Chiang Mai

The most chilled out city in Thailand, Chiang Mai thrives with the artistic traditions of craftsmen. Savour its legendary food too.

There’s a relaxed, arty charm about Chiang Mai. It has a centuries-old tradition of artisans that gives the city a sizzle of creative energy. People still live inside the Old City walls, still visit the 14th-century temples, and still make the silverware, lacquerware, ceramics and textiles that made Chiang Mai so famous. And some of the oldest markets in Thailand still sell them.

This whole northern region, once called Lanna, has a different atmosphere to the rest of the country. It’s partly because Chiang Mai was an important trading post on ancient caravan routes between China and the seaports of Burma; but partly, too, because the mountains and thick jungle kept it isolated until early last century.

Outside the city you can visit hill tribe communities, tour the ancient towns of Lamphun and Lampang, or climb the country’s highest mountain, where you’ll need a sweater against the cooler climate.

But Chiang Mai is no backwater. It’s a tourist magnet of luxury rooms, as well as cheap guesthouses. It’s a place where you can drink in cool bars and eat foods from around the world in a host of restaurants and streetside stalls. Chiang Mai’s own food is legendary. Try the local curries khao soi and hang ley or tribal specialities like Tai Yai herbal soup.

Whatever you do, you’ll find a different pace of life. Chiang Mai is the most chilled out city in Thailand.


When to go

The best time is November to February, for sunny skies, low humidity and little rain.

Visa requirements

Nationals from most countries are granted a visa on arrival which is valid for 15-90 days. Details can be found at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Singapore nationals are entitled to 30 days. All foreign nationals need six months' validity on their passports. Sixty-day tourist visas are available from Thai embassies before leaving. All can be extended by 30 days at the immigration office. Tourists can stay in Thailand for up to 90 days within 6 months from the date of first entry.


The baht is the principal Thai monetary unit.


Chiang Mai International Airport is about 4km southwest of town. The public green-and-yellow metered taxis available outside will cost around B100 to city centre locations. Alternatively, bus No. 4 outside the airport costs B15 and takes around 30 minutes.

Songthaew (small red pick-up trucks) stop for passengers who flag them down. The fare runs from B20 per person, depending on the distance. Three-wheeled tuk-tuks cost B30 to B150. Green-and-yellow metered taxis can be booked by telephone (tel: (66) 5320 1307 or (66) 5326 2878). Rates start at B30 for the first 2km. Car rentals start around B700. Most of the city is easily accessible by bicycle, which kiosks and guesthouses rent from B50 per day.

Health and safety tips

No vaccinations are required to enter Thailand. Hospitals are good, but there are no reciprocal agreements with other countries, so arrange health insurance. Tap water is not safe to drink, but ice is generally fine in reputable restaurants.

Thais tend to be non-confrontational, and the country is generally safe. Scam artists are the main risk. Take care when buying 'antiques', which are common in Chiang Mai.

Emergency details

129 South Sathorn Road, Bangkok (tel: (66) 2286 2111 or (66) 81 844 3580 outside office hours,

Tourist Police National Hotline: 1155 (anywhere in Thailand),

Basic greetings
English Thai
Hello Sah-waht-dee
How are you? Bpehn yahng-ngi?
Fine, thanks Sah-bie dee korp-kuhn
Goodbye Sah-waht-dee
Excuse-me! (to get attention, to get past) Kor-toet
Thank you Korp-kuhn
Yes Krahp/kah
No Mi
OK Dtok-long
What's your name? Kuhn chuee ah-ri?
My name is… Pom/chahn chuee…
Nice to meet you Yihn dee tee die roo-jahk
Are you on Facebook/Twitter? Kuhn l`ehn fes-buhk/tah-wiht-ter mi?
Where’s an internet café? Ihn-dter-neht kar-fe yoo tee-ni?
Where can I get a taxi? Pom/chahn jah reark tak-see die tee-ni?
Where is the bus/train station? Sah-tar-nee kon-song/rot-fi yoo tee-ni?
A one-way/return ticket to… Dtoar teaw deaw/bpi glahp bpi…
Do you have a room for one/two? Kuhn mee hohng sahm-rahp kon deaw/sorng kon mi?
When's check out? Dtorng chehk-ou gee moeng?
Can you recommend a good restaurant/bar? Kuhn choary na-nahm rarn ar-harn/bar dee dee hi nohy di mi?
A table for two, please Kor dto sahm-rahp sorng kon
A menu, please Kor me-noo nohy
The bill, please Chehk bihn doary
Where's the toilet? Hohng-narm bpi tarng ni?
Help! Choary doary!

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Chiang Mai Zoo and Arboretum

100 Thanon Huay Kaew

A 20-minute taxi ride to the northwest corner of the city brings you to Chiang Mai Zoo and Arboretum. There’s a charge to get in and an extra fee for some attractions, including panda-viewing. Koalas, camels, lions and tigers are among the animals on display, plus reptiles, a large aquarium, and over 5,000 birds representing 150 species. To save your tired legs, there’s even a tram service and a monorail to get round the enclosures.


25km south of Chiang Mai

Peaceful Lamphun was a centre of Mon culture until King Mengrai overran the city in 1281 and its historic temples are among the most famous in Thailand. The riverside Wat Phra That Hariphunchai has buildings dating to the 11th century, including an open-air pavilion with one of the world’s largest bronze gongs, and a museum of old Buddhist art. Opposite, the Hariphunchai National Museum has artefacts from the kingdoms of Hariphunchai, Dvaravati and Lanna. From here you can take pedal taxi to Wat Chama Thewi, originally an 8th or 9th century Dvaravati Mon site, rebuilt by the Hariphunchai Mon in 1218.

Doi Suthep

Thanon Huay Kaew

After the gentle hairpin curves up Doi Suthep mountain there are 290 stairs to reach Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A cable car is an option if you’re unfit. One of the features of the temple grounds is a 24-metre gilded chedi; another is the great views over Chiang Mai. The temple is just 15km northwest of town, so easily achievable as a morning visit. A road from the temple parking area ascends to Phu Phing Palace, a royal winter residence. The palace gardens are open on Saturdays and Sundays, unless the royal family is staying.

Chiang Mai Night Safari

Thanon Ratchapreuk

Chiang Mai Night Safari is open all day, but the night safari is more exciting than the day safari. A good option is to arrive an hour before sunset, look around the zoo attractions, and then head to the night safari (extra fee). It starts at 7.45pm and has English-speaking guides. The tram takes you through open land where animals such as giraffes and zebras run free. Tigers, lions and other dangerous creatures are located behind a ditch. You can pet, feed and hold some of the animals. The complex also has restaurants, a cabaret and laser shows.

Doi Inthanon National Park

58km south of Chiang Mai

If you follow Route 108 south of Chiang Mai you reach the entrance to Doi Inthanon National Park, home to Thailand’s highest mountain, at 2,596 metres. Hmong and Karen hilltribe communities live in the reserve. There’s a charge to enter the park and you can visit by car for the day. If you want to go trekking, the park authorities allow by prior arrangement three- to five-day treks up the mountain on foot or by pony. Several campsites and bungalows provide simple accommodation (tel: 66 5328 6730).


Adorn with Studio Naenna

22 Nimmanhaeminda Soi 1

Adorn with Studio Naenna is the downtown outlet of Studio Naenna, owned by Patricia Cheeseman, a renowned expert on Southeast Asian textiles. It sells exquisite original silk and cotton fabrics and clothing items based on hill-tribe designs and techniques. They also make textile art pieces for wall displays. At the main studio (tel: 66 5322 6042) there’s a workshop-cum-gallery, which offers weaving and dying demonstrations. This is a fair trade outlet that supports local weaving communities.

Budget $$$

Central Festival

99 Fa Ham Sub-district, Chiang Mai-Lampang Super Highway

As well as Central’s own excellent department store and food hall, Chiang Mai's Central Festival offers all the usual suspects in brand name fashion stores, including H&M;, Topshop and Zara. To keep you amused between purchases there are some 60 restaurants, a ten-screen cinema complex and an ice rink.

Budget $$

Mengrai Kilns

79/2 Thanon Arak

Mengrai Kilns has a reputation for producing the famous celadon ceramics that are widely associated with Thailand, but which actually have their roots in ancient China. The stoneware items range in size, and price, from tiny touristy items to giant urns that would grace a fine mansion. All are covered in the distinctive glaze created with the ash of local wood.

Budget $$

Nova Collection

179 Thanon Thapae

The Nova Collection studio carries precious and semi-precious stones and also creates contemporary jewellery in several metals, from stainless steel to silver and gold. The pieces are finished with various stones, including diamonds and sapphires. Rings, earrings, bracelets and pendants are all available. Prices start around US$150, but you could pay around US$1,000 or more. They also hold workshops if you want to learn the art of jewellery-making.

Budget $$$

Warorot Market

Thanon Chang Moi

Warorot Market is Chiang Mai’s oldest market. Housed in huge ramshackle buildings, with lots of stalls also around the perimeter. It’s open daily, generally from 5am to 6pm. It’s a cheaper alternative to the more tourist-oriented markets, and is stuffed with everything native to the city and northern Thailand. There is a wet market, with mounds of local vegetables and spices, a flower market, and inside you’ll find goods ranging from cosmetics to handicrafts and loom-woven textiles.

Budget $


Aroon (Rai) Restaurant

45 Thanon Kotchasan

One of Chiang Mai’s oldest and best-known Thai restaurants, Aroon sits on the east side of the moat just south of Tha Phae Gate. The vast menu focuses mainly on northern and central Thai cuisine. House specialities include kaeng awm and kaeng khae, both soupy dishes made with Thai roots and herbs with distinctive, bitter-hot flavours. Their khao soi chicken curry is rated one of Chiang Mai’s best.

Budget $

Baan Rai Yam Yen

Moo 3, Soi Wat Lanka 3

Baan Rai Yam Yen, a long-running establishment and part of the restaurant row on the Fa Ham Road, has a cult following for its excellent northern and central Thai food. The laab gai (minced chicken with spices) is top class, and for something adventurous, try the steamed beehive (rang pheung). It’s not easy to find, but any tuk-tuk or taxi driver will know it.

Budget $

Dash! Restaurant and Bar

38/2 Thanon Moon-Muang

Dash! is set in a lovely two-storey building modelled on a traditional Thai house, but with modern sensibilities. The menu is mostly slanted at Thai in dishes like spicy salads, tom yum goong (hot and sour shrimp soup) and deep-fried fish in tamarind sauce. But western favourites such as burgers and pastas are also in the mix. They have garden seating, a cooking school and a bar open till midnight.

Budget $$

Farang Ses

Dhara Devi Chiang Mai, 51/4 Thanon Chiang Mai-San Kamphaeng

Part of the spectacular cultural-themed Dhara Devi resort, Farang Ses is a destination restaurant in every sense. It’s a formal setting for classy traditional French dining, the elegant room sporting heavy iron chandeliers hung from a cathedral-like teak ceiling. The menu also carries hefty features in dishes such as lobster bisque and slow-braised wagyu beef. For an extra special atmosphere and custom service book the chef’s table located in the kitchen.

Budget $$$

The Riverside Bar and Restaurant

Thanon Charoenrat

The Riverside Bar and Restaurant is a favourite among locals and visitors alike for its pleasant location. It has consistently good food, live music and cosy wood-floor ambience. The menu covers a good range of Thai, Western and vegetarian options, packed with pleasers like paad thai, burgers and apple pie. It pays to arrive early and nail down a good table.

Budget $$


137 Pillars House

2 Nawatgate Soi 1

137 Pillars House was the former headquarters of the East Borneo Company in the late 19th century. It was also once the home of Louis, the son of Anna Leonowens, famous as the subject of the film The King and I. The old teak mansion has been lovingly restored. It offers personal butlers and combines exquisite period detail with mod cons like iPod connectivity and high speed Wi-fi.

Budget $$$

Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai

51/4 Thanon Chiang Mai-San Kamphaeng

The buildings in the stunning 60-acre Dhara Dhevi complex set in the eastern outskirts of Chiang Mai include replicas of famous Buddhist temples, while the public areas are filled with beautiful artworks, including Chiang Mai silverwork and Burmese paintings, from the owner’s private collection. The teak-floored suites and villas are clustered around ponds and variously themed gardens. Top class restaurants include the French Farang Ses and Fujian Chinese.

Budget $$$


100–101 Thanon Chang Khlan

The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is only a few steps away from this stylish contemporary hotel. The clean minimalist rooms at dusitD2 have plasma TVs, DVD players and high-speed internet, and there’s a good spa managed by Devarana. There’s an onsite bar and the Moxie restaurant has modern Thai food if you want to splash out.

Budget $$

Galare Guest House

7/1 Soi 2, Thanon Charoen Prathet

A well-managed place that has spacious rooms, the Galare is popular with repeat visitors for its garden setting beside the Ping River. The decent open-air riverside restaurant serves Thai and international food. It’s also handily placed for the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. There’s no in-room connection, but a computer terminal in the lobby provides internet access.

Budget $

The Rachamankha

6 Thanon Rachamankha

Partially hidden in a lane behind Wat Phra Singh, the Rachamankha is beautifully modelled on a Beijing Ming dynasty noble house. The rooms, resembling monks’ cells, are arranged around cloistered walkways lined with Burmese scripture boxes, and the lobby is a copy of Wat Prathat Lampang Luang, in Lampang.

Budget $$

Bo Sang Umbrella Festival

Date varies in January

The famous umbrella-making village of Bo Sang, east of the city, holds an annual festival featuring demonstrations, cultural shows and competitions. The umbrellas and other items are fashioned in silk, cotton or saa paper, made from mulberry trees.

Chiang Mai Art and Culture Festival

Date varies in April

This festival has a wide range of events at Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre and various venues around the city. They include music and dance, art shows, street theatre, food stalls and workshops. See for details.

Flower Festival

Date varies in February

This annual festival is held in Suan Buak Hat Park when the region’s flowers are in full bloom. Orchids are always a highlight of the floral displays, and there are also agricultural exhibitions, contests and cultural shows.

Loy Krathong

Date varies in November

Loy Krathong features delightful Lanna-style lanterns, which glide atmospherically through the night sky, while the Ping River lights up with floats and flickering candles, launched to seek blessings from the water spirits at the end of the rainy season.


13-15 April

Chiang Mai makes a fuss of Songkran, Thailand’s official New Year. Alongside huge water fights in the streets, there are parades, beauty contests, and northern Lanna art and culture shows around the city. Celebrations begin the weekend before 13 April.


An Old City morning tour reveals Chiang Mai’s ethnic diversity, which is born of ancient trade routes. Later, skilled artisans settled here when Burma ruled the region for 200 years from 1556. The 13th-century Wat Chiang Man, on Thanon Ratchaphakinai, is the city’s oldest temple and contains the Phra Satang Man, a small crystal Buddha which is paraded through the streets during the Songkran festival in April. Also here is the stone Phra Sila Buddha, believed to be from 8th-century India.


A short walk south west, the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre (Thanon Phra Pokklao) has permanent and temporary exhibitions. To the southwest, Wat Phra Singh (Thanon Ratchadamnoen) is Chiang Mai’s most important temple. Founded in 1345, it contains an elaborate wooden Buddhist library, on a brick-and-stucco base with bas-relief deities. The beautiful Phra Viharn Lai Kham, fronted by gold leaf flowers on red lacquer, has intricately carved door frames that lead to an interior with Burmese-influenced murals.


In the afternoon, leave the old city from the northern gate along Thanon Chang Puak. Turning left at the Superhighway leads to Chiang Mai National Museum, which has a collection of almost one million artifacts. These mainly cover the Lanna period of the last 700 years.


Chiang Mai is a major centre for Thai crafts, and there are many workshops a short drive east of the city. You can watch artisans at work before you buy. The most well known community is at Bo Sang, or Umbrella Village, famous for its painted parasols made of bamboo and cotton, silk or saa paper, produced from mulberry trees. Courtyards along the street provide splashes of bright colour where umbrellas lie displayed in the sun. Some have intricate natural scenes that hint at a Japanese influence. A good place to shop is the Umbrella Making Centre (111/2 Bo Sang, tel: 66 5333 8324). In workshops nearby you’ll also find hand-beaten serving bowls, wood crafts, ceramic jars and ornaments.


In the afternoon, head for Hang Dong village, for ceramics, antiques, wooden furniture and crafts made from woven bamboo, cane and rattan. It’s 15km south of Chiang Mai on Route 108. Just east are Ban Wan, with a selection of antique and furniture shops, and Ban Thawai, for woodcarvings and made-to-order furniture.


An alternative for weekend shopping is the Sunday Walking Street market which displays handicrafts, clothing and souvenirs along Thanon Ratchadamnoen and adjacent roads. It’s open Saturdays, too (Dec–Mar).


Later, go to Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, on Thanon Chang Khlan. Steel carts here offer gifts made in Thailand, but also imports from China, Nepal, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar Building has three floors of shops with antiques, furniture, textiles, jewellery, ceramics and inexpensive clothes.