It’s been a long time since I wanted to go to Thailand. A lot of people that I know went there, some of them routinely. I heard a lot of stories, all of them describing Thailand as a fantastic destination. I went to Thailand in the last week of November and the first week of December 2017. My plan was to spend 3 days in Chiang Mai, 8 days in Krabi and 3 days in Bangkok. In Asia, I’ve only been to China and I was very excited about this trip.
I arrived to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport at 6am and I took the Bangkok Airways flight at 9am. By 10am I was already in Chiang Mai. I took a taxi from the airport to the hotel at the flat rate of 150 baht and I was in my hotel in 20 minutes. The Chiang Mai airport is very close to the old town. There wasn’t much traffic at that time of the day and the transfer went pretty smoothly. However, it may take longer if there is more traffic. It also depends on where your accommodation is.
Chiang Mai is 700km north of Bangkok, located on the banks of the Ping River. The city was founded in 1296 as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. If you look on a map of Chiang Mai, the old town is a rectangular area encircled by walls and a moat. This is where you will find most of what you want to see: wats, shops, restaurants and markets. However, the “old town” notion is very relative. Don’t think that you will see pretty scenes of centuries old Thai houses. Rather, you will mostly find modern day constructions with numerous wats scattered all over the old town. Regardless, Chiang Mai is magically charming, it has a uniquely relaxing atmosphere and it is deservedly a very popular tourist destination.
I stayed in the Pingviman Hotel on Samlan road, just inside the city walls. I chose this hotel because it had admirable reviews. My plan was to stay there for a short period of time thus the budget was not too much of an issue. It is a very beautiful 4 star hotel with a heated swimming pool in the centre of the hotel complex.
Recommending this hotel to budget travellers is not very useful but if you go to Chiang Mai for several days only, I strongly suggest that you consider it. It is a beautiful place and much cheaper than equivalent hotels in Europe. If you are planning to stay longer, then there are cheaper options. Due to its popularity with the digital nomad community, short term rental industry is highly developed in Chiang Mai. You can consider renting either a flat or a house, it would work out much cheaper.
My original plan was to spend 3 days in Chiang Mai and then to go to Krabi. The weather in Chiang Mai was excellent, sunny and hot every day with temperatures around 30 degrees C. At the same time it rained non-stop in Krabi. I changed my plans and remained in Chiang Mai for additional 5 days. I extended my stay in the same hotel and at the same price at which I booked it months before. There are many places where to stay in Chiang Mai and it seems possible to do the last minute booking at very low rates.
As I unexpectedly stayed in Chiang Mai for longer than I initially planned, I took it easy and enjoyed my holiday. Every day after breakfast I would go to the swimming pool until 3pm. I would explore the city afterwards. Chiang Mai has a highly developed tourist industry. It centres around various activities and excursions such as cycling and trekking in a nearby countryside, visits to elephant jungle sanctuaries, etc. There are tourist agencies everywhere where you can explore various options and book your tour.
There are over 300 wats (Buddhist Temples) in the old city and the surrounding area. Most of them are of the Lanna style dating from the 13th to the 18th century, with curved wooden roofs pointing up at the top. They are the most important historical attraction that you would want to visit. Of course, it is not possible and not necessary to see all of them. Rather, choose the most important ones and you will get a very good idea of Buddhism in Thailand and its role and importance in everyday life.
These are some of the wats that I visited:
– Phra Singh Wat – is located in the western part of the old city centre of Chiang Mai, at the end of the Chiang Mai’s main street – Rachadamneon road.
– Chiang Man Wat – was built around 1297, as the first temple of Chiang Mai.
Of all wats that I visited, this one had the most beautiful chedi.
– Mahawan Wat – is just outside the Chiang Mai old town centre, near the Tha Phae gate.
It is a temple with both Lanna and Burmese style buildings and many sculptures of mythical creatures.
– Buppharam Wat – is also located outside the old city, a bit further down from Wat Mahawan. It was built in 1497 and the temple complex also has a well that supplies holy water.
– Rachadamneon Road – is Chiang Mai’s main street. I was lucky to arrive to Chiang Mai on Sunday as every Sunday in the late afternoon and the evening this road becomes a big market. If you happen to be in Chiang Mai on Sunday do not miss this weekly event. The market is very colourful and lively and there are also numerous food stalls that offer delicious and cheap food. It was very busy and at times it was very difficult to navigate through huge crowds. Although, it’s a part of the whole experience. The Thai National Anthem was played at 6pm and everyone stood still, so make sure that you do the same. That experience was quite surreal.
– Chiang Mai Night Bazaar – is located at the crossing of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Khro Road and it spreads for two blocks in all directions. It starts at around 6pm and it is open until 11pm, with some vendors staying open later. There is also an abundance of tasty and cheap street food.
How much you do in Chiang Mai depends on how long you stay there. Moving around Chiang Mai’s old town is very easy. That particular area is not very big and you can walk everywhere. However, if you need to take a transport, there are tuk-tuks and songthaews everywhere.
A songthaew is a converted pickup truck named after its two rows of seats. They usually follow prescribed routes and when you see one coming you can simply wave at the driver and if he goes in your direction you ask the price and hop on. If the songthaew is empty you can ask the driver to take you wherever you need to go. The price may be a bit higher than the usual 30 baht rate for when you share it with other passengers.
Is Chiang Mai worth visiting? Definitely! It is a place with great history, reflected in numerous beautiful wats. There are so many things to see and numerous activities to do. There are also many coffee shops, bars and restaurants and all of that merged together creates Chiang Mai’s uniquely magic atmosphere. It’s a place where I would certainly like to spend more time.