When it comes to booking a trip to Thailand, most people’s minds automatically jump to the capital city of Bangkok. And there are many great reasons to visit Bangkok, of course; it’s an incredibly fun city with many great attractions and plenty of places to have a good time.
But what if I told you there is an even better Thai city which offers everything that Bangkok does and even more besides?
Chiang Mai, known as Bangkok’s northern cousin, is a city that is hard not to fall in love with; I did pretty much immediately, and that is something that did not happen easily with Bangkok, despite it being a very cool place. There are so many reasons why Chiang Mai makes a better destination than Bangkok; here’s a few of mine.
Chiang Mai is a more compact city
As much as Bangkok is a great city, it can be a pain to get around because of its sheer size and hectic traffic jams, despite the huge number of transportation options on offer in the city.
Chiang Mai, on the other hand, is much more compact, making it much easier to get around. In fact, depending on where you’re staying in Chiang Mai, it is completely possible to only get around the main areas on foot. However, if you don’t fancy walking around so much, especially if the weather is hot, there are songthaews, red trucks with benches, which will take you wherever you want to go for a very small fee.
Because of the lighter traffic in Chiang Mai, it’s much quicker to get where you want to go. The lighter traffic also makes it a great place to rent a moped or motorbike.
Chiang Mai is a much friendlier city with a more bohemian vibe
Like in many big metropolises, although Bangkok is a fun city to be in, it doesn’t have any kind of community feel to it. This is where Chiang Mai has a definite advantage over the capital. Despite still being a fairly big place, the locals in Chiang Mai are much friendlier and welcoming than in Bangkok.
The expats who make their home in the city are also a friendlier breed; when I was in Chiang Mai, I regularly ended up talking to random people when out and about, especially when I was in pubs and bars, and am still friends with many of them now. Probably part of the reason why this is because of the relaxed, bohemian vibe of the city.
Chiang Mai is a really chilled out place and this rubs off on its residents.
The food in Chiang Mai is better
While you can get excellent cuisine in Bangkok, nothing beats Chiang Mai when it comes to food. For me, the northern Thai version of the traditional red curry is one of the best things ever; served with noodles instead of rice, the place where I used to go pretty frequently to eat it also served it with a boiled egg and it was one of the tastiest things I had ever eaten. But it’s not just the red curry that’s great.
Chiang Mai has an abundance of traditional restaurants and street food vendors serving all kinds of Thai food using wonderful fresh ingredients. And if you get bored of Thai food (and it’s hard to see how you could), the huge amount of foreign residents means there are also lots of restaurants serving cuisine from all around the world.
Chiang Mai is cheaper than Bangkok
In comparison with western cities, any place in Thailand is going to be easier on your wallet. But if you want your money to go that little bit further, it is better to head north.
Accommodation prices tend to much much lower in Chiang Mai and eating out at street vendors generally won’t cost you more than a couple of dollars. Even eating out in more high-end restaurants is much cheaper. And if you enjoy having a few drinks in the evening, you’ll be able to do this more often in Chiang Mai than you would be able to in Bangkok.
In Bangkok bars and pubs tend to increase prices as they know travellers will pay it, but you won’t find this in Chiang Mai.
The climate is much more bearable
Of course, one of the main reasons people travel to Thailand is the gorgeous weather. And Bangkok certainly gets the heat. But it also gets the humidity and also has some issues with smog, making it pretty unbearable and even hard to breathe at certain times of the year. Chiang Mai, on the other hand, sits at a higher altitude than Bangkok, meaning the climate, while still hot, is slightly cooler, much drier and therefore more pleasant.
However the summer is hot in Chiangmai. My recommendation is to travel to Chiang Mai during October to February when it is lot cooler/ This makes sightseeing, shopping and just generally getting around much more bearable as you’re not constantly fighting against the heat and dehydration.
Having said, I should also mention that there are times when Chiangmai is polluted.
Chiang Mai Air Pollution: Avoid March
In March 2019 Chiang Mai topped the list of the worst among the most polluted cities are the world due to poor air quality. While this may come as surprise for many people, the truth is that during the summer smog is a problem in Chiang Mai.
There are couple of reasons behind this.
First, the smoke caused by the forest fires that can occur during the dry season. Second, the local farmers often burn the waste in their farmland to prepare for the next season. This usually happens during the month of March. Government has been trying to educate the farmers on the adverse effect of open burning in an effort to minimize the pollution caused by smoke. Finally the haze from the neighbouring countries like Myanmar and Laos also compounds the magnitude of the pollution.
So my advice; avoid going to Chiang Mai from mid of February, throughout March and early April.
If you are still worried, then check the Air Quality Index at US Embassy website.
Best Songkran Celebration
I just told you not to be at Chiang Mai till early April. But you might want to go there during the mid-April because it is Songkran time. If haven’t heard of it, Songkran is the famous water festival In Thailand when people splash water at each other.
It is lot of fun and Chiang Mai has the best Songkran celebrations in the country.
Chiang Mai is greener
Bangkok does have its green spaces, but it’s becoming more and more modern, meaning natural green space – as opposed to landscaped parks – is now in short supply. Chiang Mai, however, is surrounded by mountains and the perimeter of the old city is flanked by a river and green space.
Due to its close proximity to the mountains, it’s much easier to get out of Chiang Mai and into beautiful nature than it is in Bangkok.
Now you know why I think Chiang Mai is a better city than Bangkok. It is a wonderful city with lots to do and a great atmosphere. If you’re looking to spend a weekend – or even longer – in a Thai city, Chiang Mai makes a great alternative to the capital.