Elephants & mountains next to temples, art merchants and night markets. Culture and nature come together in the second largest city in Thailand. The city is developing but has kept some of its charms thanks to old houses, shops, restaurants.

Very quiet compared to crazy Bangkok it’s a good destination for a long relaxing weekend. Directb flights schedules to get there are not great so you will probably need a minimum of 2 days and a half. If you plan to do some serious trekking, you will probably need 4 days or more.  The good news is that the airport is 5 km from the city so you will be in town in no time.

Singapore to Chiang Mai journey details

Oh, yeah, one more thing, Thai food is awesome! (but damn spicy!)

Connections from Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is typically a standalone destination as there are direct flights from Singapore. However you can combine this trip with a trip to Bangkok (by train – about 12 hours, bus – 10 hours, or plane) or other interesting places in Northern Thailand or even Luang Prabang in Laos (1 or 2 days by boat, or by plane) or Myanmar.

Getting from Singapore to Chiang Mai

Fly from Singapore Changi Airport (SIN) to Chiang Mai (CNX). Tigerair offers direct flights (but not everyday).

Getting there: SIN to CNX : Tigerair : 1:55 PM – 3:50 PM (2h55 flight)
Coming back: CNS to SIN: Tigerair 6PM – 10PM
Return tickets from SGD 300.

It’s probably a good idea to take a half day off so that you can take the 1:55 PM flight at Changi.

Alternatively you can fly through Bangkok with Thai airlines (daily flights).

Get your ticket NOW to enjoy the best fares. Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight or check directly on the airlines websites (as some flights may not be visible on Skyscanner).

Getting from Chiang Mai airport to the city center

Chiang mai airport is only 5 km away from the city center so you will not need more than 10 minutes to reach your hotel. You can arrange your pick up with your hotel for free in high end hotels.If you stay in a guesthouse you will have to arrange your own.

Taxis are available at the airport. As always in Thailand expect surprises there. “Taxi meter” is the name of a company that… does NOT use taxi meters. One of their taxis or one from the Taxi Limo company will take you to the city for THB 150 or THB 250 for a van. You can buy your ticket at the counter in the terminal.

Alternatively, if you walk out of the terminal, you can get a Tuk Tuk for THB 20 to 50 depending on the timing (more expensive at night) and your negotiation skills.

Food, money change, souvenir shops, car rental are available at the airport.

The trip back from the city center to the airport should only cost you THB 50.

If you arrive at the train station (most probably from Bangkok) you can expect to pay around THB 60 go get to your hotel or guesthouse.

Where to stay in Chiang Mai?

There are many options in Chiang Mai. Whether you are looking for a charming boutique hotel like the Tamarind Village Hotel or a cheap backpacker guesthouse like the September Inn you will find something that suits your mood and budget. Last time we visited we were invited by our parents and were lucky to stay at the RajaIndra. It’s a nice but pretty expensive hotel.

Remember to book early as Chiang Mai gets busy during the dry season, especially from November to February. Of course, prices get out of control for the Songkran (the water festival) mid April.

Or book your hotel with

To see & to do in Chiang Mai

Explore the old city and its temples

You can either walk or rent a bicycle or a motorbike to explore the old down. There are more than 300 temples in the city. Some of them are very interesting. However, you may have a wat overdose after a while so don’t be too ambitious on your planning. Either pick the major ones (Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man) or leave it up to luck and walk around the city.

  • You can rent bicycles from THB 30 a day. The city is flat so cycling around is pleasant. Traffic can be heavy but overall it’s slow so not too scary. Many guesthouses and travel agencies can be found in the center.
  • You can rent motorcycles from THB 150 or 200 for the larger ones. It’s a good option if you plan to visit points of interest outside of the city but not necessary if you plan to visit only the city center.

Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat  Suthep is a major Buddhist complex situated 15 km away from the city center, on top of the hill of the same name. It’s the major attraction around Chiang Mai. The temple itself is large and impressive with its golden cheddi. It’s worth a visit. Very touristy with both local and foreign tourists.

You will find food, toilets, and souvenirs on the stairs to the temple. There are more than 300 steps but it’s not difficult. If you have a stroller or can’t climb the stairs, you can always use the tram for THB 20.

Getting there from the city center by songthaew (red pick up truck) will take you approximately 30 minutes and will cost you about THB 400  for the return trip. The driver will wait for you while you visit the temple. The entrance fee is THB 40 (but tickets are not always required…). As for any temple, dress properly (shoulders covered) and take your shoes off.

Sunday or Saturday Walking Street

On Saturdays and Sundays some streets (Th Ratchadamnoen) are turned into night markets where you will find anything from food to souvenirs, clothes. Nice atmosphere to walk around and buy a few things. From 4 pm to midnight.

Enjoy a dinner in of the temples along Rachadamnoen Road as they are opened to food stalls and you can test Thai fresh food.

Flight of the Gibbon zipline

You will see posters all over the city advertising for this activity. Nice and long zipline above the forest. From THB 2000. More info on www.treetopasia.com

Trekking & Elephant camps

Dozens of agencies arrange treks ranging from a simple trek in the jungle to a combination of elephant riding, river rafting, bicycling or trekking. You can arrange a trek for 1 day or many. The main elephant camp is Mae Ping Elephant Camp. A one-day trek with elephant riding and rafting will cost you about THB 1500 per pax including transportation and food.

Mae Sa Waterfalls

Nothing extraordinary but nice if you want to spend half a day in the forest. There is a series of 10 waterfalls. They are quite small but it’s a nice easy walk. Get a songthaew (red pick up truck) to take you there for THB 400 for the return trip. The drive takes about 40 minutes from the old city. Entrance fee is THB 100 per person.

Doi Ithanon

Doi Ithanon is a nice day excursion if you have a bit of time in Chiang Mai. It’s a 2 hour drive from Chiang Mai by red car or taxi. The excursion will cost you about THB 2200 for the car. There are different points of interest in the park.

  • The highest point in Thailand at 2565 meters has nothing special. The driver will drop you at the carpark. From there you can walk for 15 minutes to see the top. There is a small shop that sells instant noodles. You can then take a short walk in the forest.
  • The 2 hour trek in the forest and meadow offers very beautiful views. You must take a guide (although the path is well indicated, but you have no choice) for the 2 hour trek, THB 200 for the group. The path is very well maintained. If you don’t have a lot of time, do this in priority and skip the rest.
  • The Great Stupas. Entrance fee is THB 40 per person to visit the Stupas. Entrance fee to the park is THB 200 per pax. The park is open from 6AM to 4PM.

Bo Sang

Bosang is famous for its umbrellas. You can go visit an umbrella workshop on the way there. Simply ask the driver to drop you and wait for you while you visit. By the way, it’s a good idea to be clear with the driver on what you want to see. Otherwise you may end up visiting 3 or 4 workshops of shops of silver, woodcraft, silk, etc. Bo Sang itself is not very interesting. Just a long street with souvenir shops on both sides, though you can walk in the soi and enjoy quiet small streets. Give it a miss if you are short on time.  It’s 8km east from Chiang Mai.

And…

  • Cooking lessons: They usually include a visit at the market to see your ingredients and your meal (eat your own food). From TBH 700 per pax. Can be full day in the countryside or late afternoon classes.
  • Massage:  There are many places that offer massage in the city. From  cheap guesthouses to luxurious spas.
  • Night bazaar: the Thai equivalent of the Singapore foodcourt. Outdoor but covered. Quite touristy but a good option if you want to taste different dishes. Some shops use a coupon system. You can also buy souvenirs.
  • Markets: There are 3 main markets. Kalare, Anusam and Warorot. They are large and interesting if you want to buy some local products or simply dive into local life and discover new ingredients.
  • Zoological garden.

More info to prepare your trip

Internet access is available in most guesthouses and hotels.

What to pack for Chiang Mai

Your main bag

That’s the one you leave at the hotel. Ideally you want to avoid checking in your luggage when flying. So check the weight and dimensions for hand carry luggage with your airlines (some airlines will allow only 7kg, some will allow up to 10kg). From head to toes.

  • Short sleeves tops: your main outfit. Everybody will see them on all your pictures. You really want to take that old Mickey Mouse T-shirt? Be mindful that you will be in a different environment so it might be a good idea to adjust your wardrobe.
  • Long sleeves tops: to protect yourself from the sun (if you’ve stayed for 5 hours on a motorbike with short sleeves you know what I mean) or to enter religious buildings or to protect yourself from mosquitoes in the evening.
  • Pullover. Yes I know, you’re going to a country where the temperature never goes down below 25 degrees and you need to pack a pullover? You will thank us when you’re back. Remember that flight during which  you were freezing? Or this museum where the aircon is set to the “polar bear” temperature?
  • Short/skirt (you should be able to chose the appropriate one by yourself).
  • Trousers for the same reasons you need to take long sleeves tops. Jeans are usually not a good option. They are heavy and keep you too warm.
  • Underwear: well, you know. If you plan to walk or ride motorbikes for long hours, take something comfortable as the combination heat + friction can make you regret this sophisticated silk underwear. Cotton is good.
  • Shoes: one pair of flip flap and one pair of confortable shoes. Remember that you are going to spend most of the time on your feet. Forget about high heels and leave your Westons at home.
  • Swimsuit: even if you don’t plan to go to the beach, you never know. A nice river, a swimming pool, a heavy rain? Always have one with you.
  • Raincoat and protection for your bag. Even if you are visiting the country during the “best season”, you never know what the sky will be like.
  • Torch: take a pocket torch with you if you visit countries where the power is not reliable… Can come very handy when stuck in the dark in your room.
  • Toilet bag: Shampoo, soap, toothbrush & toothpath, deodorant, sun screen, tiger balm. Ideally, all these in miniature formats.
  • Sleeping bag liner (if you plan to stay in very cheap or dirty places, not required if you are staying in a 5-star hotel…)
  • Your IT stuff: iPad, eBook, laptop, chargers, memory card, batteries, etc.
  • Dryer sheets: they will help keep a fresh smell in your bag.

Your small bag

That’s the one you keep with you, all the time. Hence, a backpack is the best option.

  • Your passportcashcredit cards and other life saving items like your insurance card with emergency contact details. Not a bad idea to put them in a zip-lock bag  in case it rains. It will keep your documents dry.
  • Your driver’s licence if you plan to rent a car or a motorbike (some countries are quite particular about this so take it with you in case you are not sure, even for a motorbike rental).
  • Your emergency medical kit: painkillers, mosquitoes repellent, dressing/plaster, disinfectant, anti diarrhea, eyewash
  • Tissues and toilet paper (you will thank me later). Remember that in a lot of countries, you will not be provided napkins when having a meal.
  • Water – plastic bottles are a good option as they are lighter than a gourd/flask.
  • Biscuits (always buy some before you go when you are not sure what you will find. Always have “emergency” biscuit  and water in case you cannot find food around and need to recharge batteries)
  • Sunglasses: you’ll need them. Take them even if it’s raining. Weather can change very fast in the region.
  • Scarf (krama, or any kind of fabric that you can use to put around your neck, put on your head to protect it from the sun, cover your shoulders in temples, dry your sweat, etc). Can come very handy in some situation. It will not stay clean for long so it’s wise to pick a dark color…
  • Camera and its protection.

Thailand

Thailand

  • Language: Thai.
  • Time zone: Bangkok and across the country GMT +7  hours.
    1h behind Singapore
  • Currency: Thai Baht (THB)
  • Phone: + 66
  • Electricity: 220V 60 Hz

Immigration and airport taxes on arrival

If you are a citizen from the following countries, you possess a passport with at least 6 months validity, and you are staying up to 30 days, then you do NOT need any Tourist visa to enter Thailand.

  • Visa exemption rule applies for: Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Oman, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam.
  • If you hold a passport from another country, you will need to apply for a visa on arrival at the airport customs. A visa for 15 days costs 1000 Bahts.

National Public Holidays in Thailand

2015

January 1 New Years Day
March 4 * Makha Bucha Day
April 6 * Chakri Day
April 13 Thai New Year
April 14 Thai New Year
April 15 Thai New Year
April 16 Thai New Year
April 17 Thai New Year
May 1 Labour Day
May 5 * Coronation Day
June 1 * Visakha Bucha Day
July 30 * Asahna Bucha Day
August 12 H.M. Queen’s Birthday
October 23 Chulalongkorn Day
December 5 H.M. King’s Birthday
December 10 Constitution Day
December 31 New Year’s Eve

* check the exact date on this website as it varies from one year to another.