Chiang Mai, the capital of Chiang Mai province, is the largest city in northern Thailand and is about 435 miles north of Bangkok. This cultural and tourism hub is situated in the Ping River Valley where the country’s highest mountain is located. Combining the region’s rich and indigenous Thai culture and vibrant and modern city life, it is now an ideal destination for many local and international vacationers. Even solo travelers can find it a convenient tourist location with its diverse options of hotels, modes of transport and leisure and recreation sites.
It may not be as popular as Bangkok, but Chiang Mai is fast-developing as an international travel destination as well. Interestingly, the cost of living in Thailand makes it an ideal vacation spot as the rate of many 5-star hotels start at about $110 only. Meanwhile, budget hotels, which typically offer 3- or 4-star accommodations, start at about $30.
For a traveler willing to splurge in a 5-star hotel, international hotel chains abound in Chiang Mai including Four Seasons, Shangri-La Hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Le Meridien, Dusit and The Chedi. There are also some renowned local hotels to check out such as the Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort and Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel and Spa. For a budget traveler, some of the popular accommodation options include Lotus Pang Suan Kaew, Imperial Mae Ping, Furama, Maninarakorn, Amora Tapae and Suriwongse.
Most international travelers going to Chiang Mai first land in Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok International Airport), but there are some nearby Asian countries with flights directly reaching the Chiang Mai International Airport, which is also described as the gateway to northern Thailand. Bus, train and air connections are available for both local and international travelers.
If coming from Bangkok by land, it is easy to find bus and train options going to Chiang Mai, which requires anywhere from 10 to 15 hours of travel time. Car rentals are available in the city although the more popular transport is a motorbike, which is also available for rent around Chiang Mai. Local bus services and metered taxis are available as well. Public transport usually operate up to midnight. Tourist areas have local transport options called the songthaews and tuktuks even by dawn, but they become more expensive by then.
Chiang Mai is known for its variety of handicraft shops, festivals and architectural sights. It is also an arts and culture center hosting many famous festivals throughout the year and museums like the Chiang Mai National Museum, the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center and the Tribal Museum.
Natural attractions within the vicinity of Chiang Mai include the Elephant Nature Park, Doi Suthep National Park and Doi Inthanon National Park, which is also situated in the country’s highest mountain. Because of its mountainous terrain, Chiang Mai hosts a number of zip-line tours for tourists. Another interesting activity to try is to explore local hills and forests, while riding an elephant. These are typically offered by local travel and tour companies around the city.