So, you’re traveling to Chiang Mai, Thailand? Here are a few things I wish I knew before heading there myself.
- The cheapest way to get around Chiang Mai is by songtaew, the covered red trucks with two long bench seats in the back. Flag one down wherever you happen to be and let the driver know where you’re going (a general area or street name, not a specific address). If they’re heading that general direction, they’ll give you a nod and you can hop on in. Push the button on the ceiling to signal to the driver when you’d like to get off and pay them 20 baht for your ride. This is generally the cost of a ride, no matter where you’re going. Sometimes a driver will see that you are a tourist and try to charge you significantly more–it is up to you at that point to decide whether you’d like to haggle, take their price, or try again with another driver.
- Shop the markets, and don’t be afraid to haggle! The heavily touristed street markets have great stuff to offer, but the vendors will try to get as much money from you as they can. Learn a few numbers in Thai (like multiples of ten) and be prepared to walk away if they won’t budge. Don’t offer them insultingly low prices, either, but know that the first price they give you will always be more than they’re willing to accept.
- Don’t limit yourself to Chiang Mai’s city center! Some of the best attractions in Chiang Mai are outside of the main tourist area of the old city. Head west to check out incredible temples like Wat Suan Dok, Wat Umong, or Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, shop at the Chiang Mai University student market, or eat at one of the many delicious Nimmanhaemin cafes.
- If there’s one temple you shouldn’t miss in Chiang Mai, it’s the city’s most famous, Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. This temple sits atop the mountain (Doi Suthep) and offers an incredible view of the valley below. You can also treat yourself to some awesome khao soi on the way back down, which is one of northern Thailand’s most popular regional dishes.
- Thais eat family style. This means that when you order food in a large group at a Thai restaurant, they bring the dishes out one by one as they are cooked. If each person in your party wants to eat their own meal, don’t plan on waiting for everyone to be served–it could be awhile! For the true Thai experience, however, I recommend sharing everything, as the Thais do! You’ll get to try more foods this way and no one will go hungry waiting for their meal.
- The absolute best pad thai in the whole city (in my opinion) is served by a sweet old woman at a street cart on Suthep Road. She’s been making the same pad thai recipe in that same exact spot for more than a decade. Since I don’t know the actual name of her stall, look for a place called Lamour Haircut–she’ll be located just to the left of it on the sidewalk. It costs 20-30 Thai baht and she packs it up for takeaway in a banana leaf along with all the garnishes. (Want to make pad thai at home? Find my recipe here.)
For my comprehensive list of things to do in Chiang Mai, click here!
Have you been to Chiang Mai? What tips would you add?