Chiang Mai is one of the most tourist-friendly cities we have ever been to. And it’s not just the friendly locals and delicious food that make it a backpacker’s paradise. Here are five reasons why this is an incredibly comfortable and easy-to-live-in city for tourists.
OK. So south-east Asia has a reputation for being an extremely inexpensive holiday destination. But Chiang Mai definitely stands out as the most affordable place to eat if you’re on a tight budget. And it all comes down to the food court.
This place comes to life at about 18.00 every day and serves up a variety of Western and Asian food at wallet-friendly prices. Expect steaming plates of pad thai and juicy papaya salads for less than 100 Baht. And while this price is not unusual in Thailand, the food court really sets itself apart from the rest in that it has tables and chairs where you can sit down and enjoy your meal – no woofing your noodles down while standing beside a cart on the side of the street.
The cherry on the top here is the quality of the food. For your 50 baht you do get some good quality grub that will fill you up until tomorrow’s breakfast! Sure, if you want a fancy restaurant meal that you’re going to have to fork out a bit more. But this place really does have it all for the budget-conscious traveler.
Chiang Mai is absolutely teaming with wats. You can’t really walk more than a few blocks without stumbling across the tall white wall and fierce red dragons of a beautiful wat. You could easily wat your way across the city over a few days and still find something new.
What’s really fantastic is that each what is unique. Some have motivation quotes and words of wisdom painted on little placards throughout the grounds. Others boast giant stupors that are decorated with small elephant and buddha statues. Some just impress you with their striking architecture. And nearly all of them contain trees that house a couple of friendly squirrels!
Markets in every city are wonderful. From Berlin Christmas markets to the famous Japanese Tsukiji market. And the only thing better than a good market is a variety of good markets all within walking distance of each other in one city.
In Chiang Mai you have the night market selling souvenirs, cheap fake watches and handbags, offering restaurants, live music and an awesome food court (see above). There is also the Sunday Market that fills up the old center with all imaginable and unimaginable handicrafts and knickknacks once a week. Oh, and there are also some great food and drink options here.
Then there is the fruit market. A giant collection of uber cheap fruit stalls where you can pick up pineapples, durian, mangoes, papaya, custard apples and pretty much anything else you could want for a shockingly low price. It is a fruit-lover’s paradise!
If good, cheap food and great markets weren’t enough to convince you, the sightseeing options surely will. Chiang Mai is home to waterfalls, safari parks, ziplining, jungle treks, cooking classes (see Thailand – Cooking Class) and adventures galore.
You can even look after an elephant for a day (although please make sure you choose a genuine elephant sanctuary and not a company that uses and abuses the creatures). Chiang Mai really does have so much to offer for families, couples, digital nomads and backpackers alike.
Being home to a large expat community, Chiang Mai really has something for everyone. From vegan restaurants to free meditation classes, rock and roll bars and luxury hotels. You can find writers’ cafes, rock-climbing clubs, cashmere factories and the list goes on. It’s a melting pot for globe-trotters, both transient and long-term, and this really gives the place a sense of excitement and variety.