Chiang Mai City Profile
As the second largest city in Thailand after Bangkok, Chiang Mai is perhaps the most pleasant city for those who seek the combination of a large ex-pat community and traditional Thai culture. The old city, within a large square moat, has many tourist attractions and shopping opportunities, and over 300 Buddhist temples! It is bordered to the west by Doi Suthep mountain, which rises over 1,600 meters.
Ethnic Thai people in Northern Thailand call themselves khon meuang and have their own dialect, which is softer and slower than the Central Thai dialect. Although most people there are ethnic Thais, Chiang Mai is the center of learning about hill-tribe people, known as chao khao, of which there are about half a million. You may take any number of treks to hill-tribe areas. Chiang Mai is also a hub for all of Northern Thailand, and there are bus trips to the region’s smaller, more traditional cities such as Mae Hong Song and Chiang Rai.
Of all of Thailand’s cities, Chiang Mai is probably the most popular among teachers and travelers. Unfortunately, there are usually far more teachers looking for jobs than there are openings.
160,000 in the city
Chiang Mai is located over 430 miles from Bangkok, in the center of Northern Thailand’s beautiful hills and valleys.
Like most of the rest of the country, Northern Thailand has three seasons: it is rainy from May to October, cool from November to February, and hot from March to May. The average temperature in Chiang Mai is approximately 75°F/24°C in December, and 86°F/30°C in April.
Chiang Mai airport has Thai Airways flights from Bangkok and seven other cities in Thailand. The main train line to the north terminates at Chiang Mai station. Intercity bus stations are located in several places in the city. Local buses and red songtaews (small trucks with bench seats down the side) travel on set routes and are very inexpensive. You can hire songtaews and pedal-driven samlors (tricycles with passenger seats) to go to your own destination.
Places of Interest
Within the city, visit the Wat Chedi Luang, with its huge bell-shaped stupa, or Wat Chiang Man, which has traditional Northern Thai architecture. For authentic hill-tribe handicrafts, go to Thai Tribal Crafts near McCormick Hospital. The night bazaar is a shopping extravaganza and is located between Tha Phae and Loi Khraw Roads. During the day, you can take tours at numerous handicraft factories around the city.
The Tribal Research Institute has information about hill-tribe people and houses a small museum. It is possible to take Thai massage classes at the Old Medicine Hospital, or Thai language classes at AUA.
A nine mile songtaew ride will take you to Doi Suthep National Park, which is known more for the Wat Phra Tat temple with its 300-step Naga staircase and view of Chiang Mai city than for its animal and plant reserve.
As in other parts of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a place where people can usually walk without fear, even at night. Nonetheless, it is recommended that women walk with friends and that trekkers go in groups. At train and bus stations, people will approach you with offers to take you to a guest house. Be aware that they are being paid a commission for delivering you there. If you go trekking, be very careful about leaving your credit cards behind, even in a safe, as credit card theft is very common.