Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai holiday highlights

With over 300 wats (temples) inside the city and surrounding countryside there’s plenty of beautiful architecture. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most famous of Chiang Mai’s temples and Wat Phra Singh, inside the old city, one of the most beautiful, featuring pretty pagodas and iconic Lanna-style roofs. Just outside Chiang Rai town, Wat Rong Khun has been built entirely in white, with pieces of glass in the plaster that glint in the sunlight. At some temples it’s possible to arrange Monk Chat for a one-on-one unique conversation.

Shopping in Chiang Mai is a thrill for the senses and the Sunday market, night markets and Night Bazaar are all part of the experience. Expect handmade gifts and souvenirs, northern delicacies and a buzzing street food scene. For a slice of Chiang Mai ‘cool’ there are the stylish coffee houses, high-end bars and designer shops along Nimmanhaemin Road.

Visit the ‘roof of Thailand,’ Doi Inthanon National Park and extraordinary hill tribes including the Long Neck Karen. Playing an important role in local economy, tribespeople like the Karen, Lahu and Akha raise funds for the reduction of opium cultivation by showcasing their exceptional embroidery skills, while Meo tribes provide visitors with fascinating tours around their villages for a true insight into hill tribe culture.

Where is Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai?
In northern Thailand in a valley surrounded by mountains, Chang Mai is an ancient riverside city bordered by national parks and Burma (Myanmar) to the west. Chiang Rai is the northernmost city in Thailand and stands as the gateway to South-east Asia’s Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar) meet.

Getting around
Although travelling around northern Thailand is best done by private car, more traditional modes of transport are cost effective, quick and exhilarating. Taxis are a rarity but rickshaw-style samlors, converted pickup truck songtaews and tuk-tuks are readily available. As with everywhere in Thailand, negotiate rates before travelling to avoid any surprise charges.

Shopping
There’s a great shopping scene in Chiang Mai found in the local villages, contemporary concept stores and night markets. Renowned for weekend markets and the Night Bazaar you’ll find beautiful handmade products from artisanal vendors. Chiang Mai’s Saturday night market is on Wua Lai Road and the Sunday Market starts at Thapae Gate. Nimmanhaemin Road is home to independent boutiques selling everything from beautiful clothes to handmade jewellery and Thai cookbooks to bamboo furniture. Pick up Thai silk, teak wood, Burmese lacquerware, Lanna-style homeware and pretty Sa paper umbrellas.

Food & drink
The heady scent of lemongrass and ginger, grilled steak and oysters and spices… food in Chiang Mai is outstanding. Expect both mild and hot flavours and salty and sour seasonings whether it’s one-plate local street food or al fresco gourmet dining. Local specialities include fragrant but subtle dishes such as coconut and curry soup khao soi and north east Thai barbecue chicken dish kai yang. We recommend trying Northern Thailand’s typical dishes, as they are notoriously hard to find outside the region. The street food scene is huge but you’ll also find beautiful waterfall cafés, floating restaurants, Japanese riverside picnicking and al fresco dining overlooking the River Ping. We recommend booking a day at a Thai cookery school where you’ll go with your professional chef to the local market or farm to pick up fresh ingredients for a day of learning, cooking and tasting.

Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai key facts

Time difference

GMT +7 hours

Currency

Baht

Flying time to destination

11½ hours

Language

Thai

Passport & visas

•   You need a full EU 10-year passport. We recommend that the expiry date is at least six months after your arrival back in the UK.
•   You only need a visa if you’re staying longer than 30 days (29 nights), and you can get one from the Thai Embassy.

Getting around

Take a three-wheeled tuk tuk or bicycle rickshaw - but negotiate the fare before getting in.

Getting there

Take a three-wheeled tuk tuk or bicycle rickshaw - but negotiate the fare before getting in.

Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai good to know

Etiquette

Dialling code
+66 53

Religion
Theravada Buddhism. Minority religions include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism.

Etiquette
• Thais revere their royal family, so never express disregard for it.
• Outward expressions of anger are regarded as crude and boorish.
• Each Buddha image - large or small, ruined or not - is considered sacred. Never climb onto one to take a photograph or do anything that might show lack of respect.
• Public displays of affection between couples are frowned upon. Westernised Thai couples may hold hands but that’s as far as it goes in polite society.
• It is considered rude to point your foot at a person or object.
• Never pat a Thai on the head – they see it as the highest part of the body, both literally and figuratively.

Health and vaccinations

No vaccinations are compulsory but some are recommended. For more detailed and up-to-date information, contact your GP or a specialised vaccination centre.

Tipping

Tip porters and hotel staff if you’re happy with their service. If a service charge isn’t added to your restaurant bill, tip 10-15%.

What to wear

•   Dress neatly in all religious shrines - never go shirtless or in shorts
•   Take off your shoes when entering private Thai homes, chapels that house Buddhist images, and mosques.