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52 Reasons To Visit Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand is a prolific tourist destination, featured on the bucket list of millions around the world. My personal favorite city in the country is Chiang Mai. There are so many reasons to visit Chiang Mai. It’s home to hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples, including 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, which is adorned with carved serpents. These are just two of the reasons and below you will find 50 more reasons you should visit Chiang Mai.

About Chaing Mai: Chiang Mai is a city in mountainous northern Thailand. Founded in 1296, it was capital of the independent Lanna Kingdom until 1558. Its Old City area still retains vestiges of walls and moats from its history as a cultural and religious center.

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the moat chiang mai

52 reasons to visit Chiang Mai

  1. It’s the regional hub. The city is the gateway to exploring northern Thailand with busses and minibusses going to different areas. Chiang Rai and Pai are popular destinations.
  2. Flights are cheap from within Thailand. Thanks to budget airlines like AirAsia and Nok Air, you can easily reach Chiang Mai from anywhere in Thailand within a few hours.
  3. Play golf at night. Play 9 holes at Star Dome Golf Club just outside the moat and see what it’s like to play under lights (with a caddy).
  4. Watch Muay Thai. There are professional fights every night of the week in Chiang Mai where you can enjoy Thailand’s most popular spectator sport.
  5. Best place for Songkran. It doesn’t matter where you celebrate Thai New Year but with the moat around the old city, water supplies are infinite (and gross), making Chiang Mai the best.
  6. The best khao soy. If you haven’t heard of this dish, it’s a Northern Thailand dish made up of egg noodles (boiled and crispy) in a coconut milk sauce with lime, shallots, mustard greens and chili.
  7. Bike friendly city. The city has recently started a bike-sharing program allowing you to bike from A – B. Most guesthouses have cheap bicycle rentals available too.
  8. Cooking classes. Mango sticky rice is one of the many specialties you’ll want to learn how to cook in a half-day cooking class.
  9. The Monk’s Trail. Just beyond Chiang Mai University is the ~2km walk to Wat Pha Lat, commonly called the Monk’s Trail. A hidden gem on the edge of the city.
Robes found along the Monk’s Trail

10. Digital nomad community. If you work online, Chiang Mai is one of the best communities to find like-minded people with meetups every week to expand your network.

11. Cheaper than south Thailand. For most visitors to Thailand, the country is cheap as it is. If you think the Thai Islands are cheap, wait until you visit Chiang Mai. You can find guesthouses in Chiang Mai for as low as $6 per night on TripAdvisor.

12. Elephant sanctuaries. As people become aware of the downsides of riding elephants, the numerous elephant sanctuaries in Northern Thailand are providing once in a lifetime volunteering experience to help care for elephants.

13. Dozens of easy to access temples. Within the walls of the old city, you can find awesome temples like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh with plenty more on the outskirts.

14. You can live inside a moat. Remember when you built sandcastles when you were young, there was always a moat. Stay inside the moat, your inner child will be quietly happy.

15. Red songthaews are fun. While not unique to Northern Thailand, you rarely see them elsewhere. You’ll find them everywhere here and for 20 – 40 baht you can get most places within the city limits.

16. Cat cafes. There’s not just one cat cafe. You can visit Catmosphere, Maewmoth and Regina Guesthouse. Meow.

How could you not visit the cat cafes?

17. Seasons are different. The three main seasons, wet, hot, and cold are reasonably well defined so you can determine the best time of year for you to visit Chiang Mai.

18. English is well-spoken. Most Chiang Mai locals have at least a basic level of English making things easier for you if your Thai is nit-noi (small).

19. Ice skating rink. Yep, at the Central Festival Mall they have an ice skating rink. It’s very random. The equipment is functional, certainly not world-class but good fun on a hot day.

The ice skating rink at Central Festival mall.

20. Cheap movies. The movie theaters in Thailand provide great value every day but you can get tickets from 100 baht on Tuesdays at Maya Mall.

21. Communities to hack into. Beyond Digital Nomads, you can find all sorts of gatherings throughout the week. The best place is to join in is on Chiang Mai Facebook Groups and BoredBreaker.com

22. Bus Bar Wednesday. This regular CouchSurfing event has an awesome reputation since its inception in 2014 with 20 – 40 people gathering each week to meet new people, share stories and make plans for the future.

23. Pa fruit shakes. Since being featured in CNN, Pa has taken her smoothie game to another level. Head to her stall at the Chiang Mai Gate night market & enjoy.

24. North Gate Jazz Club. Most nights of the week, the jazz club will be rocking with some of the best jazz artists in the area popping by to embrace the friendly atmosphere spilling out onto the street.

25. Green curries. This is one of my favorite reasons to visit Chiang Mai. There are green curries served at so many restaurants, you’ll find yourself on a green curry tour in no time.

26. Mr. Moustache Pad Thai. If you find yourself in the Nimman area around midnight, head to the 7/11 near Soi 6 and see if you can spot the guy sporting an epic mustache cooking up tasty pad thai.

27. Cheap monthly rentals. One of the attractions for expats in Chiang Mai is the cost of living. Many apartments provide epic monthly discounts up to 70% off the daily rate.

28. The highest mountain in Thailand. Climbing the highest summit in a country is brag-worthy. Doi Inthanon has a road all the way to the summit so everyone can make the journey.

A view point on the way up Doi Inthanon

29. Sticky waterfall. One hour north of the city is a unique waterfall with the water running over the limestone creating a surface where you can walk on the rocks with no fear of falling.

30. A variety of accommodation. There are 100’s of accommodation options from cheap and dirty guesthouses, various airbnb options to luxury eco-friendly resorts in all corners of the city. If you are traveling on a budget, you can find guesthouses in Chiang Mai for as low as $3 per night on TripAdvisor.

31. Markets every night of the week. For those who enjoy markets, there’s plenty to explore. The night bazaar, Chinatown, and the student market run seven days a week while the Saturday and Sunday night markets are always busy.

32. Massages available around the clock. If you’re partial to a massage, you’re spoilt for choice in Chiang Mai. Prices start from as low as 150 baht/hour for a traditional Thai massage.

33. Breakfast cafes. Thai food doesn’t always go down well for western tourists who like their staples. More and more cafes in Chiang Mai are serving better brunches than you would order back home.

34. Vegetarian and vegan-friendly. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian who gets frustrated asking what you can/cannot eat, there are dozens of 100% vegan or vegetarian restaurants in and around Chiang Mai.

35. Great wifi available. The Wi-Fi game is strong in Chiang Mai. Pretty much all the hotels, cafes and restaurants have Wifi available.

36. Cowboy Hat Lady. If you head to the North Gate night market, you’ll spot the affectionately know ‘Cowboy Hat Lady’ featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show. Don’t forget your order.

37. Zip lining experience. Zipping through the northern jungle is an exhilarating experience.

38. Loy Krathong. With thousands of orange lanterns floating into the sky, there’s nothing quite like seeing Loy Krathong in person

39. Burning season equals fewer crowds. When others zig, zag. The burning season puts many people off visiting which for those who like fewer crowds, making it an exciting time to visit. It’s worth looking into though, as some people do suffer side effects.

The surroundings are gorgeous (not taken during burning season)

40. Volunteer opportunities. While not technically available on tourist visas, if you dig a little you can find plenty of volunteer opportunities where people will happily accept your help.

41. Minimal scams. Other than taxis or songthaews overcharging you, there are no prolific scams in Chiang Mai.

42. Insect Museum. This is a bit gross for some but sneaky fascinating. The owners have put their life into the collection and proudly display everything bug and insect related.

43. Street Food available 24/7. If you decide you need something to eat at some silly hour of the night, someone will be able to point you in the direction to someone cooking up a storm.

44. Zoe’s. Zoe’s isn’t a world-class nightclub but it’s a fun corner with 8 – 10 bars open with a variety of themes to cater for all.

45. Craft beer scene popping. This is a new trend in Chiang Mai with many bars and restaurants now importing various ales from around the world.

46. Wine can be affordable! In Southeast Asia wine is notoriously expensive relative to beer and spirits. If you want some of the cheapest (box) wine in Thailand head to Wine Terminal where you can get 99 baht glasses (pour your own).

47. Rooftop bars. Chiang Mai isn’t a city full of skyscrapers but there are cool rooftop bars. Check out Maya Mall and HTC near Thae Pae gate or La Moon on Nimman.

48. People are friendly. The Thai’s are used to tourists invading their cities and people always mention how well they’ve adapted to the tourists without becoming jaded.

49. 24-hour silent meditation. 10-day silent meditation retreats a bit much for you? Check out the mediation offering once a week at Wat Suan Dok.

50. 7/11 game is strong. On the hottest days in Southeast Asia, nothing quite matches that feeling of cold air hitting your face of 7/11. There’s 7/11 everywhere in Chiang Mai.

51. The land of smiles. We mentioned earlier how the locals haven’t become jaded yet, maybe they are but it’s hidden behind their smile.

52. Spice of life. If you’re looking for some spicy food, the Thai’s will certainly get your lips burning if requested. Sometimes they’ll go easy on you thinking you can’t handle the spice, but if you pick the right som tam salad, be warned!

Are you ready to visit Chiang Mai now? Have you visited Chiang Mai? What is your favorite thing about this city? Please share in the comments below.

If you liked this article about 52 Reasons to Visit Chiang Mai, you’ll love 52 Top Tips For Budget Travel.

Where To Stay In Chiang Mai

If you’re wondering where to stay when you visit Chiang Mai here are a few suggestions:

Budget Accommodation

Fundee Story Guesthouse – The owners are helpful in offering lots of local information. It is cute, very clean and not far away from the Sunday night market. It’s also just around the corner from many different kinds of food options.

Cost: Rates will vary by season, but usually run $10-$12 per night. To check current rates, I suggest visiting Hotels.com for best pricing.

You can also find guesthouses in Chiang Mai for as low as $3 per night on TripAdvisor.

Mid-Range Accommodation

Wing Bed – The hotel is new and clean. Rooms are big and they offer a great breakfast. The staff will help coordinate daily trips around Chiang Mai.

Cost: Rates will vary by season, but usually run $36-$40 per night. To check current hotel rates for Wing Bed, I suggest visiting Hotels.com.

Luxury Accommodation

Villa Mahabhirom – This boutique hotel is an elegant oasis in Chiang Mai. The staff are friendly, polite and helpful. A place to stay and dine.

Cost: Rates will vary by season, but usually run $294 per night. To find the lowest price for Villa Mahabhirom, I suggest visiting Hotels.com

Ultra Luxury Accommodation

Vana Som – This family-friendly Mae Rim villa is located in the mountains. There are 6 individually decorated villas, that have 5 bedrooms and feature free WiFi and pillowtop beds. Guests can enjoy deep soaking tubs, private kitchens with ovens and stovetops. It’s located within 1 mile of Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm and Tiger Kingdom. Mae Rim Monkey School Chiang Mai and Siam Insect Zoo are also very close.

Cost: Rates will vary by season, but usually runs $832 per night. To find the lowest price for Vana Som, I suggest visiting Hotels.com

Traveling To Chiang Mai Soon?

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance here.

Read More About SE Asia

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Have any questions about Chiang Mai? What about other suggestions? Leave me a message in the comments below!

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers.

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  1. Thanks for letting me share my favourite city. If anyone has any questions, send me an email or leave a comment here and will get back to you 🙂

  2. I love Chiang Mai! There is some much to see and do in the city and surrounding. And I celebrated Songkran there in 2015….that was a great experience!

    1. Hey Stephanie,

      I must have missed you in the midst of Songkran 2015! Definitely one of my favourite celebrations ever….thanks for reading.

  3. Great list, I’m headed to Chiang Mai next month and really looking forward to it! And hoping the prices will be a relief after Bangkok, southern Thailand, and Malaysia 😀

    1. Hey Jen,

      You’ll definitely be in for a nice surprise with the prices. It doesn’t take long to find the best value spots 🙂 There is even a 1 baht rice soup place apparently haha. Didn’t try it :p

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