Let’s be brutally honest: it’s not easy to plan a trip out of thin air. The idea of visiting a new destination is appealing, but the time needed to research is painful if you don’t know where to start.
Imagine a place where you can get relevant travel information and your personal questions answered by local experts. That’s Trippy!
I used Trippy to plan my trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand. In my original Thailand trip itinerary, Chiang Mai wasn’t in the plan; only Bangkok. But after reading some of the answers given by Trippy members on how they had enjoyed their stay in Chiang Mai and why one shouldn’t miss the city, I was sold.
Here were a few questions I had before the trip:
- Should we fly, take the train, the bus or hire a private driver from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?
- Where is the best place to stay?
- What are some things to do during our 3-night trip?
- Food Recommendations: Where and what to eat?
I found most of the answers through Trippy. Here they are:
How to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok
Traveling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was our group of six. Our aim was to see the countryside and to do things at our pace. We had four options:
1. Plane – it takes one hour 13 minutes to fly, and there are plenty of flights per day between both cities.
2. Train – overnight trains take around 12 hours. Train runs every day, and there are different class categories. The best are the sleepers.
Here are two opinions from Trippy members about train travel in Thailand.
Stephen “Sven” Minor from Florida said:
Nobody in Thailand takes the train. Only the super poor. Most places are accessible by bus or airplane. The train is very dangerous to take and is not recommended.
Beg to differ. Thailand is well connected by train and locals do take them. In fact, I had the best exposure to Thai rural life when traveling by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and Nong Khai (to Laos). The trains are super comfi if you take the AC coupes, and its quite relaxing. I’d recommend it any day! Hear it from an expert here.
Phil Duncan from Seattle said:
You don’t need to book in advanced, you will see hundreds of places to book the train and every hotel will have a travel agent to book through and get you picked up etc. Very easy and you don’t have to prebook.
3. Bus – buses are the cheapest way to travel in Thailand. Most long distance buses are air-conditioned and have reclining seats.
Through my research, I found that looking for the right bus company is not an easy task. I could hire a travel agent to get me bus tickets, but that wouldn’t work to my advantage as the tickets could end up more expensive than flying. I don’t recommend this mode of transportation unless you know someone in Bangkok who can guide you in purchasing the bus tickets or if you are on a tight budget and don’t mind the hassle.
Sarah Goth from Milwaukee said:
4. Car – It is possible to drive from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, however, driving is not for the faint of heart. Thais drive on the left side of the road, like Malaysia and Singapore. Before you decide to drive in Thailand here are three things to consider:
- Contact the rental car company and ask about the updated rules and regulations for drivers with foreign driver’s license
- Check out Trippy’s Bangkok to Chiang Mai road trip planner
- Are you able to take on the challenges of driving on the jam-packed roads of one of the most dangerous countries to drive?
If you don’t want to drive yourself, but still want to go on a road trip, I would suggest hiring a private driver. We did just that. We hired a trusted private driver with a 12-seater van. Hiring a driver isn’t cheap because you need to include the costs of driving fees, gas, tolls, hotels and meals.
The advantages of taking a road trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are
- Flexibility – start and end the trip whenever you like
- Freedom – stop wherever you like
- Have your own driver and vehicle when in Chiang Mai
The rest stops between Bangkok, and Chiang Mai were standardized and each of these stops was equipped with
- A gas station
- Clean but often squat toilets for men and women
- A Seven Eleven convenient store
- An Amazon cafe offering a variety of coffee, free Wi-Fi and air-conditioned seats (limited seats)
- Local food stalls selling noodles and rice
- Vendors selling souvenirs
Where to stay?
We were mainly interested in the Old City and were able to glean from the answers provided by Trippy members on where to stay in the Old City:
- Jan Sysala recommended Huaykaew Residence
- Nam Onrit from Bangkok recommended 99 Gallery, Rachamankha, and De Lanna Hotel
- Rob McQueen from Los Angeles stayed at Tha Phae Place Hotel
- Doyen Pham from Hoi An said Top Garden Boutique Guesthouse is the best for backpackers
- Valerie Veenvliet stayed in Smile House Guesthouse and liked it.
- Immi and Greg from Germany stayed in Green Tiger Vegetarian House run by a German-speaking expat and his wife. It’s suitable for vegetarians.
After looking at all the recommendations, we chose Saeng Panya Home, located only half a mile from Chang Puak Gate Market and the Old Gate. Saeng Panya Home – Boutique Residence offers free transfer from the airport, free breakfast and bottled water. I recommend it to anyone looking for a small, family-style accommodation at an affordable price. The rooms were air-conditioned, quiet and clean.
Things to do for three days in Chiang Mai
Trippy member, Michelle Halpern from Los Angeles had the same question I did:
Best things to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days?
We followed the recommendations given by Trippy members for Michelle and also discovered a few more things to do while we were there. Our group member’s interests varied, but we agreed on trying street foods, exploring northern Thai food and culture, visiting an elephant sanctuary and at least one temple (wat).
1. Visit a night market
Visit Wualai Road Saturday Night Market. I discovered that prices for Thai souvenirs were lower in this night market than those in the markets in Bangkok. There was a 50 baht difference for the same scarf.
2. Elephant Conservation Center
We visited the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang on our way back to Bangkok. The driver dropped us off at the ticket counter, and tickets to enter the conservation center were 20 baht per person. All we did was to see elephants bathing (9:40 a.m. and 1:10 p.m. only). This elephant sanctuary was recommended by Andrea Sexton Chinalai from Brooklyn.
3. Explore Doi Suthep
Diana Lauren said:
You should also check out Doi Suthep. It is the peak north of town and is home to a spectacular temple. Head up early to beat the crowds and get a gorgeous view of the city.
Depending on the day of the week you are visiting, there are two famous markets — the Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets. Shop here for handmade home goods, art and more, plus cheap massages and eats.
If you want some street food, go to Chiang Mai Gate.
Michelle Halpern was able to share her experiences after her return from Chiang Mai. She said:
Chiang Mai: My FAVORITE place in Thailand. In just three days we: visited Doi Suthep temple (a must), Palad Temple (gorgeous and not touristy), an orchid/butterfly farm, the Tiger Kingdom, went bamboo rafting, did a waterfall/hiking trek, saw a lady boy show aka the Chiang Mai Cabaret Show, went to the Sunday night markets (the best one all week so try to go during the weekend), got thai massages ($4 US for 1 hour), visited a silk factory, shopped at the Gem Gallery (the largest jewelry store in the world), took a cooking class with BaanThai Cookery School (so fun!),
AND rode elephants. We had 3 days, but I would have spent 5 at least if possible. If you do one thing only, definitely see the elephants. It was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. There are MANY places you can do this, but many are very touristy and/or super expensive. Our tour guide brought us to a small family owned place called “Elephant Home” in Keang Kued Village that cost us about $40 US and we had an intimate experience that was not crowded or touristy at all. Highly recommend. Let me know if you want the contact info for our tour guide/driver — he took us everywhere and was so sweet, accommodating and helpful (and only cost us about $20 per person/per day). SO worth it. Let me know if any of the above sounds interesting and if you want more details! It’s my favorite place in the world so far 🙂
4. Visit a local market
We stumbled onto Thanin Market, about 15 minutes from Saeng Panya Home (our hotel). It was an eye-opening experience as we walked through stalls selling Thai snack foods, fruits, and vegetables, cooked foods and juices. Thanin Market is connected to an open-air food court which serves the full spectrum of Thai cuisine including duck meat noodles.
Saeng Panya Home’s owner brought us to Muang Mai Market where the locals go for fresh fruits and vegetables.
5. Northern Thai cuisine and cultural dance
We booked the khantoke dinner and cultural dance at Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center a day in advance. During reservation, guests had a choice of table seating or floor seats. We chose the floor and had no regrets.
The Khantoke dinner is a northern Thai dinner. Our food came on two large round pedestal trays. The price of $20 per person included the traditional dinner followed by a one-hour cultural show. Drinks were extra. Coffee or tea was included.
Places to eat
Trippy member Nancie M from Nova Scotia recommended:
Great food at the Sunday Chiang Mai Walking Street in the old city. My favorite area is just off the main street. I think it’s the right after the little shopping mall. I’ve had some great noodles there, and someone sells local wine. Walk up the main street, and on your right in front of a temple (that has an awesome Sunday food court) you’ll find the best mango and sticky rice that I have ever eaten.
The area around Warorot Market in Chinatown also has some great street food. Walking Street is good on Saturday night, too. There’s a large outdoor eatery at Chiang Mai Gate. I recommend the smoothies. I think the lady’s name is Mrs. Pa (that’s a guess!)
I believe the large outdoor eatery at Chiang Mai Gate mentioned by Nancie M is called the Chang Puak Gate night market (Chiang Mai north gate). It is one of the best food markets in Chiang Mai. The owner of Saeng Pang Home highly recommended it. In fact, he brought us there a few hours after our arrival.
He said we had to try the pork served by the cowboy hat lady, affectionally dubbed by some tourists as the “cowboy hat cook.” When we arrived, cowboy hat cook was busy preparing her khao kha mu (stewed pork knuckles). Each khao kha mu dish came with the pork, pickled vegetables and a hard-boiled egg over rice. Next to her was a pad thai seller and a juice stand.
I’m a big fan of the Thanin Market food market and would recommend it if you are in the Old City.
For upscale dining, bars and chic coffee shops go to Nimmanahaeminda Road (known as the coffee street). Nam Omrit from Bangkok commented on Chiang Mai’s coffee shops:
Chiang Mai is the progressive coffee culture, forget Starbuck, then go coffee houses hopping around the city. They have picked, roasted and brewed the coffee by themselves. Local coffee beans are interesting.
I recommend Aka Ama, Ponganes, Graph Cafe, Ristresto and Pacamara. Northern cuisine is a must too. Cost of travelling to the North is cheaper than the South. Throughout Chiang Mai offers you all range of accommodations where you pay less.
Claude Amouyal from France recommended:
Three restaurants along the Ping River excellent with a very good entertainment ,music, dance…:
Riverside Bar & Restaurant , The Good View and The Gallery Restaurant
The trip was successful, and thanks to Trippy planning was easy. Have you tried using Trippy? Do you have any questions about the country you are traveling to next?
See you there!
Article and photos by Claudia Looi