Chiang Mai is northern Thailand’s largest city and it’s a great place to hang out for a few days, with all the amenities of Bangkok but in a less hectic setting.
Many people come here for trekking or cooking classes but we spent over a week just exploring the back lanes of Chiang Mai and its many temples, eating fantastic street food and getting our bikes fixed up.
The city itself is very easy to bike into and around. There are even bike lanes in some places and while there are a lot of motorbikes to contend with, we found the drivers easy to get along with.
For all the street locations mentioned on this page, check the maps offered by Travelfish.
Sleeping: Hotels and guesthouses are thick on the ground. We wanted one with free wifi and this proved a little hard to find in the lower price bracket. If you want to spend 700 baht a night and up there are many choices including the Montri Hotel on the corner of Ratchadamnoen and Moon Muang Road.
We wanted to spend about half that so first we headed to Soi 1 Ratchadamnoen. Many guesthouses there advertise wifi but on further investigation these are all paying services! No good for us… after some looking we arrived at the Wild Orchid Guesthouse on Loi Kroh Road, not far from the night market and several big hotels including the Meridien. It’s just a few doors away from the well known Chiang Mai Saloon restaurant. Rooms here start at 250 Baht for a single, are very clean and comfortable with cable TV, the owners are friendly and the wifi connection is free and excellent. This is one of the best value for money places we stayed in Thailand.
It’s worth noting that many cafes and restaurants in Chiang Mai offer free wifi. So do several electronics malls including Panthip Plaza near the night market. With a laptop you should never need to set foot in an internet cafe, whether you choose a hotel with access or not. Some of the electronics malls also have computers free for customer use, including the big IT shop in Kadsuankaew Shopping Centre.
Eating out: Wow, did we ever find some gems in Chiang Mai! You don’t need to spend more than 100 baht a person to eat well for a day here.
If you’re staying in the Wild Orchid Guesthouse or in that area, wander down to the corner of Loi Kroh Road and Kamphaengdin Road. There’s a woman who sets up a stall and a few tables here, sometimes at lunch and always at night. She turns out generous portions of Thai food at just 40 Baht a dish and you can bring your own beer. It’s very good value and will fill you up.
If you walk north up Kamphaengdin Road there are several places where two people can eat happily for 80 Baht. Usually we got 3-4 dishes for that price. Som tam, BBQ, soups. It’s all here.
Just a block south on the corner of Sri Don Chai Road and Charoen Prathet Road, opposite the Panthip Plaza electronics shopping mall, is a night market that is mostly frequented by Thais. There’s a large Chang Beer stall here turning out pitchers for 89 Baht and you can get things like pad thai and pork with rice here for just 10 baht a serving. There are more expensive meals too if you want like grilled squid. Yum!
In the old city, one street north of Ratchadamnoen and parallel with it is Ratchwitee Road. On that street, between the intersection with Phra Pokklao and Ratchaphaklnai are two super budget options. First is a street stall with a few tables in a small room. They are open from 9am-3pm and have about 10 dishes, all priced at 20 Baht each. Then, almost next door, is a bright blue restaurant called Tanya’s where a long list of dishes start at a bargain basement 15 Baht and the banana shake is to die for. Both have English menus.
Self-catering: Not many people self-cater in Thailand but if you do, go to the markets in Chinatown. There are plenty of snacks like nuts for days on the bike and also a wide selection of fruit, vegetables, spices and anything else you might need.
Bike Shops: There are many bicycle shops in Chiang Mai but two stood out for us.
Chaitawat is in the old city on Ratchaphaklnai Road, south off Ratchadamnoen and on the right after crossing Ratchamankha. It’s nearly across from Ginny’s Place Guesthouse. They don’t speak more than a few English words but they have a great selection of things, prices are reasonable and they’re friendly. They have large sizes of touring shoes here, which were hard to find in Bangkok so if you need to replace yours, try here first.
Top Gear is halfway down Chiang Moi Road, owned by a Canadian and their English is really good. If you have to explain something, this is probably the place. They sell GPS equipment as well as the usual bike stuff.
Books: We don’t normally talk about books but second-hand book shops are all over Chiang Mai. They are expensive to buy but if you have a few books in your bags, this is a good place to trade them in. It’s one of the few places we’ve come across where shops will buy your books off you for cash.