Over 700 years old, Chiang Mai, known as the “Rose of the North,” is one of Thailand’s largest cities. Located 700 miles north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the gateway to the wonderful northern mountains and the Golden Triangle. The city itself has a distinctive charm and a very rich history.
We stayed at the FX Hotel Royal Panerai Chiang Mai and were very happy with the staff and the location just outside of the gated Old City and a short walk to Thapae Gate. Next to the hotel is a small restaurant that serves delicious chicken khao soi, (Chiang Mai Noodles) – our favorite choice for breakfast!
Flight (5240 baht / 164 USD each) – The flight from Bangkok is only about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
From the Airport – We took a taxi (160 baht / 5 USD) for the short 15 minute ride to our hotel.
Checked into FX Hotel Royal Panerai Chiang Mai (449 baht / 14 USD per night) – A great deal! We would have never expected such an inexpensive hotel to be as nice as it is.
Explored the Old City – The old city is 2.5 sq km and is easy to walk around.
The Old City is surrounded by a moat and crumbling brick city walls. It is filled with historic temples, shops, old hotels and guesthouses. In the middle of each of the four sides of the city are the original gates. The main gate, Thapae, is on the eastern side and is a great starting point for an Old City walking adventure. The other gates are Chiang Mai Gate to the south, Suan Dok to the west, and Chiang Puerk to the north.
City Day – We spent the day relaxing in the Old City. There is so much to see, eat, and explore packed into a small area!
Sunday Market – Every Sunday from 4 PM until Midnight, Ratchadomoen Road, running west from Thapae Gate, becomes a walking street complete with a craft market, local dancers and musicians.
Elephant Nature Park (2500 baht / 78 USD each) – This was the main event for our Chiang Mai trip! The Elephant Nature Park is an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center where you can volunteer and visit to help. In addition to elephants, the Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for buffalos, dogs, cats, birds and many other rescued animals.
Our day started at 8 AM when a passenger van picked us up at our hotel for the hour-long drive through the mountains to the park. After arriving at the park, we fed the elephants and watched them from a viewing platform.
After their morning feeding, we met one of the staff veterinarians that cares for the injured elephants. We learned that the elephants at the park were rescued from hard lives and had injuries – examples include injuries caused by stepping on landmines in Myanmar (Burma), injuries sustained through mistreatment while working for the logging industry, and injuries sustained through mistreatment while performing in circus shows.
After a nice buffet lunch, we headed to the river where we got to help give them a bath!
After a very full day, we loaded up in the van at 4 PM, and they returned us to our hotel by 5 PM.
Thaphae Stadium Thai Boxing (400 baht / 13 USD each) – The entrance to Thaphae Stadium is located on Moon Muang road, opposite Thaphae gate and next to the ‘Top North Hotel’.
This was an interesting and enjoyable evening, even though I am not a fan of fighting sports.
Hike the Pilgrim’s Trail to Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep – Living in Bangkok, we miss hiking in the mountains! We researched hikes close to Chiang Mai and decided that we wanted to do the 4.5 km hike up to Doi Suthep, part of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. The hike takes at least 2 hours, not including time spent at Wat Pha Lat or getting to the trail point after exiting the songthaew or tuk-tuk.
Transportation is different in Chiang Mai than in Bangkok. You do not have the plethora of metered taxis. Your choices boil down to songthaews and tuk-tuks, and you have to negotiate with each. Songthaews are covered pick-up trucks that have two long bench seats in the back, and, as with tuk-tuks, rates for these are per person. To get to the start of the hike, you should not have to pay more than 50 baht / 1.5 USD per person.
The trail entrance is reached via Suthep Road just past Chiang Mai University. Exit your songthaew or tuk-tuk at any point after passing the university. Look in the distance for a big red and white antenna on the right – this is close to the start of the trail and a great landmark. Continue by walking west to the end of Suthep Road and turning right at the intersection, heading towards the rear entry of Chiang Mai Zoo which is marked by a sign in English.
Walk about 100 meters, and then take the first left. Follow this road to the start of the hiking trail which is marked by a green sign. It sounds tricky, but using your GPS and a map it is straightforward!
After walking for about 30 minutes, you will come to Wat Pha Lat, a beautiful temple built along a natural waterfall.
The path gets very steep right after Wat Pha Lat; this is the start of the trail to Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep. When you reach the road, cross over and turn to the left, where you will enter the first path you see on your right.
After crossing the road, it gets very steep, but there are steps cut that give you stable footing. It’s less than an hour to go from this point.
When you reach the road again, continue on the main road to the entrance of the temple. A staircase of 306 steps leads to the wat. There is also a tram (20 baht) from the parking lot to the wat, but you’ve already walked this far! To enter Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep, foreigners must pay a 30 baht / 1 USD admission fee.
We had a reservation for a cooking class, so hiking back down was not an option. We took a songthaew to the bottom of the mountain (40 baht / 1.25 USD each) and then took another back to our hotel (40 baht / 1.25 USD each).
Baan Thai Cookery School (800 baht / 25 USD each) – We took the evening class which runs from 4:30 PM to 8:30 PM. We barely made it back in time from our hike for our hotel pickup!
It was so much fun that we forgot how exhausted we were. I learned to make my very own khao soi!
Chiang Mai Kayaking (1950 baht / 61 USD each) – Chiang Dao Mountain Views Trip. Trip includes guides, lunch, equipment, and transportation from your hotel.
Our first kayak trip in Thailand! It’s hard to believe that it took us so long to get on the water, but access to rivers is not very easy here. We had a great time and the scenery was spectacular. It felt very good to be back in a boat.
The pleasant, family-friendly trip is on the Ping River, 75 km north of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Dao, ‘The last tooth of the Himalayas’ is Thailand’s third largest mountain at 2,175 meters.
We so enjoyed and were surprised by the beauty of Wat Pha Lat that we repeated the hike, spending much more time exploring the grounds.
When we were done, we hiked back out and explored the area around Chiang Mai University before heading back to our hotel.
Checked out and took a songthaew to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok (80 baht / 2.50 USD each).
Chiang Mai is a great mix of big city, old world charm, and outdoor adventure. It has something for everyone, and the tourist infrastructure is extremely well-developed. You will be able to find plenty of activities to suit your tastes and budget. If an activity is important to you, make certain to book it early. Some of the more popular tours, like the Elephant Nature Park, sell out months ahead of time.
• Time of Year: October 2013
• Length of Stay: 7 Days, 6 Nights
• Total Trip Cost – 2 People: 1022 USD*
• Cost Per Day / Per Person: 73 USD*
• Visa Information: Thai Embassy, U.S. citizens carrying a tourist passport and in possession of an onward or return airline ticket do not require a visa to enter Thailand. The passport must have at least six months validity remaining to be allowed entry.
*Excluded from the cost analysis:
- International Airfare – International airfare is not included because fares vary depending on your starting location. Round trip airfare from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is included.
- Travel Health Insurance – Travel health insurance is not included because we have health insurance valid in Thailand.
GPS Coordinates: Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4
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Suvarnabhumi Airport @ 13.693281,100.750802
Chiang Mai Airport @ 18.769036,98.968389
FX Hotel Royal Panerai Chiang Mai @ 18.796539,98.993595
Night Market @ 18.785364,99.000569
Elephant Nature Park @ 19.214100,98.858400
Thaphae Stadium @ 18.787080,98.992565
Pilgrim’s Hike – Get off songthaew or tuk-tuk here @ 18.794474,98.948830
Pilgrim’s Hike – Turn Left @ 18.796793,98.948155
Pilgrim’s Hike – End of Road, Start of Hike @ 18.797973,98.942337
Wat Pha Lat @ 18.798942,98.933969
Trail to Wat Pra Tat Doi Su Thep after crossing road @ 18.798946,98.931682
Wat Pra Tat Doi Su Thep @ 18.804800,98.921647
Baan Thai Cookery School @ 18.789175,98.990925
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You can copy and paste the latitude and longitude into Google Earth, your browser, or into your GPS.
*Disclaimer- ALWAYS verify locations, transportation routes, GPS coordinates, etc. Errors are made, routes changed, sometimes we are just plain wrong. No one knows what you like more than you. If the trip is worth doing, it is worth doing right! Do your homework.