Chiang Mai is the northern capital of Thailand. It is nowhere near the beaches that the country is famous for in the southern islands like Koh Samui and Koh Phang Nang. It is nowhere near the seedy nightlife found in cities such as Bangkok and Pattaya.
It is quite literally nowhere near these places not just by distance but also in many other ways. Some of these things are what makes Chiang Mai the perfect place for a long holiday.
Doi Suthep: Making Chiang Mai feel like a Mountainside Town
Doi Suthep isn’t the most spectacular mountain, or the highest. But it is right next to Chiang Mai. The city is so small that it has a kind of small town feeling. This combined with a mountain backdrop on one side makes it feel like a lovely mountainside town. On the other hand you also get the benefits of a city such as modern malls, three opened within the past couple of years.
At the top of the mountain is a wonderful temple with stunning views over the city. If you can find a place to stay with a view of the mountain, you will really appreciate it. We changed rooms 4 times to earn the best view in our building. Now that we have the view we want, we will keep the apartment even when traveling elsewhere. Which brings me nicely onto accommodation…
At any time other than December and mid April, you will easily find excellent value long-term accommodation in Chiang Mai. When I say excellent value I really mean it. We pay $150 a month for a spacious, clean, modern studio apartment. It has a balcony with great views of the mountain, which we enjoy most at sunset.
You can even pay less than this. The high student population means that there are more modest lodgings to be found, even at half the price if you are willing to forego a few luxuries such as air conditioning. Realistically most westerners will want a place starting at around the rate we pay. If you can afford to go higher than double the price we pay, you can get your own house. Contracts are easy, you pay a deposit and then it is monthly. There is no need to commit to long-term contracts unless you are renting a house.
My parents recently visited and we found them a beautiful hotel with Thai carvings and a lovely garden for literally a third of the price they usually pay back in the UK for holiday cottages. I think it was a four star hotel and they were amazed at the value in comparison to the cottages they usually rent back home. Some of the hotels offer very reasonable monthly rates, or you can just cycle around looking at apartments.
Temples, Temples and even more Temples
Chiang Mai is probably most famous for the hundreds of Buddhist temples, which you can find all over the city. These bring short-term tourists, but there are so many that even long term holidaymakers like myself come across new ones all the time. There are many monks wearing the orange robe, which adds to the beauty.
Every hotel and guesthouse has free maps showing the popular temples and when you want to get around it is usually best to say the name of a temple instead of a road name. I even went to a hospital the other day, which was called something complicated, so it was known as Suan Dok Hospital as that was the nearest temple, a very good one I might add.
A great day out is north for two hours to the small city of Chiang Rai. The reason for the trip is to see the most beautiful white temple you can imagine. I promise that if you Google it, you will add visiting this building to your travel bucket list.
History and Culture
The north of Thailand was once The Kingdom of Lanna. The heart of which was a 2 KM square moat around fort walls. This is now known as the Old City in Chiang Mai. This is where many hotels and guesthouses are situated. There are many temples to see and an enormous night market every Sunday.
The Lanna culture has been brought back and celebrated over the past 30 years. It’s influences can be seen in restored buildings and many local arts and crafts people make beautiful pieces as a homage to their heritage. This culture gives Chiang Mai a unique feel. Many restaurants and shops have decorations like woodcarvings that make you feel like you are in a unique place.
Waterfalls & Rice fields Make Great Days Out
You can hire a private car with driver, a hire car, a motorbike or a Tuk Tuk to take you to nearby sights. The journey is often through lush countryside that looks beautiful in the rainy season from May to October. The rice paddies and farmers working in them make great photos.
Even better photo opportunities can be found at the many waterfalls near Chiang Mai. The one pictured above is my favorite, Mae Ya waterfall in Doi Inthanon National Park. I even bought the video which you can get if you click the image. It is worth staying at Doi Inthanon overnight, as the mountain is the highest in Thailand, but lies 2 hours south of Chiang Mai. It has around 5 more waterfalls to visit as well as other scenic spots like rice terraces.
North of Chiang Mai there are plenty more waterfalls to be found such as the unique “sticky falls” at Bua Tong and the 10 stage waterfall at Mae Sa. Plus there are two waterfalls on Doi Suthep worth visiting including this HD Waterfall just after the zoo. The zoo has a great aquarium and some good animal enclosures, go early though to avoid the heat.
Chiang Mai is first and foremost a university city. This, combined with ever growing tourism, has led to an astonishing number of coffee shops popping up everywhere. The quality of the beans is awesome, from the finest international roasts to locally grown coffee in nearby hills.
With so many coffee shops to choose from, the competition is intense. This means we get to choose from an awesome array of different places to relax with a delicious cappuccino or a cooling Thai iced tea with milk. Prices are fair at around $1.50 and this sometimes includes artistry on the top of the coffee by the expert baristas.
The coffee shops offer air conditioning breaks which is very welcome when you have been out in the sun for a while. Two of the best coffee shops are Catmosphere and Maeworth. These are filled with cats. Long time travelers often miss our pets so this is a great idea. Go early to the cat coffee shops or you may need to queue up to get in.
Besides the above the city is filled with cheap local eats and every international cuisine you can think of, the most recent addition being an Iraqi restaurant in the ultra chic Maya mall. Getting around is easy and cheap with local red pick up trucks. many people hire motorbikes or buy bicycles.
It is easy to stay a long time by visiting the way most people do, on a visa exemption. This gives you 30 days, however a new rules has been introduced in August which now allows you to extend for a further 30 days. If you would like to stay longer you must apply for a tourist visa. Ideally a double entry which can give you up to 6 months if you extend twice and hop out of the country once.
Going to Thailand?
Don’t miss visiting Phuket and the Phi Phi Island Ferry.