Your Guide to Chiang Mai - Answering FAQs...Best Times/Seasons to Visit, Burning Season, Apps to Download, Where to Stay, How to Get Around, Tips, Hacks & More!
Chiang Mai is my soul city and since I've spent quite a lot of time living in Chiang Mai, I thought I could shed some light on some questions you may be having about it! I go over the FAQ's I get all the time about Chiang Mai, Thailand and hopefully it helps you out.
Chiang Mai, Thailand is my favourite city in the whole wide World for SO many reasons and since I’ve spent quite a bit of time living there, I thought it may be helpful to do a blog post on the FAQ’s I get about Chiang Mai!
Now, if you don’t know my background or if you don’t follow me on instagram and you just landed on this Blog by searching up Chiang Mai, you may not know this…but I’ve spent around half the year in Chiang Mai or around SE Asia for the past 3 years. So, I’ve spent a good sum of time in Chiang Mai and I’ve learned some things, best practices and tips & tricks/hacks I’d like to share with you!
This is going to be a text heavy post and I’m not going to include photos as it’s just informative in nature. If you’d like to see my other blog posts filled with photos and more, then you can do so by clicking “blog” above. I cover a lot about Chiang Mai whether that be the…
or all around the top 50 things to do in Chiang Mai city!
For now though, let’s dive into the FAQ’s!
1. when/what season/month is the best time to visit?
This is one of the most common questions I get asked. When to visit! So in terms of the best season (weather wise and temperature etc), that would definitely be in the winter season which is November through to February, however see right below for clarification on why I wouldn’t visit anytime after mid-February for the most part. Before then, you’re golden! The winter season is a gorgeous time to visit. The days are sunny and clear and the temperature is cooler than the rest of the year. Of course, because of climate change, even the winter’s are getting warmer and hotter than ever before but it’s definitely the coolest time of year. From my experience, during this season the temperature during the day is anywhere from around 20 degrees to 30 degrees Celsius and during the mornings and nights/evenings, it drops to 15 to 25 degrees depending on the day. It rarely will get colder than 15 degrees but sometimes it does and it also depends on the elevation you’re at. Up at Doi Inthanon (which is Thailand’s largest mountain and also part of the Himalayas) for example it can get down to zero so dress warm if you’re visiting during the winter season…I highly recommend you do so as it’s one of the MUST do’s & see’s in my opinion)! Winter season is also where a ton of the action takes place like the Loy Krathong & Yi Peng festivals (November), the Umbrella Festival called Bo Sang (January) and the Flower Festival (early February) along with loads of pop-up festivals and markets that happen around town! Note that it’s high season for tourists and crowds. Prices for accommodation etc go up during this time too.
The second time in the year I would recommend visiting Chiang Mai is between August through to the end of October (right before winter season). This is classified as rainy season or wet season. But, I’ve lived through this season and can tell you that the monsoon rains come mostly at night and if they do pour, they only pour 1-3 hours during the day and then clear up. I also find this time to be super lush, green and fresh! It’s a beautiful time of year in Chiang Mai and temperatures are around 25-30+ degrees Celsius. I personally love the rain, too. Don’t be afraid by searching up weather during this time in Chiang Mai, the weather pretty much always says “rain or thunderstorms” everywhere in Thailand and Singapore, SE Asia during monsoon or rainy seasons but the experience is quite different. So take the online weather predictions and your phone weekly weather predictions with a grain of salt. This is also a great time to visit due to it being WAY less crowded, touristy and cheaper for accommodations, tours, car rentals etc.
So in, short: I would recommend visiting during winter and high season (Nov - mid Feb) firstly and secondly, also during rainy season (Aug - Oct).
2. what is burning/smoky season and when is it?
As hinted to above, the reason I don’t recommend people to visit after mid February (to be safe) is because of burning season/smoky season. Every year in Northern Thailand, there are 3 main reasons this happens: farmers burn their crops for the health of their crops and fields the next year, there are intentionally set forest fires and naturally occurring forest fires that happen. There are LOADS of mixed opinions on when this actually starts and commences. Locals and online resources will range their time with that is starts anywhere between mid February and March. It really doesn’t have a starting date. Even though online it states the official burning season is March 1st to April 12th, take it as a ballpark as there’s no real way of fully regulating when farmers start this.
In my personal experience, I find that a tiny bit of burning can start mid February onwards. With the most burning happening in March/April. Usually, it’s finished or the air quality is much improved by mid April and Songkran festival. Again, it really depends. I’ve had friends visit during mid February and say it was smoky and others visit the year after in March and say it wasn’t too bad. I’ve had some friends visit in the midst of burning season at the end of February or in March and say it was nothing compared to the forest fires and burning season Western Canada and California face every summer. Not many people know this, but BC (Western Canada) and of course, California literally have burning seasons of their own and I do not recommend anyone to visit Western Canada during July or August anymore due to how bad it’s been in recent years (it’s a toss up and a gamble, honestly). So…for me personally speaking, I wish to avoid smoke ALWAYS, no matter WHERE I am. It really truly bothers me and I’m extremely sensitive to it to the point where I was hospitalized when it got so bad, so suddenly in Calgary, Alberta at one point (it started, got up to the worst air quality worldwide upwards of 500 particulates and a red zone 10 and was gone and lifted within 36 hours…weird flex…right??). So, smoke is definitely a no for me if I can avoid it, I do so at all costs.
With that being said: it’s totally your personal call if you want to visit Chiang Mai or Northern Thailand during burning season. A lot of people (locals too) just go to the islands or take this time to plan vacations and so on. Some nomads/expats simply stay and wear masks at times they need them. Like I said, some people find it “not that bad” compared to other areas in the World. I think that has to do with how long and when exactly they visit and what they are comparing it to personally. So again, your call. Just wanted to put this here so you at least are aware this is a thing and it happens every year.
3. What vaccinations do I need?
I am not a doctor and do not claim to be one so I’m just going drop some helpful links below for you:
4. What apps do I need to download?
Grab - It’s SE Asia’s version of Uber - Grab bought Uber out in 2018 for this market. Grab is the app I recommend everybody to download and use to get around in Chiang Mai and in SE Asia in general. I also use it for grabfood too sometimes! You can also use grabrent and rent a driver for multiple hours in the day etc. Remember to always google and check for promo codes :). There’s always new user ones and usually some going around for existing users as well. I use grab as my primary and pretty much sole way of transportation when in Chiang Mai. You can use the code “GRABLOVEPOOJA” for up to 40 baht off your first ride or simply, click here ♡
DTAC - Sim Card/Data/Phone company (this is the one I use when in Chiang Mai)
AIS - Same as above, just a different company :)
Line or Whatsapp - Messenging apps that lots of locals use to keep in touch (line especially)
TripAdvisor - Great for searching up restaurants/cafes etc around you and more! SE Asia uses TripAdvisor for reviews much more than it uses Google reviews to keep that in mind. A restaurant may have 40 google reviews but hundreds of reviews on TripAdvisor so it’s better for a larger sample size!
Google Maps - A saviour for getting around in Chiang Mai whether you’re walking or driving!
Airbnb - for stay & accommodation! Get up to $62 CAD off your first Airbnb stay by clicking here.
5. Do i need to buy a sim card?
I highly recommend buying a sim card for your phone as the data plans are insanely good and cheap. I get 4 gb’s of data per WEEK for 99 baht (which is around $3-$4 depending on your currency). 16 gb’s of data a month is PLENTY more than any average person would need or use up. It’s also just good to have a phone with data and calling services as a traveller I think for convenience sake mostly. Yes, there’s wifi at most of all cafes and areas in Chiang Mai etc but sometimes you don’t want to rely on being in a wifi zone to get a grab or look something up. I use DTAC but AIS is also good! You can either get a sim at any 7-11 or convenience store or at the DTAC and AIS stores in Central Festival or Maya Shopping Malls.
6. when in the day should i avoid traffic?
During high season (winter time Nov-Feb), just note it gets very traffic heavy and busy pretty much daily anywhere from 5pm to 9pm depending on the day and if there’s a festival going on (there’s usually always something happening in Chiang Mai during this season though whether it’s local events or more tourist-drawn pop-ups)! I would try to avoid getting a grab or driving around the city between 5pm and 9pm as the traffic can get crazy (if you can). Walking between those times or planning around them is something I definitely recommend. Luckily, most of Chiang Mai is very walkable, especially within districts like if you’re already in Old City or Nimman, you can totally walk within those areas easily and even between each other if you like longer walks, too!
7. where should i stay? Accommodation advice?
This really depends on your budget. Chiang Mai has high end luxury resorts and hotels like The Four Seasons, Shangri-La etc. It also has tons of beautiful boutique hotels and other local resorts/spas/hotels. Then, there’s airbnbs (which I recommend for most of all travellers) and then of course, home-stays and hostels. I’ve always airbnb’s and stay at boutique hotels/or luxury hotels for a fun getaway at times (either in Chiang Mai or in neighbouring areas) as a staycation or mini getaway). I believe airbnb is the best way to go, especially if you’re wanting to spend some time! Get up to $62 CAD off your first Airbnb stay by clicking here.
Because I’ve lived here for half the year the past 3 years, I rent a condo via a local I’ve made a connection with but at first, I used airbnb. Local connections are definitely the best bet for price etc that avoid airbnb fees and so on for both parties. Hostels in Chiang Mai can be pretty nice, too! I’ve personally never stayed at a hostel in my life in any of my travels (I’ve always used hotels, resorts or airbnbs). And note, too, that hostels aren’t ALWAYS the cheapest options and usually you’re paying per person or per head. If you’re a couple or a group of friends, you can airbnb an entire condo and have more comfort/convenience and a better stay for usually the exact same price or cheaper than hostels. It really depends! If you’re a solo traveller, maybe hostels are a good thing for you but still, look at airbnb prices and compare because you can get airbnbs at extremely affordable prices even as a solo traveller. The privacy, comfort, cleanliness and convenience is usually worth it. I’ve met traveller friends who stay at hostels for $10 each and have to share rooms or bathrooms etc when they could’ve just airbnb’d their own private condo for $20 together. But then again, some people like hostels because of the social aspect in meeting hostel mates etc. There’s definitely tons of ways to meet people and be social in Chiang Mai outside of where you stay too, but then again, totally your call!
So in short:
Resorts, Hotels, Boutique Hotels & Airbnb’s are my recommendations (Airbnb especially for long-term stays).
I personally love Dcondo (Sign, Nim, Ping etc) near Central Festival because it’s right beside the biggest shopping mall which literally has EVERYTHING you would ever need including a grocery store (there’s a private Dcondo corridor that goes straight to the mall and is less than a 5 minute walk) and because it’s modern, new and quiet. It’s surrounded by beautiful courtyards and gardens as well as chill spaces to hang out, pools and gyms. Another bonus of staying at Dcondo near Central Festival is that there is a free tourist shuttle that leaves from Central Festival shopping mall at multiple times during the day to the main areas and districts of Chiang Mai. There’s also a Dcondo near the University but I feel that’s more for students (I could be wrong though).
The local boutique local hotels around the city and in Nimman are really nice too and of course the higher end more luxury hotels like The Four Seasons, Shangri-La etc as well!
Get up to $62 CAD off your first Airbnb stay by clicking here.
8. what are my daily essentials?
Because your days are going to be filled with loads of adventure and you honestly never know where you could end up (those are the best days) and since there’s so much to do in Chiang Mai, I always recommend being prepared for it all! In terms of daily essentials, pack:
tissue (a small kleenex/tissue travel size pack) just in case there isn’t toilet paper in a public or outdoor washroom or paper towel/hand dryer (this is worst case scenario) but if you’re in a village area or jungle area this may sometimes be the case
natural bug spray or whatever bug spray you like
wear comfy walking/hiking shoes depending on where you’re going/what you’re going
a small mini hand soap you can use at public outdoor washrooms if the soap has run out (this is worst case scenario of course again) and/or hand sanitizer
take a cardigan or light cover up/something to cover your shoulders and thighs/knees for temple attire - if you don’t have this, most temples have cover ups for you but remember to just dress appropriately and respectfully when going to temples, things like ripped jeans or short shorts/tank tops etc are a no go.
9. How do I get around in chiang Mai?
The number one way to get around in my opinion is Grab. It’s SE Asia’s version of Uber. Grab bought Uber out in 2018 for this market. Grab is the app I recommend everybody to download and use to get around in Chiang Mai and in SE Asia in general. I also use it for grabfood too sometimes! You can also use grabrent and rent a driver for multiple hours in the day etc. Remember to always google and check for promo codes :). There’s always new user ones and usually some going around for existing users as well. I use grab as my primary and pretty much sole way of transportation when in Chiang Mai. It’s also the most cost effective, too! Grab rides are usually anywhere between 60 baht to 150 baht depending on how far you’re going and of course can surge when in busy times. Grab is good with promo’s though to celebrate special times in the year and festivals. You can use the code “GRABLOVEPOOJA” for up to 40 baht off your first ride or simply, click here ♡
Tip for getting a private driver and tours: One way to get around is with a private driver! Once you get to know a driver or two using the grab app or just through chatting with locals, you can have a personal driver that can take you on individualized tours!
Other ways to get around are using the red trucks (which are usually 30 baht per person depending on how far you’re going) that are always driving around. You just wave one down and hop on. There’s also of course, tuk-tuks which Thailand is famous for! I definitely recommend taking a tuk-tuk once or twice for the experience as it’s a fun little adventure (they’re just like the rickshaw’s in India but Thailand’s version) but can be expensive and of course, are open-air and not air conditioned or enclosed so keep that in mind. There’s also a few public transport buses that go around mostly from the malls to the airport etc but I’ve never personally hopped on yet at the time of writing this post. Then, lastly, there’s renting a scooter/motorcycle or car of your own to drive which I don’t recommend unless you’re pretty much a local and have been living in Chiang Mai or Thailand a long time. There’s a local way to driving and it’s best to not put yourself and locals at risk if you don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going. The only place I recommend driving or renting a motorcycle or scooter is in smaller villages and areas like Pai etc where it’s very slow and quiet and not busy at all. Again, I only recommend this if you actually know how to ride one though (there are so many tourists who just rent one with it being the first time they’ve ever drove a scooter or motorcycle which puts everybody at risk and can end up in an accident).
10. how long do I get in thailand before my visa runs out? and do I need a visa?
So, this is going to vary country to country. As a Canadian citizen, I’m not required to have a visa upon entry and just simply get 30 days within the Kingdom of Thailand. Look up what it is for your country and go from there :). After the 30 days (for Canadians for example), I can go to the embassy and get a 30 day extension which costs 1900 baht per person (at the time of writing this blog post which is around $80 CAD). You have to have your passport with you and the rest they will walk you through if it’s your first time. It’s pretty self explanatory though. You fill out a form, get some photo-copies done of your passport and get mini photos done or if you have your own you can use those as long as they fit the dimensions needed. Then, you take a number slip and wait. Depending on if it’s busy or not, this can take anywhere from 30 minutes to hours on end. After the 30 extension days are over, you need to leave the country for future re-entry.
11. is it safe in chiang mai?
Yes. It is extremely safe. In fact, I feel the safest probably ever in Chiang Mai. In fact, I’ve seen many locals leave their entire shops and motorcycles/cars unattended with no locks etc and nothing ever happens. People are very trusting here and a lot of things work on the honour system. It has one of the lowest crime rates out there and with over 90% of the city’s population being Buddhists (that’s built upon being calm, compassionate, kind, present and peaceful), I think you’ll be just fine ;).
Also, one last note on the “safety” question, I love the quote: Don’t listen to what they say, go see for yourself.
Of course, safety is the #1 priority no matter where you go, but keep in mind the media/news can blow things out of proportion and the funding/intent can be very biased. I’m not AT ALL saying there aren’t unsafe zones and areas in the World. There are places for sure (depending on what’s going on at the time) you should avoid at all costs for your own personal safety. What I am saying is, do your research and get more opinions (ideally more than 2 to 3) from people who have actually BEEN to the place you’re pondering visiting or who have lived there instead of solely relying on the news/media.
12. what about water, ice & street food?
Drink bottled water!
In Thailand & most of Asia, make sure to drink bottled water (my fav is the Singha, Nestle & Purra brands as I’ve PH tested them and they check out amazingly) but at some of the restaurants mentioned above (and others in Chiang Mai, too), they offer filtered reverse osmosis safe-to-drink water as well, just make sure to ask.
What about the ice, though?
Ice is generally safe to drink at restaurants, cafes and at the various awesome eats in Chiang Mai. In Thailand, in general, most vendors and restaurants get their ice from a clean ice distributor. Even the street smoothie spots use clean ice, for the most part. If you’re worried, ask and ensure it is clean ice or drinking water. If you’re really concerned about a certain street vendor or street side smoothie shop, just skip it (I have never had to do this) but just sayin’ just in case. Of course, use your own discretion.
You are totally good to eat street food in Thailand! I wouldn’t say this about all countries or places in Asia, but especially in Chiang Mai, you should be just fine. I have never gotten food poisoning or stomach sick from eating at any of the restaurants listed above or from eating street food in Thailand in general, either. Of course, if you have never ever had certain veggies, spices etc, your stomach may have a little shock and need to get used to the way or style of cooking, but in terms of sickness, I haven’t heard of really anyone who’s gotten “sick” from Thai street food unless they’ve eaten meat or fish lying there for a while.I’m personally plant-based so I don’t eat meats or animal products anyways. A great tip for street food (common sense-ical but common sense is not always common practice) is to go to the spots that have line ups (duh!) and only eat the street food if it’s being prepared fresh and cooked in high heat in front of you so if any pathogens were there, they die off. This isn’t to scare you into not eating street food, it’s to encourage you to indulge in it and try new things, but smartly :). So…don’t forget to indulge in Chiang Mai street food, smoothie’s and drink your heart out in coconuts, too!
Last but not least…
I started adding travel and more lifestyle type/style blogs to my site because I get questions and dm’s alllll the time from people from all over asking me what my top recommendations are, what to go see, what to do, where to eat, tips, hacks etc etc so I thought instead of typing it out each and every dang time, I’d just post it on the blog to help even more people (and low-key so I can just send a link to those who ask :P). I hope this blog post helped you out! If you enjoyed it, definitely feel free to share it! XO
Sending you BIG love today & always!
My whole heart, ♡