With its striking mountain backdrop and visually charming Old City, Chiang Mai has been the cultural and religious centre of northern Thailand since it’s founding by King Mengrai in 1296.
Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai (founded 1262) as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom (1296-1768).
Located north of Bangkok among the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, Thailand’s second-largest city is a centre for elephant trekking, rafting and cycle tours as well as Thai cooking and Thai massage classes – just perfect for couples wanting an adventurous honeymoon holiday.
Chiang Mai is the perfect base for exploring northern Thailand’s breathtaking natural beauty and to meet the region’s hill tribes (or chao khao), the fascinating ethnic minorities who retain their traditional way of life.
And at just 2.5 sq km, the visually charming Old City of Chiang Mai offers wonderful sights, and is very easy to explore on foot.
After passing through one of the city’s five original gates – try the Pratou Tha Phae gate – you can stroll along a flower-bordered promenade, explore red cobblestoned sois (alleys) lined with fascinating old shophouses and visit some of the cities oldest temples.
Surrounded by a moat and restored defensive wall, the Old City boasts more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the city, built in a mix of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles.
Admire beautiful woodcarvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree.
The most famous temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside some 13km away.
Chiang Mai is also a great place to experience Thai festivals, many of which take place between late December and April – don’t miss the ‘wet’ Songkhran Festival, Loy Krathong and the Chiang Mai Flower Festival.
Top attractions in Chiang Mai, include…
Climb the steep 306-step naga (sacred riverine snake) staircase leading up to the glittering Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – the holiest shrine in northern Thailand – and be rewarded with a close-up view of the majestic golden chedi as well as expansive views overlooking the mountain's idyllic forests and the city below.
Ascend up to the upper terrace to a tightly-packed complex of small shrines, bells, golden umbrellas and Buddha statues. Admire the stunning gilded-copper decorative umbrellas around the central chedi and murals showing scenes from the Buddha's life.
More about Wat Phrathat That Doi Suthep…
Explore the pleasant park-like grounds of the atmospheric Wat Chedi Luang, built around the partial ruins of a Lanna-style chedi (stupa) dating from 1411.
The temple complex once housed the famous Emerald Buddha (now at Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew). Today, a copy made from black jade sits in the reconstructed eastern niche, which was financed by the Thai king and carved in 1995 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the chedi and the 700th anniversary of Chiang Mai.
Today, the ruined brick chedi soars to around 60m high from a base of 44m wide. Each of the four sides support a niche approached by a monumental stairway guarded by stone nagas (mythical snakes believed to control the irrigation waters in rice fields). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform.
More about Wat Chedi Luang…
Ponder the Phra Singh (or Lion Buddha), Chiang Mai’s most venerated Buddha image. The 14th-century masterpiece is housed inside the 200-year-old Viharn Lai Kham (Gilded Hall), a wonderful example of Lanna-style architecture.
The interior walls of the viharn are covered in murals (dating from the 1820s) illustrating the history of Songthong (the Golden Prince of the Conchshell) and Suwanna Hongse providing an insight into the life of 19th-century Chiang Mai during King Mahotraprathet's reign. The wall behind the Buddha features a sumptuous lai·krahm (gold pattern) stencilling.
More about Wat Phra Singh…
Head to the peaceful, green gardens of the Wat Jed Yod (or Wat Chet Yot), considered one of the most elegant temples in Chiang Mai.
The Temple of the Seven Spires was built in 1453 during the reign of King Tilokkarat (whose remains lie in one of the temple’s smaller chedis). In 1477, the temple hosted the World Buddhist Council, who convened to clarify the doctrines of the Buddha.
The temple incorporates architectural elements reflecting Burmese, Thai, Lao, Indian and Chinese influence and features seven spires, pattered after the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, where the Buddha first achieved enlightenment.
More about Wat Chet Yot…
Chiang Mai offers an excellent choice of accommodation options to suit most honeymoon budgets, including the following 5-star hotels…
The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai
Location: Chiang Mai
Ave nightly price: AUD878 per suite
Description: Spread across 60 acres of landscaped grounds, Dhara Dhevi Chiangma offers luxurious suites with a blend of Colonial and Thai décor. It boasts 2 large outdoor pools, a first-rate spa and 9 dining options. Free Wi-Fi is available. Featuring elegant teak wood fittings, tastefully furnished suites are spacious and have cable TV and a DVD player. They boast spa baths and large terraces with outdoor seating. Guests can enjoy relaxing massages and the use of a sauna and spa pool at Dheva Spa. The resort also houses a tennis court, gym and business centre. Hearty American buffet breakfasts are served at Akaligo Café. Other dining highlights include fine French dining at Farang Ses and home-made ice cream and gourmet teas at Dhara Dhevi Cake Shop. Situated along the popular handicraft stretch of Sankampaeng Road, Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai is a 15-minute drive from Chiang Mai International Airport. Free parking is available.
137 Pillars House
Location: Chiang Mai
Ave nightly price: AUD592 per suite
Description: This boutique property features luxuriously spacious suites with garden views, free minibar and free Wi-Fi access. Just a 10-minute walk from the Chiang Mai Night Market, it houses an outdoor pool, a spa and gym. Fitted with parquet flooring and a walk-in closet, air-conditioned suites feature a contemporary décor, with a balcony, patio and spacious living area. Bathrooms come with a Victorian bathtub and an open-air shower. In addition to cable TV and a personal safe are included. The Dining Room serves a variety of à la carte Thai and international dishes, while the Library Bar offers snacks, drinks and light meals. In-room dining is possible. Guests can use 137 Pillars’ business centre, or make travel arrangements at the tour desk. The 24-hour front desk can assist with luggage storage, currency exchange and laundry services. Free on-site parking is provided. 137 Pillars House is a 5-minute drive from Thapae Gate Market and a 10-minute drive from Chiang Mai city centre.
Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel And Spa
Location: Chiang Mai
Ave nightly price: AUD250 per room
Description: Set in a colonial-style building in Chiang Mai, Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel And Spa offers rooms with free Wi-Fi. The hotel has an outdoor pool, a restaurant and lobby bar. Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel features rooms with hand-crafted furniture and bathroom amenities from the hotel’s spa. Each air-conditioned room comes with a cable TV, minibar and DVD player. Massages, facial and body treatments are offered at the Nakara Spa. Internet access is available at the hotel’s library. The hotel provides free parking. Guests can enjoy Asian food including traditional Thai cuisine. Room service is available. Drinks are served at the Lobby Bar. Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel And Spa is a 5-minute walk to the Night Bazaar. Also within walking distance is the Ping Riverside Garden.
Akyra Manor Chiang Mai
Location: Chiang Mai
Ave nightly price: AUD356 per suite
Description: Boasting a rooftop infinity swimming pool and situated just a short stroll from Nimman Haemin Road, Akyra Manor Chiang Mai is a luxurious all-suite hotel with free WiFi access and free parking. The spacious urban suites are air-conditioned and provide a sofa seating area, an LCD TV and an outdoor spa bath on the balcony. It is also equipped with a safety deposit box, coffee machine and a stocked minibar. The en suite bathroom includes a shower and free locally-sourced toiletries. Guests can enjoy an Italian meal at Italics with a state-of-the-art show kitchen and pizza oven. Drinks can be ordered at Rise, the hotel's rooftop bar. An American breakfast set is provided. Akyra Manor Chiang Mai is within walking distance of chic boutiques, galleries and coffee shops. It is less than 3 km from the city centre and a 15-minute drive from Chiang Mai International Airport.
Location: Chiang Mai
Ave nightly price: AUD274 per room
Description: Tamarind Village provides beautiful rooms surrounded by majestic tamarind trees in Chiang Mai. It features a spa, an outdoor pool and a poolside restaurant. It also has a tour desk, which organises temple and jungle trips or rock climbing excursions for guests. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the residence. Decorated with tribal patterns, the elegant rooms have a private balcony, a TV and tea/coffee making facilities. They are air-conditioned and have a luxurious bathroom fitted with large mirrors and amenities. Highly trained therapists offer a variety of natural beauty and spa treatments at The Village Spa. Guests can also bring back a souvenir from The Tamarind Boutique.Cultural activities such as Thai cooking classes and umbrella painting can be arranged on request. Featuring indoor and outdoor dining options, Ruen Tamarind Restaurant serves Thai and international dishes. Drinks and cocktails are also available. Tamarind Village is a 10-minute walk to the night bazaar and riverside restaurants. Chiang Mai's famous 'Sunday Walking Street' occurs right in front of the hotel. Nearby attractions within walking distance include Wat Chedi Luang and Tha Pae Gate.
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is between November and February, when the region is mainly dry and not too hot, typically averaging 28°C (82°F).
There are three distinct seasons: cool (warm and dry) – November to February, average 28°C (82°F); hot (and humid) – March to May, average 35°C (95°F); and wet – May to October, average 32°C (89°F) (August and September are the wettest months).
For more climate information see Chiang Mai Weather Guide…
Located in the lush forested hills of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is around 680km (422mi) north of the capital, Bangkok.
The most convenient route to Chiang Mai is by air to Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX), located around 4km (2.4mi) southwest of the city centre.
You can fly nonstop to Chiang Mai from several destinations in Asia, including Hong Kong, Beijing, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, Seoul and Ho Chi Minh City.
From elsewhere, the most convenient route to Chiang Mai is by air to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK), followed by a connecting flight to Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX).
Alternatively, several buses and trains depart from Bangkok to Chiang Mai daily.
You can choose from six daily trains or the overnight train, which offers air-conditioned berths and private sleeper cabins. Trip time is generally 12 hours, departing from Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway Station.
Numerous buses operate the Bangkok - Chiang Mai route. The most comfortable include air-conditioned 24-seater VIP buses, with larger reclining seats. The trip takes about 8 to 10 hours and departs from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal.
More information about how to get to Chiang Mai…
The best way of getting around Chiang Mai's Old City is on foot or by bicycle.
For anywhere else join the locals and hop on a songtaew shared taxi (usually a red pickup truck), or take a tuk-tuk.
Alternatively, you may find it easier to have your own wheels – a choice of car, motorcycle and bicycle hire is available in Chiang Mai.
While driving around Chiang Mai is not for the faint-hearted – cars, motorbikes, bicycles, rickshaws, street vendors and pedestrians all jostle for space on the road – hiring your own set of wheels is easy and a cost effective way to explore beyond the city centre.
Hire cars are available at the airport and from agencies around Tha Phae Gate, including Avis (www.avis.com), Budget (www.budget.co.th), Thai Rent a Car (https://thairentacar.com) and North Wheels (www.northwheels.com) – the latter offers hotel pick-up and delivery, 24-hour emergency road service and comprehensive insurance.
More information about how to get around Chiang Mai…
Latest update: Chiang Mai Honeymoon Guide: 24 June, 2022