Our Chiang-Mai-Family-Travel Guide
We watched in awe as thousands of lanterns floated into the night sky forming a trail of tiny lights that drifted gently into the distance.
As New Year’s celebrations got underway we couldn’t believe we’d been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for over two months already and were not about to leave any time soon.
Lantern Launch On New Years Eve
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city after Bangkok.
It lies in the North West corner of the beautiful country of Thailand, amongst the hills and forests.
Toward the end of October 2016, we left our amazing China adventure and headed for Thailand.
After a few days sightseeing in Bangkok, we boarded an overnight train for Chiang Mai with no idea what to expect.
Aboard The Overnight Train To Chiang Mai
We’d booked into a small hotel for a few days to see if we liked Chiang Mai.
Arriving at the railway station we then piled into a tuk-tuk for the short ride into the centre of town.
Even though Chiang Mai is a huge city it feels quite small.
It doesn’t have any of the high rise buildings, like other cities so it feels more town like.
The modern city is built around the outside of the Old City walls.
Our first impression was not very good and we were actually thinking about leaving after a few days.
I think what we did was walk out into the newer parts of town first, which didn’t give us a good view of the city.
Once we started to explore the Old City we got a much different view and feel and decided to stay longer.
After looking around for more accommodation for a longer stay we found a lovely little nine-room boutique hotel just outside the Old City gates.
It had only just opened and the lady owner had decorated it really nicely.
She was open to giving us a great deal on a monthly rental for one room that could accommodate all three of us so we moved in and had our pick of rooms.
Our Room At The Rinn Boutique Hotel, Chiang Mai
It was Halloween a week after we moved into the hotel.
Annabel really wanted to celebrate Halloween, so we managed to get some decorations and candy.
She left her pumpkin basket outside of our hotel room and low and behold it had some sweet treats in, come morning.
The hotel staff had been really kind and entered into the spirit of Halloween and Annabel was so happy.
Halloween In Chiang Mai
Thailand is known as the land of smiles, and it is definitely a friendly place to spend time.
People are ready to help and keen to chat even when English is not their first language.
Our main reason for visiting Chiang Mai was to attend the Loi Krathong Festival which is a Siamese festival celebrated throughout Thailand.
Loi Krathong translates into “to float a basket” and refers to the tradition of floating decorated baskets down the river.
You can read more about our experience of attending Loi Krathong and other Chiang Mai festivals here.
It’s an amazing experience to see thousands of floating candles floating down the river, as well as lanterns drifting up into the night sky.
It also brings thousands of people to Chiang Mai to celebrate, so it was very crowded.
Loi Krathong Lantern Festival
Our Krathong Before We launched It Down The River
Chiang Mai is a big hub for travelling families, and we were able to meet up with a few of them on many occasions for some fun.
Believe it or not, there is a great ice rink called Sub Zero in one of the shopping malls on the edge of town, so we made sure we arranged a family day out there for Annabel to get to know some of the other children in town.
We also met with other families to have meals out and play dates at other families apartments.
It’s nice to get to know other families, and especially good for Annabel to gain new friends, and have time to socialise.
Meeting With Other Travelling Families
One of the things we love most about Thailand is the Buddhist way of life.
It’s a really good way to live and attitude to have towards life and means that the overall vibe in Thailand is one of friendliness and compassion.
Chiang Mai has over three hundred temples and you can read about our favourites here.
Some are simple but others are very ornate and beautiful to visit and spend some time just contemplating and slowing down.
Sometimes we might be lucky to visit while a service was in full flow, with monks chanting and candles lit.
We were lucky enough to go to a monk chat, where we were able to sit down with three young monks and talk about their life and the Buddhist beliefs.
It was so interesting to get such an in-depth insight into the life of a monk.
Getting An Insight Into The Life Of The Buddhist Monks
Slowly but surely we started to fall in love with Chiang Mai and its people.
We find that when we stay more time in a destination, we make connections with people that can lead to all sorts of adventures and opportunities.
Chiang Mai seemed to be a place of connections, from meeting and making friends with other families, to connecting with local people.
A friend of ours was also in Chiang Mai at the same time as us and introduced us to her group of friends, who in turn connected us to her Thai friends, which led to all sorts of things happening for us.
We were invited to our first ever Thanksgiving Dinner in Chiang Mai, which we absolutely loved and allowed us to meet more people who are now good friends too.
Through those connections, we got invited to help assist on an English Camp for teenagers, which was a real challenge for us but we loved every minute of it.
And then a head teacher from the school, that the students came to the English camp from invited us to go to her school, and give a talk about our travels.
So it just shows how a connection can lead to possibility and opportunity.
We Had Great Fun Helping Out At An English Camp For Teenagers
The only downside to staying in Thailand for any length of time is the visa situation.
As UK citizens we received a thirty-day visa exemption, which can be extended by another thirty days, but we needed to leave the country to start the process again.
Leaving a country in order to return and reset a visa is called a visa run, and we decided to do our first visa run to Hong Kong.
It actually coincided with Annabel’s birthday, so after a little research and discovering that Hong Kong has a Disneyland, we thought we’d set up a big surprise for her.
Chiang Mai has its own airport right near town so we booked a very early flight out.
We arranged a pick up through our hotel, and at about 4 am a large pickup truck arrived and we threw our bags in the back and set off.
Our trip lasted a couple of days and we had a really magical time, which you can read about here as well as how to visit Hong Kong Disneyland and our top tips.
Meeting The Gang At Disneyland Hong Kong
Although we had gone to Hong Kong Disneyland for Annabel’s birthday, her actual birthday was on the day we arrived back in Chiang Mai, so we had little celebration dinner and brought lemon curd pie, to take back to the hotel.
The hotel staff and owner were so kind and had brought Annabel some gifts for her birthday.
Birthday Gifts From The Hotel Staff
Chiang Mai is a really popular destination for digital nomads to live and work in, so there are lots of co-working spaces in town.
One of the biggest and best places to work or just hang out is CAMP, in the Maya Mall to the North West of the Old City.
The wifi there is pretty amazing with really fast download and upload speeds.
CAMP Co Working Space In Maya Mall
In the days before Christmas, we were invited to go to Chiang Dao to volunteer at the preschool.
Annabel had the lovely idea of making an advent gift box, so we bought 25 small gifts to give to the children at the school.
We had the most amazing time with all the children, getting to play with them and help out the staff at lunchtime.
It was hard to leave all the children as they were all so friendly and cute.
Volunteering At The Preschool In Chiang Dao
Christmas in a SE Asian country was going to be very different from our normal festivities in the UK.
But what would Christmas and New Year be like in Chiang Mai?
Well we ended up having a brilliant time and you can read about what we did and how we did it here
Christmas Day Dinner In Chiang Mai
There always seems to be one festival or another going on in Chiang Mai.
The New Year bought a huge flower festival to Chiang Mai’s Buak Hat Park, with huge colourful displays of flowers and music and dancing on a stage area.
We saw so many festivals in Chiang Mai, so we’ve written all about them here.
Chiang Mai Flower Show In Buak Hat Park
There is just so much to do in Chiang Mai especially because we were there for so long that we can’t do it justice in one post, so to find out more about what there is to do in Chiang Mai, read this
There’s so much to love about Chiang Mai.
The Sign Says It All Really
When it came time to move on from Chiang Mai, we were all really sad to leave.
Staying in destinations allows us to really get under the skin of a place, and make connections that we wouldn’t usually be able to make staying for shorter periods of time.
It means we actually get to live in a place rather than just visit it, and that means that we get to know the local people, like the guy who we took our laundry to, the lady who owned the chicken and rice stall, the staff of the cafe we ate in, frequently or the lady on the desk at our hotel.
People get to know us, they recognise us and start up conversations.
When we visited our local Cafe de Thaan Aoan for the last time, the staff gave us a lovely card signed by them all, as well as a nice journal and a free meal.
As leaving gifts, the hotel gave us doughnuts and Annabel received a cuddly toy as well as traditional handmade flower arrangements for the three of us.
The Lovely Staff And Owners At Cafe de Thaan
We grew to love Chiang Mai.
It takes a while to get to know a place properly, and make connections with people, but once we did we really enjoyed our time there and it was hard to leave.
The Thai people are very friendly, gentle and seem very genuine.
Chiang Mai has so much to offer with all of its culture, Buddhist temples, cafes, shops, shopping malls, cinemas and restaurants.
It has a great mix of things that very few cities have.
Monks In Prayer At A Chiang Mai Temple
The Nitty Gritty
How To Get To Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has its own international airport where flights from all over SE Asia arrive, but if you’re flying in from Europe you’re more likely to arrive at Bangkok Airport.
From Bangkok, you can get a flight or catch the train to Chiang Mai.
Catching the overnight train from Bangkok is a great adventure and budget friendly.
You can also travel by train from as far afield as Singapore or China ( with some bus transfers too) or even all the way from Europe.
Laos has border crossing points into Thailand and then onward travel by train, bus or minivan to Chiang Mai.
Aboard The Overnight Train From Bangkok To Chiang Mai
How To Get Around Chiang Mai
The centre of Chiang Mai is very walkable especially around the Old City but if you want to get a bit further afield there are plenty of options.
Songthaews are the red trucks that drive around Chiang Mai.
They are cheaper than taxis and Tuk Tuks but they may be carrying a few people and sometimes you have to wait a while for everyone to be dropped off.
Basically, they drive around, picking people up and then they decide on the best route to their customer’s destinations.
If you see a Songthaew approaching along the road, just wave it down and hopefully, the driver will pull over.
Tell them where you want to go and they will either agree or if it’s not convenient for them they say so.
Don’t ask the cost as they might say some astronomical price (when we were there in 2016, the general rule was 20 baht around town but this may have gone up since).
Get in the back ( which has simple benches down each side of the truck ).
When the driver arrives at your destination, they’ll pull over and you get out and go to the cab to pay the driver.
It’s a great way of meeting people too.
I once had a brilliant conversation with a Buddhist monk in a songthaew.
Lots of tuk-tuks carry people all over Chiang Mai.
Generally, they’ll be more expensive then riding in the shared songthaews but it may be quicker if you’re in a hurry.
Tuk-tuks are fun to ride in as they wind their way in and out of the traffic but just make sure you hang on tight as they can travel quite fast.
Make sure you agree on a price with the driver before getting into the tuk-tuk, as they might try to charge you way too much otherwise.
We found that the tuk-tuk experiences are much more pleasant than we’d had in Bangkok, and there aren’t as many scams that go on as in the capital city.
Recently there’s been a new bus line introduced to Chiang Mai.
The RTC Chiang Mai bus has a flat fare of 20 baht.
One Of Chiang Mai’s Distinctive Red Truck Songthaews
Where To Stay
There are so many options for places to stay in Chiang Mai from hostels to upmarket hotels.
It’s possible to get reasonably priced accommodation all over the city.
We liked being, in or close to the Old City, as it was our favourite place to walk around.
Lots of digital nomads like to stay in the Ninman area North West of the Old City, as there are lots of modern cafes and restaurants there and it’s close to the Maya Mall CAMP Co-Working space.
For longer stays, it’s possible to get good deals on monthly rates at some of the apartment complexes around the city.
We stayed at the Rinn Boutique Hotel who gave us a great monthly rate on a room.
It’s near to the Chiang Mai gate of the Old City which is located to the South of the Old City
They have free wi-fi and free bicycles for guests to use.
The Rinn Boutique Hotel, Chiang Mai
Where To Eat
Chiang Mai is a foodies heaven with so many places to eat.
You can eat very cheaply or spend a small fortune on food, from eating yummy street food to visiting the top hotel restaurants.
Eating in Chiang Mai is all about being adventurous and trying new and maybe exotic foods.
A Pad Thai Stall In Chiang Mai
We may have been sad to leave Chiang Mai but more adventures were just around the corner including.