Chiang Mai – Backpacker’s paradise in the north of Thailand

Chiang Mai means "new city" and is probably the most famous city in the north of Thailand. It is especially popular with backpackers and offers many leisure activities as well as a beautiful ambience. The city was founded in 1296 and is located in the province of Chiang Mai. Since 2015, the northern Thai city and its sights are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

In this article, you'll learn how we got to Chiang Mai, where to stay, and what to do in the northern Thai city. In addition to countless temples, Chiang Mai offers many different activities, so that everyone can find something to do. Whether you are looking for good food, want to try different specialties or want to stroll around the city to find numerous temples, there is a lot on offer. And if you ever get tired, there are very nice cafes with great coffee. Finally you will find out how it went on for us to Chiang Mai.

How to get to Chiang Mai?

After our stay in Bangkok we went from there to Chiang Mai. In addition to the bus or train, Chiang Mai is also served by several daily flights from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports.

By bus and train to Chiang Mai

By bus the trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai takes about 10 hours and costs, depending on the time of day and the season approx. 15 – 25 Euro. So the bus is the cheapest way to get to Chiang Mai. The ticket is best booked through

By train it takes about 10-14 hours to get to Chiang Mai and you have to spend approx. pay 25 – 35 Euro for it. The trip leads through the beautiful central Thailand and should bring some highlights with it. However, if you don't want to spend a whole day on the road, you can also take the night train and sleep directly on the train. Again, it's best to book tickets online via

By plane to Chiang Mai

We chose the airplane option because it was the fastest way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The flight takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes. The first flight from Bangkok usually leaves around 6/7 a.m., the last flight leaves around 10 p.m.

Which airlines fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?

Airlines with departure from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Chiang Mai:

  • Thai VietJet Air: Our airline from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Legroom was ok, unfortunately there was no snack on the flight. Tripadvisor rating: 3/5 points. Here we would rather give 4/5 stars. Because we could sit next to each other without paying a surcharge and also had a window seat.
  • Thai Airways: see Thai Smile. Tripadvisor rating: 4/5 points.
  • Thai Smile: We found the airline to be super pleasant. Legroom was adequate, for a short-haul flight, and we got a snack. We flew with the airline from Chiang Mai to Krabi. Thai Smile is the subsidiary of Thai Airways and they cooperate on many flights. Tripadvisor rating: 4.5/5 points. There we join.
  • Bangkok Airways: Tripadvisor rating: 4/5 points.

Airlines with departure from Bangkok Don Mueang to Chiang Mai:

  • Nok Air: Tripadvisor Rating: 3.5/5 points.
  • Thai Lion Air: Tripadvisor rating: 3/5 points.
  • Air Asia / Thai AirAsia: Tripadvisor rating: 3.5/5 points.

We paid for the flight from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi to Chiang Mai in early January approx. 55€ per person paid for the flight with Thai VietJet Air. You might get the flight a little cheaper if you book earlier – we only booked the flight 2 days before we left for the north.

Transportation in Chiang Mai

Once in Chiang Mai, it's best to hop in a cab from the airport to get to the city center. The trip takes ca. 20-30 minutes – depending on traffic – and costs 150 Baht.
If you are then in the center and do not want to make the city unsafe on foot there are several ways to get from A to B.

The TukTuk is probably the fastest, but also the most expensive option in Thailand. Drivers always ask for a lot at first, but are good to deal with.

Riding a Tuktuk in Thailand

If you want to be at the wheel yourself, you can also just rent a scooter and be on the road all day for 200-300 baht. With your own scooter you are most flexible, but we found the traffic in downtown Chiang Mai a bit hectic.

We mostly took the shared cab, which costs 30 baht per person regardless of the duration of the trip and can be found quite often. Just hail the red big cabs, hop in the back and enjoy the ride and the view.

Overnight stay in Chiang Mai – our hotel tip

In the run-up to our trip we looked around for a long time for suitable accommodation. Should we take an Airbnb, hostel or hotel? In which district of Chiang Mai should we stay?? Should we go to the middle of the old town, which is inside the river rectangle, to the Nightbazaar area with countless shopping and eating possibilities or a bit outside to be faster at possible hiking trails?.

Hotel Tip Night Bazaar Inn Hotel

We have chosen a hotel in the Nightbazaar quarter. More precisely for the very nice and clean Night Bazaar Inn Hotel. Located directly across from a food and shopping court, this accommodation offers a room with a four-poster bed, a small pool on the second floor, breakfast, and a laundry service (cost is approx. 100 Baht). Overall, we found the total offer here top and were completely satisfied. The staff surprised us every day with their helpfulness and friendliness – here is a 10/10.

The room was very nicely furnished and had a balcony overlooking the Nightbazaar; but was not too noisy despite its close proximity. Especially the four-poster bed with fixed mosquito net went down very well with Clarissa. The bed itself was not so soft, but for Thailand standards still very okay – there were clearly worse; looking at you Krabi! The bathroom was big enough for two of us not to stand on our feet and had everything we needed – towels, hairdryer, shower gel and soap, etc..

The districts of Chiang Mai

For us the Nightbazaar district was optimal. Since we were mostly on excursions during the day, it was quick and easy to go out in the evening and get something to eat. The neighborhood is located west of the old town, directly adjacent to it and very well connected. The selection of food courts is endless and you can find specialties from all over the world. But more about this in a moment.

The old town of Chiang Mai, the city center so to speak, is bordered by a square river that separates other neighborhoods from the city center. Here you can walk along some places nicely and explore some small beautiful bridges.

The old town offers besides trendy bars and restaurants also many different shopping opportunities, many small boutiques and hip stores. If you are looking for more special restaurants and want to turn night into day, you will definitely find something in the old town. Here are also most hostels and Bed&Breakfasts to find and thus also many backpackers who explore the north of Thailand.

For travelers who are only in Chiang Mai for a few days and want to get a good overview of the city, we would recommend these two neighborhoods.

Activities in Chiang Mai

As already mentioned there is something for everyone in Chiang Mai. Here I would like to talk about the activities directly in Chiang Mai. The activities around Chiang Mai, like the Thai cooking class with Sammy or our trip to Doi'Inthanon you can read soon on our blog. Here are some activities you can do directly in Chiang Mai. And what better way than to get right back into the food?

The Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai

As already mentioned above, our hotel "Night Bazaar Inn" was located directly in the famous Night Bazaar district of Chiang Mai. The Night Bazaar is especially known for the best dining and shooping options and offers plenty of opportunities for travelers to experience the city at night.

Kalare Food and Shooping Centre

Right on Changklan Road is the Kalare Food and Shooping Centre. In the arcade you can find everything your heart desires. Here you can super buy a few souvenirs, store clothes and eat. So much different food – just great. Whether you are in the mood for Pad Thai, Tom Yum Soup, Thai Basil with Rice or just about anything, you will find it here. And as dessert there is as always Thai Roti or Mango Sticky Rice. Especially the Pad Thai with extra nut pieces and lime has blown me away.

Kalare Food and Shopping Centre

The nice and coherent thing about the Kalare food court is the stage with live music where every evening different musicians and artists perform. Here you can listen to great music for free and enjoy great Thai and other Asian food. In addition, the arcade is really very nicely decorated and offers a great flair.

Ploen Ruedee Night Market

If you walk a bit further along Changklan Road in the direction of Thapae Road, you will reach the Ploen Ruedee Night Market – a food court under the open sky. At this Night Bazaar there is even more choice of culinary delights. Besides Thai, Japanese and other Asian specialties and classics, this food court also offers international food like pizza or burgers.

The atmosphere and the flair in the Ploen Ruedee Night Market are just fantastic. Also at this food court there was a stage on which different musicians performed – but it was usually very loud here, so that you could hardly talk to each other. A little further back, it was then but all the better.

Our conclusion to the Night Bazaar

Personally I liked the Night Market at Thaepae Road a bit better. Clarissa was more of a fan of the Kalare Food and Shooping Centre. A draw then..

I think no matter one or the other, here the personal feeling decides. We found both super and can recommend them 100%. No matter if you are in Chiang Mai for one night or for several weeks, the food courts are a must see!

Chiang Mai despite only in such a way before objects of interest. Whether historical buildings, old temples or Thailand's beautiful café culture – the city in the north of Thailand offers highlights for every kind of tourist. Here we present you more our tips, which are strongly related to the historical temples. After that we go into our beloved coffee in Thailand.

The Tha Phae Gate in the middle of the city

One of the famous sights of Chiang Mai is the Tha Phae Gate, which separates the old town from the Night Bazaar district and is part of the former city fortifications, which were built directly during the construction of the city. Nowadays, a mass of people crowd the square in front of the gate, so it was a bit too crowded, noisy and restless for us to enjoy the splendor of the gate there.

Tha Phae Gate - one of the top sights in Chiang Mai

Besides this gateway to the old city, there are several other entrances that show the history of Chiang Mai.

The temples of Chiang Mai

On a tour through the city in northern Thailand you will pass countless Buddhist temples, each of which fascinates you anew. Most are free to enter as long as you show the necessary respect. Long clothing is mandatory here. The shirt must cover the shoulders and the pants should at least go over the knee – please pay attention to this!

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

The most famous temple is probably Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which was built in 1371 and renovated in 1805. Since the temple is located a little outside of Chiang Mai, you have a great view of Chiang Mai from here. It is worth to come here for a day or half a day, to enjoy the landscape and to be enchanted by Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

Wat Bopparam

During our tour on foot through the city, we especially liked Wat Bopparam, where we were able to observe how the Buddhist monks set up the decorations for the upcoming festivities. The garlands decorated the entire exterior of the temple and invited to wonder. Unfortunately we were not in the temple itself, because the monks were working at Wat Bopparam.

A sight of Chiang Mai - the Wat Bopparam temple and its monks

Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang

And since all good things come in threes, we would like to mention the small but beautiful Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang. At the entrance of the black and golden temple 2 dragons are waiting to welcome the visitors. Inside the temple there are 4 Buddha statues in front of which some offerings were presented. The temple was not very crowded during our trip, which is a welcome change to the often highly frequented temples in Chiang Mai.

The Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang temple

Three Kings Monument – The 3 kings of the city

If you go from Wat Inthakhin Sadue Muang a bit further north, you will come directly to the Three Kings Monument, which shows the 3 kings Mangrai of Lan Na, Ngam Mueang of Phayao and Ram Khamhaeng of Sukhothai, who made the pact for cooperation and defense together in 1287. So to speak the founding fathers of Chiang Mai. If you are lucky, you can listen to one or the other tour group telling about the history of Chiang Mai or read the whole thing on the square in front of the Three Kings Monument itself. Only recommended 🙂

Café tips in Chiang Mai

When you think of Asia and coffee, it's usually about Vietnam and not primarily Thailand. But also in Thailand you can find very tasty coffee. No matter if Arabica or Robusta beans, in Thailand you can find both. The north is home to the famous Arabica coffee beans, while in southern Thailand you can also find Robusta.

Coffee culture in Chiang Mai

There is probably no other city in Thailand where the coffee culture is as well represented as in Chiang Mai. In the old town there is often one café after the other. Whether you're looking for a cozy place to unwind, coffee to go, or a busier spot, the cafes here are mixed and varied. Here you can often see that the cafes are also used as a working station and many people also meet to work and write.

Coffee culture in northern Thailand

We especially liked two cafes in Chiang Mai. On the one hand the Doppio on Thapae Road in the old town and the cozy Min Café on Charoen Prathet Road in the Night Bazaar district. Of course there were many more, but this would go beyond the scope of this article. So just go and try it out. There is something lurking around every corner!

Cafés inside the northern Thai town

The Doppio is found several times in the city and offers excellent coffee. Since I am rather the one who drinks his coffee black, there was for me an Iced Coffee. Watch out here: If you are not on sugar in coffee, then always say extra to it, because otherwise, especially the Iced Coffee, will be very sweet. At Clarissa we had a latte macchiato which was also very good. Also the chocolate croissants were top! We also used the free wifi here to find out the next stop while having a coffee.

I became aware of the Min Café rather accidentally. Since we were on the go I wanted to get a coffee to go and stumbled into this cute café. When you enter the café / bar you first see the very nice counter and then also directly the mad sitting and reading corner with comfortable beanbags and freely lendable books. Just great to come down and read a good book while having a coffee or just to have some peace and quiet.

Even if I could have spent more weeks in Chiang Mai – and could have tested many more cafes, it goes on at some point – unfortunately. If the vacation would have been a bit longer, we would have definitely spent a few more days in Chiang Mai resp. Before we went to the south of Thailand, we drove further to the north.

Possibilities for further travel from Chiang Mai

From Chiang Mai there are many different possibilities to travel further. One of the highlights is probably the trip to Pai. As we have noticed, most travelers leave Chiang Mai for the popular islands Koh Phi Phi or Koh Phangan in the south. Where it went on for us you will find out in a moment.

Further into Thailand's north

The small village of Pai is especially popular with backpackers and hikers and a true mecca when it comes to tours in dense forests and waterfalls. The route from Chiang Mai to Pai is also supposed to be a highlight. From Chiang Mai you can make the trip to Pai z.B. to start with the scooter. This takes about 4 hours; a scooter costs ca. 200 – 300 Baht/day – if you want, there is also a luggage transport, so you don't have to carry all your belongings yourself. Unfortunately we didn't make the tour ourselves, but we were made jealous several times during our trip. Well, you just have to come again.

The cities Chiang Rai and Hae Mae Song are also easy to reach from Chiang Mai. To Chiang Rai there is a train or bus which both ca. 4 hours and not too expensive. Hae Mae Song is best reached by car or bus.

From Chiang Mai to the south of Thailand

For us it went from Chiang Mai further to Krabi to come from there to Koh Mook. A small paradise in the south of Thailand; simply beautiful. Because of the long travel time and the connection of flight, bus and boat it is worth to spend a night in Krabi or for example Phuket and from here start the journey to the island Koh Mook. We decided for the former – but read it for yourself and find out what we experienced on our Thailand trip and which sights we were excited about on Koh Mook. The post about Koh Mook will follow soon on our blog.

From Chiang Mai to the south of Thailand

Our conclusion about Chiang Mai

If you're planning on going to Thailand or planning a Southeast Asia tour, be sure to include a stop in Chiang Mai. The city in the north of Thailand offers wonderful temples, fantastic food, a whole lot of nice cafes and cool bars and many other leisure activities. Besides, you can start many tours from here or continue to explore northern Thailand.

As tips we can give you to plan at least one day directly in Chiang Mai and do a temple tour. You should also try the Thai coffee and let the culture of the city take you away. If you have time to add 1-2 days, we would do the tour to Pai. What we heard was this insanely beautiful.

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