Chiang Mai did have a nice new large air conditioned bus service. These were all over the major city routes but have been discontinued. There are pedicabs calledsamlor; the 3-wheeled tuk-tuk; and the most popular, the songthaew.
A songthaew serves as a bus or a taxi.
In lieu of a local bus service, locals get around the city on songthaew (สองแถว). These covered pick-up trucks have two long bench seats in the back (songthaew means “two rows” in Thai), and travel fixed routes picking up passengers en route who are going the same way. Some can also be hired outright.
The colour of the songthaew indicates its general route or usage. Most common by far are red songthaews (called rod daeng, redtruck), which don’t follow a specific route and roam the main streets around markets, temples, or the bus/train stations. These are the most convenient to take if you are going somewhere specific. Prices must be negotiated. but expect 20 baht anywhere within the city walls and 40-60 baht outside. However, most drivers will initially quote tourists prices of 100 baht for locations outside the city walls, locals will pay up to 40 baht for the same journey. Because of the city’s somewhat irrational road design, especially inside the old walls, the driver may be forced to take a circuitous route to get to a nearby destination, but it will make no difference in the fare.
Fixed route songthaews congregate around Warorot Market. From Warorot Market, white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng, yellowsongthaews travel to Mae Rim in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the northeast. They all charge a 20 baht flat rate.
From Pratu Chiang Mai Market, songthaews also travel to Hang Dong (20 baht) and San Patong, southwest of Chiang Mai.
To catch a songthaew; approach a waiting driver or flag one down on the street, state your destination and if the driver is going that direction he will nod in agreement and give you a price. Negotiate a lower fare if you wish. The price agreed to should be per person; it’s a good idea to confirm this with the driver before you leave. On reaching your destination, ring the buzzer on the roof to tell the driver to stop, or most likely the driver will pull over, wait for you to get out and pay.
By tuk-tuk or samlor
Tuk-tuks are a quick, though noisy way to get around. Fares are usually 40-50 baht for a short hop and 50-100 baht for longer distances, depending on the proficiency of your bargaining. As a guide, expect to pay 50-100 baht from the old city to the riverside and Night Bazaar, the railway station, and 100-150 baht to the bus station or airport. Tuk-tuks parked near the bus and train stations will ask you for something like 120-150 baht. Just haggle or walk away to the nearest road and stop a passing tuk-tuk or songthaew there.
According to expats, the highest fee for a tuk-tuk at any time of day or night should be 150 baht for any location in town.
The fee seems to be based on multiples of 20 baht which is the smallest note. It is a good idea to stock up on notes and coins as whenever you offer a note higher than the agreed fee the driver may have no change!
Some Tuk Tuks will have signs indicating they can be hired at an hourly or daily rate. This is far more economical and the drivers are happy to hang out in their tuk tuk waiting for the riders to visit wherever they want to go.
A few samlor (three-wheeled bicycles) still cruise the streets and will happily take you to a temple for the same price as a tuk-tuk, though at a considerably quieter and slower pace.
Note that in many cases a Taxi is the same price (or less) than a Tuk Tuk.
Chiang Mai has metered taxis, though it can be difficult to persuade the driver to switch the meter on. If you do prevail, the flag fall is 30 baht for the first 2 km, then 10-15 baht/km after that. Otherwise you will have resort to bargaining a fare. You cannot generally hail taxis in the street. To book a taxi try:
- Chiang Mai Airport Taxi,☎ +66 53 201307 or +66 53 922128. Despite their name, Chiang Mai Taxi will take you anywhere. Good, honest outfit. Call, state your destination and the call centre will give you a quote
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to get the drivers use the Meter, and you will always have to agree to a fixed rate, even when you order the Taxi from the above-mentioned company.
Or contact individual drivers via the mobile phone numbers displayed on their vehicles.
By motorbike or motorcycle
A motorbike is a convenient and cheap way to get around town or reach the outlying sights. There are an abundance of nearly indistinguishable rental outfits in town, and most guest houses can arrange rentals. Automatic 110cc and 125cc bikes capable of carrying two people are the easiest to jump on and ride away with if you don’t have riding experience, but off-road bikes and larger street bikes are also an option. A valid international drivers licence isn’t required to rent.
Motorbikes run about 150 baht/day for a 110cc motorbike and 150+ baht/day for a Honda Wave 125; supplied with helmets and a security chain. If you rent longer term, e.g., by the month, those rates can be as low as 2,400 to 2,700 baht per month, averaging 80-90 baht per day. Several dealers will agree to these rates. Currently a Honda PCX rents for 500-600 baht per day in the city centre. Monthly rates may lower the daily average.
Larger machines cost 700 baht/day for a V-twin chopper or larger sport-bike. Expect discounts when renting for a week, month, or longer.
Rentals will require a deposit (generally prudent opinion would say that while many ask for a passport you should under no circumstances leave your passport [with anyone] as collateral). It is recommended that you use your discretion to make this assessment as reputable vendors will cause no problems leaving the passport for a month each time. Remember that if you want to leave the country you will need the passport; and that you must ALWAYS carry a photocopy of the passport and visa/entry stamp pages. In this case an additional photo ID isn’t a bad idea. Most shops will accept a photocopy with a cash deposit of around 3,000-5,000 baht. This is a much better alternative. While the petrol/gas tank may be full on pick-up, it is not uncommon for shops to deliver a bike with just enough fuel to go make it to a service station. In any case, return the bike with as much or more fuel than received to avoid any penalties. Also check out the relative mechanical merit of the bike being offered. Focus especially on the brakes, the degree of “pull” needed for the handlebar lever, and the travel needed for the foot brake. Check that indicators and headlights work properly, and the tires are reasonably OK.
Some rental agreements claim to insure you but generally only cover the bike for theft or damage. Don’t expect much in the way of compensation if something bad such as an accident occurs. Regardless of who is at fault, assume that you will be considered the guilty party.
The police frequently fine riders (including passengers) 500 baht (some officers will allow you to pay 100 or 200 baht on the spot “to avoid paperwork and travelling to the station, etc.”) for not wearing a helmet, plus you usually have to go to the police station the next day to collect your licence.
Some motorcycle rental shops: Tawan Motor, 84/7 Sridonchai Rd., 053-271546, 087-3017848, the owner of the shop is relaxed and fair, and does not worry about minor scratches
Car hire services are available both in the city centre and at the airport. Cars typically offered include the Toyota Vios, Altis, and Yaris, and the Honda City and Jazz. Typical rates for newer models are 900-2,000 baht per day, depending on season and model. Expect a slight discount when renting weekly. Utility pickups such as the Toyota Hilux or Fortuner SUV are also available. Many places offer minivans such as 10-seat Toyota Commuters with a driver from about 2,000 baht per day plus fuel. Older Suzuki Carribean 4WDs are a cheaper option at around 600-800 baht per day, but they are relatively difficult to drive and less mechanically reliable than a standard passenger car.
The old city is only a mile square, (say, 2.5 sq km) and as such is easy to walk around. The airport is also quite close to the old part of town–about 2.5 km–so if you have the energy and an hour to spare, you can even walk to and from the airport. Note that this is not necessarily a pleasant experience as the sidewalks are uneven (or non-existent) and Chiang Mai gets hot during the day, especially during the hot season, and rainy during the rainy season. The cost of a taxi or songthaew from the moat area to the airport is around 150 baht.
Hiring a car or minivan with driver
This is is a great option for travelling to places outside Chiang Mai city, and the price is often similar to hiring a car and driving yourself. You’ll also be able to relax and enjoy the scenery in air-conditioned comfort. The cost for a private car with driver is generally from 1,000 to 1,500 baht per day plus fuel depending on the type of vehicle and where you are going. The driver will typically pick you up with a full tank of fuel and you pay at the end. Large Toyota Hi-Ace, Nissan Urvan and newer Toyota Commuter minivans go for around 2,000 baht per day plus fuel. Most hotels and some guest houses can arrange it for you, in addition to vehicle rental outlets and the many travel agencies in town.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
The quintessential image of Chiang Mai with its large gold-plated chedi, visible from the city on a clear day, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ, Huai Kaeo Rd, 30 baht, ) is 18 km from town, sitting at a 1,073 m elevation on the slopes of Doi (Mount) Suthep. Built in 1383 during the Lanna Thai period, legend has it that the temples site was selected by an elephant sent to roam the mountain side, where upon reaching a suitable spot, it trumpeted, circled three times, knelt down and promptly died, which was interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site. The temple offers grand views over the city, but no reward is without effort as you must ascend the 300-plus steps of the Naga-lined stairs. The climb may be a strain in the high altitude’s thin air for the less fit, so you may opt to take the cable car for 20 baht. For the Visaka Bucha holiday in June or July each year, it is traditional for people to walk from the zoo to the temple and vast numbers make the pilgrimage to the top, which takes around 4-5 hours.
In the vicinity there are several other attractions you may want to consider visiting. The Bhuping Royal Palace Gardens are 4 km further along the road from Wat Prathat, with a reasonably easy walk along the meter-wide road shoulder. Or you can get a shared songthaew from Wat Prathat for 30 baht, but you may have to wait until it fills up. Further along the road is a hill tribe village, and although tourist-oriented, is really worth the trip. There are many shops for local handicrafts, etc. These are the people from the far north of the country, many originally from Myanmar. There are two areas in the village that require entrance fee: 10 baht to enter a flower garden (where women can take pictures using traditional clothes) and a hill tribe opium museum (the museum is in a very poor condition); and 10 baht to enter the hill tribe waterfall (man-made).
Getting there is a source of much consternation to many travellers. Clearly marked songthaews leave from Pratu Chang Phuak. Prices are fixed at 50 baht up and 50 baht down; but the drivers wait until they have sufficient (up to 8) passengers before they depart, potentially making for a lengthy wait. Most guidebooks advise taking a songthaew from Mani Nopharat Rd, resulting in the drivers milking the tourist cash-cow and raising their price from a reasonable 50 baht to a ludicrous 500 baht.
Another option is to take a songthaew from your hotel to Chiang Mai Zoo for 20 baht (if you are close to the city walls), where there will be several songthaews waiting on Huai Kaeo Rd to get a full load of passengers for a trip up the mountain. They seem to congregate around the Chiang Mai Zoo, so if you just say “zoo” to the driver he will know what you’re talking about. From the zoo prices range from 40 baht for a one-way trip to Wat Prathat to 180 baht for a full round-trip tour, including the temple, Bhuping Palace Gardens, and the the hill tribe village, with an hour at each location, but you may have to wait until there are sufficient people who want the same tour or be prepared to pay more. You can also get between many of these by buying point-to-point tickets at the time you want them, or walking some segment. Any songthaew up the mountain road may be a trial for those prone to motion-sickness, so take appropriate precautions.
There are several little annoying charges to pay for foreigners. To enter the Doi Suthep itself is free for Thais, and 30 baht for foreigners. Tour operators will ask 700 baht for a tour.
The journey from town can be made by motorcycle or a bicycle with appropriate gearing. The final 12 km from the zoo onwards is entirely uphill and will take 60-90 minutes if cycling.
There are more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai and its outskirts, with a dozen stand-outs of historical or architectural significance within walking distance of each other. Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai exhibit a mixture of Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan and Mon architectural styles that reflect the varied heritage of Northern Thailand.
Though certain temples on the conventional tourist circuit can be overrun with loud groups it is not hard to find many less well-known, but no less interesting, temples quietly and gently crumbling in the absence of tourist hordes. Whichever you visit, keep in mind that the temples are sacred religious places of deep cultural significance for the locals. Show respect by wearing appropriate attire (long pants for men, modest tops and skirts for women, no bare shoulders or plunging necklines and women must wear a bra). You must take off your shoes before entering the temple or other buildings, but they may be worn in the courtyard. Taking photographs of Buddha images is no problem, but it is polite to ask before taking pictures of monks or locals. All temples are free.
Inside the old city walls
- Wat Phra Singh,Corner of Singharaj Rd and Rajdamnern Rd. Probably Chiang Mai’s best-known temple, housing the Phra Singh image, completed between 1385 and 1400. Of most historical interest is the Wihan Lai Kham in the back, featuring Lanna-style temple murals and intricate gold patterns on red lacquer behind the altar. The large chedi was built in 1345 by King Pha Yu to house the remains of his father King Kam Fu. A typical scripture repository is located at this temple as well. These repositories were designed to keep and protect the delicate sa or mulberry paper sheets used by monks and scribes to keep records and write down folklore. The high stucco-covered stone base of the repository protected the delicate scriptures from the rain, floods and pests. The walls of the chapel are covered with murals illustrating Lanna customs, dress, and scenes from daily life. The lovely Lai Kam chapel houses the revered Phra Singh Buddha image. Sadly, the head was stolen in 1922, and a reproduction is now seen. To enter the temple is free for Thais, and 20 baht for foreigners. The ticket is in a leaflet form containing useful information and map of Wat Phra Singh complex.
- Wat Chiang Man,Rajpakinai Rd. The oldest royal temple in the city. Presumed to date from the year Chiang Mai was founded (1296), it is famed for two Buddha images, which according to legend are 1,800 and 2,500 years old. King Mengrai allegedly lived here while the city of Chiang Mai was being constructed. Enshrined in Wat Chiang Man is a tiny crystal Buddha called Pra Seh-Taang Kamaneeee, which is thought to have the power to bring rain. Another image, called Phra Sila Khoa, reflects the fine workmanship of Indian craftsmen from thousands of years ago.
- Wat Chedi Luang,Prapokklao Rd. Almost in the centre of Chiang Mai are the remains of a massive chedi that toppled in in the great earthquake of 1545. The temple was originally constructed in 1401 on the orders of King Saeng Muang Ma. In 1454, reigning King Tilo-Garaj enlarged the chedi (pronounced jedee) to a height of 86 m. After the earthquake, the chedi lay in ruins until 1991-92, when it was reconstructed at a cost of several million baht. A magnificent testament to Lanna (northern Thai) architecture and art, restored sections hint at its former glory. Wat Chedi Luang is also home to the “Pillar of the City”, a totem used in ancient Thai fertility rites.
- Wat Phrachao Mengrai,Ratchamanka 6, Phra Sing (near Heuan Phen Restaurant), ☎ +66 53 278 788 . An atmospheric temple with two Wihan buildings, off the beaten track, quiet and gently crumbling. One of the Wihan buildings houses an important Buddha image: Phra Buddha Rupa Phra Chao Mengrai.
- Wat Jet Yod(วัดเจ็ดยอด. Sometimes called Wat Chet Yot), Superhighway (about 1 km north of the Huay Kaew Rd/superhighway intersection). The history and unusual architecture scattered under the yawning canopy of ancient trees is an pleasant antidote to the flash and bustle encountered at popular temples. Established in 1455 to host the eighth World Buddhist Council, many features of the grounds imitate significant places of the Buddha’s enlightenment. Originally called Botharam Maha Vihata in honour of the venerated Bodhi tree, it came to be known as Wat Jet Yod by locals, after the seven spires (Jet Yod) protruding from the roof of the Vihara. The square-sided design of the Virhra is a replica of Mahabodhi temple in Bodhgaya, India, though the translation has distorted proportions somewhat. Remnants of the graceful stucco relief murals that adorned the walls depict angels with a distinctly Indian flavour. The grounds also hold some more recently built, but abandoned looking, eroded chedis and buckling bases of vanished halls, overshadowed by a fully intact, though more diminutive, replica of ‘Chedi Luang that was built around 1487 to house the ashes of King Tilokarat.
- Wat Suan Dok(Suthep Rd). A large open-sided hall with a jumble of roughly hewn Buddhas with a huge dazzlingly whitewashed chedi behind.
- Wat Umong,off Suthep Rd (at the end of a long narrow road, off Suthep Rd. Turn at the Italian restaurant.). >An ancient temple in the forest just outside Chiang Mai. King Mengrai built this temple for a highly respected forest monk who liked to wander in the countryside, hence the isolated location where the monk could stay quietly and meditate. It is unusual in that it has tunnel-like chambers in the ground, some of the walls of which still have the original paintings of birds and animals visible. The large stupa is magnificent, and there is an eerie statue of a fasting, emaciated Buddha next to it. You can also take a break by the ponds, where you can feed the fish and turtles. free.
- Sacred Heart Cathedral,225 Charoenprathet Road Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Muang (3 min. south of the Old Steel Bridge on the city wall side of the river), ☎ 0-5327-1859 (fax: 0-5321-1876). Daily Roman Catholic Mass Monday to Saturday in Thai: 7 PM. Sunday Mass in Thai: 6:30 AM, 8:30 AM, 6:00 PM. Sunday Mass in English: 11 AM. free.
Outside the old city walls
- Wat Phra That Doi Kham, (From Canal Road (Thanon Khlong) take a right at the Night Safari junction. At the Ratchaphruek elephant roundabout take the last exit and drive about 2km until you see a sign on your left. Drive up the hill.).00 – 17.00.A temple area with a long history and a 17 meter Buddha statue, the biggest in Chiang Mai. Also has a large platform for some nice views over the southern parts of the city. free.
There are many art galleries and exhibitions in Chiang Mai, featuring contemporary artwork of both local Thai and Myanmar artists.
- Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre,in the very centre of the old city on Prapokklao Rd, between Rajdumnern Rd and Rajwithee Rd, ☎ +66 53 217793. 08:30-17:00 daily except M. This fully modernised multimedia history and cultural education centre has guides dressed in elegant traditional Thai clothing who will usher you into an air-conditioned room to watch an English-subtitled orientation video about Chiang Mai and the north. Next, you will be pointed to a series of rooms documenting the region’s history and culture in chronological order from the pre-Muang period (7,000-12,000 years ago) to the early river civilizations, to the early kings through the wars with the Burmese and the last dynasty, to the city today and its plans for the future. Other rooms are devoted to Buddhism and other regional beliefs, agricultural history, hill tribe peoples and other regional cultures, and a run-down of the royal dynasties. The exhibits consist of a smart visual mix of video, scale models, enlarged photos, wall murals and text in Thai and English. 90 baht.
- Chiang Mai National Museum,On the Super Highway (within walking distance of Wat Chet Yot), ☎ +66 53 221308.09:00-16:00 W-Su. Offers an insight into the history of Chiang Mai. 100 baht.
- Chiang Mai Numismatic Museum(Treasury Hall), 52 Ratchadamnoen Rd, ☎ +66 53 22 4237/8. M-Sa 09:00-15:30
- Chiang Mai University Art Museum,corner Suthep and Nimmanhaemin Rd, ☎ +66 53 944833. Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. There are exhibitions by undergraduates from the Fine Arts Department at Chiang Mai University. These change often and the standard of work on display by the students is of a high standard. Each month there is usually at least one art exhibition featuring the works of artists from Southeast Asia. The museum also hosts musical concerts – often free – in the adjoining theatre. Free.
Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders, Soi 13 Srimankalajarn Rd, ☎ +66 53 211 891. Daily, 09:00-17:00.One of Asia’s most unusual museums housing butterflies, beetles, and beyond. Also has a large selection of minerals. Some explanations in English, some in Thai. 200 baht
- Postal Museum,Mae Ping Post Office. Tu-Sa 08:30-16:30. Free.
- Art in Paradise,199/9 Changklan Rd (500 meters south from Night Bazaar). Illusion art museum where you can get take funny photos in “3D” scenes. Adults THB 300 (THB 180 for Thais), children THB 200 (THB 120 for Thais).
Gardens and nature
- Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery,Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd (about 800 m north of the Holiday Inn, on the east side of the Ping River). A serene place of history and remembrance.
- Chiang Mai Zoo & Aquarium,100 Huay Kaew Rd (at the foot of Doi Suthep), ☎ +66 53 893 111. Daily 09:00-17:30.Extremely popular with Thai tourists, and so expect long queues. While better than some zoos, the animals are nevertheless kept in small enclosures. Operates an unpleasant dual pricing system whereby non-Thais are charged approximately double the price of Thai nationals. Additional charges also apply for both the panda exhibition and the aquarium. There are more stalls selling the usual trinkets than enclosures, and more human visitors than animals. Not much to recommend, including that the journey from the city centre can be lengthy because of long queues of cars, the dual pricing system, and the less-than-ideal conditions for the animals. The car parking facilities are best described as chaotic. 100 baht.
- Dokmai Garden.This garden displays 120 different edible fruit plants, 140 different vegetables, 200 native orchid species, in total over 1000 vascular plants. Of these, 500 have been selected for presentations on aluminium signs with informative information (English, Japanese, and Thai). The plants have scientific names. The area is compact (4 ha or 10 acres) and surrounded by plantations of teak, bananas, longan, and dry dipterocarp savannah. It is near Opkhan National Park, and between the famous Doi Inthanon and Doi Suthep National Parks. The garden also hosts natural populations of the atlas moth and the golden birdwing butterfly, and is visited by over 80 wild and free bird species. The garden is a member of the SEABG (Southeast Asian Botanical Gardens network) and collaborates with Chiang Mai University (mushrooms), Mae Jo University (fish), Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden (plants), the Tourism Authority of Thailand, and Opkhan National Park.
- Mae Sa Waterfall, (go 17 km north to Mae Rim on Rt 107. Turn onto Rt 1096 to Samoeng. Travel ~7 km to waterfall on left.),☎ +66 53 210 244. 08:30-16:30.Set in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. The path winds up for almost 2 km to the 8 tiers of cascades. There are many secluded areas off the trail for picnics. Crowded on weekends and holidays. Foreigners, 100 baht; Thais, 20 baht.
- Phu Ping Palace(Royal Winter Palace), Suthep 50200 (on Rt 1004, beyond Doi Suthep). This royal winter palace has lavishly landscaped gardens and is open to the public daily 08:30-11:30 & 13:00-15:00 when the Thai royal family is not in residence. Dress code strictly applied: dress modestly or pay 15 baht for fisherman’s pants to cover your lack of it. This includes ANY leg above the ankle for either gender). The palace itself (built in 1961) is not particularly exciting, but the extensive gardens are picturesque with some amazing plant life, including carefully curated tropical flowers, as well as centuries-old trees and giant bamboo. A sign at the bottom of the hill near the zoo indicates when it’s closed. It is close to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, so travel directions are similar. 50 baht, children 10 baht.
- Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden,100 Moo 9, Mae Ram (go 17 km north to Mae Rim on Rt 107. Turn onto Rt 1096 to Samoeng. Travel 12 km to garden on left.), ☎ +66 53 841 234. Daily, 08:30-16:30. Thailand’s oldest and foremost botanical garden. Dedicated to the conservation of Thai flora, it holds collections of, and carries out research on rare and endangered species. Lovely gardens in a mountain foothills setting. Run by the Botanical Garden Association, Thailand. Adult, 40 baht; child, 20 baht; car, 100 baht.
- Royal Flora Ratchaphruek, (Take the Canal Road from the city for about 9km south. Turn right at Night Safari junction).A big garden with loads of pretty flowers like orchids. Also has a temple, a (rather worn out) playground for kids, and a bug museum 100THB.
It is extremely important to well research your elephant tour. Some tours offer twice the service as others and at the same price. Expect private time with elephants, bathing elephants in a river and feeding them, free lunch, transport to and from your hotel, an elephant ride through the jungle and a small training course on some basic commands. Most tour operators also offer rafting as well at the end of the experience.
While a source of great amusement, be sure to choose your tour responsibly. Some have reported elephants in distress and what looked like painful, horrible conditions for the animals. Ask other tourists and check online before choosing. It is important to understand that elephants are considered livestock under Thai law, and as such owners can treat them in any way they please. This often includes beating, stabbing, or blinding them, as well as putting them through the ritual “phajaan,” which intends to break the spirit of the elephant. Elephants generally will not accept riders on the trekking seat unless they have undergone the phajaan. It is encouraged that visitors do their own research to draw their own conclusions. A good, although not foolproof, sign for spotting elephant mistreatment is holes in or pieces missing from the ear.
- Baanchang Elephant Park,147/1 Rachadamnern Rd, ☎ +66 53 814174 or +66 89 6355206. Aside from being one of the cheapest places to appreciate these wonderful animals in Chiang Mai, Baanchang treats these animals extremely well and the love and care displayed by Mahouts (elephant caretakers) contrasts markedly with that displayed at many other local elephant ‘camps’. For those who stay overnight, the hosts host a night by the campfire putting on rural entertainment such as making sticky rice in bamboo and releasing fire lanterns into the night sky during the months from November to January. A true gem of Chiang Mai which can be accessed from many of the local hotels and hostels.
- Eddy Elephant Care Chiang Mai,87 Sripoom Rd, ☎ +66 53 222525 (firstname.lastname@example.org). One of the interesting activities in Chiang Mai is getting close to a real elephant. Eddy is the owner who takes care of his 7 orphan elephants from generation to generation. He ensures you will enjoy the private tour. You will learn about elephant behaviours and also you will learn how to control and bathe them as you are a mahout (elephant caretaker). You will be able to ride them through the jungle. The elephants are not inside a park, not inside a camp nor a farm. This is a group of elephant owners who care for them at home as if they were part of their family. 2,300 baht for a day including lunch and transportation.
- Elephant Nature Park,209/2 Sridornchai Rd., ☎ +66 53 818932 (email@example.com). 08:00-17:30. Approximately 60 km north of Chiang Mai is a sanctuary for rescued and distressed elephants. They are not here to perform or do tricks and people visiting here will leave with a whole new understanding of these magnificent creatures. Day and overnight visits as well as one week volunteering opportunities can be booked via their website. During the day visit you will feed and bathe the elephants, watch them wander around the 50 acre sanctuary, and will be provided with a buffet lunch. They will also pick and drop you off at your hotel in Chiang Mai. This park seeks to prove that free elephants are a viable alternative form of tourism to beating and training elephants to accept riders.Day Visit: 2,500 baht; Overnight 5,800 Baht; Weekly volunteer: 12,000 baht.
- Friends for Asia Elephant Camp Volunteer Project,63/3 Old Chang Moi Road, T. Chang Moi, A. Muang, Chiang Mai, 50300, ☎ +66 (0)53 232 053(firstname.lastname@example.org). After a two day orientation, in the city of Chiang Mai, coordinating staff sends volunteers to the elephant camp, roughly a one hour drive from the city. Volunteers stay from Monday to Friday bathing, feed and taking care of, and learning about elephants. Lodging is in a treehouse on the premises. Two week minimum.
- Mae Sa Elephant Camp,119/9 Tapae Rd (go 17 km north to Mae Rim on Rt 107. Turn onto Rt 1096 to Samoeng. Travel about 10 km. On the left.), ☎ +66 53 206247 or +66 53 206248. 08:00-15:00. An elephant camp in the hills about an hour’s drive north of the city centre. It has an elephant show, which includes elephants playing football and painting. You can also take half hour or one hour elephant rides. Not exactly a place to bring a PETA activist, but many (people) do enjoy the performances. Show times are 08:00, 09:40, and 13:30. Admission, 200 baht. Rides, 1,200 baht/hour; 800 baht/30 min..
There are around 12 different hilltribe groups in Thailand, most of which live in northern Thailand and play an important part in the cultural tapestry. Visiting hilltribe villages as part of a trek or tour, is a popular activity in Chiang Mai although most within 1-2days travel of Chiang Mai are likely to be touristic. So if you’re seeking an authentic experience, it’s important to research properly the right tour for you, and the right way to visit. Many villagers are not so welcoming towards visitors nowadays, as they have had negative experiences with tourists in the past.
- Thailand Hilltribe Holidays,☎ +66 (0)855 480884 / +66 (0)899 569897. Offers responsible tours around northern Thailand, specialising in cultural immmersion, visiting authentic hilltribe villages and hilltribe homestays in an ethical way
After football, Thai boxing is the national sport of Thailand. It can be seen in three different stadiums:
- Kalare Boxing Stadium, (behind the Night Bazaar).Real Muay Thai fights every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday starting at 9:30PM lasting about 4 hours. 400-600 baht.
- Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium, (Loi Kroh Rd in the Chiang Mai Entertainment Complex.).Fights are usually held 3-4 nights per week. Look for flyers posted up all over the old city. They usually have about 8 fights and feature Thai fighters as well as a few matches with foreign fighters. This may not be the best location to see muay Thai with a family, as it is surrounded by “girlie bars” and during a break between the fights a group of ladyboys will put on a dance and occasionally strip. After about 23:00 the complex is opened up for free, letting all the vendors (flower sellers, et al.) in. If you are on a tight budget you may be able to see a few of the remaining fights for free this way. Admission is 400 baht for normal seating or 600 for VIP..
- Tha Phae Boxing Stadium, (Moon Muang Rd near Tha Phae Gate.).It hosts around 8 fights per show, including a few matches with foreign fighters. This is the largest of the three stadiums and has food as well as beverages served. Gambling is prominently featured.
- Alliance Francaise,138 Charoen Prathet Rd, ☎ +66 53 275277. W nights, 19:30. Screens French films, but frequently sub-titled in English. See the website for calendar of showings. The Alliance also has an extensive library as well as exhibitions.
- Chiang Mai Vista Cinema(Kad Suan Kaew)), (on Huay Kaew Rd). The ticket prices vary depending on the duration of the film. The place is not very popular among the locals since it is a bit old and worn. No digital or 3D films shown at Vista. 80-120 baht.
- Major Central Chiang Mai Airport,Airport Plaza. Ticket prices around 120-260 depending on the duration of the film and seat type. Honeymoon seats generally cost 40 baht more than standard seats.
- Major CentralFestival Chiang Mai,Central Festival. Ticket prices around 120-260 depending on the duration of the film and seat type. Honeymoon seats generally cost 40 baht more than standard seats. There is also IMAX and DFX screens at CentralFestival with higher prices.
- SF Cinema,Promenada Mall. Ticket prices around 120-260 depending on the duration of the film and seat type. Honeymoon seats generally cost 40 baht more than standard seats.
If you would like to avoid the crowd, avoid going on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday nights. Make sure to check the language of the film prior to booking. Some movies are dubbed into Thai, some with Thai subtitles, look for (TH) vs. (EN/TH) on the listing. Tickets can be purchased online with seating choices.
Festivals & exhibitions
- Bo Sang Umbrella & Sankampang Handicrafts Festival.Takes place 20-22 January at Ban Bo Sang, Sankampang. The festival is in the form of a “street fair” in which the central road of the village is used, with shops on both sides. Shops are decorated in Lanna-style, most with the well-known umbrellas, as well as with traditional lanterns. In addition there are contests, exhibitions, cultural performances, local entertainment and assorted shows day and night. There is a grand procession decorated with umbrellas and local products, a variety of handicrafts for sale, northern-style khantoke meals, and the Miss Bo Sang pageant.
- Chiang Mai Flower Festival.Staged every year during the first weekend in February (7-9 February in 2014). The city is awash with vibrant colous ranging from the electric orange and lilac colours of the bougainvillea to the velvety blossoms of petunias in all shades of pink, white and purple. The strident red of the poinsettias, bought by many at Christmas and New Year, is echoed by beds of scarlet salvias. Homes and shop owners alike line the city streets with colourful flower boxes. The sheer profusion of colour that the flower festival and carnival brings to Chiang Mai aptly gives the city its name “Rose of the North”. On all three days of the festival, prize blooms are on display at Suan Buak Haad at the Southwest corner inside the moat of the old city. Many types of flower, miniature trees, and orchids are put on display for the judges to choose the best of the species. Landscape specialists put on an elaborate display, which includes patios and waterfalls with exotic decorative plants and flowers. The best part of the flower festival is on Saturday. The parade lines up from the train station to Narawat Bridge so the police close most of Jarenmuang Rd around 08:00. The VIP viewing stand is right next to the bridge in front of the Chiang Mai Governor’s home. The parade route goes down Tha Phae Rd to the gate and turns left and follows the moat to Suan Buak Haad City Park. The parade moves at a slow pace and stops several times so there is plenty of time to take pictures of the colourful floats, pretty girls and hill tribe people in native costume. The paraders hand out roses to spectators lining the road. When the parade finishes everyone heads to Suan Buak Haad where all the floats, award winning flower growers and landscape projects are all on display. There are plenty of food stalls in the park, and in the late afternoon the Miss Chiang Mai Flower Festival starts. The party goes well into the evening until the new Flower Festival Queen has been chosen. This is a great time to visit Chiang Mai, as the air is cool and the evenings fresh and clear. If you want to see the festival make sure you book your hotels and flights well in advance.
- Inthakin or Tham Boon Khan Dokis the City Pillar Festival in Chiang Mai. This is a six-day festival where the city pillar spirits are propitiated to ensure the continuity of the city. Occurs in May or June as part of the Northern Thailand lunar calendar. Very large event focused around Wat Chedi Luang.
- Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festival If you like candles placed in colourful paper lanterns, fireworks, beautiful girls in traditional dress, parade floats, lots of food, and parties, don’t miss the Loi Krathong festival, which in Chiang Mai lasts for 3 full days, the last night being that of the 12th full moon of the year (which is usually in November). In the small town of Mae Jo, north of Chiang Mai, they start the festival on Saturday night by simultaneously launching thousands upon thousands of hot air balloons calledKhom Loy.
Loi Krathong coincides with the northern Thai (Lanna) festival known as “Yi Peng” (Thai: ยี่เป็ง). Due to a difference between the old Lanna calendar and the Thai calendar, Yi Peng is held on a full moon of the 2nd month of the Lanna calendar (“Yi” meaning “2nd” and “Peng” meaning “month” in the Lanna language). A multitude of Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom loi (Thai: โคมลอย), literally: “floating lanterns”) are launched into the air where they drift with the winds. The festival is meant as a time for tham bun (Thai: ทำบุญ), to make merit. People decorate their houses, gardens, and temples with khom fai (Thai: โคมไฟ): intricately shaped paper lanterns which take on different forms. Khom thue (Thai: โคมถือ) are lanterns which are carried around hanging from a stick, khom khwaen (Thai: โคมแขวน) are the hanging lanterns, and khom pariwat (Thai: โคมปริวรรต) which are placed at temples and which revolve due to the heat of the candle inside. Chiang Mai has the most elaborate Yi Peng celebrations, where both Loi Krathong and Yi Peng are celebrated at the same time resulting in lights floating on the waters, lights hanging from trees/buildings or standing on walls, and lights floating by in the sky.
- Orchid Fair.(January) is the biggest orchid fair of the year, with an orchid market, activities and more.
- Songkran Festival.The Thai Water Festival is celebrated as the Thai new year from April 13-15 (though it may begin a day or two early). The most obvious sign that you’re in the middle of the festival is when you get soaked by someone pouring a bucket of water over you, or squirting you with a water gun! This tradition evolved from people tossing water that had been poured over holy statues, since this water was expected to be good luck. Now, it takes the form of a free-for-all water fight, and you will undoubtedly be drenched. It’s also a way of staying cool during the very hot and humid month of April. Just be sure to put your cell phone in a plastic bag!
Chiang Mai, Thailand “second city” and the “Rose of the North” may well be one of Southeast Asia’s most livable cities and has spas, health resorts, and wellness centers. It is more manageable than Bangkok, yet is home to a wide variety of health centers, not to mention parks, golf courses, mountains, and fantastic trekking.
Visitors are spoilt for choice between modest retreats, boutique hotels, or full-blown wellness centers. Should your needs be more surgical, Chiang Mai has a number of top drawer medical facilities, including the highly rated, JCI-accredited Chiang Mai Ram hospital. A number of fine spa and massage establishments are located in the heart of Chiang Mai, probably within 15 minutes or so of your hotel, and include the following:
- Oriental Massage,332-334 Thapae Road,Chang moi soi3 (Opposit of Mahawan temple, 300m.befor Taepae gate), ☎ +66 91 805 9990. Oriental has a private massage room for oil aroma massage with air con. Professional massagers, polite and friendly staffs. You will feel comfortable and most relaxing in our place.You also can do shopping in night market walking street after massage which is available on Sunday. 200+ baht.
- Nanthikan Massage,181 Moonmuang Soi 6 (In front of Somphet Market, northeast side of the old town, upstairs), ☎ +66 86 187 5598. Nanthikan has a great massage shop on the second floor at Somphet Market (so away from street noise) and with air con. Professional massages, great ambiance, super fun and friendly staff. You can find cheaper massages in other places, but you’ll see that the extra baht here is worth every penny! Delicious tea and dried fruit are served while you wait or after the massages. Nanthika also offers personalized massage courses. 250+ baht.
- Fah Lanna Massage,186/3 Loi Kroh Rd (near the Night Bazaar, down the street from McDonald’s, past Royal Lanna Hotel.), ☎ +66 89 695 0802 or +66 82 030 3029 (email@example.com). A small and very cozy massage shop close to the Iron Bridge. Clean, friendly and professional, Fah Lanna gets continuously the highest ratings in customer reviews. First customers get a gentle foot-bath with scrub and comfortable clothes to change into and after the massage they offer ginger tea and a cold towel. The decoration and the music they play are beautiful and add to the experience. After collecting 10 stamps (1 stamp per 1 hour treatment) they give a free massage. Massages here are excellent and prices are very reasonable. 200+ baht
- Green Bamboo Massage,1 Moon Muang Rd, Soi 1, ☎ +66 89 827 5563. A small and charming studio inside the moat with a fair and sustainable concept, located in a typical wooden Thai house. The certified staff is highly trained in the arts of ancient Thai massage therapy. The owner uses real home made cosmetics and even created her own aloe vera oil. Choose from a great variety of treatments and packages for fair prices. 200+ baht/hour.
- Le’Lux Massage, (near Sompet Market on Soi 6, Moon Muang Rd).Excellent staff and ambiance. Services include Thai massage (150 baht/hr), oil massage (200 baht/hr), scrubs, manicure (150 baht), pedicure (150 baht), and more. Tea and water are included.
- Let’s Relax, (2F Chiang Mai Pavilion and B1F Chiang Inn Plaza, Chang Khlan Rd).Does professional massage in a very clean, if not downright sterile, surroundings complete with air-con, the sound of running water and gentle scents. A 45-minute foot reflexology session costs 350 baht, nearly twice the price of the competition, but is worth every satang after a long trek.
- Nantana Massage, (near Sompet Market on Soi 6).Very knowledgeable and friendly staff, and air-con. Oil, foot, and neck/shoulder massage also available. Thai massage, 150 baht/hour.
- Sun Massage,Loi Kroh Rd, opposite 7-11. Very clean and pleasant modern decor. The masseuses are very friendly, and provide decent, skilled massages. There is a white table in front of the shop where the masseuses often hang out when they’re not working. Traditional Thai massage, 199 baht/hour..
- Viang Ping Massage & Spa,Tha Phae Rd, Soi 2 (opposite Wat Bupparam.), ☎ +66 53 874 071. Very clean and well-run business, professionally run by Fern, manager-proprietor. All massages based on the Lanna, northern Thai-style, using pressure points & energy lines. Home made coconut oil and natural facial, body scrub, and wrap products. Fern also teaches massage and spa services to individuals or occasionally to small groups. Prices average, 200 baht for Thai, foot or head & shoulder massages. 250 baht for oil. Loyalty cards for regular customers, free massage after 10 visits.
- Motorcycle touringis a great way to explore Northern Thailand. One good half-day trip out of Chiang Mai is up and over Doi Suthep, which will take you up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, and beyond the mountain to the reservoir. More extensive touring includes the Samoeng Loop, and farther afield to Pai and Mae Hong Son, or Doi Inthakin, or Chiang Dao.
- Something Different Tour15 Soi 5, Kotchasan Rd. (+66)53-449-600 (firstname.lastname@example.org). They offer motor bike tours (along with other types of tours). Ranging from one day to four days. You can either drive the motorbike (if you have experience) or ride as an passenger. They also give you the option to ride off road; a great way to see the country side. The staff works hard to make sure each you have the best experience possible. This tour company is one of the non-touristy companies. Each tour is small and intimate, and you will get to experience a different aspect of Thailand. They also have a guest house where you can stay. Prices range from 100 baht for a dorm with shared bathroom and 300 baht for a two person room with your own bathroom. A true gem, when it comes to tour companies.
Raft trips down the Mae Tang River are offered by organised by several companies and can often be combined with elephant riding or mountain biking. During the dry season (Jan-Feb) water levels are relatively low with only grade 2-3 rapids, but during the rainy season (Jun-Oct) higher water levels make for a more exciting grade 4-5 trip.
- Peak Adventure Tour,302/4 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd, ☎ +66 53 800567. Offers 10 km rafting trips that can be combined with elephant riding or ATV driving.
Rainforest canopy walk
- Flight of the Gibbon(Zipline Adventure Tour), ☎ +66 53 010660 (email@example.com) Zipline through the 1,500 year old rainforest high above the forest floor. 5 km of ziplines connect lookout platforms, lowering stations, and sky bridges, making the experience a full zipline canopy tour. After the tour you can hike up alongside the Mae Kompong Waterfall. Allow 7 hours total for the tour from pickup to drop off. Earliest collection time 05:30. ~3,299 baht.
- Mae Ping River Cruise,133 Charoenpratet Rd, Changklan (Wat Chaimongkol boat landing, between Hotel Chedi and Ping Nakara), ☎ +66 53 274 822(firstname.lastname@example.org, fax: 053-818627). 08:30-17:00. Two hour cruise with a refreshment stop at a Thai farmer’s house. Hotel pick-up. 450 baht.
- Chiang Mai Tubing & Beach Club,154 Moo 5, Mae Ho Phra (40 km north of Chiang Mai), ☎ +66 (0)80 064 4649. 10:30-18:00. Offers river tubing tours on the Mae Ping river lasting 1.5 to 3 hours depending on the season. Afterwards, activities such as beach volleyball, frisbee, slack lining or relaxing in a hammock, can be enjoyed at the Beach Club. 399-599.
- Aerobics.Aerobics sessions are held in the car park of Tesco Lotus on the superhighway every weekday from 17:30. The sessions are very popular and tourists or visitors to Chiang Mai are welcomed. Regular water aerobics classes, incorporating Tai Chi and yoga exercises, are held at the Centre of the Universe Swimming Pool
- Cricket.The north of Thailand may seem an odd place to find an international cricket tournament. Every year since 1988 more than 200 cricketers from around the world gather at Chiang Mai for the tournament. The week-long tournament for amateur players, with a sprinkling of test stars, it is held at the historic Chiang Mai Gymkhana Club, generally at the start of April.
- Extreme Sports Centre(X Centre), 816 Moo 1, Rim Thai, Mae Rim (go 17 km north to Mae Rim on Rt 107. Turn onto Rt 1096 to Samoeng. Travel 3 km. X Centre on the left), ☎ +66 53 297 700. Daily, 09:00-18:00. Kiwi-run business, totally buttoned-down and professional. Bungy jumping; off-road buggies; dirt bikes; paintball; indoor drift carts; Xorb ball; sports bar and restaurant. Taxis available from Chiang Mai at 09:30, 13:00, 15:00.
- Football (soccer).Go watch the local football team, Chiang Mai FC, play at 700 Year Stadium. Further information on fixtures and kick off times can be found on the club’s website: http://chiangmaifootballclub.com/
- Rock Climbing– Approximately 55 km east of Chiang Mai lies Crazy Horse Buttress, a 60 m, orange- and black-streaked monolith jutting out of the green Mae On farming valley. Crazy Horse boasts more than 130 bolted routes between (French system) grades 5 and 8a, which makes it an ideal destination for beginners and experienced climbers alike. Spend several days exploring every part of the crag, or just spend a day or an afternoon above ground as a break from exploring the magnificent caves of the region. Climbing guides and information are also available from Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures.
- Mountain Biking– Just west of Chiang Mai lies the beautiful Doi Suthep National Park, its summit at 1650 m, 1300 m above the valley floor.
- Table Tennis– The Chiang Mai Table Tennis Club is located at the Muang Chiang Mai Stadium complex 700 meters north of the Chang Phueak (northern) Gate. Going east on Sanamkela Road, turn left into the stadium complex. Follow the road to the left (you will go past two buildings and a skateboard park). The Table Tennis Club house has a big sign outside. It is open every day beginning around 4pm, and is open until late in the evening. There is a 25 Baht fee to play. Several good quality tables, with good flooring and lights.
- Tennis– There are several places to play tennis in Chiang Mai: Gymkhana Club, Chiang Mai- Lamphun Rd; Chiang Mai Land Village, Chiang Mai Land Rd; Imperial Chiang Mai Resort & Sports Club, 284 Moo 3, Don Kaew, Mae Rim; Lanna Sports Club, Chotana Rd; Palm Springs, 120 Moo 5, Mahidol Rd; and Chiang Mai Sports Complex (700 Year Stadium, Irrigation Canal Rd (Rt 121 to Mae Rim), which has 12 courts. All courts are bookable in advance and at most flood lighting makes it possible to play in the evening when it is cooler. There is an additional charge to cover the cost of electricity.
- Yoga.The diversity of yoga studios in Chiang Mai rounds out the image of Chiang Mai as a centre for massage training, healing and spas. Yoga studios such as Wild Rose Yoga in the old city, Sattva Yoga north of the city, Kaomai Lanna , and the Spa Resort for residential yoga retreats all contribute to this community.
Chiang Mai swimming pools open to the public vary in quality, cleanliness and accessibility. On balance, those pools which are operated to internationally recognised standards of water quality are those which are privately owned by foreign investors.
- Seven Hundred Year Stadium, (on the outer ring road, Irrigation Canal Rd—Route 121, towards Mae Rim. It is about 8 km from city centre and takes about fifteen minutes to get there by tuk-tuk/taxi.).A huge sports complex built for the SE Asia Games, held in Chiang Mai in the early 1990s, and now a public sports and recreation centre. The pool is sanitised using chlorine.
- Centre of the Universe Swimming Pool and Resort.Open to tourists and other visitors. There are 3 swimming pools and decks. A detailed map and directions in Thai and English can be printed from their website. The pool is sanitised using salt water.
- Hotel Pools.Some up-market hotels such as The Orchid and the Amari Rincome Hotel on Huay Kaew Rd allow “outsiders” to use their pools on payment of a fee. Travelling time from the city centre is around 10 minutes. These are sanitised using chlorine. The sadly-missed Amari Rincome Hotel closed down last year, and the site is due to be redeveloped.
- Chiang Mai Land Swimming Pool.Open to the public. It has a pool deck and also has a restaurant and pool-side service. The pool is sanitised using chlorine.Adults, 50 baht; children, 30 baht.
- The Lake at Huay Tung Tao, (further along the Irrigation Canal Rd than the Centre of the Universe and after the 700-Year Sports Stadium, as you head towards Mae Rim (Rt 121), about 12 km from the city centre. Takes 15-20 minutes by tuk-tuk/taxi.).A reservoir in surrounding woodlands. Admission, 20 baht..
- Waterfalls and natural pools, (at the foot of Doi Suthep on Huay Kaew Rd. Look for a large Buddhist shrine on your left after travelling past the the entrance to Chiang Mai Zoo. Turn left into the market at the back of the shrine, and keep walking up the hill. You will come to the waterfalls after about 5 minutes. About 7 km from the city centre, it takes 10-15 minutes by tuk-tuk/taxi to get there.).The pools at the bottom of the waterfalls are not really big enough for swimming, but are a great place to cool off at the height of summer. During the dry season some of the waterfalls dry up. Head for the high ground and you will still find pools full of fresh water! There are usually quite a few students hanging out there from the nearby university, who will happily practice their English conversational skills with you. Free.
- Chiang Mai Food Tours, (Meet at Somphet Market),☎ +66 89 1263657 (email@example.com). Chiang Mai Food Tours provides culinary tours in Chiang Mai, including Taste of the North & Old Town Chiang Mai Walk that includes the tasting of 10 or more Northern Thai menus from 6 local eateries, as well as visits to local landmarks. The tour takes about 4 hours and is available everyday except Sunday. from 990 baht.