A Quick Guide to Chiang Mai: Part 1


A number of my friends have been to Chiang Mai and they sing praises of this city which made me feel excited about my trip but at the same time, a little concerned that I might have too high expectations of the city. Chiang Mai is known as the “Rose of the North” in Thailand and during the short drive from the airport to the hotel, I instinctively knew that this “rose” was going to be pretty.

My initial reaction was how small the city was. Forgive my ignorance, I knew Chiang Mai was a smaller city than Bangkok but never knew that it’s the fifth largest city in Thailand with a population of only 1 million. As such, the city is more laidback and has sort of quaintness to it. Despite its small-city status, Chiang Mai has lots to offer for its visitors. I was amazed by the variety of things to see and do but because I was there just for a long weekend, my list of activities had to be narrowed down to a few.

If you haven’t been to Chiang Mai but planning to do so albeit for a limited number of days, then here’s a quick guide for you on what you can do and see in this city:

Wander Inside the Old City

The main attractions of the Old City are Buddhist temples and night markets. I didn’t want to dive into the usual sightseeing activity because I wanted to get a feel of the historic walled city by walking around and getting my bearings right.

If you didn’t get enough sleep from your flight, I would suggest getting some fresh air by wandering down charming lanes at your leisure or relaxing in a café with a cup of strong, brewed coffee. I did just that, and to my pleasant surprise, I found the other side of the city’s personality, that is, the 3Cs – cute and colourful, convenience and coffee culture.

chiang mai ice cream van

Pray and Venerate At Temples

Did you know that Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples? To avoid having temple-fatigue, I limited my visits to only four temples, two of which are in the Old City while another two are located just a few kilometres outside the Old City.

The temple that is held in the highest esteem is Wat Phra Singh. Devotees come here to venerate the famous Buddha image known as Phra Buddha Sihing housed in a small chapel, located at the rear of the temple grounds.

Opening Hours: 5am – 8.30pm

Entrance Fee to main hall: THB 20

chiang mai wat phra singh

Exploration of the temple is enlightening especially at the gardens where there are famous Buddhist quotes and wise sayings attached to trees.

chiang mai wat phra singh words of wisdom

Located across the road from my hotel is Wat Chedi Luang, famous for its towering ruined Lanna-styled chedi. The chedi cannot be seen from the street entrance but once you enter the sprawling compound, you will be awed by its towering heights. The chedi was built in 1441 and might have been the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai but the top of the chedi was destroyed by an earthquake or cannon fire. Apparently historians aren’t sure of the exact cause.

Opening Hours: 6am – 6pm

Entrance Fee: None but donations are appreciated.

Tip: Best time to visit Wat Chedi Luang is 4-5pm when the afternoon sunlight shines on the chedi ruins provides fantastic light for photographers. Also, there’s lesser number of people visiting the temple during this hour.

chiang mai wat chedi luang

If you want to visit a temple that no tour buses go but only the locals, then go to Wat Umong, situated on the foothills of Doi Suthep mountains and is still heavily forested. The word Umong means tunnels which are the main feature of the temple whereby its maze-like tunnels were built in the late 14th century, supposedly to keep a famous but mad monk from wandering off.

chiang mai wat umong

Interestingly, there is a replica of an Ashoka pillar on the temple grounds, similar to the ones in India. The Ashoka pillar is a pillar inscribed with details about the spread of Buddhism commissioned by the Indian King Ashoka in the 3rd century, and atop are four lions and a Dhamma wheel.

chiang mai asoka pillar wat umong

Overlooking Chiang Mai from the mountains is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or commonly referred to as Doi Suthep which in actual fact is the name of the mountain where the temple is located. Doi Suthep is one of northern Thailand’s sacred temples, and is reached via a 300-step staircase flanked by mosaic naga (serpents).

chiang mai steps to doi suthep temple

Upon entering the inner terrace of the temple, I was struck by the glimmering golden chedi and Buddha statues.

chiang mai doi suthep golden chedi

Opening Hours: 6am-6pm

Entrance Fee: THB30

Tip: Best time to visit the temple is during lunch hour or just before sunset. It is also the best place to see a panoramic view of Chiang Mai city.

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Are you planning a trip to Chiang Mai soon? How about booking your accommodation here?

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a quick guide to chiang mai part 1 katpegimana

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42 comments

  1. There is so much diversity in south east Asia, I love all the different cultural nuances. Chiang Mai is high on my to visit list as I am quite fond of a bit of temple hopping and by your pictures I dont think I would be disappointed. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    1. That’s right, so much diversity in South East Asia – that is why I can’t get enough to explore this region! Yes, lots of temple-hopping in Chiang Mai and if you’re tired, you can always stop for a cup of coffee or a foot massage 🙂

  2. It is true, after the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, Chiang Mai will feel really different. I feel like the city is an excellent base to explore the area. It is nice to walk around, see some sight and enjoy the markets. And, like I mentioned, there are plenty of things to do not so far from the city (then, you can go back, have a great meal and relax). #FarawayFiles

    1. Yup, a very chilled place. Such a refreshing change from the frantic pace of Bangkok (noise, air pollution, traffic). Chiang Mai is also a great base to explore interesting destinations in North of Thailand.

    1. Oh dear, I can totally relate to that! That is why now I prefer to travel solo because I had been through travel experiences with friends who did not share the same interests as I – no fun at all.

  3. I like your new “look”, Kat. This new design is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing more information about Thailand. As one who has never been in Asia, I could make good use of these posts. #TheWeeklyPostcard

  4. Having too high of expectations for a city is probably always my biggest fear about traveling when so many people hype things up in their blog posts. But almost everywhere we’ve been has been amazing, except Sofia, Bulgaria. We really hated it! 🙁 Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!

    1. Oh I didn’t enjoy my trip to Hanoi, Vietnam – I had read a few blog posts on Hanoi which featured positive experiences, the bloggers raved about the city. But I felt just…meh.

  5. I was surprised how much there was to do in Chiang Mai. I love the Night Safari, Night Market and had so much fun doing a cooking class. #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    1. I didn’t go to the Sunday Night Market for I was ill with food poisoning, ugh! You will see that in my Part 2 post which I hope to share in the coming #TheWeeklyPostcard 🙂

  6. I really enjoyed my time in Chaing Mai so glad you enjoyed it too Kat and it hasn’t lost its chilled out vibe. I remember going to a temple high up in the hills which was a great experience. Fond memories. Thanks for igniting them again #citytripping

  7. I was a bit underwhelmed by Chiang mai but I did enjoy the Sunday night market… and a Thai massage at the women’s prison! I loved the little town of Pai nearby! #citytripping

    1. Oh I didn’t get the chance to shop at the Sunday night market and I missed my trip to Pai because I fell ill. Hopefully another time 🙂

  8. It’s funny, in my country a city of one million would be considered pretty huge! 🙂

    I love the idea of visiting a local temple, and getting a better feel for how the local people live – bus tours can be convenient, but there’s something so special about getting off the beaten track.

    1. Yeah, I was lucky to get to Wat Umong because it’s not a touristy place and many red buses refused to take me there unless other tourists are going there as well. In the end, I had managed to secure one bus but had to pay a little more than the usual fare for the driver had to take another route to get there 🙂

  9. Nice post Kat, it makes me want to visit Chiang Mai again. And one of the best point of this city for me is I was able to find halal food easily than in Bangkok. Even it’s near to Chiang Mai Night Bazaar in Charoenphrated Road.

    But I’ve just known that it was the fifth largest city in Thailand, I thought it was the second one 😀

  10. Seems there is not just temples to see in Thailand. However, 300 in just this city sounds a huge number, but then so is 1 million population!

    Temples do look vibrant (I liked Chedi) and good learning about 3 Cs.

    1. Well, even if population is 10 million, having 300 temples sound too many for me! The temptation is, visiting too many temples over a short period of time can end up having temple-fatigue 🙂

  11. Another wonderful post, Kat. Makes me want to go back to Thailand. This time visit Chiang Mai. I love Buddhist temples and their motifs. Loved the shot with the ‘wise’ saying. 🙂

    1. Thanks Cheryl..yeah, do visit Chiang Mai and other places in Northern Thailand next time because these places are very different from the south e.g. Bangkok, and more rustic.

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