Before heading out of the country we decided to visit the northern city of Chiang Mai. Established as the capital city of the former kingdom of Lanna back in 1296 the city was able to create and till now preserve a strong cultural identity and tradition. This can be recognized and seen within its people, culture, food and architecture and makes it a very interesting and diverse place to visit. Chiang Mai has also become an important touristic attraction in the last years and has clearly become a must-see destination on any traveler’s map when visiting Thailand.
How to get to Chiang Mai
We did not expect but Chiang Mai even offers an international airport. Domestic flights have become quite cheap, offering fares as low as 40 USD. From the airport it is a quick taxi or bus ride into town.
Alternatively you can take a bus or train from Bangkok directly to Chiang Mai. Bus rides take around 10 hours, leaving from Mo Chit station, offering fares between 400 and 700 THB. Passenger trains take between 12 and 15 hours overnight and are a quite popular way of reaching the city – yet also way more expensive than the buses. Make sure to book train tickets in advance as they are almost always full.
What there is to see in Chiang Mai
There are many things to do in Chiang Mai. The town has loads of sights to see and pretty much every tour operator will offer you a full range of things to see. Most of the tours can be quite expensive as the majority of attraction actually are outside of the city and require a fair amount of transportation. Also, most of these have just been created for the sake of offering tours and have not been there before the tourist loads came pouring in.
Nevertheless, there are a few places that are very impressive and can definitely be recommended by us. When visiting the old part of Chiang Mai town you have to have a look at the Wats (temples) that are scattered all around the city. There is a vast number and everyone has its own beauty and charm and should be on the to-do list. Here is a small overview, to name a few major ones:
Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Prah Singh, Wat Umon
Wat Pra That Doi Suthep
(our favorite as it lies on top of a mountain overlooking the town. Head out during late afternoon so you can get a chance to see the pagodas lit up at night as well)
Doi Inthanon National Park
Another very impressive attraction is the Doi Inthanon National Park. It was roughly a 2-hour ride from the city but definitely a tour that we did not regret taking. We were able to hire a private red bus with about 6 other people and left in the afternoon in order to experience the sun set from the top of the mountain. Be aware that this is the highest point in Thailand and it can get quite chilly up there – so be sure to take some warm clothes along.
Street food and night markets
(must try the papaya salad!)
These are the attractions we have visited and would recommend for visitors to see when in Chiang Mai. Yet, there are obviously many more things that can be seen that we did not have to time to experience. These include visiting the Elephant Farms and Nature Parks, Golden Triangle trips, Chiang Mai Night Safari and diverse other trekking or adventure tours.
We did not decide to join the elephant tours as we have heard many stories about them not being treated properly and in many cases are forced to perform for the joy of the tourists. Perhaps there are some that do run responsible camps yet we prefer to see these majestic animals in a more natural setting.