Chiang Mai Old City is practically a living museum. Its narrow streets are lined with beautiful temples, old shophouses and historical buildings, all surrounded by the crumbling ancient walls and the moat. It’s quite a small, compact place, so you can easily get around on foot without tiring yourself out, allowing you to enjoy the city’s relaxed atmosphere and interesting scenery. Naturally, the temples are the star attractions of the Old City. You should definitely check out Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Phan Tao, but there are several more within easy reach.
Located in attractive countryside about 5 km south of Chiang Mai along the Ping River, Wiang Kum Kam is an ancient city dating back to the eighth-century Haripunchai Kingdom. Expect to see many interesting items and structures such as stone tablets with Mon inscriptions, Buddhist sculptures and architecture, earthenware and pottery. Taking a horse-led carriage is a popular way to enjoy the ruins.
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00 Location: About 5 km southeast of the Old City Tel: +66 (0)53 277 322
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai was among the first of the new breed of elephant attractions in Thailand which prioritise the welfare of the animals. Often acting as retirement and care homes for elephants previously employed in the logging or tourism industries, they provide as natural an environment for them as possible. While you can still interact with the elephants (bathing them being an especially popular activity), riding on them is strictly out of the question.
Location: Office on Tha Phae Road
Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand, rises 2,565 metres above sea level. Known as a sanctuary for a wide range of animal species and perhaps the best place in Thailand for bird-watching, the park has approximately 362 different species, many of which are not found anywhere else in Thailand. Doi Inthanon is a popular destination, not only for its natural beauty, but also for its historical significance.
At Chiang Dao cave, the caverns stretch many kilometres into the mountain yet only a small part of the complex is possible to explore. Two of the caves, Tham Phra Nawn and Tham Seua Dao, are illuminated by electric lights, but the upper caves are pitch-black and requires a local lantern-carrying guides to lead the way. There are some spectacular limestone formations and Buddhist shrines in these caves
Doi Pui, at 1,685 metres above sea level, is the highest peak in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. It is famous for its beautiful waterfalls which are easily reached from the main road. But one of the hottest attractions for Doi Pui must be Hmong Tribal Village situated less than five kilometres from the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A visit to this village is an eye-opener into the tribal villagers’ private life.
Climate: Chiang Mai’s northern location and moderate elevation results in the city having a more temperate climate than that of much of Central, Eastern and Southern Thailand. Chiang Mai has a tropical wet and dry climate, tempered by the low latitude and moderate elevation, with warm to hot weather year-round, though nighttime conditions during the dry season can be cool and are much lower than daytime highs. The maximum temperature ever recorded is 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in May 2005. As with the rest of Thailand there are three seasons.
A cool/dry season from mid Oct-mid Feb (it’s really only cool at night, and a few days here and there in Dec/Jan).
A hot season from mid Feb-mid Jun (hot, hot, hot).
A wet season from mid Jun-mid Oct (hot and wet, though cooler than the hot season, clouds and the occasional downpour help cool things off).
However, note that it can be hot in the cool season (during the day), wet in the cool/dry season (though days go by without rain, it is not unheard of), and dry (and hot) in the wet season. One nice thing about the wet season is that the prevalence of clouds can moderate the heat.
From late February through April (and sometimes into May) is the region’s burning season. This is throughout Northern Thailand, Northeastern Myanmar, and Northern Laos during this time. Traditional “Slash-and-burn” agriculture, waste from rice and maize harvests is burned this time of year, together with forest clearing and general trash disposal. This is a time of moderate to severe health impacts. The air pollution may be tracked at aqicn.org. The Fire Mapper website using satellite data can show the extent of the burning in the region (and globally).
Travel by Train: Leaving from Bangkok – Services from Bangkok’s train station in Hua Lamphong leave on a regular daily schedule and take 14-16 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 really impressive, with bridges, forest, 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 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 some trains first class compartments have only one berth and cost 500 baht more than usual, and whole compartments can be booked for single occupancy for the same amount. 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.
Newer types of carriages are kept clean; the toilet and floors are regularly mopped during the journey. However the older type of second class carriages may have unpleasant toilet compartments (messy floors, bad odour even from the journey start). 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 or bring your own. Since 2015 State Railways of Thailand stopped selling alcoholic beverages on all trains, and bringing your own alcohol is not permitted on board.
In second-class, the bunks are arranged lengthways along the train, with only a curtain separating the berths and the central aisle. At some point in the evening, or on request, the attendant hinges down the top bunk to form the upper single berth and adjusts the seats to form the lower single berth. In the morning, bunks are folded away leaving pairs of facing seats. Be aware – on a recent train trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the latch securing the heavy upper berth to the carriage wall unlocked itself, causing the berth to come crashing down above the heads of seated passengers. It was only luck that no-one was struck by the falling frame, as the weight could have caused serious injury.
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 turn 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. Since February 2015 trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai can be booked online, even more than 60 days in advance.
SRT has rules set for the advance booking based mostly on the percentage of the whole trip. Like, say, Chiang Mai – Bangkok tickets can be bought 60 days in advance, Chiang Mai – Phitsanulok or Sukhothai would be 30 days, while Ayutthaya is still 60 days (because it’s over half of the trip). This has to be taken into consideration when planning trips from Chiang Mai – as trains are usually full, especially during high season (Oct-Feb, Apr).
1st and 2nd class air-con sleeper tickets are 150-200 baht more expensive than fan-only car tickets. Various travel agencies, some available to contact from outside Thailand, can also procure tickets for delivery or pick up, with fees typically starting at 200 baht. If at the train station they said that at train is sold out, try the small agencies, they may still find you a ticket (although unlikely because ticket is usually issued for a name and passport number). Be aware of ‘scalping’ and do not pay ridiculously high prices.
Seating only Air conditioned service available as on October 2017 at 641 THB includes refreshments and hot meals served by a pleasant onboard hostess. depart Chiang Mai 8.50 AM offering fantastic views all along the way in day light. clean toilets too.
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. Plentiful 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.
Last time advice: the air conditioning can be very powerful. Don’t forget to bring a jacket with you or you are going to spend a bad night.