By Plane -- Chiang Mai International Airport (airport code CNX; [tel] 05327-0222) is about 3km/1[bf]3/4 miles and a 10-min. ride from the Old City. When planning your trip, keep in mind that Chiang Mai has a growing number of international links with major cities throughout the region. You can directly connect with Yangon, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and more.
Domestically, Thai Airways (www.thaiair.com; tel. 05392-0999) flies from Bangkok to Chiang Mai several times a day (trip time 70 min.); schedules adjust with the tourist season. There are direct flights from Chiang Mai to Phuket, Krabi, and Koh Samui. Bangkok Airways (www.bangkokair.com; tel. 05328-1519) flies at least six times daily from Bangkok; it also operates a direct daily flight to Ko Samui. Flying is, by far, the easiest and most economical way to get to Chiang Mai. Flights are an incredibly reasonable 1,200B from the capital and average 2,4000B from islands like Phuket. During high season, expect to see an uptick in pricing, but thanks to budget airlines like AirAsia, Thai Smile, Nok Air, Vietjet, there are flights every hour (or more) giving visitors a plethora of choices.
The airport has several banks for changing money, a post, an information booth, luggage storage for 200B a day. Taxis from the airport start at 120B to town, a bit more for places outside of Chiang Mai proper.
By Train -- Train travel is an arduous way to get back to Bangkok. The station in Chiang Mai is not well kept and derailments on the line happen with shocking frequency. Frankly, the rise of budget airlines has made train travel back to the capital a locals-only affair, although the Thai government has been discussing the creation of a high-speed train. Of the five daily trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the 8:30am sprinter (trip time 12 hr.; fare 611B for a second-class air-conditioned seat) is the quickest, but you still sacrifice a whole day to travel. The other trains take between 13 and 15 hours; 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 Lampong Railway Station (tel. 02220-4334) up to 60 days in advance. For local train information in Chiang Mai, call tel. 05324-5363; for advance booking, call tel. 05324-4795. The State Railway’s website (www.thairailwayticket.com) is wonky and frequently shut down, so using the phone is the most reliable way to reserve, along with using a third-party booking site like http://12go.asia/en.
By Bus -- Buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are many and varied: From rattletrap, non-air-conditioned numbers to reclining-seat, 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 a frequent service between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, 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 80B to 150B for a tuk-tuk (motorized three-wheeler) into town, and around 30B for a red pickup, songtaew, to the town center and your hotel.
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 (www.tourismthailand.org; tel. 05324-8604). Here you'll find any of a number of detailed maps distributed free.
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.
By Bus -- Chiang Mai has a few irregular bus routes that are more useful for locals than visitors. Your best bet is to look out for the ubiquitous songtaews and flag one down.
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 20B to 40B. 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 60B 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 -- There really is no need to rent a car in Chiang Mai, especially if you don’t have onward plans for sites farther afield, like Chiang Rai or Pai. However, if you need wheels, 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 -- Motorcycle touring in northern Thailand is another option and best done in the cool season (Nov–Feb). For up-to-date info on the best routes to follow, check out the Golden Triangle Rider website (www.gt-rider.com); you can pick up their map of the Samoeng Loop or Mae Hong Son Loop at many outlets in Chiang Mai (listed on the website).
In the city, a simple scooter is a much better option for getting around than a bulky motorcycle. Many guesthouses along the Ping River and shops around Chaiyaphum Road (north of Thapae Gate, in the Old City) rent 100cc to 150cc scooters for about 150B to 200B per day (discounts for longer durations). Larger 250cc Hondas and other international brands 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. Tony’s Big Bikes (17 Ratchamankha Road; www.chiangmai-motorcycle-rental.com; tel. 083865-0935), is an outstanding resource for motorcycle tours, bike rentals, and road knowledge. Helmets are mandatory—and while locals may be able to wriggle out of arrest, as a foreigner, you won’t be let off lightly. Expect to leave your passport as security (don’t leave any credit cards).
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 50B per day.
ATMs You'll find ATMs throughout Chiang Mail, mostly in convenience stores. You'll also see an unusually large number around the Night Market.
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. Starbucks offers Wi-Fi access at half a dozen locations, including Chaiyaphum Road opposite Tha Pae Gate and at the Suriwong Hotel on Chang Klan, in the Night Bazaar area.
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.