It’s easy to see why Chiang Mai is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand. As the capital of the 13th-century Lanna Kingdom which was independent until the 19th century, it offers a rich history unique from the rest of the country. Nature, culture, gastronomy, and the arts combine in the rolling landscape of Chiang Mai, from the mountaintop Buddhist temples to lush rainforests to unforgettable elephant encounters. Not to mention, the food is top-notch, while local Thai handicrafts are thriving in this region.
Despite drawing flocks of backpackers all year round, Chiang Mai is a laidback place that remains relaxed, authentic, and unspoiled. Easy access to nearby tourist spots like Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son make it an excellent base for northern Thailand adventures. Planning a trip to this well-loved Thai destination? Read on for the KKday guide on traveling to Chiang Mai.
- Language: Thai language or Siamese is the official language in Thailand, but some people in Chiang Mai also speak Lanna. There are English-speaking locals in tourist towns, but there are fewer in rural areas.
- Currency: The Baht (THB/฿) is the official currency.
- Airport: Chiang Mai International Airport
- Public Transportation: Travelers can hop on a songthaew, tuk-tuk, or the city bus to get around Chiang Mai.
- New Normal Travel Guidelines: All travelers must get a Thailand Pass, which requires a passport, flight itinerary, and a COVID-19 insurance policy. Vaccinated travelers are also required to provide a certificate of vaccination (at least two doses), while unvaccinated travelers must have an RT-PCR negative test result taken no less than 72 hours before departure (for the no quarantine program) or a quarantine hotel booking for five nights (for the alternative quarantine program).
- Extra Tips: Be mindful of wearing appropriate clothing when visiting temples. Travelers are advised to cover their shoulders and legs when entering these sacred spaces; if you’re planning on wearing shorts, bring a sarong as a cover-up.
Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai
Thailand is hailed as a year-round travel destination, and it’s the same in Chiang Mai. Even better, its mountainous location keeps northern Thailand pleasantly cooler than the rest of the country. Many of the tourist spots in Chiang Mai are accessible all year round, but it may be best to skip the rainiest months between June and October. Instead, visit the mountain town from November to February, when Chiang Mai weather is cool and relatively rain-free.
How to Get There
Travelers can fly directly to Chiang Mai International Airport. If you’re coming from Bangkok, you can take a plane, train, or bus to get to Chiang Mai.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
As a bustling tourist hub, Chiang Mai has plenty of accommodation options for backpackers, whether it’s your first time or a returning traveler. If you don’t know where to start, check out our picks of resorts in Chiang Mai.
137 Pillars House Chiang Mai
Located in the Wat Gate district, the award-winning 137 Pillars House is a beautiful 19th-century manor combining classic architecture, colonial touches, and modern luxury. With only 30 suites in the sprawling garden property, this boutique hotel is made for serene holidays. On-site amenities include a swimming pool, spa, gym, and restaurant.
Na Nirand Romantic Boutique Resort
Set on the banks of the Mee Ping River, Na Nirand is a luxury boutique property that’s conveniently located near the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Inside, this top resort features stylish suites with bespoke furnishings, private balconies, and sitting areas. There’s a fine-dining restaurant overlooking the river, along with an outdoor pool, spa, and gym.
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort
Another luxury resort on the Mae Ping River is Anantara Chiang Mai Resort, an ultra-stylish haven tucked away behind a bamboo wall for an atmosphere of privacy and exclusivity. Chic rooms and suites are large and tastefully appointed, while top-notch amenities include the pool, spa, and gym. Travelers are drawn to The Service 1921 Restaurant and Bar for a fine dining experience in a space that was once the office of the British Consulate.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai
Food is a crucial part of the full Chiang Mai experience, with its Lanna heritage giving unique flavors to local cuisine. You won’t run out of dining spots here — and if you don’t know where to start, check a few of our favorite Chiang Mai foodie haunts below.
Take a break from sightseeing with a plate of authentic northern Thai food at Huen Phen, one of Chiang Mai’s most popular restaurants that’s been around for four decades. Located in the old city, Huen Phen serves delicious Lanna dishes, including the famous khao soi. Each order is affordable, so travelers can sample a wide array of local specialties.
Address: 117/1 Rachamunka Road, Phrasing, Muang, Chiang Mai
Service Hours: Daily, 8:30 AM to 4 PM, 5 PM to 10 PM
Khao Soi Mae Manee
Visit Khao Soi Mae Manee, a charming café renowned for its namesake dish: khao soi, a coconut curry noodle soup made with either chicken or beef. Many say that Khao Soi Mae Manee’s take on this northern Thai specialty dish is the best in the region, so make sure you try a bowl of the extra-flavorful beef khao soi.
Address: 18 Soi 24 Chotana Road, Chang Phuk, Muang Chieng Mai, Chiang Mai
Service Hours: Daily, 9 AM to 3:30 PM
Ginger Farm Kitchen
Get a taste of fresh local ingredients and organic Thai dishes at Ginger Farm Kitchen, a beautifully designed restaurant that sources organic vegetables, free-range eggs and meats from its own farm and locals. The farm-to-table restaurant is hailed for its delicious salads and other northern Thai fare. Travelers are advised to make a booking in advance.
Things to Do in Krabi
Go Temple Hopping
The dazzling temples of Chiang Mai are some of its greatest draws; make sure you see a couple when you’re in town. At the top of the list is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the stunning gold-plated mountaintop temple with the famed sitting Buddha image overlooking the city. Travelers can get to the top by hiking or taking a tram. Other notable stops of a Chiang Mai temple tour are the ancient Wat Chiang Man, the revered Wat Phra Singh, and the striking white pagodas of Wat Suan Dok.
Visit an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary
Chiang Mai is one of the few places in the world where explorers can enjoy close ethical encounters with elephants. Get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to feed and bathe these gentle giants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
Shop at the Night Bazaar Market
The bustling markets in Chiang Mai are a must-visit — and the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is so well-known that it’s among the main attractions of this Thai destination. Browse the stalls at the buzzy Night Bazaar for all sorts of souvenirs, from clothes and furniture to handcrafted goods and antiques. The Saturday and Sunday Markets are also worth exploring for local handicrafts.
Take a Lanna Cooking Class
Interested in whipping up tasty Lanna dishes at home? Enroll in a cooking class to hone your skills in the kitchen and to bring home the flavors of Lanna cuisine that makes eating in northern Thailand so unique.