Chiang Mai, nicknamed “Rose of the North” – such a lovely name.
This year, I finally decided to visit Chiang Mai, solo, for a short trip, and to see for myself if it’s everything that travel blogs made Chiang Mai up to be.
Everything to know for your first trip to Chiang Mai!
1. Prepaid mobile simcards are available for purchase at Chiang Mai airport!
My number 1 priority wherever I travel to – mobile data.
Once you clear customs at Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) and get out of the arrival gate, look out for an AIS booth near the glass doors. AIS sells prepaid mobile data SIM cards of different durations, meant for tourists, depending on your stay.
I was to be in Thailand for six days, so I bought a 7-day AIS mobile data simcard for 259baht, which was set up by the staff in a jiffy!
Alternatively, you can place an order for a Dtac Tourist SIM card via Klook, arrive at the airport, and pick up your SIM card from the Klook staff at the gate.
2. You can use Grab in Chiang Mai.
Given a choice, being alone overseas, I don’t like taking cabs (yep maybe I’m weird), definitely not buses. Trains would be my preferred choice but Chiang Mai doesn’t have trains for getting around in the city.
Grab was the only form of transport I used in Chiang Mai. Grab cars are aplenty at the airport and downtown. The drivers always arrive fast and I didn’t experience any problems in communication.
Ps: Sometimes, Grab’s payment in the app will go haywire when I’m overseas. On my last day of leaving Chiang Mai, it suddenly disabled my credit card option until I get an SMS code, and of course I’m not getting any SMS because I didn’t have auto-roaming. Thankfully I still had spare cash left to pay the driver. Hopefully, phone operators and apps can get more intelligent and already implement other ways to send us codes, such as through email.
The other option would be public transport in Chiang Mai, such as the red trucks or even tuk-tuks. You can read more about Chiang Mai’s public transport options on this travel blog =)
3. The city is actually more modern than you think.
Chiang Mai is not all greeneries and countryside and raw nature parks. Chiang Mai downtown is more of a modern city than a greenery-themed countryside.
When I visualized Chiang Mai in my head before going, it’s like.. Ubud in Bali – full of greeneries and nature. However, the Chiang Mai I visited (Old City & Nimman) turned out to be more like, Seminyak – developed and dusty.
Chiang Mai has different faces. It has plenty of elephant safaris, nature parks, golden temples, night market bazaars, modern shopping centres – a mixture! So keep your mind open and have fun doing up an itinerary.
4. Shopping in Chiang Mai will not be as exciting than Bangkok.
As MAYA shopping mall was within walking distance from my AirBNB condo, I would head to MAYA for meals or to spend time. The tenant mix is not very exciting, to be honest.
Night bazaars in Chiang Mai should be more fun than its shopping malls.
You can head to night bazaars (which I didn’t), but, remember to check the markets’ opening days and hours!
5. Choose the right months to go. Chiang Mai’s air quality might not be as clean as you think.
When I went in March, for a few days’ running, Chiang Mai got ‘awarded’ the most polluted city in the world. Blame myself for not doing sufficient research, as usual.
March is popularly known as the ‘burning season’ of Chiang Mai. Forests were on fire, resulting in a haze everywhere. There was one day that was particularly bad – my eyes were stinging from being outdoors in less than twenty minutes! I had to quicken my steps to the building, and later dodge into a massage place to get a rest for my eyes first.
On my last day, the Grab driver sending me to the airport kept his N95 mask on, even in the car, so I followed too 🤪
6. There is much to do.. Yet nothing much to do in Chiang Mai.
Someone might probably suggest that you visit elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. Well, I didn’t. As much as I would love to portray an image of me being a kind-hearted, angelic animal-lover, I really don’t fancy elephants that much. It takes up way too much time for me to research on which are the real elephant sanctuaries and which are the unethical ones pretending to be ethical.
—- What to do in Chiang Mai —-
Book an AirBNB condo and just chill in your apartment
Ahaha, you know chilled a traveller I am when the first thing I suggest is for you to chill in your apartment 😂
AirBNB provides great value for money when you don’t know where to stay in Chiang Mai.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai:
- Old City is popular, but you don’t have to stay there. Also, there’s virtually no AirBNBs in Old City, only hotels.
- Nimman is a good area to stay at, with plenty of condo options. I stayed at a very lovely condo that’s walking distance to One Nimman (shopping area) and Maya shopping mall. (New to AirBNB? Enjoy S$45 off your first AirBNB stay when you sign up with this special link for my travel blog!
Go hiking and chasing waterfalls in Chiang Mai.
I engaged a guide to do a full day trip with me in Chiang Mai! We headed to Doi Inthanon National Park, where Thailand’s highest mountain is, and visited a few waterfalls, as well as a few other attractions.
Take a cooking class in Chiang Mai.
Not very sure why, but taking cooking classes is one of the top, recommended things to do in this city! Learn to cook your favourite Thai dishes, like what I did!
I took a cooking class with Lanna Smile Cooking School via AirBNB Experiences. Instead of learning the popular Chiang Mai dish (Khao Soi), I chose this particular cooking class as it will guide me to cook the Thai dishes I love, including Drunken Noodles, Green Curry and Mango Sticky Rice!
A typical cooking class in Chiang Mai includes a short trip to the locals’ market to learn more about ingredients and spices, then to the cooking school and whip up a few dishes which you’ll enjoy feasting on! Lanna Smile Cooking School is run by two cousins: Pim and Nim, and the lesson took place at their house. With a few other travellers (they happened to be around my age), I had a lovely experience that day.
Writing about this cooking class is making me miss Thai food again!
Go for yoga classes (conducted in English), taught by Thai teachers!
Ok this gets me very excited! As a yoga practitioner, sometimes I’ll think about heading to Bali for yoga. But the thing about yoga classes in Bali, especially at the popular studios, is that the studios are often owned by foreign expats. The teachers are, often, foreigners. The good side is, the classes are conducted in English. The other side of the coin is, the classes don’t really feel that authentic. It’s just like taking another class except it’s not in your country.
In Chiang Mai, yoga teachers are… Thai! Erm, perhaps my statement is too generalising. I went for a class at The Yoga Tree, and the teacher was a Thai. The small class was conducted in English. There were just 3 students – a South Korean lady, a Caucasian, and me the Chinese. All tourists, oops. If I didn’t remember wrongly, my vinyasa flow class was 300baht for 1.5 hours, and it was great.
Visit Chiang Mai’s most famous temples
You’ll discover that Wat Phra That Doi Suthep would be the most popular temple in Chiang Mai, which I didn’t go. Instead, for convenience reasons, I visited Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chedi Luang, both walking distance of each other in the Old City. By the time I was done with the two temples, I was already feeling templed-out.
Take a day trip to Chiang Rai
It takes about 3 hours of driving to get from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. There’s a very beautiful white temple in Chiang Rai, and if you’re a fan of using Instagram, the trip will probably be worth it for some great shots. (I didn’t go!)
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There you have it, my most useful trips for you when you visit Chiang Mai! Will you be going Chiang Mai soon?