Thailand’s northern capital is a cultural delight: Burmese, Chinese, and Laotian influences are all visible in the food, architecture, and language of this fabulous city. Besides that, it’s easily navigable, tourist-friendly, and fun. Mountains gather to one side of the city, while the Ping River flows through the middle. A vibrant market life, a cool expat community, and more temples than you can count add to the charm.
Location and climate
Chiang Mai is the capital of Chiang Mai province, and is 700km/435mi north of Bangkok. It’s an excellent jumping-off point for trips to the Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai, and Pai.
Chiang Mai is usually cooler and drier than the rest of Thailand, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s either cool OR dry! Here are the average temperatures for December and April:
December average high: 82 F / 27 C; average low 59 F / 15 C
April averae3 high: 97 F / 36 C; average low 73 F / 22 C
What to do and see in Chiang Mai
The options are seemingly endless; with massage courses, cooking classes, ziplines, a zoo, riverboat cruises and more, you’d have to try to be bored in Chiang Mai.
Popular activities and sights include:
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Old City: A moat, running about 1 kilometer on each side, surrounds the human-sized Old City. Crumbling walls can be found on the corners and central gates, and the interior is packed with temples. The bulk of Chiang Mai’s budget accommodation is set up in the northeast corner, and well as plenty of travel agencies, bars, restaurants, and food stalls are scattered throughout.
Shopping: With the famous Night Bazaar, plus Saturday Walking Street, Sunday Walking Street, Wororot Day Market, hill tribe crafts, and boutiques, Chiang Mai is to shopping what Disneyland is to kids. Have fun with it!
Tip: Check out the night market that is set up at sunset every evening outside Chiang Mai gate, on the south wall of the Old City. Eats are cheap, and many of the stalls offer menus in English.
Courses: Because of its awesome cuisine, Chiang Mai is a Mecca of sorts for one-day cooking classes. Walk through a market at 8 or 9am and you’ll see a half-dozen different groups gathered at produce stalls, learning about the vegetables that they will later prepare.
Yoga, meditation, and massage courses are also very popular. With a little research, you can find anywhere from one-day introductions to week-long retreats.
Ziplining: A few operations offer obstacle courses in the nearby forests, with the Flight of the Gibbon being the most well-known.
Temples: Chiang Mai is packed with temples – simply wander the streets and take your pick. Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai’s most-visited temple, thanks to its “Lion Buddha.” Wat Chedi Luang is another large, popular wat that sits in the center of the Old City.
As always, remember to dress modestly and behave respectfully, both while inside temples and also when interacting with monks.
Festivals: Songkran, Thailand’s Water Splashing Festival, is celebrated throughout Thailand. None of the celebrations, however, are as big as Chiang Mai’s. Youngsters line the city’s moat with buckets and water guns, then soak anyone within reach.
More information on Chiang Mai and Thailand: