11 Things to Know Before Visiting Chiang Mai
1. CHIANG MAI IS NOT A SLEEPY HILLSIDE VILLAGE
Chiang Mai is Thailand's largest urban area outside of Bangkok. It's a relaxing ancient city at the foot of beautiful mountains, but also a modern tourist destination complete with five-star shopping, dining and lodging. For this reason, Chiang Mai will satisfy city lovers and nature enthusiasts.
2. DON'T DRESS LIKE YOU'RE AT THE BEACH
The north of Thailand is more conservative and reserved than Bangkok, the islands, and beaches down south. Try to always cover your shoulders and come prepared for some chilly nights in winter and sudden downpours in summer. Swimming attire is generally seen as disrespectful, especially at religious sites.
3. ALWAYS NEGOTIATE BEFORE HOPPING INTO A TUK TUK
You can't visit Thailand or Chiang Mai without riding in a tuk tuk, named after the sputtering sound of its engine. To avoid being overcharged, be sure that you know the appropriate price to pay before getting into one. Short rides (1-2km) around the city should cost around b60 and longer rides (3-5km) across the city b120. If you aren't clear on the price before you reach the destination, the driver will insist on double. Be firm, or wave down the next tuk tuk, there are hundreds.
4. LOVE ELEPHANTS? GIVE ONE A BATH!
If you want to appreciate an elephant up-close, please know that riding on one can result in spinal injuries to the animal. Just outside of the city limits, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Elephant Nature Park offer visitors a more responsible approach to getting personal with these gentle, beautiful creatures.
5. DON'T HESITATE! SLURP DOWN SOME KHAO SOI
If every Asian region has a signature dish, then Khao Soi represents northern Thailand. A potent broth of curry, coconut and spices, served with egg noodles and sprinkled with your choice of mustard greens, shallots, lime, and ground chilies on the side. It's the perfect wake-up call.
6. PLAN A ROAD TRIP
Chiang Mai is a great base from which to explore the surrounding green, undulating countryside. Don't miss the stunning Wat Phra Doi Suthep temple overlooking Chiang Mai from its location perched on a mountain 13km west of the Old City. Other great day trips include whitewater rafting, elephant nature parks, ziplining, cycle tours and rock climbing. But, before you drive...
7. GET YOUR INTERNATIONAL DRIVERS LICENSE BEFORE ARRIVING
Exploring Chiang Mai and its surroundings on motorbike or car is one of the great joys of traveling the city and region. However, driving without a license has additional risks in the case of fines, accidents or damages.
8. PEAK SEASON (NOVEMBER TO JANUARY) IS CHILLY; RAINY SEASON IS GREEN
Peak tourist season in Chiang Mai is November through January. The days are generally dry and mild and evenings chilly. Rainy season is May to October, peaking in August. Don't rule out visiting during rainy season, as there are fewer tourists and the rains often bring out lush emerald colors in the surrounding mountains.
9. THE OLD CITY IS IDEAL FOR SHORT VISITS, LONGER VISITORS MAY WANT TO STAY FURTHER OUT
If you've only got a few days in Chiang Mai, the Old City is the place to be: walkable, central, and the pickup point for many day trips and excursions. However, if you plan on staying longer, it's a good idea to move beyond the Old City and into a more “local” neighborhood to experience a more relaxed lifestyle. Renting an apartment is a great way to experience local life.
10. BIDET, MATE
Don't expect toilet paper in public restrooms. It's more common to see a bidet, a hand-held water spray provided in place of toilet paper. If you're too intimidated to use it, you should prepare by bringing your own tissue paper.
11. CRIME IS RARE, BUT BEWARE OF TRAFFIC
Follow these suggestions and precautions to have a safe and enjoyable trip in the “Rose of the North”!Use some extra caution with valuables in crowded places such as the night bazaar, but take comfort in the fact that violent crime is rare in Chiang Mai. Your #1 danger is traffic. Be sure to look right before crossing the road, as Thailand has “left hand traffic” that may be different from your home country. Never assume vehicle will stop for you, and raise/wave your hand as you cross a busy street.
Follow these suggestions and precautions to have a safe and enjoyable trip in the “Rose of the North”!