Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่) is the hub of northern Thailand. With a population of over 170,000 in the city proper (but more than one million in the metropolitan area), it is Thailand's fourth-largest city.
Chiang Mai (เชียงใหม่) is the hub of northern Thailand. With a population of over 170,000 in the city proper (but more than one million in the metropolitan area), it is Thailand's fourth-largest city. On a plain at an elevation of 316 m, surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, it is much greener and quieter than the capital and has a cosmopolitan air and a significant expatriate population, all factors which have led many from Bangkok to settle permanently in this "rose of the north".
Founded in 1296 CE, Chiang Mai is a culturally and historically interesting city, at one time the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. In the rolling foothills of the Himalayas 700 km north of Bangkok, until the 1920s it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant trek. This isolation helped preserve Chiang Mai's distinctive charm, which remains intact.
Chiang Mai's historical centre is the walled city ("city" is chiang in the northern Thai dialect while mai is "new", hence Chiang Mai translates as "new city"). Sections of the wall dating to their restoration a few decades ago remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains.
Inside Chiang Mai's remaining city walls are more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality, in a combination of Burmese-, Sri Lankan-, and Lanna Thai-styles, decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree. The most famous is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside 13 km away.
Modern-day Chiang Mai has expanded in all directions, but particularly to the east to the banks of the Ping River (Mae Nam Ping), where Changklan Rd, the famous Night Bazaar, and the bulk of Chiang Mai's hotels and guest houses are located. Loi Kroh Rd (ถนนลอยเคราะห์) is the centre of the city's (tourist) night life.
Locals say you've not experienced Chiang Mai until you've seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of kao soi and purchased an umbrella from Bo Sang. Of course this is touristic blather, but kao soi, Bo Sang umbrellas and Doi Suthep are important cultural icons for the locals.
Chiang Mai's most salient physical feature is the moat and the remains of the wall surrounding the old city. About 6.5 km in circumference, it is the reference point for navigating around the city.
The east and west halves of the old city each have their own character. The east side has the highest concentration of guesthouses, restaurants, motorbike rental shops, travel agencies, and other tourist-oriented services. In particular, the northeast corner is a warren of guesthouses, restaurants, massage parlours, and other businesses catering to visitors. The western half is more Thai, with a school for the blind, a coffin shop, the Chiang Mai branch of Thailand's National Library and five or six mostly table-top barbecue restaurants (หมูกระทะ mǔu grà~tá) almost always packed with Thai customers.
Clockwise from 12 o'clock (north), the main features of the moat and its environs areː
Chiang Mai's northern location and moderate elevation results in the city having a more temperate climate than that of the south.
As in the rest of Thailand there are three distinct seasons:
Chiang Mai International Airport (IATA: CNX) handles both domestic and regional international flights. The route from Bangkok is one of the busiest in the country (Thai Airways flies daily almost every hour, with additional flights in the peak tourist season). Other airlines operating direct services from/to Chiang Mai include:
The airport is three km southwest of the city centre, only 10–15 minutes away by car. Legal airport taxis charge a flat 120 baht for up to five passengers anywhere in the city. If you take a metered taxi, the fee will start from 40 baht plus a 50 baht service fee from the Meter Taxi counter. The taxis operate from the exit at the north end of the terminal, after baggage claim and/or customs, walk into the reception hall and turn left. As of July 2015, the airport finally has a shuttle minibus service available, offering drop-off to any hotel in the city for a flat fee of 40 baht - perfect if you're arriving alone and don't mind waiting 5-10 minutes for a few fellow passengers. Alternatively, take Bus 4 to the city centre for 15 baht, or charter a tuk-tuk or songthaew for 50-60 baht per person. Most hotels and some upmarket guest houses offer cheap or free pick-up/drop-off services.
If you're flying out from Chiang Mai, note that there are no ATM or money changing facilities at the international departure terminal of the airport.
Chiang Mai has two official bus stations, consisting of four bus terminals:
In effect, there is a fifth bus terminal if you count songthaews as buses. From the Warorot Market, songthaews depart for a variety of locations within a radius of about 50 km, such as Samoeng. The colour of the songthaew indicates its general route or usage. Most common are red songthaews (hence the alternative name of rot daeng, or "red car", which roam the main streets in the city. Warorot Market (west bank of the Ping River) is the most common terminus for songthaews that travel along fixed routes. From Warorot Market, white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban town of San Kampaeng, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim and Samoeng in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo to the northeast. The songthaews line up along the road that is parallel the Ping River, between it and the market. Destinations are posted on round, yellow signs but are only in Thai.
A variety of daily buses leave frequently from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit), offering varying choices of price, comfort and speed.
At Arcade Bus Station, where you'll arrive, public songthaews wait nearer Terminal 3, adjacent to the road that bisects the two terminals. Look for local people getting into them, and ask the driver if he goes to your destination (if the songthaew is empty, don't forget to confirm the price). A shared trip to Tha Phae Gate (south edge of the old town) should cost 20 baht each, though you may have to wait for a driver who agrees. Virtually all songthaews will pass Warorot Market (city centre, just after crossing the river), from where it's just 1 km walk to Tha Phae Gate, or numerous (see "Get around" section) songthaews to other areas.
Alternatively, you can charter a songthaew or take a tuk-tuk. The drivers will approach you once you've arrived and will ask as much as 100-200 baht to the city centre/Tha Phae Gate, showing you a bogus price list with "fixed" prices. Bargain, it's just 5–6 km, so the fair price for tuk-tuk there is 50-60 baht, and is not more than 100-120 baht even to the opposite side of the city. It may be difficult to bargain with these drivers, however. A good idea is to ignore them from the start, walk out to the nearby street, and catch a passing tuk-tuk/songthaew there. If your luggage is light, you can walk to the centre, but it's quite a long (1 hour or more) walk, as the Arcade bus station is located in the city's northeast outskirts. Nowadays, you can also use Uber app for a cheap yet comfortable ride - a trip to the old city area will likely cost 45-70 baht, but be sure to pinpoint your location really well, so the driver could find you, as the bus station area is quite large.
Songthaew touts may ask foreign tourists for 150 baht per person for a shared ride into the city, but this is excessive and they should drop to 100 baht if challenged. Similar prices are demanded by tuk-tuk drivers.
The best policy is to walk to the main street and catch a tuk-tuk for perhaps 60-70 baht (total), or a songthaew for 20-30 baht per person. You will have to haggle for either.
Buses depart the Hua Hin BKS Station at 08:00, 17:00, and 18:00 for Chiang Mai, 12.5 hr, 851 baht (Oct 2013).
Buses depart the Nakhonchai Air Terminal in Pattaya (Sukhumvit Rd, ~60 baht motorbike taxi fare from Beach Rd) for Chiang Mai several times during the day. Last bus about 21:00. Fare is 785 baht (Nov 2013). Travel time is about 11 hr, with no stops longer than 5 min. Buses to Pattaya from Chiang Mai leave the Nakhonchai Air Terminal at Arcade Station daily on roughly the same schedule.
There is at least one daily direct Green Bus service [dead link] from Phuket Terminal 2 to Chiang Mai's Arcade Terminal 3. This VIP-only service departs Phuket at 15:00 arriving in Chiang Mai the next day at 13:00. Cost is 1,912 baht (Dec 2013). This trip is a killer: 22 hours on the bus! The first break en route is at 20:20. The second is at 06:38, some 10+ hr after the first break. Although the bus is a state-of-the-art Sunlong vehicle and the seats great, this is simply a long time to be on a bus. Probably better to break up your trip by stopping in a city en route.
From Udon to Chiang Mai: Phetprasert Bus Company has three buses a day depart from in front of the Central Festival Shopping Mall. Depart Udon/arrive Chiang Mai times are: 17:45-05:25; 18:45-06:25; and 20:45-06:40. Fare is about 636 baht (Apr 2015). Buy your ticket at the Phetprasert ticket counter in the downtown bus station, a 5 min walk from Central Festival. There is an inconvenient out-of-town bus terminal that may have more buses to Chiang Mai. From Chiang Mai to Udon: Phetprasert Buses leave Chiang Mai/arrive Udon at: 14:30-02:15; 17:30-05:15; and 19:30-05:30. Buses arrive at the Central Festival Shopping Mall, a convenient location 5 minutes from the downtown bus station. Fare is about 636 baht (Apr 2015). Buy your ticket at the Phetprasert ticket counter in Arcade Terminal 2. Buses depart from Arcade Terminal 3.
Services from Bangkok leave on a regular daily schedule [dead link] and take 12–15 hours to reach Chiang Mai. If you go by night train (recommended), try to choose one which arrives late to get an opportunity to see the landscapes. They are impressive, with bridges and forests and villages and fields.
Daytime services leave at 08:30, and 14:30 with second-class (281 baht) and third-class (121 baht) carriages. The seats in each class differ in softness and width, and can become uncomfortable after 10+ hours.
Overnight sleepers provide comfortable bunks with clean sheets and pillows in first- and second-class. First-class beds (~1,400 baht) are in private two-bed compartments. In second-class (~900 baht), the carriages are open but each bunk has a curtain for privacy. First-class is always air-con, second class is sometimes air-con. There are usually four trains per day with sleeper accommodation, though only two of these will have first-class compartments. Station staff will be able to help you.
Carriages are kept clean; the toilet and floors are regularly mopped during the journey. Vendors make regular rounds selling snacks, drinks, and lacklustre meals. Vendors will try to inflate the prices for tourists so be prepared to get ripped off, haggle, hop off quickly at stations to make a purchase (or order through the window), or bring your own.
In second-class, the bunks are folded away leaving pairs of facing seats. At some point in the evening, or on request, they are flipped down into bunks and made up into beds. In first-class, the bottom bunk is used as a bench seat before having a futon mattress deployed onto it in the evening.
If you're not in the mood for bed when your carriage mates are bedding down, you can head off to the dining car, which provides fairly good food and drink at not too great a premium. Later in the night, the dining car can be converted into a disco, complete with loud music and flashing lights.
Tickets can be bought up to 60 days in advance at any station in Thailand. Booking in advance is advised, especially for the popular 2nd-class overnight sleepers. Larger stations accept payment with Visa/MasterCard. This is fairly safe, as SRT is a state-owned company. Alternatively, if you are not yet in Thailand, the e-ticketing SRT website will let you buy and print out an e-ticket. Note, The State Railway of Thailand discontinued the Internet Ticketing service from 14 Jan 2013. Some find it tricky to register. You have to avoid any special characters while filling the registration form. You must book at least three days in advance, and you can only purchase 1st and 2nd class air-con sleeper tickets which are 150-200 baht more expensive than fan-only car tickets. The price on-line is thr same as at the ticket office. Various travel agencies, some available to contact from outside Thailand, can also procure tickets for delivery or pick up, with fees typically starting at 100 baht.
SRT charges 90 baht to transport a bicycle between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai train station is about 3 km east of the city centre. Many songthaews and tuk-tuks await each train's arrival. If you want to walk, exit the station, cross the open square in front and turn left on the first major road you come to (Charoen Muang Rd); this road goes directly to city centre.
In lieu of a local bus service, locals get around the city on songthaew (สองแถว). These covered pick-up trucks have two long bench seats in the back (songthaew means "two rows" in Thai, and travel fixed routes picking up passengers en route who are going the same way.
The colour of the songthaew indicates its general route or usage. Most common by far are red songthaews (called rot daeng, red truck), which don't follow a specific route and roam the main streets around markets, temples, or the bus/train stations. These are the most convenient to take if you are going somewhere specific. Prices must be negotiated, but expect 20 baht anywhere within the city walls and 40-60 outside. During peak season these prices can double to 40 baht within the city walls and up to 200 baht outside. Because of the city's somewhat irrational road design, especially inside the old walls, the driver may be forced to take a circuitous route to get to a nearby destination, but it will make no difference to the fare.
Fixed route songthaews congregate around Warorot Market. From Warorot Market, white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim and beyond in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the north-east. Fare is dependent on distance: a yellow songthaew to Samoeng (~50 km) is 60 baht.
From the Chiang Mai Gate Market (south edge of moat), songthaews also travel to Hang Dong (20 baht) and San Patong, southwest of Chiang Mai.
To catch a songthaew approach a waiting driver or flag one down on the street, state your destination and if the driver is going that direction he will nod in agreement and give you a price. Negotiate a lower fare if you wish. The price agreed to should be per person. It's a good idea to confirm this with the driver before you leave. On reaching your destination, ring the buzzer on the roof to tell the driver to stop. The driver will pull over, wait for you to get out and pay.
Songthaews not orbiting on a fixed-route can be hired outright, just as if they were a meter-taxi. Negotiate a price before departure.
Tuk-tuks are a quick, though noisy way to get around. Fares are usually 30-40 baht for a short hop (as of July 2012 it seems that the minimum has gone up to 40 baht for pre-arranged locations) and 50-100 baht for longer distances, depending on the proficiency of your bargaining. As a guide, expect to pay 40 baht from the old city to the riverside and Night Bazaar, 40-50 baht to the railway station, and 80-150 baht to the bus station or airport. Tuk-tuks parked near the bus and train stations will ask you for something like 120-150 baht. Just haggle or walk away to the nearest road and stop a passing tuk-tuk or songthaew there. A good rule of thumb is that unfair drivers will seek you out, but you have seek out the drivers who will give you a fair price.
According to expats, the highest fee for a tuk-tuk at any time of day or night should be 150 baht for any location in the city.
The fee seems to be based on multiples of 20 baht which is the smallest note. It is a good idea to stock up on notes and coins as whenever you offer a note higher than the agreed fee the driver has no change.
A few samlors (three-wheeled bicycles) still cruise the streets and will happily take you to a temple for the same price as a tuk-tuk, though at a considerably quieter and slower pace.
Chiang Mai has metered taxis, although not as many as tuk-tuks and songthaews. The "flag fall" is 50 baht for the first 2 km. Then 10 baht per kilometre after that. Journeys longer than 12 km can be negotiated. This fare structure applies to all metered taxis in Chiang Mai Province.
You cannot generally hail taxis in the street. To book a taxi, call +66 53-279291, state your destination and the call centre will give you a quote. Or contact individual drivers via the mobile phone numbers displayed on their vehicles.
Uber ride-hailing app now (2016) finally works in Chiang Mai, so if you're comfortable using it elsewhere, you can use it in Chiang Mai as well, and ride without having to pay any cash in the comfort of a private car, for the price often cheaper than a tuk-tuk even after haggling. For the airport rides they charge flat 150 baht, however - but most rides within the city (including the train and bus stations) will cost much less, from as low as 30-40 baht per few kilometers.
A motorbike is a convenient and cheap way to get around the city or reach the outlying sights. There is an abundance of near indistinguishable rental companies in the city, though most guesthouses can arrange rentals as well. 100 cc and 125 cc machines with automatic transmissions capable of carrying two people are the easiest to jump on and ride away if you don't have driving experience. A scooter or moped, such as the Honda Click, is the most convenient as it can carry bags on the floorboard. Off-road bikes and larger street bikes are also an option. An international driver's licence is not required, and generally no licence of any type is required although this means you will not be insured.
Motorbikes cost about 150 baht/day for a 100 cc motorbike and 150+ baht/day for a Honda Click 125 supplied with helmets and an anti-theft chain. Larger machines cost 700 baht/day for a V-twin or larger sport-bike. Expect discounts when renting for a week, month or longer.
Renting will require a deposit, and while many companies ask for a passport, you should under no circumstances leave your passport with anyone as collateral. However, most shops will accept a photocopy with a cash deposit of around 3,000-5,000 baht. While the petrol/gas tank may be full on pickup, it is not uncommon for shops to deliver a bike with just enough fuel to go make it to a service station. They may siphon the remainder off when you return it so the next person is forced to do the same. In any case, return the bike with as much or more fuel than received to avoid any penalties. Also check the mechanical condition of the bike offered. Focus especially on the brakes: the degree of "pull" needed for the brake levers and the travel required by the foot brake. Check that turn indicators and headlights work properly, and that the tyres are reasonably OK.
Some rental agreements claim to insure you, but generally only cover the bike for theft or damage. Don't expect much compensation in the event of an accident. And irrespective of who is at fault, assume that you will be the one blamed.
Chiang Mai traffic police are fond of setting up checkpoints to stop motorcyclists. These invariably happen during business hours, Monday-Friday. They occur at two places, on the moat circular roads, usually just after a turn, and at the foot of Tha Phae Rd near west side of the Nawarat Bridge. If you or your passenger are without a helmet, you will be stopped. If you do have a helmet, you may be stopped anyway, to check licence and registration. If fined, you have to go to the police station near Warorot Market to collect your confiscated licence plus pay a fine of several hundred baht.
Traffic inside the old city walls is subdued enough to make biking a safe and quick way to get around. Bike rentals are plentiful; rental costs 30-250 baht/day depending on the bike quality.
Car hire services are available at the airport and throughout the city. Cars typically offered include the Toyota Vios, Altis, and Yaris, and the Honda City and Jazz. Typical rates for newer models are 1,200-2,000 baht per day. Expect a slight discount when renting weekly. Utility pickups such as the Ford Ranger are available for about 1,400 baht per day. Many places offer minivans such as 10-seat Toyota Commuters with a driver from about 2,000 baht per day plus fuel. Older Suzuki Caribbean 4WDs are a cheaper option at around 600-800 baht per day, but they are relatively difficult to drive and less mechanically reliable than a standard passenger car.
All the multi-national rental companies are present in Chiang Mai. Two local car rental companies:
Hiring a car or minivan with driver is a great option for travelling to places outside the city, and the price is often similar to hiring a car and driving yourself. You'll also be able to relax and enjoy the scenery in air-conditioned comfort. The cost for a private car with driver is generally from 1,500 baht per day plus fuel depending on the type of vehicle and where you are going. The driver will typically pick you up with a full tank of fuel and you pay at the end. Large Toyota Hi-Ace, Nissan Urvan and newer Toyota Commuter minivans go for around 2,000 baht per day plus fuel. Most hotels and some guesthouses can arrange it for you, in addition to vehicle rental outlets, and the many travel agencies in the city.
The old city moat is only about 1.6 km on a side, and as such is easy to walk around. The airport is also quite close to the old part of the city, about 2.5 km, so if you have the energy and an hour to spare, you can even walk to and from the airport. Note that this is not necessarily a pleasant experience as the sidewalks are uneven (or non-existent) and Chiang Mai gets hot during the day, especially during the hot season, and rainy during the rainy season. The cost of a taxi or songthaew from the moat area to the airport is around 150 baht.
Numerous reports have been released on the ethics of using elephants for entertainment, citing the dangers and hidden abuse behind the industry, and the use of phajaan on baby elephants. According to a National Geographic report, this technique involves isolating the baby from her mother and: "[I]n addition to beatings, handlers use sleep-deprivation, hunger, and thirst to 'break' the elephants' spirit and make them submissive to their owners[...]Elephants are typically covered in bloody wounds and rope burns when released from the crush after three to six days."
Elephant riding has long-term negative physical effects as well, as elephants' bodies are designed to carry weight on their strong legs, not their comparatively weak backs.
If you care about these issues, research the parks thoroughly to decide where you want your tourist dollars to go.
After football, Thai boxing is the national sport of Thailand. It can be seen in three different "stadia", in reality more like boxing rings in warehouses.
Raft trips down the Mae Tang River are offered by several companies and can often be combined with elephant riding or mountain biking. During the dry season (Jan-Feb) water levels are relatively low with only grade 2-3 rapids, but during the rainy season (Jun-Oct) higher water levels make for a more exciting grade 4-5 trip.
11 8Adventures, 21/22 Moo 2 Soi 2 Thorakamanakom, Chang Puak, Muang Chiang Mai, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Created by a group of adventurers that includes two-time world champion kayaker Eric Southwic, they offer world class rafting and kayaking tours, ATV, SuP and trekking. Pick-ups daily from Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai swimming pools open to the public vary in quality, cleanliness, and accessibility. On balance, those pools which are operated to internationally recognised standards of water quality are those which are privately owned by foreign investors.
Chiang Mai is a great place to shop. Sprawling markets during the day and night carry items from cheap trinkets to skilfully made local crafts.
Along Rte 1006 (Charoen Muang Rd) just past the superhighway (Rte 11) are various factories offering factory tours. Silverware, silk, furniture and brass items generally priced with the cashed-up tourist in mind, but the tours might be worth a look to see how things are made. They are generally open during typical daytime hours.
Chiang Mai's restaurants offer a wide range of food, second only to Bangkok. Naturally it's a good place to sample northern Thai food: in particular, hunt down some khao soi, yellow wheat noodles in curry broth, traditionally served with chicken (gai) or beef (neua), but available some places as vegetarian or with seafood. Another local specialty is hang ley, Lanna-style pork curry. For those tired of eating rice or noodles there's also a wide range of excellent international food restaurants, from cheap hamburger stands to elaborate Italian restaurants.
When you come to Chiang Mai you should try a khantoke dinner and show. Although these are just for tourists it is still a nice way to spend an evening. The first khantoke dinner was held in 1953 by Professor Kraisi Nimanhemin who wanted to host a special event for 2 friends leaving Chiang Mai. Two more such dinners were held, both in 1953, thus "khantoke" dinners are not "historic", but rather a relatively recent invention. Khantoke literally means small bowl, low table (khan = small bowl. tok = low table) There are also many garden restaurants where you can enjoy an excellent Thai meal in a beautiful setting.
The range and value of Western food in Chiang Mai is unsurpassed in Northern Thailand and there is a full range of restaurants from Australian/British/Irish, through French and German to Italian, Spanish, American and Mexican. Considering how remote Chiang Mai is from the major centres of population in Asia, there are a remarkable number of Western restaurants.
It can be hard to find strictly vegetarian food in Chiang Mai, as fish and oyster sauce are used frequently, and the local Buddhist monks themselves often eat fish. Thus, asking for your dish to be prepared "like the monks", which works in other places, does not get the same results in Chiang Mai. There are a few completely vegetarian options.
Chiang Mai's nightlife is the most happening in the north, although still a far cry from Bangkok's hot spots. The busiest night life zones are near Tha Phae Gate, Loi Kroh Rd and along Charoen Rat Rd on the east bank of the Ping River.
Bars close at midnight in Chiang Mai. The police are strict about this.
Many, but by no means all, of Chiang Mai's tourist-oriented bars and pubs are located along Loi Kroh Rd (ถนนลอยเคระห์), outside the southeast quadrant of the old city. In addition to the street bars, the Chiang Mai Entertainment Complex (CMEC) (the CMEC sign is not prominent. Much more so is a lighted sign in front, Loikroh Boxing Stadium) can be found at the Night Bazaar-end of Loi Kroh. Here you will find around 30 bars ranging from sports bars that feature big screens to watch sports and play pool, to Pattaya-style girlie "beer bars", to even bars staffed exclusively by kathoeys (ladyboys). The complex also features a muay Thai boxing ring that has exhibition bouts for free or a voluntary donation, and on some nights (varies) real competitive boxing that requires an entrance fee unless your bar has provided you with complimentary viewing. And for extra fun, the occasional Westerner climbs into the ring, usually with hilarious results.
Also take a stroll along Moon Muang Road and its side Sois 1 and 2. Here you can find small expat hangouts and sports bars. Most have pool tables and hostesses, along with music videos or various TV sport programmes. Be aware that despite their charm and friendliness, the pressure to purchase lady drinks can result in a very surprising tab at the end of the night.
Northwest of the city centre, the area around Nimmanhaemin Rd is a popular hangout for younger Thais, perhaps due to its proximity to Chiang Mai University ("maw chaw"). The pubs tend to straddle a fine line between bar, restaurant and nightclub, and feature loud music interspersed with live bands fronted by musicians who are most likely hitting the books in the daytime. Tourists looking for something racier are better off staying in the east side of the city. Little English is spoken in this part of the city. Little doesn't mean none, however, and the staff of many bars, being students, still can understand what do you want, or even sometimes can speak English reasonably well.
Between 2009 and 2011 the coffee scene changed in Chiang Mai. The coffee chains were saving money by using inferior coffee and untrained staff. A new coffee place called Akha Ama started with high precision coffee brewing. This example was soon followed by others.
The area along the east bank of the Mae Ping River on Charoen Rat Rd is famous for jazz, rock, pop, Thai, and country and Western live music, along with restaurants serving Thai, Western and Chinese food. Coming from the centre of the city, just walk from the Night Bazaar across the Nawarat Bridge, from where all the restaurants can be seen along the river on the left.
Most bands in Chiang Mai play for about an hour, and then move on to do the same at another restaurant or pub, so don't be surprised to see the same band if you move venues.
Accommodation in Chiang Mai is generally cheap, even by Thai standards. All types of lodging are available from inexpensive guest-houses with little or no service to the typical high rise hotels and elaborate garden resorts. The latest boom is Thai-style boutique resorts located near the old city centre - several have been built since mid-2005, and offer excellent service in quiet garden settings; most are fairly small with as few as 8 rooms and a pool, and are decorated with Thai crafts and antiques.
Evenings in Chiang Mai are cooler than Bangkok and the south during the dry season, so air conditioning may be less of a priority.
Some of the cheapest accommodation may refuse guests who are not also booking a trekking package. If so, please remove them from Wikivoyage.
Chiang Mai, like most of Thailand, is quite safe, even at night. The dark streets can look forbidding but crime is rare and visitors shouldn't worry unduly. As always, travellers should take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas. Don't carry valuables in a bag after dark as the most common tourist related crime here is bag-snatching by youths on motorbikes. Mind your bag especially if you are walking on a dark street at night.
The safest approach is to act like your Thai hosts and wear reasonable clothing (shoulders and chest covered) medium-length skirts, long shorts or long pants, speak in a moderate tone of voice, and avoid flashing money or jewellery. Not only will respectable Thais appreciate your behaviour, you are much less likely to become a target of any criminal activity.
Unfortunately some scams from Bangkok have started to rear their ugly heads in Chiang Mai as well. Two in particular are worth watching out for: the gem scam, where you are talked into buying near-worthless gems at far above their real value; and the tuk-tuk scam, where a smooth-talking tuk tuk driver tells you that the attraction you want to see is closed, and instead offers you a sightseeing tour for 20 baht (or some similarly unrealistic amount) - needless to say, the tour will either consist of nothing but overpriced gift shops, or will smoothly segue into the gem scam. See the "Stay Safe" section of the Bangkok article for more details.
Chiang Mai's smoke levels can be discomfiting, and sometimes dangerous, during burning season which starts around Makha Bucha Day (end-Feb to early Mar) and lasts about a month. Although there is a ban on burning, the whole of northern Thailand often falls under a thick haze during this period, with tens of thousands treated for smoke inhalation. Rice farmers burning off fields are commonly blamed for the smoke, but according to the Department of Air Quality there is an extensive range of burning activities during this season. In addition to slash and burn farmers clearing fields, a smaller proportion of farmers may burn land in order to clear forests and expand fields, to flush out game, or to trigger the growth of specific mushroom varieties. As a result, there are typically dozens of deaths, and for example in 2007 58 people died of smoke-related heart attacks. You are well advised to avoid Chiang Mai during this period. If you intend to visit at this time, you are advised to check on smoke levels in advance. Thousands of residents, both foreign and Thai, leave Chiang Mai at this time to escape the smoke. The government is apparently uninterested in fixing the problem: in 2015 they blamed it on outdoor cooking. Presently, the solution is to spray the streets with water to "moisten the air". There is no political will to tackle the burning of rice fields and forests, which is the cause of the smoke. On 10 March 2015, dangerous PM10 particles measured over 255 mcg per cubic metre of air in Chiang Mai, well above the unsafe level of 120 mcg (Note: this is the Thai government standard which is more than twice the maximum level set by the World Health Organization [WHO] at 50 mcg). Neighbouring areas can be as bad or worse, Chiang Rai for example, was at 306 mcgs, so moving on to a neighbouring province will generally not help: the pall of smoke stretches from northern Laos, across Thailand to eastern Burma.
Tap water should be regarded as non-potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible. Nearly all restaurants use ice that is made by professional ice-making companies and is generally safe. There are street side water vending machines (1 baht per litre) throughout the city. Using one saves money and a lot of plastic refuse.
The government of Thailand censors Internet access. 2010 estimates place the number of blocked websites at 110,000 and growing. Roughly 77% are blocked for reasons of lèse majesté, content (content that defames, insults, threatens, or is unflattering to the king, including national security and some political issues), 22% for pornography, which is illegal in Thailand. Some web pages from BBC One, BBC Two, CNN, Yahoo News, the Post-Intelligencer newspaper (Seattle, USA), The Age newspaper (Melbourne, Australia) dealing with Thai political content are blocked. The Daily Mail (UK) is blocked entirely.
Many guesthouses, hotels, cafes, bars, restaurants, and even swimming pools, offer Wi-Fi connections. These are usually free or available for a small charge. If you are travelling with your laptop you should be able to connect to the Internet within a 500 m radius of your Chiang Mai city-based accommodation at little or no cost.
In November 2012, the Ministry of Information announced the launch of 3,000 free Wi-Fi hotspots in Chiang Mai. The scheme, called ICT Free Wi-Fi for the Public by AIS, offers a download speed of 10 Mbit/s for up to five hours a month. Hotspots can be found near schools, shopping centres, hospitals and government offices. Those interested must sign up for the free service at ICT Free Wi-Fi, after which you will receive a user ID and password.
Internet cafes can be found everywhere within the city. Prices vary from 10 baht/hour (in "gaming" places filled with local children) to 60 baht/half-hour (2 baht/minute) and more. Most places charge per 15 or 30 minute block, others by the minute. The cheapest and most comfortable places with fast connections, webcam, microphone, and Skype, are along Huay Kaew Road near the main entrance to Chiang Mai University, where the cost is 10-20 baht.
As elsewhere in Thailand, GPRS/EDGE is a cheap and convenient option to access Internet if you have a laptop and local SIM card. TrueMove 850 MHz 3G covers most parts of the city. For more details, refer to the Thailand article.
There are laundromats and laundry services, charging around 30 baht per kg, all over the city, but they all wash cold. There is a laundromat that has 3 machines that can do hot washing as well on Chaiyapum Rd (road along the moat from Si Phum corner to Tha Phae Gate) about half way between Sompet market and Tha Phae Gate. Opposite there is a cafe from where you can watch your stuff while having a beer.