Setting foot in Chiang Mai, I was relieved to see the city’s mid-paced ebb with urban benefits. It resembled a monumental exhibition with a mix of ancient temples and modern landmarks. The peaceful aura lent a deep, cultural immersion that instantly kicked off an experience I would remember long after leaving.
Despite having no beaches, there were numerous things to do in Chiang Mai. The city is a metropolis with a vibrant nightlife that I will leave to others to describe better.
For now, I’ll share tips that I found handy and that you may too on your next trip to Chiang Mai.
Fast Facts about Chiang Mai
- Largest city in North Thailand.
- Famous for its Old City area.
From buses to bikes, Chiang Mai offers all modes of transport. The Grab app alone has three forms of transit, including motorbikes, taxis and tuk-tuks. The cheapest route from the airport is via the city bus.
How to Get From the Airport to the City
- Airport >> Bus R3 (yellow) >> Old city
- Airport >> Bus R3 (red) >> Nimman
The airport bus is also a city bus, making it the most convenient and affordable commute upon arriving in Chiang Mai. It travels within the (old) city, making stops along the way to the airport, and returning after a brief stop. The cost was a measly 20 Baht upon boarding, which I learned one has to give to the driver upon entering.
Back to the airport: as you exit the arrival hall, you’ll notice white bus stop signs. If your hotel is located within the Old City (near Tha Pae Gate), head for bus R3 (Yellow). If located outside the Old City, analyze the itineraries on the bus posts to see which one passes nearest your hotel. You can also use the CM Transit app to check for bus routes.
Note that there are two bus R3s; the other R3 (Red) first goes to Nimman and then to Tha Pae Gate.
If in doubt, ask the driver. They’re usually more than happy to offer you any confirmation.
A few perks that come with using the bus are the air-conditioned service and free Wi-Fi. So don’t panic if you don’t manage to buy a SIM card first thing at the airport. The bus will help you stay online and navigate your route until you reach your first destination.
How To Travel in Chiang Mai City
The Roddaeng is the most popular form of public transport in Chiang Mai. These are red truck taxis for inner-city travel. They also come in yellow, blue, white, and green colors, each with different destinations. The red ones, however, are the most common type. But if there are only a few people on the Roddaeng, it may cost a little more to ride in it.
At times, the driver won’t mind taking you solo to your destination– like a regular taxi. In such a case, the price may be higher but (always!) negotiable.
Food and Living Costs
There’s a fantastic variety of foods for Thailand cuisine, and the eating spots in Chiang Mai never run out. Whether you’re looking for a tasty dish of fried rice, some local-flavored noodles, or a regular pizza treat, you won’t run out of options.
The night markets in Chiang Mai make up the tastiest spots in town. There are various dishes, including fried rice, noodles in curry soup (Khao Soi), and various smoothie flavors.
The three most popular night markets in Chiang Mai are:
Saturday Night Market: Open every evening, mainly selling food.
Sunday Market (Tha Pae Gate market): Open Sunday evenings, selling food, clothes, and accessories.
Night Bazaar (Mae Ping River market): Open every evening, selling food, clothes, and accessories.
A bowl of Kaoh Soi costs around 40 Baht. Many people have recommended having it when visiting Thailand, so I decided to try some. After several late attempts at the most recommended spot, I finally had a stroke of luck. I was glad to find that the food was nothing short of amazing, with a new but exciting taste on my buds.
You can also get some Pad Thai or fried rice at the Saturday Night Market for the same cost, with a smoothie going for 30 Baht or less.
Good places are not always easy to find. But for the low price of 100 – 150 Baht/night, you can find shared accommodation in a good hostel or a single room.
Hostels with a kitchen area are more ‘homely’ since they offer an opportunity to make your breakfast every morning. I enjoyed making some good ole oats along with fresh fruits and a cup of coffee to wake me up to another spontaneous day in Chiang Mai.
A few hostel recommendations are Chang Home Guest House and Mapping River. I found their staff hospitable, and their rooms were kept clean.
After two long months, I had traveled around the country and loved it. But my trip was over, and I was more excited about the memories I’d made than I was sad to leave.
Hopefully, I can add to that joy with these helpful tips and encourage you to start planning your trip to Chiang Mai. With that said, happy tripping!
Buses leaving for cities like Phuket, Bangkok, or Chiang Rai can be found at Sunny Hostel. It’s a 10-minute walk from Tha Pae Gate and much closer than the Arcade bus station.