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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in chiang mai
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Chiang Mai (?????????) is the gateway to Northern Thailand. With a population of over 200,000 and growing, Chiang Mai is Thailand's largest city after Bangkok. With a cosmopolitan air and a significant expat population, it's much greener and quieter than Bangkok, factors which have led many Thai visitors from Bangkok to settle permanently in this "Rose of the North". Located on a plain surrounded by mountains, the peak of Doi Suthep looms just 13 kilometers away and looks over the city and surrounding lush countryside.
Amidst the rolling foot hills of the Himalayan Mountains some 800 kilometers north of Bangkok is the culturally rich city of Chiang Mai, the longest continuously lived in settlement from the ancient days of Siam. Founded in 1296 AD it was isolated from Bangkok and could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant back trip until the 1920's. Such isolation has helped keep Chiang Mai's distinctive charm intact up to the present day.
Inside Chiang Mai's remaining city wall are more then 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality in 1296. Doi Suthep temple which is on the mountaintop at 3500 feet above and overlooking the city is a shrine to both Thai and foreign visitors. These Temples are a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan, and Lanna Thai styles decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree.
Chiang Mai's historical center is the walled city (chiang in Thai, hence Chiang Mai "New Walled City"). Sections of the wall remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains. Modern-day Chiang Mai has expanded in all directions, but particularly to the east towards the Ping River (Mae Nam Ping), where you'll find Thanon Chang Khlan, the famous Night Bazaar and the bulk of Chiang Mai's hotels and guesthouses. The locals have a saying that you have not experienced Chiang Mai unless you have seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of Kao Soi and purchased an umbrella from Bo Song.
Chiang Mai International Airport (http://www.airportthai.co.th/airportnew/chmai/html/) (CNX) connects to most Thai cities of importance and receives some international flights from countries in the region as well. The route from Bangkok is among the most heavily traveled in the country: Thai Airways International flies daily almost every hour with many additional flights in the peak tourist season. Other airlines serving Chiang Mai include;
Prices very greatly between airlines with Air Asia and Tiger Airways being the cheapest. A one-way flight from Bangkok will set you back 500-2000B.
The airport is some 3 km southwest of the city center, only 10-15 minutes away by car. Legal airport taxis charge a flat 140B for up to 5 passengers anywhere in the city; If you take a Metered taxi the price will be under 100 baht. The taxis are located at the exit on the north end of the terminal. After baggage claim and/or customs walk into the reception hall and turn left. Alternatively, charter a tuk-tuk or songthaew for 50-60 B. Most hotels and guesthouses offer cheap or free pick-up/drop-off services.
Buses to Chiang Mai leave from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit). The cheapest, non-air-con, stop-everywhere government buses start at 200B and 12 hours, with rates climbing up to 625B non-stop VIP 24-seaters that manage the trip in 9 on a good day. Chiang Mai also has bus connections practically everywhere in the North. For the VIP bus make sure you are clean and dress nicely when taking the bus. If not they will put you in the back of the bus next to the toilet.
Various rapid, express and sleeper services leave from Hualamphong, taking 11+ hours for the trip. The evening trains have air conditioned and non air conditioned berths in the second class cars. Private first class is available with two berths in each cabin on the evening trains. The day trains have only second and third class with no sleeping berths. The Sprinter train is second class only with no sleeping berths. The second class overnight train is very popular as it is safe, comfortable and fun. Those who do not wish to share a crowded bathroom should select first class. In first class the attendent cleans the bathrooms very often. Between the months of November and March you should purchase you tickets early. Tickets can be purchased up to 60 days in advance. Check here for train timetables and prices. (http://www.railway.co.th/timetable/N_N.html)
Chiang Mai's now has a new large air conditioned bus service. You can see these nice air condutioned white buses all over the major city routes. There are also pedicabs called samlor, the 3-wheeled tuktuk and the most popular, the songthaew.
The most common way to get around Chiang Mai is by songthaew. These are covered pick-up trucks with two benches in the back, and indeed the name means "two benches" in Thai. You will see them everywhere, and it's easy to get them to pick you up. All you need to do is to put your arm out and look at the driver, and they will stop. Then tell the driver which street you want to go to, and if he is going that way, he will shake his head "yes"; if not, he will say "no" and go on. Don?t worry?there will be another one right behind him. When the driver turns down the street you want, start looking for where you want to get off and press the switch located on the roof of the cab. The driver will pull over, let you out, and then you pay him. The fare should be 20 Thai baht or less (around 50 cents). If you tell the driver a hotel or establishment, he will think you want to hire him for a private trip, and the price will be much more. Negotiate any price beforehand if you want to go to an establishment. The best way to avoid this 'charter' situation is to discuss your destination and not the price; asking for a price is interpreted as asking for a charter. Then, when you dismount and go to pay, hand the driver the correct change. If the driver demands more, then it is up to you to work out a fair payment, but armed with this information, you should have a reasonable idea of the proper fare, and that will aid you in your bargaining.
The color of the paint on a songthaew indicates the general route or usage of a songthaew. Most common by far are red songthaews, which roam around main streets in the city itself. Warorot Market (by the Ping river) is the most common terminus for songthaews that will travel along a fixed route. From Warorot Market white songthaews travel to the eastern suburban city of Sankampaeng, yellow songthaews travel to Mae Rim in the north, blue songthaews travel to Sarapee and Lamphun in the south, and green songthaews travel to Mae Jo in the northeast. The flat rate cost along these fixed routes is 10 to 20 baht.
There is one other departure point, which is the Pratu Chiang Mai market, and songthaews travel from here to Hang Dong and San Patong to the southwest of Chiang Mai. The flat rate cost to Hang Dong is 20 baht, while San Patong costs more.
You may see songthaews out on the highways in the countryside, travelling to and from small towns and villages. It is probably not proper for them to do this (as such travel is supposed to be done by bus companies), but in Thailand people will find a way to make some extra money.
By tuk-tuk or samlor
Tuk-tuks serve as Chiang Mai's taxis, going point to point for 30B and up depending on your haggling skills. A few three-wheeled bicycles (samlor) still cruise the streets and will go your way for the same price. This is a great way to see the inner city temples. Try taking a Samlor from Wat Prasing Temple to Wat Chedi Luang Temple in the early evening around sunset. A samlor ride around the inner city at sunrise is also a good time to see the monks walking around with there bowls collecting alms from the citizens.
Chiang Mai has finally introduced a Bangkok-style metered taxi service, although as of early 2005 there are a grand total of 15 plying the streets (versus 2700 songthaews). By early 2006, there were over 45 of the blue and yellow metered taxis, with the number growing monthly. Rates are very reasonable at 30B for the first 2 kilometers and 4B/km after that. Call 053-279291 for advance bookings, which are particularly useful when going to the airport (100B flat fare).
Chiang Mai's on-again, off-again local bus service began operation again in November, 2005. For routes, inquire locally.
There is an abundance of scooter rentals in Chiang Mai.
The cultural center is located in the very center of the old city on Prapokklao Road between Rajdumnern Road and Rajwithee Road. If travelling by tuk-tuk or songtheaw, it's easiest to ask for the "Three Kings Monument" (Saam Kasat). The cultural center is in the large, elegant white building just behind the statue.
Walk to the front entrance behind the Three Kings Monument into this fully modernized multi-media history and cultural education center. Guides dressed in elegant traditional Thai clothing will usher you into an air-conditioned room to watch an English-subtitled orientation video about Chiangmai and the north. Next, you will be pointed to a series of rooms documenting the region's history and culture in chronological order from the pre-Muang period (7,000-12,000 years ago) to the early river civilizations, to the early kings through the wars with the Burmese and the last dynasty, to the city today and its plans for the future. Other rooms are devoted to Buddhism and other regional beliefs, agricultural history, hill tribe peoples and other regional cultures, and a run-down of the royal dynasties. The exhibits consist of a smart visual mix of video, scale models, enlarged photos, wall murals and text in Thai and English. The museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. except on Mondays. Admission is 90 baht. Tel: (053) 217-793.
Founded in 1965 as a result of a proposal by the noted anthropologist Prof. W.R. Geddes , who was doing research with the Hilltribe peoples at the time, the Institute Museum offers exhibits concerning the lives and cultures of nine Hilltribe peoples in Thailand; the Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Yao, Hmong, Karen, Lua, Khamu, and H'tin. Also included are a non-hilltribe ethnic minority, the Mlabri, associated by some with the 'spirit of the yellow leaves'. The Mlabri population has dwindled to only approximately 180 individuals at present.
The daily lives of the various Hilltribe peoples are illustrated through exhibits of photographs, agricultural implements, household utensils, artifacts associated with the various traditional religions, musical instruments, and ethnic costumes. Some exhibits include models dressed in complete traditional costumes depicting daily activities, such as a Hmong family having a meal or a Lisu man serenading his sweetheart.
The Institute has established a new museum in a three-story pavilion located on the attractively landscaped grounds of Ratchamangkala Park (Suan Lor Gao) on Chotana Rd., just a fifteen minute drive from the center of the city. At present the museum is open on weekdays from 9 am to 4 pm, and a slide and video show is available from 10 am to 2 pm daily. Special group tours on weekends are possible with advance notice. For more information please contact the Hilltribe Institute Museum, Chotana Road, Ampher Muang, Chiangmai, 50000. Tel:(053) 210-872, 211-933.
Buddhist temples in Chiangmai show off a mixture of architectural styles that reflect the varied heritage of Northern Thailand. Elements from Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan and Mon temples have all been used in one from or another. Intricate woodcarvings and protective Naga serpent staircases add a flamboyance that reflects an awesome reverence for the Buddhist religion. Gilded umbrellas, guardian figures from the tales of the Ramayana and stupas trimmed with god filigree combine to heighten the overall effect.
To date, there have been some 300 temples constructed in Chiangmai an its outskirts. Visitors should take the time to visit the most revered temples in the city, built during the noble Lanna Thai dynasty. The largest ones draw crowds, but it's worth it to wander off the beaten path and find a temple not on the tour bus circuit.
The Thai patrons of Chiang Mai's temples are pleased to see that visitors take an interest in the images and traditions of Lord Buddha's teachings. All that they ask is that temple visitors show respect by wearing appropriate clothes so that monks and worshippers will not be offended within the sacred temple grounds. By "appropriate clothes", we mean to say long pants for men, modest tops and skirts for women, no bare shoulders and women must wear a brassier.
Chiang Mai is a popular place for arranging hill trekking. As usual in Thai cities massage places abound, both for treatments and learning the art yourself, and cooking schools are also popular.
On all three days of the festival, prize blooms are on display at Suan Buak Haad near the city center. Every type of flower, miniature tree and orchid is put on display for the judges to choose the best of the species. Landscape specialists put on an elaborate display, which includes patios and waterfalls with exotic decorative plants and flowers.
The best part of the flower festival is on Saturday. The parade lines up from the train station to Narawatt bridge so the police close most of Jarenmuang Road around 8 AM. The VIP viewing stand is right next to the bridge in front of the Chiang Mai Governor's home. The Parade route goes down Thapae Road to the Gate and turns left and follows the moat to Suan Buak Haad City Park.
The parade moves at a slow pace and stops several times so there is plenty of time to take pictures of the colorful floats, pretty girls and hill tribe people in costume. The people in the parade hand out roses to spectators lining the road.
When the parade finishes everyone heads to Suan Buak Haad where all the floats, award winning flower growers and landscapers projects are all on display. There are plenty of food stalls located in the park and in late afternoon the Miss Chiang Mai Flower festival starts. The party goes well into the evening until the new Flower Festival Queen is chosen.
This is a great time to visit Chiang Mai, as the air is cool and the evenings fresh and clear. If you want to see the festival make sure you book your hotels and flights well in advance.
Thai Cooking Schools
Chiang Mai has great shopping and an internationally renowned night bazaar. There are two very large shopping malls at Airpot Plaza and Central Haad Suan Keaw. Both have the shops you would find in any large city in most countries. There are streets with vendor booths that line the streets after dark, selling all types of merchandise at very negotiable prices. You'll find an amazing array of merchandise: antiques, silks, silver, art, electronics, and knock-off and copycat merchandise, such as watches, handbags, and designer label clothing.
Chiang Mai's restaurants offer a wide range of food, second only to Bangkok. Naturally it's a good place to sample northern Thai food: in particular, hunt down some khao soi, yellow wheat noodles in curry broth with chicken or beef. For those tired of eating rice or noodles there is a wide range of excellent western food restaurant in Chiang Mai, from cheap hamburger stands to elaborate Italian eateries.
Dress Code: You are in a tropical country so daytime wear of shorts, Tshirt, etc. is quite okay. However, it earns you points if you look clean and tidy. Thai people (even the poorest) take pride in personal cleanliness and appearance (look at school kids and college students) so the "unkempt" style of some visitors is not appreciated. In the evenings long trousers (dress or skirt for ladies) with a neat shirt/blouse, shoes with socks for men and nice shoes for women (no flip flops) are a must if you wish to enter a nice restaurant and get a good seat. The nicer you dress the better the table and service. If not you might get a table next to the bathroom, in a corner away from the view or in front of a loud music speaker.
Chanchao's Chiang Mai Food Review (http://chanchao.fotopages.com/) is a good source of information on the fast-changing culinary scene.
On the east bank of the Ping River north of Nawarat Bridge is a cluster of restaurants that double up as nightlife spots, so see the listings under Drink.
When you come to Chiang Mai you should take in a traditional Khantoke dinner and show. This is not just for tourists as the Northern Thai people have been enjoying the Khantoke dinner for centuries. There are also many garden restaurants where you can enjoy an excellent Thai meal in a beautiful setting.
Chiang Mai's nightlife scene is the most happening in the North, although still a far cry from Bangkok's. Chiang Mai is still popular for its nightlife, as well as the charming city and beautiful surrounding countryside. There are discos, karaoke bars, and live music everywhere. Thai people are often as interested in meeting you as you might be in meeting them, but one should exercise discretion and sometimes a bit of caution, especially in matters of the heart. In romantic situations, Westerners and Thais both occasionally get hurt. The best advice is to think with your head AND your heart. Enjoy yourself, but be very adult about any given situation. The two busiest nightlife zones are near Tapae Gate, Loi Kroh Road and along Charoenrat Road on the eastern bank of the Ping River.
Bars and pubs
Most of Chiang Mai's bars and pubs are located along Loi Kroh Road and Moon Muang Road. Here you can find small expat hangouts, Go Go bars and sports bars. Most have pool tables, hostesees along with music videos or various sports programs shown on television.
The most visited is along the east bank of the Mae Ping River on Charoenrat road. This is the area famous for jazz, rock, pop, Thai and country and western live music, along with restaurants serving Thai, western, and Chinese food. If you are coming from the center of the city, just walk from the night bazaar across the Narawatt Bridge. From the bridge, you can see all the restaurants along the river on your left. Once you cross the bridge, turn left and, on your right, will be Chiang Mai's first church and a riverside park on your left.
Most bands in Chiang Mai play at one venue for about an hour, and then move on to another restaurant or pub. Don?t be surprised if you see a band playing at the Chiang Mai Riverside and, one hour later, at The Good View.
Spicy is a good after hours place with good drinks, dancing and lots of local good looking girls looking to party :)
Accommodation in Chiang Mai is generally cheap even by Thai standards. All types of lodging are availably from inexpensive guest-houses with little or no service and the typical high rise hotels and elaborate garden resorts. The latest boom is in the Thai style boutique resort located near the old city center. Several have been built since mid 2005 and offer excellent service in a quiet garden setting. Most of these are fairly small with a little as 8 rooms with a pool and decorated with Thai Crafts and Antiques.
Some of the cheaper accommodation will expect you to purchase their trekking package. So if you stay at a budget place, it may be wise to ask about their trekking package before you agree to stay. Some will refuse to have you unless you do a trek with them.
Chiang Mai, like most of Thailand, is quite safe even at night. The dark streets can look forbidding but crime is rare and tourists shouldn't worry unduly. Obviously you should take normal precautions but the city is safe and welcoming for travellers.