It is not secret that I am not a fan of cities. A month in Bangkok wore me out and then straight to Koh Phangan for a week of partying. The thought of another week of partying for Songkran was starting to make me want to crawl into a hole! But I was heading to Chiang Mai for Songkran. I love Chiang Mai. A lot of expats choose to live here rather than Bangkok, and every traveller I have met, who has visited, sings its praises. I spent a week here over the Thai new year celebrations and loved it. Here are 5 reasons you should visit Chaing Mai.
Throughout my childhood my dad, forced me to watch the history channel and old war movies. This has made me some what a history geek when it comes to monarchies and wars! So it is no surprise that when I travel, I like swat up on geeky facts.
Chiang Mai means “new city” and was named new capital of the Lanna kingdom when it was founded in 1296.
Chiang Mai became part of Siam (which we now know as Thailand) in 1775, after the Thai King Taskin helped drive out the Burmese, who had invaded in 1556. The city was then abandoned in 1776. In 1791 Chiang Mai was re inhabited and slowly grew in cultural, trading and economic importance to its current status as the unofficial capital of Northern Thailand, second only to Bangkok.
The moat and ruins of the wall built by the Lanna kings still remain as do the many temples. Tradition and culture runs strong in Chiang Mai. Leading it to be one of the best places to celebrate festivals such as Songkran (Thai new year) and Loi Krathong (Lantern festival in November). This city has so much to see and do.
2. It’s cheap
For a city, Chaing Mai is so cheap. You can get Thai and western cuisines for practically half the price you can in Bangkok. We paid £4 for a pizza and huge local dishes for £1. The street food is also AMAZING. Check out the night Bazzar and the weekend night market for cheap food and great, cheap souvenirs and local goods. Massages are also cheap at £3 an hour. Not that I need any more excuses to indulge. You can also get great priced accommodation. £3 to £4 for a dorm bed and £6 for a double room.
3. The weather
January to April is the best time to visit with highs of 36°C and lows of 16°C degrees. The maximum temperature ever recorded was 42.4 °C in May 2005. Maybe that is a bit TOO hot. Chiang Mai is hot in the day but cools right down in the evening.
4. So much to do
Chiang Mai is packed full of things to do
- Chiang Mai Zoo is the oldest zoo in Northern Thailand, established in 1977. 400 animal species are represented at the zoo.
- Get your shopping fix. As mentioned earlier, Chiang Mai has a large and famous night bazaar for local arts and handicrafts. A handicraft and food market opens every Sunday afternoon until late at night on Rachadamnoen Road. Every Saturday evening a handicraft market is held along Wua Lai Road, Chiang Mai’s silver street, on the south side of the city beyond Chiang Mai Gate.
- Explore the hills and jungle of Chaing Mai on a guided mountain bike tour.
- Massages, Chea and everywhere!
- A number of Thai cooking schools can be found in Chiang Mai. With an added bonus of taking you to the local markets to purchase fresh, amazing, local produce.
- If like me you have a technical malfunction (AKA Break your phone), Pantip Plaza, just south of the Night Bazaar, is a fabulous electronics mall, housing EVERYTHING to do with IT. You also have Computer Plaza, Computer City, and Icon Square near the northwestern corner moat.
- Nightlife. With so many cool things to do at night from jazz to reggae bars and of course the famous backpacker area, Zoe’s in Yellow corner, Chiang Mai is always a cheap, fun night out.
- Of course you cannot forget the famous jungle treks. So many are available from one day treks to three day treks with camping and hill tribe home stays. Remember your comfy shoes and buy spray.
5. It’s easy to get around
After coming for Bangkok, where the traffic is so bad you have to get the sky train everywhere or risk sitting in a taxi for hours, I was relieved to have everything within such a close proximity. You can walk from one side of the main city to the other in 30 minutes. The roads and calm and interesting and if you do need to go further, Tuk tuks and taxis are everywhere and so cheap.
Chiang Mai is a beautiful and still relatively untouristy part of Thailand, but it’s developing rapidly. I loved it on both my visits there. I highly recommend you go!