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Arriving

By Plane -- When planning your trip, keep in mind that Chiang Mai has international links with major cities throughout the region. Lao Airlines (tel. 05322-3401; www.laoairlines.com) connects Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang in Laos four times each week. Air Mandalay (tel. 05381-8049; www.airmandalay.com) has limited flights to Yangon, in Myanmar (Burma). Silk Air (tel. 05390-4985; www.silkair.com), the regional arm of Singapore Airlines, connects Singapore with direct service four times a week.

Domestically, Thai Airways (240 Phra Pokklao Rd.; tel. 05392-0999; www.thaiair.com) flies from Bangkok to Chiang Mai at least a dozen times daily (trip time 70 min.). There's a direct flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket daily (note the return sector is not direct). The daily 35-minute hop is also the fastest way to get out to Mae Hong Son. Bangkok Airways has an office at the airport in Chiang Mai (tel. 05328-1519, or 02270-6699 in Bangkok; www.bangkokair.com) and flies at least twice daily from Bangkok.

For rock-bottom prices, check with budget carriers such as Air Asia (tel. 05322-2170; www.airasia.com); they fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai for as little as 800B. Nok Air (tel. 05392-2183 or 1318; www.nokair.com) offers similar deals (book well in advance via the Internet, or via ticketing agents listed on their sites), while SGA (tel. 05328-1440; www.sga.co.th) works in tandem with Nok Air to provide connections to Chiang Rai and Pai from Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai International Airport (airport code CNX; tel. 05327-0222; about 3km/1 3/4 miles and a 10-min. ride from the Old City) has several banks for changing money, a post and overseas call office, and an information booth. Taxis from the airport are a flat 150B to town, a bit more for places outside of Chiang Mai proper. Buy a ticket from the taxi booth in the arrival hall, and then proceed to the taxi queue with your ticket.

By Train -- Of the six daily trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the 8:30am sprinter (trip time 12 hr.; fare 611B for second-class air-conditioned seat) is the quickest, but you sacrifice a whole day to travel and spend the entire trip in a seat. The other trains take between 13 and 15 hours; but for overnight trips, second-class sleeper berths are a good choice (881B lower berth, air-conditioned; 791B upper berth, air-conditioned). Private sleeper cabins are also available, which cost 1,353B.

Purchase tickets at Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Railway Station (tel. 02621-8701 or 1690) up to 90 days in advance. For local train information in Chiang Mai, call tel. 05324-5363; for advance booking, call tel. 05324-4795. Reservations cannot be made over the phone, but you can call and check to see if space is available.

By Bus -- Buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are many and varied: from rattletrap, non-air-conditioned numbers to fully reclining VIP buses. The trip takes about 8 to 10 hours. From Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal, close to the Mo Chit BTS (tel. 02936-2841), six daily 24-seater VIP buses provide the most comfort, with larger seats that recline (fare 806B). There is also frequent service between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, Phitsanulok, and Chiang Rai.

Most buses arrive at the Arcade Bus Station (tel. 05324-2664) on Kaeo Nawarat Road, 3km (1 3/4 miles) northeast of the Thapae Gate; a few arrive at the Chang Puak station (tel. 05321-1586), north of the Chang Puak Gate on Chotana Road. Expect to pay 60B to 150B for a tuk-tuk (motorized three-wheeler) into town, and just 30B for a red pickup, songtaew, to the town center and your hotel.

Visitor Information

The TAT office is at 105/1 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd., 400m (1,312 ft.) south of the Nawarat Bridge, on the east side of the Ping River (tel. 05324-8604). Keep your eyes open for a few free magazines available in hotels and restaurants -- Guidelines Chiang Mai, Citylife Chiang Mai, and Welcome to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai -- which contain maps, features on local culture, and useful information. You can also find any of a number of detailed maps distributed free, chock-full of adverts for local shopping, dining, and events.

City Layout

The heart of Chiang Mai is the Old City, completely surrounded by a moat (restored in the 19th c.) and remains of the massive wall at the four corners and five gates, laid out in a square. Several of the original gates have been restored and serve as handy reference points, particularly Thapae Gate to the east. The most important temples are within the walls of the Old City.

All major streets radiate from the Old City. The main business and shopping area is the 1km (2/3-mile) stretch between the east side of the Old City and the Ping River. Here you will find the Night Bazaar, many shops, trekking agents, hotels, guesthouses, and restaurants -- and some of the most picturesque back streets in the area.

To the west of town and visible from anywhere in the city is the imposing wall of Doi Suthep Mountain (1,685m/5,528 ft.), where, near its crest, you'll find the most regal of all Chiang Mai Buddhist compounds, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, standing stalwart as if to give its blessing to the city below. The road leading to the temple takes you past a big mall, a strip of modern hotels, the zoo, and the university.

The Superhighway circles the outskirts of the city and is connected by traffic-choked arteries emanating from the city center. If you're driving or riding a motorbike in Chiang Mai, the many one-way streets in and around town are confounding. The moat that surrounds the city has concentric circles of traffic: The outer ring runs clockwise, and the inner ring counterclockwise, with U-turn bridges between. The streets in and around the Night Bazaar are all one-way as well. This means that even if you know where you're going, you'll have to pull your share of U-turns.

Getting Around

By Bus -- There are five routes in and around the city, each charging a fixed 10B to 15B fare. Services start at 6am, finish close to 10pm, and run approximately every 15 minutes.

By Songtaew -- Songtaews (red pickup trucks) cover all routes. Fitted with two long bench seats, they are also known locally as seelor (four-wheels). They follow no specific route and have no fixed stopping points. Hail one going in your general direction and tell the driver your destination. If it fits in with the destinations of other passengers, you'll get a ride to your door for only 15B to 30B. Some drivers will ask for exorbitant fees when they're empty; let these guys just drive on. If you can deal with a bit of uncertainty along the confusing twist of roads, a songtaew is a great way to explore the city.

Songtaews can also take you up to the temple on Doi Suthep Mountain for 50B and only 40B for the easier downhill return trip. You can find them waiting outside the university or zoo at the western end of Huay Kaeo Road.

By Tuk Tuk -- The ubiquitous tuk-tuk is the next best option to the songtaew for getting around Chiang Mai. Fares are negotiable -- and you will have to bargain hard to get a good rate -- but expect to pay at least 40B for any ride. When talking price, it is good to write it down on a scrap of paper, so there is no argument when you get there and the driver asks for 200B instead of the 20B you thought you'd agreed on.

By Car -- Avis has an office conveniently located at the airport (tel. 05320-1798; www.avisthailand.com). Avis self-drive rental rates for Chiang Mai are the same as they are elsewhere in Thailand, from 1,400B and up for a compact sedan. Budget (tel. 05320-2871-2; www.budget.co.th) has an office near the airport and offers comparable rates and services. Both companies offer comprehensive insurance and provide good maps -- even a miniguidebook.

There are dozens of local car-rental companies with sedans for 1,200B to 1,800B per day, and Suzuki Caribbeans for as low as 800B per day. Most travel agents will arrange a car or minivan and driver for about 2,000B. North Wheels, 70/4-8 Chaiyaphum Rd. (tel. 05387-4478; www.northwheels.com), has a wide range of vehicles and does pickup or drop-off service to the airport or your hotel.

By Motorcycle -- Many guesthouses along the Ping River and shops around Chaiyaphum Road (north of Thapae Gate, in the Old City) rent 100cc to 150cc motorcycles for about 200B per day (discounts for longer durations). Larger 250cc Hondas (as well as others) with good suspension are commonly available and are the best choice for any trips upcountry because of their added power and large fuel tanks; they rent for about 700B. Try Mr. Mechanic (4 Soi 5, Moon Muang Rd.; tel. 05321-4708), one of many mechanic shops near Thapae. Helmets are mandatory -- even if locals tend to ignore this law, they may be able to wriggle out of arrest, but as a foreigner, you won't be let off lightly. Expect to leave your passport as security (don't leave any credit cards). Traffic congestion and confusing one-way streets make riding within the city dangerous, so if you are tempted, employ defensive driving techniques and take it slow.

By Bicycle -- Cycling in the city is fun and practical, especially for getting around to the temples within the Old City. Avoid rush hour and take great care on the busy roads outside of the ancient walls. Bikes are available at any of the many guesthouses in or around the old city and go for about 30B to 50B per day.

Fast Facts

ATMs For ATMs and money-changers, go to Chang Klan and Charoen Prathet roads, around the Night Bazaar, for the most convenient major bank branches.

Bookstores Backstreet Books (tel. 05387-4143) and Gecko Books (tel. 05387-4066) are neighbors on Chang Moi Kao, a side street north of eastern Thapae Road just before it meets the city wall. Both have a good selection of new and used books, and do exchanges at the usual rate (two for one, depending on the condition).

Consulates There are many representative offices in Chiang Mai. Contacts are as follows: American Consulate General, 387 Wichayanon Rd. (tel. 05310-7700); Canadian Honorary Consul, 151 Super Highway Rd. (tel. 05385-0147); Australian Honorary Consul, 165 Sirimungklajarn Rd. (tel. 05349-2480); and British Consul, 198 Bumrungraj Rd. (tel. 05326-3015).

Dentists & Doctors The American Consulate will supply you with a list of English-speaking dentists and doctors. There are also several medical clinics, and standards are very high; but for serious illness, you must seek professional and advanced care in Bangkok.

Emergencies Dial tel. 1155 to reach the Tourist Police in case of emergency.

Hospitals Try the private McCormick hospital, on Kaeo Nawarat Road (tel. 05326-2200), out toward the Arcade Bus Terminal. The Ram and Lanna hospitals are also popular choices for expats. However, if you -- or especially your child -- fall seriously sick, it is essential that you head immediately to a more reliable and modern hospital in Bangkok, where physicians will offer better and more up-to-date diagnoses.

Internet Most hotels and guesthouses provide Internet access, often free of charge. All around the city, there are numerous small, inexpensive cafes with service sometimes costing only 20B per hour. Starbucks offers Wi-Fi access at two convenient locations: on Chaiyaphum Road opposite Tha Pae Gate and at the Suriwong Hotel on Chang Klan. In the Night Bazaar area, try Click and Drink Internet Café, opposite the Royal Princess Hotel, at 147 Chang Klan Rd. (tel. 05327-5333).

Pharmacies There are dozens of pharmacies throughout the city; most are open daily 7am to midnight. Bring along any prescriptions that you need filled.

Police For police assistance, call the Tourist Police at tel. 1155, or see them at the TAT office.

Post Office The most convenient branch is at 186/1 Chang Klan Rd. (tel. 05327-3657). The General Post Office is on Charoen Muang (tel. 05324-1070), near the train station. The Overseas Call Office, open 24 hours, is upstairs from the GPO and offers phone, fax, and telex services. There is a 24-hour branch at the airport (tel. 05327-7382). UPS has an office in the basement of the Night Bazaar (Chang Klan Rd.; tel. 05382-0222; daily 7am-10pm), making it easy to send your finds back home.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.