Touring the White Temple in Chiang Mai, top Thailand travel experience
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Chiang Mai - Best Tours & Trips 2019

Surrounded by mountains, the ancient northern Thai city of Chiang Mai has long served as a peaceful and temperate getaway from Bangkok. Affectionately dubbed the “Rose of the North” for its flowers and foliage, it’s also a place to tour mountainside temples, visit the Thai hill tribes, pursue a range of outdoor activities, and sample unique regional cuisine.
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Travel Style Travel Style Relaxed A lot of free time, with very few inclusions. Ideal for independent and/or low-key travelers and cruisers.
Full on For those looking to maximize their sight seeing time. You thrive on a packed day’s schedule from 8 am to 6pm, with some (but limited) free time. Most activities and meals included.
Mixed You will have solid amounts of both free time and structured time with some activities and meals included.

Trip Type Trip Type Classic Tour Groups are between 25-60 people, typically ~30-40. Usually there will be many opportunities to split off and enjoy meals and excursions in smaller groups. This is the most economical way to travel, saving up to 40% versus booking the same itinerary yourself.
Small Group Guided Experiences Small groups are usually defined as between 10 and 24 travelers, often less. If you're the kind of person who enjoys more intimate experiences and personal service this is a good choice. All else being equal you will pay a premium for this style vs a larger group tour.
River Cruise These vessels are smaller than most ocean cruisers, limiting which amenties are available. Passenger counts can vary. One of the biggest advantages of a river cruise is the ability to dock at smaller ports and local villages.
Small Ocean Cruise Small ship cruises usually have a max passenger count of 500. The primary purpose of these trips is to spend time off the vessel in local ports (e.g. Mediterranean) or experiencing nature (e.g Galapagos or Antarctica). Cabins can vary from budget to luxury.
Private Tour Private tours give you the undivided attention of a guide, and often involve special access to sites and unique experiences not available to larger groups. This is a great option for families, couples, and small friend groups. Expect to pay a bit more for the extra service.
Independent Package A travel company plans your itinerary and arranges all the logistics including lodging, local activities, and transportantion. You have the flexibility of a solo trip while still getting the convience and time savings of expert planning. Get 90% of the benefits of a tour, without a guide.
Vacation / Holiday Package Similar to a self guided tour, this usually involves a home base, such as a hotel or resort, with packaged activities and day tours as a part of the stay.
Large Ocean Cruise This is the "floating city" experience, with multiple ways to enjoy your vacation aboard the ship as much as on land. Ships are multiple floors, provide several activities, culinary, and shopping options. They often make fewer stops and have less time available for shore excursions.

Itinerary Focus

Lodging Level Lodging Level Camping Typically involves most nights sleeping in tents (sometimes permanent tented sites) or in rustic cabins and lodges.
Basic - 2 star You'll stay in no-frills, but clean and comfortable, hotels or guesthouses. A 'Basic' trip might also involve a few nights of camping.
Value - 3 star Mid-range budget with accommodations ranging from comfortable lodges, guesthouses, and homestays to three star hotels.
Premium - 4 star 3 to 4 star western hotel equivalents. While not all lodging will be 'luxury' they will be quite comfortable by western standards.
Luxury - 5 star The highest level of comfort and service. All accomodations are in four or five star hotels, boutique lodges or high-end homestays.

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Physical Level Physical Level Very Easy Minimal walking - motor vehicles available for all major parts of trip.
Easy Normal generally flat walking in urban or suburban environments.
Moderate Walking or physical activity half to most of day - no carrying equipment.
Strenuous All or most of day hiking or biking, hills included.
Extreme Very challenging all day hiking and backpacking carrying significant equipment.

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Solo Friendly Solo Friendly Good for Singles Trips that specifically cater to travelers looking to meet other singles.
No Single Supplement Trips where single supplement is usually not required for solo travelers.

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Top Chiang Mai Experiences and Attractions

Top Chiang Mai Experiences

Climbing the steep cliffs of a mountain to reach the secluded Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, a golden Buddhist temple-monastery.

Spending an evening at Chiang Mai’s colorful Night Bazaar, shopping for local crafts and trying street food.

Going on a challenging but rewarding trek through the countryside, and spending your night with the Karen hill tribes in their rustic villages.

Enjoying and learning to cook traditional Thai food and make the regional specialty khao soi, a dish of noodles served in a delicious curry broth laced with hot chilis.

Getting soaked at the annual Songkran Water Festival during Thai New Year, and enjoying the celebrations without the tourist crowds of Bangkok.

Exploring the old walled city of Chiang Mai and its dozens of ruins of ancient wats (temples).

Volunteering at an elephant sanctuary and learning about these incredible creatures, and how they have lived in harmony (and in conflict) with humans in Thailand for centuries. You leaeve feeling rewarded, knowing visit will help support the conservation efforts of these incredible creatures!

Attending a fast paced Thai boxing match (Muay Thai) with locals, where competitors strike with feet as well as hands.


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Chiang Mai Trip Reviews

187 Chiang Mai Tour Reviews - Summary 99% Recommend

4.8 out of 5
Excellent 154
Great 32
Average 1
Disappointing 0
Terrible 0
Value
4.8
Guide
4.8
Activities
4.8
Lodging
4.8
Transportation
4.8
Meals
4.8

Tour Reviews Write a Review

Thailand

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 2.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 4.0

My boyfriend & I used Gate1 for our trip to Bangkok, Thailand and it was the smartest thing we could have done. We did not choice a tour guide or tours with the company, but we did realize on our next trip we will. But even though we did everything on our own, it was so extremely easy knowing they had all of our travels and hotel accommodations taken care of- after all those are the top two things everyone worries about when traveling.
We planning on using gate1 again, actually he wants to do a whole trip through Europe with the help of GATE1 travel.

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Operator Gate 1

My son and I had a wonderful experience with Hands Up Holidays

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

My son and I had a wonderful experience with Hands Up Holidays. We volunteered at the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, something we've dreamed of doing for a long time. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of Chris Hill, our dream was able to be realized. There were other parts of Thailand we wanted to explore as well, and Hands Up Holidays made all the arrangements, providing transportation and friendly, knowledgeable and experienced guides who promptly met us at the various airports we flew into. The hotels Chris booked for us far exceeded our expectations. Chris is so pleasant and worked with us every step of the way, quickly answering every question and concern and making sure every detail was taken care of. We were provided with all the information and phone numbers we needed to contact our local guides and everything went extremely smoothly from beginning to end. Chris even personally checked up on us at one point when my son was not feeling well. I would without hesitation recommend Chris and Hands Up Holidays for a volunteer experience of a lifetime!

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Operator Hands Up Holidays

Cycling In Laos

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

PtkkrBoth countries were great value.Laos is a country at the crossroads of
the direction it follows.The influence of China is self evident and sad.Im
grateful to see Laos as it is and not what it may become.
I think the Mekong River it was an incredible day finished by going to a huge
local wedding that night Also one of the group who overcame difficulties that
many people would not or could not.Always happy always supportive Made me
accept the need to succeed and work at finishing each day


They were what one would expect and did the job to a good level in both
countries Both guides were attentive and caring Thank you


Ride at your own pace and leave a little in reserve.If u like to descend at a
frantic pace allow a little caution potholes are a curse as are some of the
chinese trucks and cars not to mention odd domestic animals or small
children.Otherwise great fun


Be understanding that in some places facilities are basic and food as
well.This can vary greatly from day to day Laos is a great place accept it is
only opening up to our world slowly and it will be a great experience if one
enjoys the moment


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Operator Exodus Travels

Treasures of Thailand

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Loved the variety of activities! Learning to cook local dishes was great but a bit too long. The Thai massage was a different experience. The Palace and Wat Phra Kaew were amazing but I would recommend going earlier in the day to avoid Bangkok's heat. Loved the ruins of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai. We would gladly have traded Hellfire Pass for more time in either of those places.

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Operator Trafalgar

Excellent guide

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

Ketsara was an outstanding guide for our trip Nov 17-29. She worked to make sure that each individual had the experience heshe was looking for. When we expressed an interest in going to Jim Thompson House in Bangkok, she asked if anyone else was interested and took us on the ferry and skytrain on her time off. In Chiang Mai, she arranged for a minivan to take us and several others to a hilltribe village nearby. She went above and beyond in her attention to all members of the tour.

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Operator SmarTours

It was well organised, our tour host-

5.0
  • Value 5.0
  • Guide 5.0
  • Activities 5.0
  • Lodging 5.0
  • Transportation 5.0
  • Meals 5.0

It was well organised, our tour host- NOK was excellent and it was a wonderful holiday.

Read more
Operator Intrepid Travel

Chiang Mai Tours and Travel Guide

Chiang Mai Attractions & Landmarks Guide

The City of Chiang Mai

Surrounded by mountains, the ancient northern Thai city of Chiang Mai has long served as a temperate getaway from steaming Bangkok. Affectionately dubbed the “Rose of the North” for its flowers and foliage, it’s also a place to tour mountainside temples, visit hill tribes in nearby villages, pursue a range of outdoor activities, sample regional culinary specialties, and do most anything you can do in Bangkok, but on a smaller, more peaceful scale – making it a must-stop on most Thailand tours.

Mostly cut off from the rest of the world until a century ago, the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai – which dates from the 13th century – has retained a fair amount of its traditional charm, despite growing to a population of 170,000 and attracting tourists and expats for decades.

Western travelers have long regarded it as the “real Thailand,” -- though maybe a better way to put it is that Chiang Mai is a better reflection of what all of Thailand used to be. It’s a respite from the traffic, noise and bustle of Bangkok, but a much more authentic experience of a typical Thai person’s life than the beach resort areas of southern Thailand – and it’s still just as nice as those are!

Chiang Mai Cultural Tours

A cultural tour to Chiang Mai would be incomplete without a visit to the regional hill tribes. You can visit hill tribes in their villages in the Chiang Mai area, though be aware that many of the closest hill tribes are used to tourists and sometimes feel a little “less authentic” than the very remote ones.

However, these villagers are not putting on a show. They are true (and often government-protected) hill tribes, and no, the rings on their necks are not fake! These people (formally called the Kayan people) are discriminated against by the Thai government, and as a result are not allowed to take traditional jobs.

Whether or not you believe visiting the hill tribes is an ethical form of tourism, selling goods and taking photos with visitors is one of the few ways these people are able to make money.

Many men of the hill tribes work as mamouts (elephant handlers) at the nearby elephant sanctuary, so you will likely be greeted by the local women and children. They will be happy to show you the various aspects of how they live their life, and will likely be glad to sell you their crafts.

If you want to see a hill tribe that is totally unchanged by the tourist boom in Thailand, than you are better off arranging a trek of Thailand. In exploring Thailand’s more rural corners, you are likely ot have to have a homestay in one of these remote villages. However, you are also still likely to at least  fly into Chiang Mai and given time to experience the city.

Another activity on your cultural tour is almost certainly to visit the beautifully decorated Buddhist wats (temples) to your heart’s content. Other popular activities include to dine on a wide variety of Thai and Western foods, enjoy Thai massages or soaking in nearby hot springs, and patronize boxing matches and bazaars, all in a green, mountainous setting.

Visiting Chiang Mai Wats

Wats – Thai Buddhist temples – are prominent landmarks, many of them lavishly decorated and reflecting a variety of architectural styles. Of the 300 or so local temples, here are some of the most interesting to visit:

1. Wat Phrathat Doi SuthepThis 14th-century gold-plated temple-monastery, is perched on a mountaintop overlooking the city from several miles away. You can climb hundreds of steps to reach it, or take the easy route by road or cable car.

2. Wat Chiang ManThe old city of Chiang Mai, once entirely surrounded by walls (portions of which remain), harbors about 30 temples within walking distance of each other. Wat Chiang Man, dating from the late 13th century, features two Buddha statues said to be at least 1,800 years old, while Wat Phra Singh contains a number of invaluable ancient Buddhist artworks.

Visiting Chiang Mai's Hilltop Villages

While some are now tourist-oriented, hill tribe villages are still among Chiang Mai’s top attractions. You can shop, of course, for local crafts and trinkets, but you can also view authentic traditional dress and houses and even experience a homestay. Many village residents originally came from other countries such as Laos, Burma, and even Sri Lanka, forming an array of ethnicities.

Traditional Thai Cuisine in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s regional cuisine is somewhat different than you’d find in other parts of the country, with more influences from neighboring countries. This is most noticeable in the popular local specialty khao soi, a yellow wheat noodle soup employing a Burmese-style curry broth, often stocked with chicken or beef, and traditionally served with hot chilis, pickled vegetables, and crispy noodles sprinkled on top.

Other Things to See & Do in Chiang Mai

You can find plenty of relaxation at outlets offering traditional Thai massage for much less than you’d pay back home. And you can view traditional Thai dancing at evening dinner shows. (The dancing typically surpasses the food, but the graceful moves and lovely costumes make up for the culinary deficits.)

Muay Thai – Thai boxing – is on display at various arenas. Muay Thai competitors are lightning quick with both hands and feet, since they can land blows with both.

If you’re in Chiang Mai in mid-April, you won’t want to miss the Thai Water Festival (Songkran Festival), held to celebrate the Thai New Year. Since April is Thailand’s hottest month, it’s the perfect time to douse your fellow tour companions with buckets of water or spray them with water pistols. Year-round, though, you can soak in local hot springs or swim in a number of waterfalls – your guides will know their locations.

Chiang Mai’s mountainous surroundings are good for outdoor activities such as trekking and hiking, mountain biking, floating down rivers on bamboo rafts, hot air ballooning, and ziplining.


Top Chiang Mai Travel Companies

Things to Know Before You Go

Chiang Mai Weather

Unlike traditional weather patterns, Chiang Mai is a tropical climate and for that reasons it is generally considered to have three “seasons”: hot, cool, and rainy.

The cool season begins in December and continues until February. During this time temperatures generally average in the mid-80s, though it is recommended you pack a warmer layer for night, since the evenings can sometimes become a little chilly. The hot season begins in mid March and lasts until June.

During this time, the daily high can reach up to 104 degrees, and the humidity can also be at an all time high. In Bangkok, in particular, this weather can be unbearable -- though the more mountainous regions like Chiangmai still benefit from cooler evenings and generally cooler weather on average.

The rainy season also begins in June and lasts until the end of October. The weather is much more comfortable with temperature being on average in the high 80’s Fahrenheit during this time. However, it does rain everyday during this time, usually in the late afternoon. If you don’t mind a little rain, it usually only rains for about an hour or two.

While the cool season is usually considered the best time to visit, because it is the most comfortable weather, the rainy and hot seasons are the best time to find discounted travel. The rainy season in particular is a great time for an eco tour or to observe the jungle, as all the tropical foliage comes alive during this time.

Outdoor Excursions in Chiang Mai

  • ATV Tours. This activity, usually included in adventure tours of Chiang Mai, is one of the best ways to cover ground in the muddy and hilly terrain around Chiang Mai. Not only will the ride be thrilling and an exciting adventure activity, but you will also get a more comprehensive feel for the landscape, and see a lot more of the region.
  • Visit the Elephants. While elephant riding is usually best avoided and considered unethical, there are still many ways to interact with elephants and support their conservation in the Chiang Mai area. At these centers, one of which being the Elephant Nature Park, you will get ot meet, feed, and bathe rehabilitated elephants and learn why elephant riding is so detrimental.
  • River Activities. The Mae Tang river flows through the Chiang Mai area, and is a great way to see some of the area’s incredible scenery, as well as have a great time going whitewater rafting or kayaking. Be aware that the height of the river depends heavily on the time of year, however, so the best time to make a trip to the water is between mid-June until the end of January.
  • Trekking. The tropical and untouched mountains of the Chiang Mai area make it a great place to go on a day hike, or even a multi-day trek. It is recommended that you take a guided hike, as the majority of trails are unmarked and therefore hard to navigate on your own.  Another option is hiking Thailand’s third tallest mountain, Doi Luang Chiang.

Chiang Mai and other Countries

Even if you aren’t on a complete tour of Thailand, Chiang Mai might be an easy location for you to visit on your tour of Southeast Asia! It’s location nearby to Thailand’s borders with Laos and Myanmar make it easy (and worthwhile) to visit  if you are in either country. Here are some often wondered distances if you are thinking about crossing country lines to squeeze in this fantastic city on your Asian tour:

  • From Kuala Lumpur, a flight to Chiang Mai is just under 3 hours.
  • From Singapore, a flight to Chiang Mai is 3 hours.
  • From Vientiane (capital of Laos), a flight with a single transfer will take just under 3 hours.
  • From Yangdon (Myanmar), a flight will only take 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  • From Mandalay (Myanmar), the plane ride will take 1 hour and 25 minutes direct.

Within Thailand:

  • From Bangkok, a flight to Chiang Mai takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. Taking the 12 hour sleeper train ride is also popular amongst travelers who want to take in the scenic Thai countryside views. A bus ride between the two takes 9 to 12 hours.
  • From Phuket, a flight is two hours. A bus ride is much more arduous, although some travelers do take the 24 hour journey!

All Chiang Mai tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.8 for all Chiang Mai trips.

192 trips from 44 tour companies with 187 reviews

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