agents. Cooking, yoga and meditation classes are also popular with locals, expats and visitors alike.
The city is home to many museums and other attractions including the Chiang Mai National Museum, Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre, Chiang Mai Zoo & Aquarium, and the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden.
A popular attraction just outside of the city centre is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. The beautiful temples in the site are situated approximately 18 kilometres outside of Chiang Mai upon the Doi Suthep Mountain.
The temple, which can be seen from the city, is nestled in the mountains and gives a beautiful view of the city only once you have tacked the many stairs to reach the temple. If you don't feel you can manage the stair climb you can opt for the cable car to take you up for approximately 20 baht.
Entrance to Doi Suthep will cost 30 baht if you are not Thai. There are many songthaews around the city centre that are marked with the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep journey and prices, often asking 50 baht per person one way, and fitting 8 people.
The journey from the city centre to Doi Suthep can also be made on a motorcycle (which can be hired easily in the centre) or on a reasonably well-maintained mountain bike (although fitness levels will have to be high as a majority of the journey is uphill).
Inside the moat is where you can find many inexpensive hostels and guesthouses. Around Soi 6 to soi 9 there is a distinct backpacker area, with the cheaper hostels and guesthouses, small inexpensive bars, very simple restaurants and small market stalls all aimed at backpackers and within walking distance from Tha Phae Gate.
Accommodation is less expensive compared with Bangkok and the smaller cities in the South, and dorm beds can be found for as little as 150 baht or private guesthouse rooms with en-suites starting from 250 baht.
Apartments can be rented on a monthly basis in the city for as little as 6000 baht and are usually quite modern and include all furnishings and often building security.
How to get to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai International Airport is only 3 kilometres from the Old City, with both International and Domestic carriers flying in and out every day. Flights to and from Bangkok are often as low as 1500 baht when flying with low-cost carriers such as Air Asia. International locations accessible from Chiang Mai include Singapore, Luang Prabang and Vientiane (Laos), Seoul (Korea), Kunming (China), Taipei (Taiwan), Hong Kong, as well as Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Getting to and from the airport is simple and fuss-free, with a 10-minute taxi or tuk-tuk ride costing around 50-120 baht, or a cheaper alternative is to take the bus costing only 15 baht from the city centre to the airport (bus number 4).
Taking a bus to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is also a very popular option, as well as being a less expensive option for budget travellers the overnight journey also acts as a cheap alternative for a nights accommodation as well. Buses in Bangkok leave from Mo Chit Bus Station. Tickets can easily be purchased at the station for the 9-10 hour overnight journey, or alternatively purchased from travel agents anywhere in Bangkok (although often sold at a more expensive price).
When I travelled from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by bus, the ticket price was 480 baht, including water bottles and snacks as well as stopover where passengers were given a voucher to use at the large open plan cafe. The bus was clean, double-storey, with large adjustable seats and a clean large toilet room.
Tickets can be purchased the day before or the day of travel usually with no issue, although during the high season bus services are often booked up and you might have to wait until the next bus (there are many buses leaving frequently). There are toilets (fee for use) at the station, as well as food and drinks that can be purchased.
There are also regular train services from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, leaving from Hualampong Station both during the day or overnight. The daytime train ticket prices are more budget-friendly, although the 10-hour day journey services only offer second and third-class carriages (I would suggest going second if you choose to travel during the day, costing around 280 baht).
The overnight services have first and second class carriages, where first-class compartments (1500 baht) contain two private beds and second class are set up as open style bunks with privacy curtains (approximately 900 baht).
There are vendors selling food and drinks on the train, although they often inflate the prices for travellers, as well as a dining carriage where food and drinks can be purchased. If you want to be prepared it is easy to purchase food and drinks from the Hualampong Station, where hot food is specially packaged to take on the train and is less expensive than purchasing food on board.
Train tickets can be purchased two months in advance at any train station in Thailand. Travellers can check the availability of tickets online.
Chiang Mai is a peaceful city, with a small town chilled out vibe and is a great escape to relax from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Locals are friendly and polite and there are no vendors pushing their goods on people passing by like you would see in the South. Chiang Mai is the perfect stopover for resting up midway on a backpacking trip, due to its ease of getting around the city and its inexpensive prices.
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