When in Chiang Mai: My Top 12 Do's & Don'ts!
For me, travelling to another country is usually as exciting as it is intimidating! Heading into the thick of a new culture and sometimes a different language can make travelling a daunting task! I’ve found it helpful (and respectful) to do some research before heading into a place with a completely different set of expectations and norms. But it isn’t until you actually get there that you really learn and experience those differences. So, without further ado, here is my list of Do’s and Don’ts when travelling to Chiang Mai!
Side note: There are also tons of bonuses when it comes to cultural differences in these scenarios, of course! To name a few: the food, the style, the traditional practices, the attitudes, the architecture! I honestly could go on and on.
DO TAKE THE NIGHT TRAIN FROM AYUTTHAYA TO CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai was one of my favorite places we visited during our trip! Since we had already heard and read a few things about it, it didn’t take much convincing from a tourist office agent for us to book it for the next morning. The train left from Ayutthaya, the old capital of Thailand. It was brand new and hardly any passengers boarded with us that evening. The beds were fairly comfortable and the train conductors were super nice. They gave us water bottles for the trip. That being said, I highly recommend the night train. Here are some extra tips to make it a great trip!
- Make sure you’re on time. The trains are usually not late in Thailand. While this can happen, it’s a good idea to be on time so you can find your car and bed/seat without panicking.
- Bring an eye mask! The lights on the train are never fully turned off so if you want to sleep, an eye mask is a must. I always use one that connects to my phone via bluetooth to play music (so I can block out any other sounds)! Here’s the one I have!
- Bring food. They provided us with a small snack, but it wasn’t quite enough for a 12 hour trip.
- Book the new train! The old ones are NOT as nice. In fact, they are quite uncomfortable, a bit dirty and packed with tons of people.
- Take a shower before you board! Especially if you are there in the warmer months & have been touring the city all day. This might be at a hotel or hostel, if you’ve stayed overnight in Ayutthaya OR, like us, it might be in the train station showers. It’s not the most ideal but wasn’t as bad as I imagined.
DON’T BLINDLY TRUST TOURIST OFFICES
So, remember when I mentioned the tourist office guy? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t exactly the most honest transaction. Hey, don’t get me wrong– the agents were all very nice and helpful! BUT, there was a lack of transparency and detail regarding our package. I’m not saying to avoid the tourist offices at all costs! But here are some things to watch out for so you don’t fall into a tourist trap (like we did):
- “Foreign traveler day” doesn’t exist! What does this mean? Well, many friendly tuk tuk drivers and workers in Bangkok will let you know about the tourist day or foreign traveler day, etc. According to them, this gets you 20% off all tickets and packages booked with the tourist office. The only problem is… every day is tourist day (lol!), so you really aren’t getting a deal AND the people who recommend you make commission from every tourist that buys a package at the office. Hence, why they so kindly share this information.
- Double check all prices given online BEFORE booking! The tourist offices have a tendency to add on “extra fees” or to book with the most expensive airlines or trains, etc. Checking online will allow you to see whether or not you’re being scammed. We used the website goasia12 and skyscanner to book!
- Read the details for any tours you are booking! We made the error of trusting the agent to book us on a hiking tour in the mountains. And, well, he did book our tour but what we got wasn’t exactly what he described. If you’re not a fan of surprise camping trips in a village in the middle of the jungle, this tip is for you! Read the fine print! haha 😉 On the flip side, it makes for a great story!
DO GO HIKING IN THE MOUNTAINS
Hiking through the mountains was a great experience! We swam in a waterfall, played with elephants at the Elephant sanctuary and met some really cool people. Our tour guide was a local who spoke English well and told us stories about the forest. It was definitely an unforgettable hike, for several reasons.
- Pack lightly! Even as an avid runner and yoga/pilates instructor, I found some of the trek to be challenging, especially with the heat in June. I recommend only bringing a SMALL backpack, like this one, with essentials for the hike.
- Bring lots of bug spray! This goes without saying when you’re visiting Thailand, especially in the summer months. I recommend buying spray at a store when you arrive.
- Bring an appropriate bathing suit. Since you’ll be swimming in a waterfall and a muddy lake, I don’t recommend bringing your favorite suit! Also, I made the mistake of bringing one that was a bit too revealing. I recommend something affordable and comfortable, like this one!
DON’T FORGET THE MELATONIN
While the experience was definitely beautiful and exhilarating, it’s never an easy task to sleep on a floor, in a room full of snoring strangers and, of course, the dreaded mosquitos and spiders! It’s especially important if you have to wake up bright and early for another 6 hours of hiking! I saved the day (so to speak) by coming prepared with melatonin for everyone!
- Choose something natural! You might already have your favorite sleep remedies, but I recommend getting something natural, yet effective so you don’t feel drowsy the next day! I buy mine from the pharmacy here in Nantes, but I actually found the exact ones here on Amazon!
- Bring your essential skin care There’s nothing worse than having to go to bed with dirty, sweaty skin. Because the water isn’t necessarily the purest, I brought my favorite mini micellar water to feel a bit more at home!
DO STAY IN A SUPER NICE HOTEL (FOR CHEAP!)
Roughing it for a few days in the mountains is a blast! But, if you’re like me and need some balance with comfort, booking a super nice hotel to follow the hike is a MUST! Luckily for you, there are some great deals in Thailand, which means you can get an amazing hotel with a pool and great service for less than €60/night! I book most of my stays on Booking.com. It’s easy to use and the more you use it, the better deals you get! If you travel a lot, like me, it’s a great tool!
- Check out The Chimes! We stayed at The Chimes Chiang Mai, which had just opened. They had the most lovely staff who helped us use their cheap (and much needed!) laundry service. They were located right downtown and had a nice pool and a restaurant! The room was very clean and had a fridge, coffee, utensils and a balcony overlooking the pool. It was really just *chef’s kiss*!
- Take advantage of the laundry service! The service was cheap and fast! For around €16 we had three big bags of dirty clothes washed, folded and delivered to our room in less than 24 hours.
- Ask the staff to order your taxi! If you are flying out of Chiang Mai airport, like us, it’s much cheaper and easier to book your taxi with the hotel! 10/10 recommend doing this!
DON’T FORGET TO CHECK FOR COCKROACHES
Yes, it’s true! Even in the nicest, cleanest, newest hotels, you may find an unexpected guest in your room. It’s Thailand, after all, so with the hot and humid weather, cockroaches may try to find a cool, dry spot in your room… EEEEE! Luckily, the hotel staff are locals and are used to dealing with this issue.
- Check under the bed! When you check into your room, make sure to do a quick sweep to make sure there are no roaches under the bed or other furniture, etc.
- Call the front desk! If you’re like me and refuse to sleep with a cockroach in your room, you can always call the front desk! The staff will come and take care of it. For us, they were very kind and even let us change rooms!
- Tip the staff at check out! Like I said, the staff were extremely helpful and kind to us. They work really hard and are always smiling! We tipped around €50 at checkout, but the staff would probably be happy with anything! I believe they deserve more, though!
DO CHECK OUT THE LOCAL THRIFT STORES
Before you purchase anything, do yourself a huge favor and check out the local thrift stores! You can find the same clothes for much cheaper (€1!) AND a lot of it is brand new or never been worn!
- Grab some traditional Thai clothing! I can’t remember the exact spot where I bought my dress, but I love it! They had many different patterns and colors!
- Bring cash! From what I remember, we paid for our stuff with cash and I don’t think all of the stores had card readers! So bring some cash just to be on the safe side!
DON’T GET THE MARKET FRENCH FRIES
At a glance, the market fries look delicious. They come in a fairly large sized tub and have different “flavors” like cheese or chicken or spicy. However, they were rather expensive (compared to other food options) and quite disappointing. Ours had a strange fishy taste and were cold with a cardboard-like texture. So, don’t waste your bahts! Here’s what you should get instead!
- Fresh, handmade mochi! I still think about those mochis to this day. They were about 40 bahts each (or €1) and had tons of different flavors. We got the vanilla, matcha and strawberry flavors that were incredible! 10/10!
- The classic pad thai! You really can’t go wrong with market pad thai. It’s usually only €1-€3 and is amazing!
- Pro tip: Don’t get any beverages with ice cubes or crushed ice! They likely will have some microbes non locals cannot handle! Your intestines will thank you later!
DO CHAT WITH THE TEMPLE GREETERS
Chiang Mai is known for it’s many beautiful temples scattered around the city. It’s nice to walk around and take a look, but we found it even better to ask some questions to the temple workers!
- Make sure you address the temple greeters and not the monks! You should not address the monks directly, as it is a sign of disrespect.
- Ask some questions! A lot of the temples have art and statues lining all of the walls. The stories behind the pieces and their artists is sometimes really interesting, and makes for a more memorable visit. Don’t be afraid to ask the greeters! They usually are happy to discuss the temples!
- Wear slip on shoes! Because you are required to remove your shoes before entering the temples, wearing easy, slip-on shoes is the best choice!
DON’T RENT A SCOOTER IF YOU’RE NOT SURE HOW TO RIDE IT
Scooters are a great way to get around the city. The rentals are really affordable, as 250 baht or about €7 per day. However, if you have never ridden one before, it might just be a waste of time and money!
- Try it out before you pay! You should definitely try to ride the scooter in the rental parking lot before you decide to rent! You’ll know right away if you’re up to the task or not (lol) !
- Double check your return time! If you have an early flight the next morning, make sure you double check the rental closing hours so you can return the scooter and, most importantly, pick up your passport! You usually have to leave it with the office to rent!
- Be a passenger princess If you’re like me and the scooter driving isn’t your forte, I recommend hopping on the back of a trusted friend’s scooter and riding around like the princess you are! It’s a nice way to see the city without having to focus too much on the road!
- Pro tip: Bring a baseball cap or other hat to wear under your helmet! If it’s hot, you will sweat A LOT and that means others have also sweated heavily in your helmet!
DO GET A €10 MASSAGE BY EX FEMALE PRISONERS
One of the best decisions we made when we were in Chiang Mai was getting a famous, traditional thai massage by the rehabilitated ex female prisoners.
- Don’t go on a full stomach! If you’ve never had a thai massage before, you probably don’t know that it is not a soft and easy massage, so going after a big meal might make it less enjoyable. The women really get into the deep tissue and put pressure on all of the parts of the body! It’s almost acrobatic, the way they jump and leap over you during the massage. Personally, I loved it, but I admit it’s not for everyone!
- Get the extra foot massage! To this day, one of my regrets is not getting the extra foot massage for about 4 more euros. When you’re in Chiang Mai, you are walking around all day visiting, so the foot massage is a great idea!
- Let them know if you’re sensitive! If you are super sensitive to pressure, make sure you let the women know before the massage, so you can enjoy the experience!
- Drink tons of water after! This is an extremely deep tissue massage, so make sure to grab an extra large water bottle from the 7/eleven (convenient store). Flush out the toxins!
- Pro tip: Relax your muscles during the massage! The pressure will make you want to tense up, but relaxing your muscles will make it less painful!
DON’T BE AFRAID TO DANCE AT ZOE IN YELLOW
No matter what age you are, don’t be afraid to check out the super fun nightlife of Chiang Mai! There are a few cool spots to have casual drinks or dance all night long (or until close, as least).
- Try Zoe in Yellow You won’t have trouble finding this bar/club in the Old Town of Chiang Mai. It’s really a street filled with a lot of different bars with a lot of different vibes! From dance club to chill drinks to reggae bar, find your spot!
- Nimman Road is also a common drinking spot, known for being more of a student location. We didn’t hit this spot up, but I’ve heard good things!
- Pro Tip: When in Thailand, try the fried spider or scorpion! Or don’t – it’s up to you! However, I recommend keeping a few baht on hand for those “yolo” moments when a walking vendor is selling something extra exotic.
- Pro Tip: Try not to take cash out more than once! Whether you are starting out in Bangkok, Chang Mai or elsewhere, try to overestimate your cash budget for the trip! Each time you take cash out, you have a fee of €8-€12. Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on mochis, massages and hotels?!
I’m living the “broké”-bitch-life (abroad). A twenty something-year-old optimistic cynic, lover of new cultures and self-care addict, I’m here to teach you that “doing it all” (and then some) really is possible!
Get in Touch
I’m always looking for new ideas and suggestions for things to write about my trips, faves & business! Hit me up for collabs, content, questions & more.