Reasons Why You Should Visit Chiang Mai Over Bangkok

Visit Chiang Mai to see the Doi Inthanon mountain, home to two spectacular chedis
Visit Chiang Mai to see the Doi Inthanon mountain, home to two spectacular chedis | © Noppasin Wongchum / Alamy Stock Photo
Kelly Iverson

Bangkok versus Chiang Mai: the competition is fierce. Each city brings something exciting to the table, so how are visitors to decide which is the best city in Thailand? While the Thai capital will always have a place in our hearts, here’s why you should visit Chiang Mai over Bangkok.

Discover Chiang Mai’s rich cultural heritage by joining Culture Trip’s epic 10-day Northern Thailand tour – led by our local insider.

The ancient Lanna Kingdom

Chiang Mai was at the centre of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, which spread across most of northern Thailand. Relics of this kingdom sprinkle the 700-year-old northern capital, including many temples. They are smaller than most temples in Bangkok, but are designed in a noteworthy Burmese style. One of the most remarkable is Doi Suthep, a Theravada Buddhist temple atop a mountain just outside the city centre.

The glittering Doi Suthep temple is one of the most eye-catching structures in Chiang Mai

It’s easier to navigate

Boat, bus, sky train, subway, motorbike, taxi, songthaew: there are many ways to get around Bangkok. But the Bangkok streets are also home to some of the worst traffic in the world. In Chiang Mai, however, it is easy for visitors to travel. Trucks with two benches, otherwise known as songthaews, circle the city centre, making it easy to jump on and off as you please. The light traffic also makes it less terrifying to rent a motorbike and zoom around.

Hop in a ‘songthaew’ for an easy way to get around Chiang Mai

The delicious vegan and vegetarian food

Though Bangkok continues to improve its selection of meat-free dining, you can’t walk far in Chiang Mai with stumbling across a vegetarian or vegan restaurant. And while these same restaurants in Bangkok can charge an obscene amount for a meat-free dish, the vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai are both affordable and delicious. The selection is incredible too, with restaurants serving a wide variety of soy and tofu products and a number of delicious faux-meat meals.

Vegetarian and vegan food is easy to find and cheap in Chiang Mai

It’s more affordable

Almost everything is at least a handful baht cheaper in Chiang Mai. A bed in a backpacker hostel should not cost more than a few hundred baht, and even the more luxurious hotels are not going to break the bank. Meals normally don’t cost more than 100 Thai baht (£2.23), and the nightlife in Chiang Mai is sure to leave you hungover but not broke.

The nightlife in Chiang Mai is exciting yet easy on the wallet

The weather

The capital city of Thailand has some of the hottest year-round temperatures in the world, according to the World Meteorological Society. The average winter in Bangkok averages 26C (79F). Chiang Mai, however, sits at a higher altitude than most cities in the country, meaning it’s less humid and feels cooler. Chiang Mai is still 25C (78F) on average, but the temperature can drop to 22C (72F) in the winter. Still hot, but not unbearable.

Chiang Mai sits at a higher altitude than Bangkok, meaning it’s less humid

There are day trips galore

While the capital has plenty of exciting excursions nearby, no other city in Thailand offers such a wide range of day trips as Chiang Mai. Because it sits in a valley surrounded by mountains and a river, there are plenty of outdoorsy and adventurous excursions from which to choose. White-water rafting, hiking, zip lining, trekking and rock climbing are just a few. If you’re looking for something more historical, opt for the three-hour journey to Chiang Rai, the old capital of the Mengrai Dynasty. It is well-known for the White Temple, or Wat Rong Khun. There are also a few elephant sanctuaries in the nearby mountainside that make for great day trips.

The Wat Rong Khun, also known as the White Temple, is just a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai

The immense greenery

Bangkok, though dotted with temples and other historic relics, continues to modernise, allowing little room for greenery. Chiang Mai, on the other hand, is surrounded by mountainous terrain, which makes a lovely backdrop. The canals and Lanna ruins make the city feel unlike a city at all. And if you’re looking to escape the urban jungle, venture into the neighbouring mountains.

The jungle around Chiang Mai makes for an excellent natural getaway

The wildlife

Tourists will be hard-pressed to find much wildlife in Bangkok. The capital leaves little room for anything but people and cars, unless you count finding a jing jok (gecko) in the bathroom or a monitor lizard at Lumphini Park. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Chiang Mai, where the centre and outskirts are home to many animal species.

One of the top attractions in Chiang Mai is the Night Safari. There are also other excursions that promise wildlife encounters, such as Flight of the Gibbon, a zip-line tour in which the chances of spotting one of these forest-dwelling creatures is high. Visiting an elephant sanctuary is another way to get up close with the national animal. Pick a trustworthy company that does not allow riding the elephants, such as the Elephant Nature Park.

Head to Elephant Nature Park for an ethical way to see the national animal of Thailand

The hipster vibe

Bangkok has luxurious shopping, fine dining and sky bars. In contrast, Chiang Mai is more down-to-earth. A hipster, laid-back vibe permeates throughout, from quaint cafes to second-hand shops and more. Chilling out is easy here.

There’s a certain hippie vibe to Chiang Mai that many travellers will adore

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article