ARRIVAL TO CHIANG MAI
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.
ABOUT CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is 700km north of Bangkok, located on the Ping River. The city was founded in 1296, as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. If you look on the map of Chiang Mai, the old town is a rectangular area encircled by the walls and the 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.
WHERE TO STAY?
I stayed in the Pingviman Hotel on Samlan road, just inside of 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’s a very beautiful four-star hotel, with a heated swimming pool in the centre of the hotel complex.
Recommending this hotel to budget travellers would not be very useful, but if you go to Chiang Mai for several days only, I strongly suggest that you consider it. It’s 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 a digital nomads community, the short term rental industry is highly developed in Chiang Mai. You can consider renting either a flat or a house, most likely it will 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 had booked it months before. There are many places where you can stay in Chiang Mai and it seems possible to do the last minute booking at very low rates.
WHAT TO DO?
As I unexpectedly stayed in Chiang Mai for longer than initially planned, I took it easy and enjoyed my holiday. Every day after breakfast, I was at the swimming pool until 3pm. Later, I explored the city. Chiang Mai has a highly developed tourist industry that centres around various activities and excursions such as cycling and trekking, visits to the elephant 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 historic attraction that you would want to visit. Of course, it’s 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 the Buddhism in Thailand and its role and importance in everyday life.
These are some of them that I visited:
PHRA SINGH WAT
Phra Singh Wat is located in the western part of the old city centre, at the end of the Chiang Mai’s main street – Rachadamneon road.
WAT CHIANG MAN
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’s a temple with both Lanna and Burmese style buildings and many sculptures of mythical creatures.
Wat Buppharam is also located outside of the old city, a bit further down from Wat Mahawan. It was built in 1497.
The temple complex also contains a well that supplies holy water.
CHIANG MAI MARKETS
Rachadamneon Road is the main street in Chiang Mai. I was lucky to arrive to Chiang Mai on Sunday. 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 difficult to navigate through huge crowds. Although, it’s part of the whole experience. They played the Thai National Anthem at 6pm and everyone stood still, so make sure that you do the same. It was a surreal experience.
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 longer. There is an abundance of tasty and cheap street food in this market too.
HOW TO MOVE AROUND THE CITY?
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 when you share it with other passengers.
Is Chiang Mai worth visiting? Definitely. It is a place with the great history, reflected through numerous beautiful wats. There are a lot of things to see and many activities to do. There are also coffee shops, bars and restaurants everywhere. All that merged together creates the city’s uniquely magical atmosphere.
It is certainly a place where I would like to spend more time.