A Month in Chiang Mai.
Next week we’ll be leaving Chiang Mai after having spent a month here. March isn’t the best time of year in Chiang Mai but we chose to come here for the cost, the food…but mostly for the ease of living. Chiang Mai ended up being pretty damn close to perfect for all that. It’s even exceeded expectations.
People will ask, what do you do for a month in Chiang Mai?
Note: I mention prices in Bahts below. As of the end of March 2018, 31 Bahts = 1 USD or 24 Bahts = 1 CAD
Here is what we did
1.Sightseeing (ie. visiting lots of temples). There are so many temples – over 300 in the Chiang Mai area – and many are really, really impressive. And some are unique, different than any other. If you’re a tourist temple-hopping is probably what you will be doing a lot of. Over the course of a month we saw tons of them. The best temples in Chiang Mai.
.2. Muay Thai Training. Readers know that we’ve been going to gyms and trying to get/keep in shape. One of the things we’ve done here in Chiang Mai is go to a Muay Thai gym for some training. It has been fantastic. The last few weeks we’ve gone 3 times a week where we get 2 hours of training each time. I’ll be writing about that soon as well. We’re right now in the best shape we’ve been in a long time. I’d recommend it to anyone.
Related: Where to do Muay Thai training in Chiang Mai
3. Eating lots of Thai food (Indian too) and drinking tons of coffee and fruit shakes. I’ve always said that Thai food is something I could eat every day. Stick me somewhere where I can only choose one kind of cuisine and it’ll be Thai. We also love Indian food but once a week does it…until the next week when we get lured in again (it’s fattening, not healthy, and it usually screws up our bellies. But it’s addictive). I’ll have a few recommendations at the end of this post. Besides the food, we buy fresh fruit shakes every day (25 Baht each) and get a couple of iced coffees (usually between 50-70 Baht).
4. Massages. We usually get foot massages at least once a week, usually after our Muay Thai workout. Usual cost 200 Baht/hr or 250 Baht/90 minutes at a nice place. Our favorite massage place is called Lila Thai massage where they have female ex-convicts giving you massages. But there is a massage parlor on every block in Chiang Mai so you’ll never have a hard time finding a place.
5. Working out at the gym and lounging by the pool. As mentioned above, we spent our month at the Smith Residence. On the roof they have a small gym and pool and we’ve spent quite a lot of time up there when we’re not out.
6. Night markets. There seems to be a market everywhere you turn in Chiang Mai. The busiest is the Sunday night market through the center of the old town where they sell all kinds of handicrafts. It’s huge and busy (too busy for me). But whether it’s buying Muay Thai shorts, underwear, leather goods, silk shawls, skirts, coconut bowls, wooden statues, knock-off toys you’ll find anything you want here. We go every week, have a look around, and usually sit down somewhere for a beer watching the crowds.
7. Go out to watch Muay Thai. I’m lucky that Lissette is a fan of martial arts. Back in Canada we would sometimes get pay-per-view and watch a boxing match on TV. Here in Thailand we enjoy going out for Muay Thai and have tried to do it once a week. We’ll be back to Chiang Mai in late May and will write about the best spots to see Muay Thai in the city – we’ve already been to a few different places and our experiences have varied greatly.
Things we didn’t do
3. Do Laundry
4. Grocery shopping*
The great thing about Chiang Mai is it doesn’t really pay to do any of the above. We go to local restaurants where we’ll pay on average 80 baht for a meal (each). Our rooms gets cleaned twice a week by the staff. There’s a laundry lady downstairs who I bring our dirty clothes to twice a week (comes out to about 200 baht for a good-sized bag of dirty laundry). * Grocery shopping – I’m lying that we don’t do any. We go once a week go the Airport Plaza to get some basics (a huge plastic container of water, crackers, cheese, health bars, milk, cereal, instant coffee, eggs). But that’s it.
5. Yoga. Lissette hoped to do some yoga in Chiang Mai and there are tons of serious yoga places around (Wildrose yoga has been recommended by many). But there are only so many things we can do and we decided this time around that we wanted to get fit with Muay Thai. Maybe we’ll do yoga if we’re ever back in Chiang Mai.
Tips and Recommendations
1. Pick up a copy of the free “Sawasdee Chiang Mai Map”. It’s available at some cafés and hotels around the city. It’s the best map I’ve seen, with illustrations and info of different sights for tourists.
2. My mother lived about 5 years in Chiang Mai and the first thing she told me was that we should try to avoid the main roads and instead walk the small sois (streets). It’s the best piece of advice. In many places, there are no sidewalks to speak of in Chiang Mai and walking down a main street is like walking through an obstacle course. The sois might not have sidewalks either but traffic is light, they’re kept clean and, most surprisingly, you can walk some of those small sois and feel like you’re in a small village and not in the heart of a city.
3. Take a songthaew to get places. You can take it anywhere central and it will cost you 30 Baht each. We would take it whenever we went from one side of the old city to the other. They’re all over the place (the red pickups) and they’re always looking for customers.
4. Otherwise, take Uber. It’s even cheaper than a songthaew. We always take it when going to the shopping center (Airport Plaza) or to the Muay Thai training and it usually costs 50 Baht for a 15 minute ride. And they are meticulously cared for in Chiang Mai (and always have AC). Forget about taking a Tuk Tuk (if you do you shouldn’t pay more than 100Baht to anywhere) or a taxi.
5. Once a week we would go to the Airport Plaza shopping center. It’s a good place to get a SIM card (lots of companies on the 3rd floor), pick up good sports clothes (they have a Nike factory outlet with good prices) and to pick up groceries (at Tops Supermarket). Some people think Thailand is 3rd world – well, come to its shopping centers and you’ll find things from all over the world that might well put the shopping centers that you have at home to shame.
6. Do your sightseeing early in the day before the sun gets overpowering. Our routine in Thailand: get up early, have a light breakfast in the room, do sightseeing, go somewhere for lunch. In the afternoon Lissette works/I do stuff on the blog, in the late afternoon we either go to the gym or to Muay Thai. By 7pm we’re usually ready for dinner somewhere in the neighborhood.
7. I mentioned a SIM card up top. You don’t really need one in Chiang Mai – they have wifi everywhere.
Some of our favorite cafés and restaurants
We stayed at the Smith Residence near Chiang Mai gate (the southern gate to the old city) so our favorites are all in this neighborhood:
Thai Food – la Petite
Indian food – The Grill of India
Best café for ambiance – Clay Studio Coffee in the Garden
Best café for fresh croissants, pastries and a really nice vibe – Baan Bakery
Best café for good coffee – Nu Nu Nini’s Café
Best healthy food on Loi Kroh Road (where we go to do/see Muay Thai) – Alice’s Restaurant
Accommodation: We stayed at the Smith Residence which is popular for long-term stays. I would not recommend it however if you’re here for a few days or a week. There are better, much nicer options. Here are a few: Pha-Thai House. In the old town, Thai style, Pool, simple, inexpensive. Thongran’s House. Very nice rooms, right in the center. Something fancy: Tamarind Village. We stayed here many years ago on our 1st visit to Chiang Mai. Luxurious and romantic with the most comfortable beds. Just fantastic.
Getting there. Lots of options (see below) depending where you are coming from. 12Go Asia has the best flight, train, and bus options in Asia and you can even book private transfers and taxis.
Organized Tours: there are so many activities in and around Chiang Mai I couldn’t possibly list them all. But this being Thailand you get good value for your money.
Thoughts on Chiang Mai
One of our regular readers mentioned recently not really liking Chiang Mai very much. We’ve travelled through Chiang Mai before on short trips and I think I appreciate the city much more as a base (ie. for a longer term stay) than as a place to visit for a few days. As a tourist destination Chiang Mai has the temples which are very impressive. But there are only so many temples you can visit over a few days before your get temple-ed out. What we loved about Chiang Mai was the lifestyle you can have as a slow traveller or expat. I think it can be summed up very simply: in Chiang Mai everything is possible. Want to take yoga, muay thai, or cooking classes? Want exciting nightlife, watch professional Muay Thai matches, and drink/carouse with the Thai girls? Want to eat great food of all kinds? Want to meet other Expats? (you’ll never be short on friends in CM). It’s all possible, it’s all affordable, and as long as you’re nice and respectful you’ll find the locals very friendly.
Now the negatives. People complain about the increased traffic, pollution, and the seasonal “smog” caused by the burning in Northern Thailand (which often starts in January and continues until the end of April). We lived through all the above through our stay in March. Looking at the horizon skies are often grey. Looking higher you can usually see blue skies. The grey/blue mix depends on the day, some days we can’t even see the nearby mountain of Doi Suthep, on other days the sky is almost clear blue. So there is significant pollution in the air (an expat we spoke to said it was the equivalent of 6 cigarettes/day) and I know people avoid Chiang Mai this time of year. But we were prepared and sightseeing wasn’t our priority. We came to Chiang Mai to “veg out” and it really was quite perfect for that. But ideally I would suggest people come outside of that Jan-Apr period.
So final thoughts? Chiang Mai is a fun place to spend time. Life is easy, cheap, and you can find/do almost anything you want. You’ll never get bored in Chiang Mai. For us, it’s ended up being a great place to spend a month.
Related: Bbqboy’s Ultimate Guide to the Best of Thailand
Related: Highlights of Chiang Mai and Chiang Dao, Thailand
Related: Guide to Nong Khai, Thailand
Related: People, Markets and crazy thing on wheels in Nong Khai
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Just discovered your blog as I was researching spending a month in Chiang Mai. My husband and I did a 2 week tour of Thailand in Dec 2018 and loved the few days we spent in Chaing Mai. We just returned from a month trip to Cambodia and Vietnam (on our own) and love SE Asia.
Thinking of spending December 2019 in Chiang Mai and was looking for month rentals. Saw you recommend the Smith Residence and just wanted to double check that you still recommend.
We are in our 60s and retired. I want to try staying someplace for a month and though Chaing Mai might be a good place to use as a base. We have t yet been to Laos and thought we could go there afterwards for a week.
Yes, I think for a month it is fine. You might want to check with Smith Suites – that’s their new building just a few blocks away. It is a bit more expensive but by any standard still pretty cheap.
We ended up staying at the Smith Residence for 2 months and by the 2nd month it was too long. But as I say for a month it is good. They have their own restaurant downstairs, laundry service, little grocery, and on the roof they have a swimming pool and a gym. So it’s everything in one which we enjoyed. The rooms are really no-frills, but all works well.
My stay in CM was good and I finally got to settle down to see the city from a local perspective. The songthaews are cheap, good and regular. The shopping malls are good and Kad Luang (Wororot market) has good street food each evening. I can understand why people would choose CM to live as costs are lower and there’s good food and access to cheap gyms and western food if you want it but still it’s not the most exciting city. The night bazaar area is bigger and tacky as always . The old city is still a bit of a mess and Nimman road traffic is a carpark each afternoon and mostly Chinese walking around. Also the river tours like kayaking are expensive.
Would I want to live here? Perhaps for 2 months a year I can see the attraction but fulltime I think I would be wondering what to do.There’s no beach and the nightlife is 2nd rate if that.
You are right in every respect Tom.
After our trip through Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore we came back to CM for 3 weeks. By then it was too much, the novelty had worn off…
A great base for a short time. Easy life. But after that I’d get bored…
“My Chiang Mai friends highly recommend renting scooters”
I don’t. Thailand has a massive road toll, mainly idiots on motorbikes. Without a motorbike licence and international permit you won’t be covered by insurance. Much better to hire a car. Much safer, easy to cart luggage and away from rain.
I will be there in June. Haven’t been in 11 years. Last time was April and the heat was a bit much.
Oh yeah – we’re here now and it’s tough to take. Sitting in our AC room right now and waiting for 5pm to take a walk….
Frank: It’s ironic I discovered you originally because of your post about biking in Croatia, where I did a short term Fulbright Fellowship. Well, now I’ll be going back to Thailand Jan 2019 to Feb 2019 for a month to visit friends in Chiang Mai. My last visit was in 1992, before my friend lived there and later married a lovely Thai woman. I’ll be there about two weeks, a week around Bangkok and a week on a beach, yet to be determined. Any suggestions? My Chiang Mai friends highly recommend renting scooters. That’s what they do when they want to get out and about and said it’s quite reasonable. I haven’t figured out where I’ll stay but was hoping for a spot with a fridge and maybe even a pool for under a once bedroom private, under $25. If you have ideas on that, I’d welcome them. I figure after the city overload of Bangkok, where I’ve decided I should follow up on your two hour train trip day trip to see the temples of the prior Capitol of the Kingdom, as it were, I’ll be wanting to take the all night train to Chiang Mai. I haven’t read all your blogs on Thailand yet, but will get to them. I’ve got a few months to plan. So is a walk in tourist visa only good for a month? I seem to recall you used to be able to stay for three, but perhaps I’m mistaken. I’m American so I do realize sometimes we and Canadians have different requirements. I’m thinking when I booked my ticket from San Francisco (good deal on Scott’s Travel site for $630RT on EVA air) that I might be a day or two over 30 days. Getting and extension could be a real pain in the arse. Anyways, I’ll say this about the Balkans, I love Croatia, I love the Bosniaks in Bosnia, and I detest the Nationalism in Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. I’ve refused to even visit Serbia, though I know there are surely nice people there. My views are based on my experiences in Croatia and Bosnia on 4 different trips. Oh well, they’ve been fighting over this for a thousand years. Far too many big egos for me to get in the way of suggesting a commons sense approach or pointing out that their language is the same despite the nuances and being written in both Latin and Cyhrillic script.
Happy travels. Marti B.
Exciting and you’ll be coming at a much better time of year than us (we’re here for another 2 weeks. It’s hot!)
Yes, the rule is 30 days now and that includes Americans. It IS a pain in the butt but we did it in Chiang Mai and it only took us a few hours. If you only go over a couple of days I know they’ll fine you something when you exit (unless you meet someone very nice) but I can’t really recommend breaking the rules 🙂 I wrote a post on extending the visa here.
A month is a good time and you can see a lot. I don’t really know your interests and your age group or how quickly you like to travel.
But here is what I would do.
4 or 5 days in Bangkok including a day trip to Ayutthaya.
Beaches: you mention going down south which you can easily do (discount airlines here cheap and good quality). I haven’t gone to the islands in a while because 1) Lissette not a beach person, 2) they’re expensive 3) they’re generally full of young backpackers.
If you like nightlife, you could go to Phuket and stay at Patong beach. Bit crazy, nice beach, lots to do at night. You could then go to Railey beach in Krabi (beautiful karst scenery) and even go to Ko Lanta which is very popular.
If you want to totally get away from people, you can go to Ko Yao Noi from Phuket – we did that 10 years ago (here) and really enjoyed it.
OR if you want to avoid Phuket altogether, how about Ko Muk near Trang? (fly to Trang, take a ferry to the island). We actually thought of doing that on this trip…have heard great things about Ko Muk from a few blogger friends. Still very pristine and not many people know about it.
So that takes care of the south.
I think, considering time and the cheap price of airfares here, that you could fly up to Chiang Mai (unless you’re really set on taking the train). I’m not sure how long you’re staying in Chiang Mai or if you want to do side trips. I’m sure your Chiang Mai friends have suggestions on that. One recommendation I have is to go to Mae Hong Son if you can. Went there many years ago and was just beautiful and has spectacular hiking. And most people have never heard of it.
Scooters. Yes, everyone does it here but I don’re recommend if you’re not experienced. Traffic is Chiang Mai bad and there’s some bad driving. But if you feel comfortable then yes, it’s a good way to get around.
Couldn’t agree with you more about the Balkans. Don’t know if you read this post? Their thinking is backwards. We love the Balkans but the mentality is screwed up. It’s why we would never invest there – I don’t think history is finished in the Balkans. So stupid it makes me angry.
If you have any other questions don’t be shy Marti!
Mrs Gilda Baxter
I thoroughly enjoyed CM when I visited in 2013 with my husband. Like you I could eat Thai food every day and never get bored, I also loved the fruit shakes they do there…so delicious. Brian and I are planning a trip to SE Asia early next year, I like the idea of spending some time in CM again. Can’t go wrong with a lifestyle of no domestic chores, low cost of living, delicious food, great massages, beautiful Temples etc.
Exactly! You just listed all the reasons why I’ve enjoyed the last month here.
Hey Frank…..greetings from the Lands of Cevapcici!
Sounds like you had an enjoyable and leisurely time in CM. Hope you guys had a chance to take in the great music at Boy’s Blues Bar…..the highlight of my time there! My GH was also near Smiths Residence and I talked to a few people who stay there every year….seems to be highly recommended! I too enjoyed going to eat in the nightly street market by the south gate……often thought the food was better, more authentic than the tourist crap served in several highly rated TA restaurants! Also really enjoyed the dishes at Grill of India.
Maybe these tips are already too late, but in Old Sukhothai I stayed at a wonderful (and cheap) place called Vieng Tawan Sukhothai GH…..they got a real nice pool! Unfortunately, the eating options in this area leave a lot to be desired. Get yourself some bikes – it’s not only the best way to see the ruins but there’s also a very nice bike trail that uses the back way to New Sukhothai, about 15km to the east. It follows a quiet route along a river going through several villages, bamboo groves and with nice views of rice paddies.
On your way south I hope you guys have a chance to spend a few days in Prachuap Khiri Khan (1.5 hrs south of Hua Hin). I enjoyed my week there. Stayed at a nice AirBnB place that was run by an American- Vietnamese guy and his Thai wife. It was weeks later when I came across some books on Vietnam in CM that i realized that Andrew – the guy with the AirBnB in PKK, also happens to be the author of several well regarded books on his reminisces of, and journeys through Vietnam. Titles include: Catfish and Mandala and the Eaves of Heaven……interesting guy to talk to.
PKK has a lot going for it…..small size, pretty setting by the sea, wonderful promenade, bike trails, great beach on the Wing 5 airbase, off tourist radar, small expat community, more authentic vibe including a great night market where the vast majority of the visitors are Thai rather than farangs! If you do get to PKK, I’d be very interested to hear of your take on the town as a winter base.
Currently swinging through the Balkans (S. Serbia), on the way down to Herceg Novi -for a few weeks by the Med before heading to S. Italy. After 4 months in SEA, I think I’m experiencing some kind of strange culture shock coming to this part of the world (OK, I found a real cheap flight from Hanoi to Sofia). Might have something to do with the lousy weather, the still bleak landscape, bland heavy food or perhaps it’s the glum, unsmiling east europeans. But after a month among the Vietnamese people who are some of the most friendliest, gracious and happiest people I’ve ever met……I’m ready to jump on the next plane back!
I’m betting the culture shock was just the opposite for you guys;)
We’re right now in Sukhothai and have spent the last 2 days exploring Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai Historical Parks.
We’ll be back in CM at the end of August and will remember to check out Boy’s Blues Bar.
Funny, the place you stayed at is 50m from where we are staying: the Thai Thai Sukhothai Guesthouse. Really nice place, great pool as well, free breakfast – for 1000 Baht/night. Agree about the food options, all overpriced and nowhere near as good as in CM.
Hmm, you don’t happen to have the guys Airbnb link do you Don? A few people have mentioned PKK. I had thought of visiting one of the islands but they’ve gotten expensive. Maybe PKK would be a nice alternative…I was thinking of just doing the overnight train BKK – Hat Yai but now you’ve got me curious.
Lissette will jump down my throat for saying this but I have to admit I haven’t missed the Balkans. I’m enjoying SEA this time around which wasn’t always the case. Maybe winter was just too miserable this year and I’m enjoying the people, food, culture and low costs here. I hope the weather clears up for you – the Adriatic coast when there’s sunshine is one of the most beautiful coasts anywhere. And sunshine puts a smile on people’s face.
One day we’ll visit Vietnam!
yes i agree – a perfect SE Asian base! looks like you’ve enjoyed your month!
Sorry you had to leave Croatia, but I’m looking forward to more SE Asia posts! I’m losing my job later this year (actually a good thing) and I’ll have several months of severance payments – I’m thinking my spouse and I should hit the road for 3-4 months in a cheap locale. SE Asia is at the top, and we’d likely want to stay in a few locations for 3-4 weeks at a time. Starting to research now, and your blog is very helpful! Best wishes on your next travels.
Thanks very much Lauren! Yes, Thailand in particular the 1st stop for new nomads. It’s SEA-light, cheap, and people are friendly. Thanks for following the blog 🙂
I’ve only been home a couple of weeks from my travels in Vietnam and Cambodia and I’m already thinking about planning a return trip next winter. ? I am smitten by Southeast Asia and am thinking that Thailand and Laos will be my next destinations. I’ll be storing away your tips. I’m so glad that you’ve landed with your feet on the ground, your spirits intact and soaring, and your physical beings enjoying the exertion of a fun sport, a pool, and a relaxing massage. Being massaged by female convicts almost seems to invite some kind of attempt at humor but I can only think of these women being victimized by domestic violence, drugs and alcohol and becoming caught up in a prison system like the US. Good on you for supporting their place of work!
I’m glad you enjoyed SEA Anita! Who knows, maybe that’s where we’ll finally get to meet 🙂
Like Paula above, Asia, and South America are at the bottom of my list. Even after visiting Thailand, India and Japan, I still wouldn’t rush to go unless l find good fare prices like we did for the two. I’m not sure why. It seems silly to fly all the way over there for Thai food (which l adore and have been trying my hand at making at home). Since l trust your judgement, I believe you about the city and would consider it at some point. My brother wants to visit there at some point, so l just might very well visit. I’m glad you guys were able to chill and recharge. The training sounds like fun! Don’t want to run to either one of you in a dark alley :-).
Thanks Kemkem. No, I wouldn’t just fly here for Thai food just as I wouldn’t fly to India for Indian food. But there’s much more to Chiang Mai than that especially as a place to stay for a while.
Often, I read your posts to compare experiences since we have somewhat similar lifestyles. I rarely comment though mostly because what’s the point in some generic “amazing place” or “just added to my bucket list” fluff. However, Chiang Mai is a special case. It was our first destination as location independent professionals (aka digital nomads or whatever else this type of lifestyle is called these days. Couple months ago someone called us experiential travelers. Why not? It fits too). Back to CM experience, we lived there for half a year (November to May). My opinion of this city steadily progressed from been utterly horrified and culture shocked (it was my first time in SE Asia, so go figure) to coming to terms with peculiarities of local living to falling in love with the city and not wanting to leave. I wholeheartedly recommend CM to any aspiring slow travelers as a good starting point to get the first taste of SE Asia due to affordability, easy living, and friendly locals. I agree that traffic and pollution/smog are negatives, but, in our experience, they are bearable and way outweighed by positive factors.
Couldn’t agree more Elena! Appreciate you taking the time to comment 🙂
It certainly seems to be colorful there Frank. The walking down smaller streets is a good idea, I do that too, but in Europe and mostly it’s similar (I found people tend to be more friendly as well). I’ve never eaten Thai food, they have it in London but we’re talking seriously expensive.
It was the same in Montreal Ted and it makes no sense when you consider the ingredients. It also never really seems to taste the same overseas. But imagine, you can have a dish for less than 2 £ here in Thailand. And it’s great.
Lots of Brits here Ted, you should visit some time!
I’m loving your Chiang Mai posts, since we’re planning some “digital nomad” time there in the future. Are you still staying in Thailand or heading somewhere completely different?
We have a 5 week trip from Chiang Mai down to Singapore with a whole bunch of stops in between. So Thailand/Malaysia/Singapore. We’ll see a lot. It’s not how we usually travel but we wanted to see a few places we’ve skipped over in the past (like Sukhothai)
By the time we get to Singapore should be early May and we’ll decide from there if we fly straight back to Chiang Mai or if we continue travelling a bit more.
When are you moving to Japan Corinne? You’ll have a lot of interesting destinations at your doorstep!
Asia has been at the bottom of my list. I’ve read nice things about CM a few times, but I wasn’t sure to believe or not. I trust your judgement Frank, so it’s on my list now. The temples look fantastic. Are locals helpful?
Paula, the locals are incredible which is why Thailand is so popular. But I’ve always found them especially friendly in the north. Very, very nice people.