Chiang Mai Tours & Travel Information

Adventure Tours in Thailand



Overview

Rose of the North

Chiang Mai lies in the Himalayan foothills, some 435 miles- and a world away-from Bangkok. It was capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom for nearly half a millennium. Today, it’s known as the “Rose of the North,” a key historic, cultural and spiritual center. Chiang Mai is especially important to the Thai identity. In many ways, its roots are here, born after centuries of influence by the Khmer and Mon cultures. The well-preserved temples and historic city walls are testament to that story. Though it is one of the largest cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai has retained its small town appeal. It offers a glimpse back to an ancient and unique dialect, cuisine, and way of life. Overshadowed in some ways by Thailand’s glitzier destinations, Chiang Mai has come of age. Increasingly, it’s appearing at the top of prestigious traveler’s surveys and “best of” lists. 

A Beautiful Tradition, Thai Songkran Festival


The Ancient City

In 2013, the city ranked 24th in the TripAdvisor Traveler's Choice Awards and 10th best city in the world in a Travel + Leisure survey – impressive rankings considering the city with a population of just 200,000 is up against some of the world's most well established city destinations. The region's picturesque terrain ranges from swathes of rice paddy fields and rolling hills in the Ping River Valley to the mountainous regions around Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand. The charm of the province is heightened by the colorful garb and culture of the hilltribe people who seem to live peacefully alongside the modern world. As ancient as Chiang Mai is, it’s also one of the safest and easiest regions of Thailand to explore, with hundreds of temples, countless mountain excursions, myriad accommodation choices, new shopping centers, and other city conveniences.

A former capital of the Kingdom, Chiang Mai is surrounded by lush countryside and rich rice paddy fields

Mengrai the Conqueror

In this land of rolling hills and rice paddies stretching as far as the eye can see, you'll see ancient temples and hallowed ground marking its former status. Yet Chiang Mai springs from a dynamic, bold history, though. Chiang Mai’s origins stem from a conniving conqueror named Mengrai. Under his rule, Chiang Mai (the name means “new city”) took shape as the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom. After Mengrai’s death in 1311 (by lighting strike says legend) Chiang Mai remained the spiritual heart of the kingdom. Today, “spirited” is an apt description of Chiang Mai during Songkran Festival in April. The historic quarters is awash — literally — with revelers taking part in the traditional street water fight. In November, Thai’s celebrate the Loy Kratong festival. The date coincides with the local Lanna Yi Peng festival, and it’s one of the most desirable times to visit. The night sky of Chiang Mai fills with flickering paper lanterns, and waterways are ablaze with flickering candles. It’s magical and incredibly moving.

History

Begin your visit to Chiang Mai in the place where the city itself began: within the fortified walls and moat of the old city. You’ll find important temples here, along with small alleyways lined with cafes and restaurants. Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre, the Lanna Architecture Museum, and Three Kings Monument are other attractions worth exploring.

More than 700 years ago, a bold fighter and a savvy diplomat, Mengrai conquered the area of Chiang Mai by first infiltrating the inner circle of the present king with a mole who worked to undermine the king’s authority. Mengrai then easily conquered the weakened kingdom. Mengrai built Chiang Mai as a new capital for the Lanna Kingdom. The name “Chiang Mai” means “new city.” Even after Mengrai’s death in 1311, reputedly by a lightning strike, Chiang Mai remained the spiritual heart of the kingdom.

Wat Chedi Luang once housed the famous Phra Kaew, or Emerald Buddha, now located in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok


Festivals

Songkran

In the year 1296, King Mangrai founded Chiang Mai – which literally means 'new city' – with the vision that it will given the status of capital city for the Lanna Kingdom. Historically, capital cities in Southeast Asia were viewed as the spiritual centers rather than as commercial centers; the entire ancient city of Chiang Mai was considered sacred ground, with each successive king building more temples. Today, there are over 120 temples located within the city’s limits, 30 of which date back to the era of King Mangrai.

The annual Songkran Festival or the Thai new year, also known as the water festival is also celebrated with fervor in Chiang Mai town, which turns into a massive street water fight for a few days during mid-April.

Thousands of people engage in the annual water festival

Loy Kratong Festival

For a better understanding of the cit's 700 year old history, Chiang Mai National Museum traces the history of the region through pottery, ceramics, textile, and other artifacts. Other places for a familiarization course on the region's rich past include Chiang Mai Arts & Cultural Center and the Tribal Museum.

Arguably one of the most enjoyable ways to learn about a new culture if through food. Reflecting the social nature of meals, traditional khantoke dinners are served family-style, where diners are seated on the floor and varying dishes are served onto a central circular low table. Many high end resorts will offer this dining experience which is accompanied by a traditional dance performance; if not, popular khantoke restaurants in Chiang Mai include Khum Kantoke and Old Chiangmai Cultural Center.

The nation-wide Loy Kratong festival in November (which coincides with the Lanna Yi Peng festival) is one of the most picturesque celebrations in Chiang Mai, where thousands of paper lanterns flicker in the night sky and thousands more candle-lit lotus-shaped vessels sparkle in waterways.

Uplifting lanterns lighten your problems as they float away


Temples

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The history of Chiang Mai unfolds in its temples. More than 120 of them lie within the city limits; at least 30 dating back to King Mangrai’s era. You’ll not see all of them, of course. But do plan to visit at least a few. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located on Doi Suthep (“doi” means mountain in the northern Thai dialect) is a short 10-15 minutes from the city center. Climb its 309 steps and you’ll be rewarded with some lovely views.

Wat Chiang Man lies within the old city walls, and dates back to the founding of Chiang Mai. Wat Chedi Luang formerly housed the iconic Emerald Buddha now in the Grand Palace in Bangkok

Doi Suthep Temple

Wat Phra Singh

Built in the 14th century, Wat Phra Singh is the most-visited temple in Chiang Mai. The temple houses the revered Phra Singh image, also known as the Lion Buddha, installed in Phra Singh in the 1360s. Legend says that the figure is the Shakya lion statue, a statue once housed at the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya in India.

Temples in Bangkok and Nakhon Si Thammarat have nearly identical statues, however, so it’s unclear which, if any, is the real thing.

The main entrance to the temple is guarded by lion statues. The main sanctuary, located near the entrance, features a larger Buddha statue called Thong Thip, cast in 1477 from an alloy of copper and gold. The Phra Singh statue is housed within Wihaan Lai Kham, a chapel with a three-tiered roof located behind the temple’s main chedi. The chapel’s interior black walls are adored with gold stencils.

There’s also a scripture repository on a stucco-covered stone base designed to protect mulberry paper scriptures and records.

Beautiful Wat Phra Singh


Overview

Despite it being one of the largest cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai has still managed to retain its small town appeal. Activities revolved around nature and cultural, with a smattering of shopping at street markets or night markets thrown in for good measure.

Thai people have long revered Chiang Mai as a living representative of the historical period when the country broke free from domination by Khmer and Mon cultures and began to establish a unique Thai identity. Nestled among the foothills of the Himalayan mountains, until the 20th century, the region could only be reached by dangerous river journeys or by elephant treks. Hundreds of temples and historic sites have been preserved in the area. To a great extent, the culture of those ancient days has been preserved as well, as evidenced by the province’s unique dialect, cuisine and customs. Take a day trip to the top of the world just outside of Chiang Mai and enjoy the panoramic views.

A sunrise as viewed from Chiang Dao

Old City

A good place to spend a day is to start where the city first began – within the fortified walls and surrounding moat. Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang are just some of the 36 temples that dot old city, along with small alleyways lined with countless cafes and restaurants for pitstop rests. Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural Center, the Lanna Architecture Museum, and Three Kings Monument are other attractions worth exploring.

Wat Chang Man Temple

Elephant Farms

Especially popular with families, elephant parks allow guests to get up close and personal with the gentle giants. There are a few in and around Chiang Mai, which include Elephant Nature Park and Patara Elephant Farm, both elephant rescue and rehabilitation centers where visitors will have the opportunity to interact with and learn about the country's national animals.

Various elephant farms where elephants are treated with respect and dignity are a fun family trip

San Kamphaeng District

The San Kamphaeng district, around eight miles to the east of Chiang Mai is notable for its many silk factories. On the road from Chiang Mai to San Kamphaeng Town are many shops that sell hand-made items, including the well-known Bo Sang umbrellas. The hilly eastern section of the San Kamphaeng district is home to the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, natural springs that contain a high sulfur content believed to offer health benefits.

Hand painted umbrella's from the village

Museums, Arts & Crafts

An extension of the Tribal Research Institute at Chiang Mai University, the Tribal Museum is highly recommended as an introduction to the culture of the hilltribe peoples. Located on Chotan Road, the museum not only provides information about hilltribe communities like the Hmong, Karen, Mien, Akha and Khamu peoples but showcases and sells goods from a different hilltribe each month as well. The museum has a section that exhibits tribal clothes, jewelry and other objects, features a garden with authentic tribal huts and a offers various video presentations of hilltribe life. If your thinking about taking one of the adventure tours to the visit the hilltribes, this can be a useful introduction for you.  With over 100 temples and museums to explore as well as dozens of accessible hilltribe villages to visit, a holiday at Chiang Mai is ideal for travelers seeking to explore the rich history and culture of Thailand. 

Silverware making in Chiang Mai

Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden

Located on Mae Rim-Samoeng Road around 7 miles from the city of Chiang Mai, the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden covers an area of around 560 acres. Constructed in honor of Queen Sirikit in 1992, the garden is a must-see for plant and flower enthusiasts, with an orchid breeding center and a museum about herbs. The garden is open daily from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.

The flower festival in Chiang Mai brings out the best at Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens


Nature

River Excursions Around Chiang Mai

The proximity of natural surroundings to city center is one of the Chiang Mai's charms. Doi Inthanon National Park in Mae Chaem is home to the country's highest peak, while Chiang Dao National Park's limestone terrains and waterfalls make it a trekker's delight. Located near the Myanmar border, Ban Tha Ton is a small town that is best known as a starting point for boat trips down. Here, visitors can take a three-day raft trip down Kok River from Ban Tha Ton on the Myanmar border to enjoy a leisurely trip on your bamboo rafts, rolling past lush jungle greenery and hilltribe villages.

Visitors can also take a ride on long-tail boat for an adrenaline-pumping 3 1/2-hour trip to Chiang Rai.

Be sure to explore tour options for various adventures on the rivers

Head for the Hills

The safe and modern city provides a convenient and comfortable base from which to discover the natural wonders of this mountainous region as well. Whether hiking up Thailand’s highest peaks, strolling through an orchid garden or relaxing next to an idyllic waterfall and pool, Chiang Mai’s scenic landscape offers breathtaking views at every turn.

Explore all the wide variety of tour options on this link. There are private guided tours, exciting tours for the adventurous minded and cultural tours of the more relaxing kind.

https://www.tourchoice.com/s/chiang-mai/

Surrounding hills are home to many natural wonders, a great place to relax for a lunch break while on a 2 or 3 day tour


Overview

Chiang Mai has long been known to Thais as the go-to hub for interior décor pieces and handmade products from botanical spa products to hand-painted parasols. In recent years, however, plans have been ramped up to offer visitors more shopping centers and ultimately a wider range of choice to spend their holiday dollars.

Umbrella painting is always a delight to watch

Doi Pui Tribal Village

Located up the road from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and the Bhuping Royal Palace, this hilltribe village offers visitors a convenient way to learn about the hilltribe culture. Visitors won’t want to miss the opportunity to purchase hand-crafted hilltribe goods, including silver jewelry and intricately embroidered tunics, jackets and purses.

Always interesting items to be found at Doi Pui tribal village


Malls

Malls

For an air-conditioned experience, Kad Suan Kaew is located near the city center the grande dame of shopping centers, followed closely by Central Airport Plaza. Both offer a standard mall experience with a mix of local and international brands, but as expected less swanky than Bangkok. In June 2013, Promenada Resort Mall soft-opened with great fanfare on the New Chiang Mai – Sankamphaeng Road, heralding an impending era of upcoming malls that in the near future will also include a Central Festival and Platinum Fashion Mall.

Night Markets

Night Market

One cannot talk about shopping in Chiang Mai without mentioning the Night Bazaar. Similar to the Silom/Patpong night bazaar in Bangkok, the nightly market is very touristy with vendors after vendors plying the same tourist tack. This is an easy place to pick out standard souvenirs and its downtown location makes it easy to get to, and the surrounding bars and restaurants will perhaps give justify the outing a bit more. Other evening markets spring up along Wualai Walking Street and Ratchadamnoen Walking Street on Saturdays and Sundays respectively. The latter is located within the old city walls from Tha Pae Gate inwards, and both of these offer more unique and one-off hand-made crafts and goods.

Walking Street & Night Market Always a Must See


Retail

Furniture & Wood Products

Just outside town, Baan Tawai in Hang Dong is the place to buy furniture and home décor. Natural materials from rattan to teak and water hyacinth are manipulated into contemporary and traditional designs. Many of the shops operate their own factories, so can customize pieces as well as arrange for shipment to the customer's home country. Sankampaeng deals with smaller-ticket but high craftsmanship items, including lacquerware, silverware, carvings, silk, and wood carvings, all of which make for unique souvenirs.

Custom wood furnishings and decorations


Street Shopping

Nimmanhaemin Road

For all things trendy, Nimmanhaemin Road – Chiang Mai's hipster central – is dotted with fashion boutiques, quirky cafes, cool restaurants and bars.

Overview

The Old and the New

Chiang Mai’s nightlife is a lot tamer than Bangkok, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing; for the traveler looking to experience a more relaxed cultural experience it’s a welcome breath of fresh air.

There is a vast selection of places to dine around town, and most restaurants often offer a friendly environment. Many restaurants and larger hotels have great international cuisine options. However, thanks to Thailand’s great street food culture, if you want to taste some dishes unique to the north, be sure to pop into a local restaurant or roadside stall.

In contrast, visit the historic 137 Pillars House Hotel for dinner. You'll be transported back in time to the British colonial era.

Dining in the historic 137 Pillars House Restaurant


Restaurants Along the Ping River

If you are looking for a romantic evening, visit one of the many nice restaurants or pubs along the Ping River, or enjoy a meal on a boat as you take a river cruise. If you are looking for a nice dinner on the river, be sure to visit The Good View and The Riverside, where romantic dinners meld seamlessly into happening evenings when the live band kicks up the beat. 

The Gallery close to restaurants on the Ping River

Restaurants for Every Taste

Thai people thoroughly enjoy music and Chiang Mai is home to a happening live music scene that caters to westerners and Thais. Across the city, you can find bars and clubs with bands playing live music every night of the week. Le Brasserie, which relocated from its former riverside location to outside the old city, and North Gate Jazz Co-op are both long-time servers of good live music. If you are looking to mingle with the locals and party with the Thais, head to the fashionable Nimmanhaemin Road. Many young urban Thais flock to this area because its got many hip indoor/outdoor bars that are only a few shorts steps away from each other. Warm Up and Monkey Club, both located on along the avenue, are Chiang Mai institutions where the young and brash locals flock to in droves. Fabrique & Bar Rouge at the President Hotel on Wichayanont Road is another popular nightspot featuring four zones for varying moods ranging from house to live band, hip hop, and al fresco chilling out.

Outdoor dining at the Mandarin Oriental


Nightlife

Nightlife

When visiting Chiang Mai, you’ll be drawn towards the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar that sets up every night on Chang Klan Road. It is a shopper’s paradise, but around the night bazaar there is a nice Irish pub and a German Beer garden that serves nice, ice cold imported beers. However, if you are in the mood for something stronger and classier, check out The Martini Bar, which also offers shisha water pipes and a dance floor. 

Chiang Mai has a good Blues Scene


Getting Around

The Old Fashioned Way

The most commonly seen songtaew's – converted pick-up trucks with bench seating in the covered back – are red in color. These operate on a freestyle basis – simply tell the driver where you wish to go. If it's a yay, ask how much per person and jump in. If it's a nay, just wait for another one. If traveling in a group, you can also negotiate a price and book the driver for a day.

Tuk-tuk's are also a popular way to get around. The three-wheeled motorized trishaws operate on the same wherever-you-want-to-go basis as the songtaew's (albeit a bit more more expensive). Generally speaking, those hovering around transportation hubs will ask for a higher price than a passing one.

If you are traveling with a larger group, or wish to customize your own itineraries pottering around town or out on an excursion, hiring a mini-van might not be a bad idea. A chauffeured 10-seater air-conditioned vehicle will traditionally cost from THB 1,500 (~US$46.40) for an 8- to 10-hour day, including the driver's fee but excluding petrol and entrance fees to attractions.

Cozy cycle taxi operated by some hotels

Taxi's, Tuk Tuk's and Songteaw's

Metered taxi's are all but non-existent, but there are a few cab companies (including the Chiang Mai Airport Cooperative) that can dispatch vehicles to take you where you need to go for a small surcharge. If you like a certain driver, get his number – taxi drivers are quite happy to take you around for a whole day on a flat fare basis. As a general rule of thumb the rates should be give or take the same as a mini-van, but will vary depending on planned itinerary, start/end time, whether an overnight is required, or whether petrol is included or not.

To get to the the outskirt regions within Chiang Mai (Hang Dong, Doi inthanon, Mae Chaem, etc.), yellow-colored songtaew's can be hired from Chang Puak bus station. You can also catch a bus to Mae Rim, Samoeng, Chiang Dao, Mae Taeng, and other provincial spots.

If you wish to self drive, Chiang Mai has plenty of car rental shops – all the usual suspects (Avis, Hertz, Sixt, etc.) are present at the airport. Rental prices are about the same as hiring a van plus driver for the day, so unless you know the roads well, or are on an extended holiday, perhaps it is advisable to take the chauffeured van option for convenience's sake.


Getting In and Out

Air

The entire northern region is served by Chiang Mai International Airport, making it one of the busiest air hubs in the country.

Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is the region's main air access point, located about 10-15 minutes from the city center.

The airport is served by numerous daily flights from Bangkok via Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, and Nok Air, a quick flight that takes just over an hour. Thai Airways and Air Asia also offer direct flights from Chiang Mai to Phuket, about a two-hour flight.

Nok Mini and Kan Air connects Chiang Mai with secondary domestic destinations of Mae Hong Son, Phisanulok, Pai, Nan, Mae Sot, and Udon Thani.

Chiang Mai is also reached by several direct international flights, including from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Seoul, Macau, Luang Prabang, and Shanghai.

Train

The Chiang Mai train station is located on Charoen Muang Road, a quick 10-15 minutes from city center. There are several Bangkok-bound trains daily, with departure times between 7:05 p.m. and 5:45 a.m.

For overnight journeys, book a second class air-conditioned sleeper train for more comfort – the lower bunk may be slightly more expensive, but you'll appreciate the additional wiggle room.

Bus

There are two bus stations in Chiang Mai – Chang Puak (for within Chiang Mai jaunts – see 'Around the city') and the main Arcade Bus Station on Kaeo Narawat Road, which is actually divided into two terminals opposite one another.

Numerous bus company options offer Bangkok-bound journeys. The day or overnight trip to the capital's Mo Chit bus terminal takes approximately 9 to 10 hours, with tickets costing not more than THB 900 (~US$28.50) for a one way ticket on a VIP bus with reclining sofa-like seats.

There are also bus connections to closer destinations including Chiang Rai, Mae Sai, and Prao.


"The Hmong of Ban Mae Sa Mai tour was wonderful. We had a wonderful time, really enjoyed our time in the village. The guides were very knowledgable and interesting people"

Jamie, Ohio, USA

"Northern Thailand is even more beautiful than I expected! "

Barbara, Calgary