Chiang Mai is often referred to as the cultural capital of Thailand. It was actually the old capital of Siam way back when. It is in northern Thailand so the climate is slightly cooler than Bangkok and everything appears more….well… old.
After a very short flight from Bangkok (save your time and skip the train), we arrived in Chiang Mai. The drive to the hotel was over in 15minutes and there was no traffic. We were thinking “where the hell are we and why did we come here?”.
We stayed at the 3 star Centara Duangtawan Hotel which I can’t really fault. The hotel was clean, the rooms were huge but the decor just felt dated. So dated compared to the ultra-modern hotel in Bangkok. We were on the Dynasty Club floor which had a couple of perks like a free tea time and free drinks at certain times but it was always empty.
The decor reminded me of the old TV series, Dallas. Way too American and way too 80’s.
The location of the hotel is perfect though. It is just a few steps away from the night market. Its a great mid-range option but there are more modern hotels around.
After nightfall we were starting to get hungry. “What the hell are we going to eat, we are in the middle of nowhere?” So we took a walk outside and were shocked. The sleepy town of Chiang Mai comes to life at night. Every freaking night! The streets light up with stalls as far as the eye can see and the tourists come out to play (and drink their Chang).
Chiang Mai is actually a really fun city when the sun goes down. Where everyone is during the day I can only guess. There are Halaal restaurants everywhere which is great. I could finally taste the authentic Thai food like papaya salad (which I hated) and Pad Thai (tasted great) and there is an abundance of Indian and Pakistani joints if you have the craving.
I wish someone had told us that on the first night. We were starving and decided to go hunting for food. The only Halaal place we found was some dodgy stalls opposite the mosque. Everyone is always raving about the Thai street food. They clearly did not taste the food at this place. Hygiene was clearly not a priority. I’m lucky Chiang Mai belly didn’t put me out for the rest of the trip. We were obviously too far down the road.
Shopping: Chiang Mai has similar products to Bangkok but just on a much smaller scale. The stall owners are willing to negotiate but remember that their starting price is usually double of what they are willing to sell it for. There are more crafts like the beautiful handcrafted soaps which are great as gifts. Prices are generally more expensive than Bangkok but cheaper than Phuket. Remember that fake MAC makeup sucks no matter where you get it from.
Time needed: If you are not visiting Chiang Rai and the surrounding areas then I would recommend that 3 nights is sufficient for Chiang Mai.