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Chiang Mai Travel Guide

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Chiang Mai, the largest city in northern Thailand, is located in a plateau basin 300 meters above sea level. Surrounded by mountains and with a cool climate, it is a famous summer resort in Thailand. This little city is quiet and elegant, with clean and fresh air. Once the capital of Thailand for a long time, Chiang Mai has preserved many precious historical and cultural relics, symbolizing the splendid and glorious past of northern Thailand. There are no soft beaches to spend time on or luxury shopping malls to go crazy. Pristine forests and lively, affordable markets are the calling cards of Chiang Mai. Take a leisurely stroll in the Old City, trek through the jungle, experience gliding through the primeval forest… The bustle and tranquility are naturally combined in this city.

Chiang Mai is definitely one of the best destinations to visit in Thailand. This Chiang Mai travel guide covers the best time to visit Chiang Mai, the best attractions in Chiang Mai, and how to get to and around Chiang Mai, which will be of great help to you in planning a Chiang Mai trip.

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Best Places to Visit in Chiang Mai

1. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, aka the Double Dragon Temple, is located about 15 kilometers from the city. It is built on the most prominent landmark of Chiang Mai – Mount Suthep, at an altitude of 3,520 meters, from where tourists can get a panoramic view of the whole Chiang Mai city and the beautiful countryside. The cool climate and fresh air of the area make it a famous summer resort in Thailand.

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Legend has it that in the 14th century monks placed the relics of Buddha Shakyamuni on the backs of a white elephant to protect them, leaving the elephant to find a place to enshrine the relics. Finally, the white elephant stopped on Mount Suthep. To this day, the golden stupa in the temple still houses the relics of the Buddha, attracting many devotees to make the pilgrimage every year. Doi Suthep Temple is on a high platform, and visitors have to walk more than 300 steps to reach it. The steps are flanked by two colorful, multi-headed sacred dragons, several dozen meters long and strangely shaped. The cable car is available for the elderly and children.

2. Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, built in 1411, is the most famous and largest of the six major temples in Chiang Mai. There are Lanna-style temples and the world-famous ancient pagodas, each with its own unique character. Visitors entering Wat Chedi Luang will feel the strong visual impact: the soaring eaves, the gilded carvings, and the glowing murals.

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The most striking pagoda in the temple is located behind the main hall and in the heart of the entire Chiang Mai old city. The ancient stupa is quadrangular and made of red bricks stacked in layers, still looking magnificent, even though its spire was destroyed in an earthquake in 1545. At sunset, visitors will witness the monks chanting rituals and experience the rich Thai Buddhist culture up close.

3. Warorot Market

Located in the northeast corner of Chiang Mai’s old city, the Warorot Market is the best place to gain an insight into the customs and lifestyle of the area. It is the largest traditional market in Chiang Mai, selling a wide range of affordable local specialties, from fruits, vegetables and condiments to daily necessities and handicrafts. In the evening, Warorot Market becomes a culinary mecca for food lovers, with a wide variety of delicacies.

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The most interesting thing to do in the market is haggling with the vendors. Getting practical goods at the cheapest price brings a great sense of accomplishment. More than just a market, Warorot Market is a multicultural place where visitors will meet people of different colors, faces, and languages from all over the world.

4. Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park, established in 1990, is located in a valley with a river and green forest, which provides a natural living environment for the elephants in the park. Unlike many other camps that offer elephant riding and training shows, Elephant Nature Park was set up to protect the endangered elephant population in Thailand. Currently, most of the elephants living in the park are middle-aged and elderly or disabled.

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Travelers can experience a variety of volunteer activities at the park, including feeding and bathing the elephants. The nature park gives visitors a chance to understand the plight of elephants and how to coexist peacefully with these “big beasts”.

5. Wat Umong Suan

Known as the “Forest Temple”, Wat Umong Suan sits at the foot of Mount Doi Suthep, surrounded by woods and a lake. Originally built in the 14th century, the temple was restored in 1371 and abandoned in the 15th century. Since 1948, the temple has been re-established as a Buddhist education center and meditation temple.

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At the center of the temple is a Sukhothai-style stupa surrounded by ancient walls carved with many lifelike Buddha statues. Wat Umong Suan is a place of tranquility and peace, perfect for meditation. In addition, the temple looks especially beautiful at sunset.

6. Chiang Mai University

Chiang Mai University, the premier institution of higher learning in northern Thailand, was founded in 1964 and is one of the most beautiful universities in Thailand, dotted with grassy green spaces and tranquil pools. The campus is refreshing. Jingxin Lake is the most famous sight of Chiang Mai University, reflecting the wonderful scenery of Doi Suthep Mountain in the distance like a landscape painting.

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Visitors can only visit the campus by sightseeing bus, which runs every 30 minutes and takes visitors around the central area of the campus, and then makes stops at the Buddha Building and Jingxin Lake for tourists to get off and walk around and take photos.

Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai

The best time of year to visit Chiang Mai is from November to April, which is also the peak tourist season in Chiang Mai, with average temperatures between 16-25°C. The suitable temperature is perfect for outdoor activities (slightly colder for mountain visits). Festivals are another great time to visit Chiang Mai. Loy Krathong is one of the most celebrated traditional festivals in Thailand, with the highlight being held in Chiang Mai in November every year. April sees the grand Songkran Water Festival. May to October is the low season for Chiang Mai tourism, when it is hot and rains often, but transportation and accommodation are much less expensive.

☛ See also: Best Time to Visit Thailand

How to Get to & around Chiang Mai

Get to Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, second only to Bangkok in terms of urban development and construction, has a fairly well-developed transportation system connecting the world and other cities in Thailand. Visitors can get to Chiang Mai by air, train, and long-distance bus.

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By Air

Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is about 4 km from the old city of Chiang Mai. Visitors can take direct flights to Chiang Mai from Hong Kong, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Seoul, and other cities. In terms of flights within Thailand, there are daily flights to Chiang Mai from Bangkok and Phuket, which are about 1 hour 20 minutes and 2 hours 05 minutes respectively.

By Train

Chiang Mai is the terminus of the Thailand Railway North Line. Six trains run daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, including Rapid Train (RAP), Express Train (EXP) and Special Express Train (SP EXP). The travel time is 15 hours for express trains and 12 hours for express and special express trains. After arriving at Chiang Mai Railway Station, visitors can take the Tuk-tuk to Chiang Mai Old City at a fare of 80-100 baht per trip.

By Long-distance Bus

Arcade Bus Station is located about 3 km northeast of the Old City, near the highway. Numerous shuttle buses run daily from Bangkok and Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai. Upon arrival, a songthaew and a tuk-tuk can take you to Chiang Old City for 30-40 baht per person and 80-100 baht per trip respectively. If you are a solo traveler, you can share a tuk-tuk (which can accommodate 3 adults) with other backpackers.

Get around Chiang Mai

Not as developed as Bangkok, Chiang Mai still offers many options for tourists to get around the area, including taxis, buses, motorcycles, tuk-tuks, songthaews, and bicycles.

Buses

There are yellow buses that run a few routes in Chiang Mai city. A map is very helpful with bus routes marked on it. The bus fare is usually 20 baht per person.

Songthaews & Tuk-tuks

These two are the most common means of transportation in Chiang Mai. The songthaews are converted from a pick-up truck and can carry around ten people. The red songthaew has no fixed running route, and often runs near the market, temple or bus station or train station, and stops with a hand wave. The starting fee is 20 baht/person.

Tuk-tuk is the preferred means of transport for short trips, which can take you to various attractions in and around the old city of Chiang Mai. Short distances by tuk-tuk cost about 30-40 baht, while longer distances such as the Old City to the airport or train station cost 80-150 baht, with bargains available.

Taxis

There are not many taxis in Chiang Mai, but if you come across an empty one, you can just wave your hand. Cabs are mainly found at the airport and bus stations, and a taxi ride from the airport to the Old City is about 150-200 baht. If you want to take a cab, you can ask your hotel to make a reservation directly or book through mobile apps such as Uber or Grab.

Motorcycles

Getting around Chiang Mai on a motorcycle is a great way to explore the area freely. There are many places to rent motorcycles in the old city, with prices generally ranging from 150-250 baht per day, depending on the condition and model of the motorcycle.

You are not required to show your driver’s license to rent a motorcycle in Chiang Mai, but you will need your passport as collateral.

Bicycles

There are a lot of small alleys in Chiang Mai Old City, which can be explored by bicycle. Bicycle rental is about 50 baht/24 hours, with a passport as collateral.

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