If You Are Going to Chiang Mai, Read This!
In the past two years of traveling, I’ve visited Thailand 6 times and every time I go back there is always something new to be discovered! I somehow always find myself in Chiang Mai, and honestly it is probably my favourite place in Thailand aside from island hopping in the south. So after being here so many times, I’ve compiled some useful information that will help you if you are planning to visit this beautiful part of Thailand!
How to Get There
The simplest way to reach Chiang Mai is to fly. Chiang Mai has an international airport (CNX) and flights from Bangkok (DMK is the domestic airport) can be as low as $20 without checked baggage! It’s only an hour flight, but keep in mind that you will have to get to the Bangkok airport which will cost a bit if you’re coming in from the city centre (check if your accommodation provides transportation the airport). Oh and warning, if you have checked baggage make sure to pay for it online! They will charge a ridiculous amount if you do it at the airport, especially if you are flying with AirAsia. If you’re thinking of going during their national holidays, book in advance; when I went last year in November prices rose to over $100 because of the lantern festival!
You can also catch a train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. If you book at the station in Bangkok it will cost anywhere between $20-50 depending on what level of comfort you want. It will take anywhere between 11-20 hours, but you can get an overnight train that takes usually 13 hours to get to Chiang Mai.
I don’t personally recommend the following options, but you can also take a bus or drive (which will take about 9 hours). I’ve travelled a lot and I can honestly say that sometimes saving a couple bucks is not worth wasting your vacation time/sacrificing your comfort.
When to go
Being a SEA (South East Asian) country, Thailand has hot, wet, and dry seasons instead of the classic four. I would say that the best time to visit Northern Thailand is between October and April as this is the cooler, drier season. April-May gets super hot and June- August is super wet.
If you visit between May and September chances are you’ll see some rain, but don’t let that scare you! These are tropical rains so it’ll downpour for an hour or two and then clear up (repeat once or twice a day). You can definitely still enjoy Thailand during the rainy season and looking back at my travels, 80% of my time spent in Thailand was during rainy season. Just keep in mind that it does get quite hot (+30-40 degrees Celsius)!
I would suggest visiting in April or October, as the rice fields of Ban Pa Pong Piang will be in perfection conditions, the weather won’t be too bad, and rainy season will just be starting/ending.
What to Wear
Thailand can go from pleasantly warm to scalding hot so bring light clothing, flip-flops, and a hat. Definitely bring a reusable water bottle and if you burn easily, sunscreen and aloe vera. I’d also highly recommend bringing a rain jacket and a sweater. If you are planning to visit mountainous regions, bring warmer clothes. Bring at least one article of clothing that covers your shoulders and a bottom that covers your knees, as you will be required to cover those parts of your body when visiting temples. If you forget don’t worry, many locals will be selling sarongs, which is basically a piece of fabric wrapped around the waist. You can grab one for $5-10 bucks off the street somewhere, sometimes even right in front of the temple although those are usually more expensive.
Stuff You Might Want to Know
Chiang Mai is one of the safest cities in Thailand!
Chiang Mai is relatively developed for an Asian city. You will have no problem getting around without knowing Thai. You can more-or-less get anything you need in the city, and they even have Starbucks and a massive shopping mall!
Just in case your data runs out or you have no service, download offline maps on the Google Maps app as well as offline translation on the Google Translate App. These apps have saved my life multiple times!
I’d suggest getting a local SIM card for the week and last time I check they’re only $10 (300 THB) and it will get you 2.5GB for 8 days and 100 baht/100 minutes of local calling. There are a couple of providers (TrueMove, DTAC or AIS); I usually go with True.
Thailand is also a great place to haggle so feel free to negotiate on prices when shopping to save a few bucks
The local currency is THB (Thai Baht) and the exchange rate is $1 USD : ฿30.85 THB (As of July 2019). So just divide the price you see by 30 and you’ll get the USD equivalent more-or-less
People drive on the left side of the road. If you are renting a car, you might need an IDP (International Drivers Permit). Do some research on how to get one in your country as it differs around the world
Refrain from drinking tap water and non-filtered iced. Only drink their water if the restaurant is reputable. As unfortunate as it is you might have to ask for bottled water. Or drink coconut water and ask for a paper straw and save the environment!
Thailand uses the standard North American plugs and sockets
Once you are in Chiang Mai there are a couple options on how to get around. My favourite methods are to rent your own scooter within the city, take local tuk-tuks called “Songthaew”, or use Grab, which is Asia’s version of Uber. For this itinerary it is advised to rent a car for some of the days but if you aren’t comfortable with that, hire a private driver or go with a tour group. I personally rented a car for a few days to travel outside of Chiang Mai and used Grab when I was in the city.
Renting a scooter should not cost more than $12-15 a day, and renting a car will be around $20-50 (you can rent from the airport). The cheapest method to get around is using the Grab app and going by GrabBike, and you can get anywhere within Chiang Mai for cheap. Hiring a private driver for the day gets a tad expensive but it shouldn’t cost more than $50 a day unless you’re heading outside of Chiang Mai. If you are joining tours, they usually range from $20-50 depending on the tour.
If you are on a budget you can easily get around on $2-5 a meal, but the portions you get will usually be smaller and you’ll probably be getting food off carts on the street or run-down restaurants. I’d say a reasonable budget per meal would be between $5-10, so 3 meals a day for a week in Thailand would cost around $150-$200. There are also plenty of options, including vegan and gluten-free options! Thailand has some pretty amazing restaurants that are considerable inexpensive so it’s very possible to cut down on costs. If your accommodation offers breakfast you can save on a meal each day. If you can, try to experience the local cuisine; my personal favourites are pad thai, khao soi, and green/red curry. Oh and you have to try out sticky mango rice for dessert!
Where to Stay
You can easily find a hostel for less than $10 per night, stay at a comfortable hotel for $30, or go luxurious at a fancy hotel for $350 a night. For location, I’d suggest staying somewhere in or near the Old City.
For hostels I have stayed at:
S-Trips The Poshtel ($8)
Stay with Hug Poshtel ($8)
Me U Hotel ($15)
I’ve been to all of them and quite enjoyed them all, and met some cool people there. For hostels I suggest booking a place with good reviews on HostelWorld.com.
For hotels I would suggest:
33 Poshtel ($28)
For luxurious stays, I recommend:
Flora Creek Resort ($85/night)
The Shangri-La Chiang Mai ($130/night)
I partnered with Shangri-La earlier in 2019 and after staying at their hotel I can definitely say that it was worth it; the hospitality, location, food, wifi-speed, and room quality all exceeded my expectations, and it only costs $135 per night which is quite cheap considering it’s a luxury hotel brand.
I also stayed at Flora Creek Resort a year ago and it was pretty awesome. I wouldn’t say that it’s the best place to based out of as it’s quite far from the Old City but if you have a private driver or you have your own ride, it is definitely a luxurious experience. I’ve never personally been to Anantara but it is a luxury brand and also the most expensive. If you have that budget definitely go for it, it looks insane!
You can use my link here to book on Booking.com and you’ll get $25 CAD off your first booking! I will get a referral bonus so it will be much appreciated if you used that link ;) Alternatively, you can also rent an AirBnB which is a great option if you are going with a group of friends. You can rent a whole villa for cheap. You can use my code here to save $45 CAD off your first booking as well!
Overall budget for a one week trip (excluding getting to and from Chiang Mai)
Aside from emergencies funds and souvenirs, this is a pretty good breakdown of costs for a week in Thailand according to the itinerary. You can obviously go a lot cheaper (eating out less, don’t rent a car, cheaper accommodation, less activities, go by tour, etc.), but if you want to enjoy your time and be comfortable, this is what I recommend.
Activities $100-$150 (entrance fees + an elephant experience ($70-100))
Transportation with a car: $300-400 (rental car for 3-4 days, taxi ride from airport to hotel and back, and gas)
Transportation with buses/trains : $100-200
Food: $150-200 ($7-10 a meal, 3 meals a day)
Accommodations: $50-250 ($8-40/night)
Total budget without a car = $400-$800 USD
Total budget with a car = $600-$1,000 USD