Chiang Mai, Thailand

BEFORE YOUR TRIP....

A few things to note:

  • You do not need a visa to visit Thailand (as a tourist) IF you are planning a visit less than 30 days.  If you cross the border into another country and then return to Thailand - you will have another 30 days to visit.  If you plan on staying longer than 30 days you can obtain a tourist visa in advance that will allow you to travel as a tourist for 60 days.  If you are planning to stay in Thailand for more than 30 days without crossing into any other Southeast Asian countries - click here for full details on obtaining a visa. 
  • Chiang Mai is very popular on the Thai tourist circuit.  Nearly everyone speaks English - and nearly everyone in the service industry speaks fluently.  You will have no issue with finding cab drivers, servers and tour guides that speak English. 

Getting Around

Easily the best way to get around Chiang Mai is to rent a motorbike (scooter-style).  The majority of Chiang Mai traffic is made up of these bikes - and for a relatively inexpensive price ($1000 THB or $38 CAD) you can rent a motorbike for an entire week.  Also - finding a bike rental shop is extremely easy.  They are on most major street corners, and its as simple as providing them your passport and signing some paperwork.  You still need to pay for gas - but gas in Thailand is incredibly cheap.  We paid approximately $150 baht (less than $6 CAD) total during the whole week which included a trip out to a waterfall outside of town, a full half day motorcycle trip (Samoeng Loop) and constant trips to restaurants, malls, temples etc.  It was cheap, and it gave us a lot of freedom.  With that said... Asian traffic - particularly Thai traffic - is pretty intimidating.  If you are not comfortable on a bike - you should not consider this option.  My husband races dirtbikes and is extremely comfortable on a bike - so this was a viable option for us. 

IF renting a bike isn't an option for you - Chiang Mai is famous for its red songthaews (it can be seen in front of us in the above photo).  If you are simply getting around the interior of the old city - a songthaew will typically only cost you $20 Baht per person for a ride ($0.75 CAD).  If you are headed to one of the malls or one of the hill top temples the songthaews will normally still take you - however they will cost you a bit more money.  It is best to share a songthaew with other travellers if possible which will cut down on the cost per person.  Songthaews are everywhere in Chiang Mai - and catching one is as easy as waving one day when you see it coming.  They will always pull over unless they have other travellers that they are driving.  They are also always waiting outside of temples, bus stations, and the malls.  

Taxis are also available around Chiang Mai - but they tend to be the most expensive form of transportation.  I do not recommend except of course for getting to and from the airport and/or bus station.  A taxi ride to the airport costs around $200 Baht ($7.50). 

Eating

Let's get to the important part.  Chiang Mai is easily one of the best culinary destinations that we have travelled to.  We were blessed to meet many expats in Chiang Mai and were able to get fabulous recommendations for the best restaurants that Chiang Mai has to offer.  Here were our favs...

5. The Old Chiang Mai Cafe

The Old Chiang Mai Cafe

Tucked away in a tiny shopping center near Wat Ram Poeng temple is the cutest hidden gem of a coffee shop called the Old Chiang Mai Cafe.  The coffee was DELICIOUS, the treats were light and tasty, and the wifi worked awesome!  We were very lucky to find this early on and use it as our go-to work spot.  If you visit Wat Ram Poeng (a popular tourist stop) - be sure to stop in here for an afternoon latte and an apple crumble.

4. Pun Pun Organic Vegetarian Restauraunt

Pun Pun Organic Vegetarian Restauraunt

I wish I had a better picture - but from this restaurant we got take-out and OH.MY.WORD.  It was hard to even put this one at 4th place because the food is TO DIE FOR and easily the most delicious authentic Thai food I have ever eaten.  Whether you are vegetarian or not - DO NOT miss this restaurant.  Mixed vegetable dishes, potato curries, amazing noodle bowls like Pad See Ew... this thai food will actually change your life - do not miss it.

3.  Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Huge, fresh amazing salads... sandwiches, paninis, amazing coffee... need I say more?  This salad was not vegan but it was an amazing vegetarian salad with chickpeas, butternut squash, apples, craisins, and shredded almonds with a honey vinaigrette.  AWESOME.  Also, while we ate, we were able to write down memories, send good wishes or do a little drawing in the super adorable "Book 4 Thought" which was such a cute idea and a very nice touch.  We absolutely love Asian food, but this was also a nice, fresh food break from it.  SOO worth a visit.

2. Rustic & Blue

Rustic & Blue

This adorable restaurant was recommended to us by more than one expat - so we had to give it a try.  It was tucked in a side street in the popular tourist area of Nimman - and after a slight struggle to find it... we had one of the best meals we had in Chiang Mai.  Pictured above is a warm quinoa salad with roasted beets, mushrooms, tomatoes, grapes and served with a side of fresh bread.  With my happy strawberry lemonaide and the cutest atmosphere in the entire world - this was a very good culinary memory.

1.  Pasta & Basta

Pasta & Basta

What happens when an Italian truck driver with a passion for cooking ends up falling in love with a Thai local?  A new fresh pasta restaurant on the outskirts of Chiang Mai where you will find fresh made Italian food (pasta made right when you order it) that came straight from heaven.  Pasta and Basta isn't just an Italian restaurant - it's food is a delicious explosion in your mouth.  Read our full experience here.  DO NOT - whatever you do - miss this restaurant if you come to Chiang Mai.

Attractions

Chiang Mai is famous for its food, temples, incredible nature and of course its elephant trekking and sanctuaries.  

I want to talk a little bit about the elephant industry in Thailand.  Elephant trekking is something that is incredibly popular for the tourists coming through - but it is an incredibly sad and disturbing industry.  Asian elephants are endangered - and some speculate that there are less than 2000 wild elephants left in Thailand.  The elephants utilized for the tourism industry are either captured from the wild and/or bred in captivity for the sole purpose of human entertainment.  The elephants must have their spirits broken in order to be docile enough for human interaction - and yes - I am tearing up even writing this.  For full information please see the Peta article "Why You Should Turn Your Back On Elephant Rides" 

With that said - there are AMAZING Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, such as Elephant Nature Park that provide a positive sanctuary for elephants rescued from the brutal tourism trade.  Here you are able to still interact with and observe these amazing creatures - and support an awesome cause in the meantime.  

Mae Sae Waterfall

Mae Sae Waterfall

A seven tier waterfall that is STUNNINGLY beautiful, you can swim in it, AND offers a full market at the base so you can bring a picnic up to the rocks?  SIGN ME UP!  SO beautiful, super cheap, and a must-see attraction in Chiang Mai.  Check out our full experience here

Temples

You can't visit Chiang Mai without visiting it's famous hilltop temples.  The three must-see temples are:

  1. Doi Suthep Temple
  2. Wat Doi Kham
  3. Wat Palad (my favourite)

A seven tier waterfall that is STUNNINGLY beautiful, you can swim in it, AND offers a full market at the base so you can bring a picnic up to the rocks?  SIGN ME UP!  SO beautiful, super cheap, and a must-see attraction in Chiang Mai.  Check out our full experience here

Temples

You can't visit Chiang Mai without visiting it's famous hilltop temples.  The three must-see temples are:

  1. Doi Suthep Temple
  2. Wat Doi Kham
  3. Wat Palad (my favourite)
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