I have officially been in Chiang Mai for over a month. In this time, I feel that I’ve become familiar enough with the city to confidentially make recommendations to visitors. I feel qualified to say that I know my way around. It takes time to learn a place and be able to accurately describe it. I don’t think I’m an expert but I’d like to share my first hand experience of the city by summing it up in 500 words or less:
– Transportation is almost always extremely easy to find. Hail a Songthaew (the red modified pick-up trucks), a Tuk-Tuk, or stop and rent a scooter at one of the many rental shops.
– There are plenty of cheap restaurants around the city, sometimes it just takes wandering down the back alleys to find the gems. Don’t be afraid to explore! The food carts and stalls set up outside many of the various markets are the easiest way to find cheap food plus variety.
– There are plenty of short-term accommodations for travelers staying just a few days or couple weeks. I can’t provide feedback on very many as I have only stayed at 1 or 2 myself but I can highly recommend that backpackers stay at Deejai Backpackers. I had a friend stay here and she met a lot of amazing people. We spent a lot of time just hanging around the lounge chatting with other travelers. It has a cafe in the lounge with great food and good prices as well as WiFi and bean bag chairs. It’s located within the old city and is walking distance to many restaurants, spas, temples etc. including the Sunday night walking market. You won’t regret staying here.
– For long-term accommodations, the pattern seems to be a plethora of cheap, but fully furnished and modern condos for rent east of the old city and the river. I’ve come across many out near the bus station or train station for under 6,000 baht ($191.80). The West side of town is a little different. West of the old city you have the Chiang Mai University area. There are cheap apartments, and some dormitories. On Nimmanhaemin road however, you will typically find higher prices as the Nimmanhaemin area is “the place to be.” Lots of hip new restaurants, coffee houses, and shops. Crowds of young people. Plenty of newer looking condo buildings and strip malls.
– The Night Bazaar is always a fun place to walk around, grab some food, do some shopping, run errands, or people watch. Anything you could need can be found there. (Hint: they have several gelato stands too :D) This should make it onto your ‘to-do list.’
– The Sunday night walking street in the heart of the old city (starting near Thae Pae gate) is absolutely worth visiting. There is plenty of shopping to be had and plenty of interesting street performers to dazzle your senses. Inside one of the Wats you will find a plethora of food carts selling a range of different snacks.
– Most restaurants seem to have western toilets, just remember to carry your own toilet paper. Hand sanitizer is recommended as there is rarely soap or paper towels. Any western style toilet you find will have a small hose attached to it. These are used for rinsing your nether regions. For more info, see my post titled Thai Toilets – What’s with the bum gun?.
– The most convenient shopping mall is Kad Suan Kaew located just outside the Northwest corner of the city. It’s huge and has everything from a grocery store in the basement to a bowling alley and movie theater on the top floor. I walk here regularly to get cheap good food at the food court and bakery in the basement attached to Tops market.
There you have it! I didn’t say it all in less than 500 words but hopefully these quick tips will be helpful for planning your trip or exploring Chiang Mai! 😀