chiang mai old town

Complete Chiang Mai Travel Guide For First-Timers

Chiang Mai travel guide for first-timers provides all that you need to know about this great travel destination in Thailand. If you like to explore amazing vacation places with tons of outdoor activities, you might want to visit this fascinating ancient city.

The “Rose Of The North” can easily be reached from Bangkok and is defined geographically by numerous mountain ranges that stretch from Myanmar’s Shan Hills to Laos as well as the deep valleys that cut across them.

So, why travel to Chiang Mai rather than Koh Samui or Phuket island? Chiang Mai offers first time visitors a combination of fascinating cultural heritage, natural beauty, and a distinctive local charm.

There are plenty of things to do for first-timers who love adventure such as trekking, visiting hill tribe villages, exploring national parks, and encountering the region’s diverse flora and fauna.

I would recommend checking this beautiful vacation spot for its top elephant sanctuaries, mountain-side gems, sumptuous local food, visiting uncrowded tourist places and the list goes on. 

Getting From Bangkok To Chiang Mai

bangkok to chiang mai train ride

The 1st class sleeper train is equipped with air conditioning, free wifi, a dining carriage and spacious accommodation for the most comfortable journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. 

The first-class train on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route are known for their spaciousness and amenities, providing a more luxurious travel option. The cabins are usually air-conditioned, ensuring a pleasant environment throughout the journey.

One of the highlights of traveling by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is to enjoy the stunning scenery of the Thai countryside. The route passes through lush green landscapes, mountains, and rural villages, and the best part is you can train-hop in-between towns.

Cultural Experiences and Markets

things to do in chiang mai

The experience of visiting a number of night bazaars and markets after a trip to top tourist places in Chiang Mai is my best suggestion to do at night.

If you visit on the weekend, you’ll have even more activities at the night bazaar with the entire evenings dedicated to exploring, shopping, munching and taking in the sights.

There is other attractions that are perfect for first-timers to explore such as the wonders of ancient temples in Chiang Mai and tons of cultural events and exploring the heart of its old town. 

Visit Ethical Elephant sanctuaries

chiang mai elephant sanctuary

One of a top things to do for first-timer is visiting Chiang Mai’s elephant sanctuaries, where you can witness these gentle giants up close while supporting ethical and responsible practices.

Chiang Mai elephant sanctuaries gives visitors insight into the behavior and life history of the elephants being cared by dedicated voluntary organizations in English.

You can experience unforgettable moments as you feed, bathe, and walk alongside these magnificent animals in the sanctuary’s natural-built domain.

Natural Beauty and Outdoor Adventures

Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail

Doi Inthanon is situated not far from Chiang Mai city. A trip to the highest mountain peak in Thailand might be the perfect day tour for nature lovers. 

Hill tribe villages with its rich cultural and ancient history are among the best attractions for tourists to visit at Doi Inthanon.

Whether you’re first-timers who love adventure or an outdoor nature seeker, Doi Inthanon trekking promises an exhilarating experience with its well-maintained trails, unique attractions and exotic flora and fauna along the route.

As the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon offers a stunning natural landscape and rich biodiversity. Start your hike at Kew Mae Pan nature trail and immerse yourself in lush rainforests, cascading waterfalls, and picturesque hill tribe villages.

Finding Your Perfect Accommodation

chiang mai hotels

Chiang Mai offers a wide range of accommodations to suit every taste and budget. From luxurious resorts nestled in the lush countryside to boutique hotels in the heart of the Old City

Many affordable hotels can be found near the city’s major attractions, allowing easy access to popular sites like the revered Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or the bustling Night Bazaar.

As first-timers searching for hotels in Chiang Mai, you need to consider its location, amenities, and customer reviews as most of the lower range hotels do not provide in-house F&B outlets.

Where to Eat in Chiang Mai's Vibrant Food Scene

Chiang Mai food

A visit to the northern provinces must always be accompanied with the best places to eat in Chiang Mai, and where else can you find tons of authentic local food.

You can find cheap and delicious Chiang Mai street food at your favorite vacation spots in old town and at most of the night bazaars as well as food markets.  

From the iconic khao soi, a fragrant and creamy curry noodle soup, to the fiery and aromatic sai ua, a northern Thai sausage bursting with flavors, Chiang Mai’s food scene is a feast for your taste buds.

You might want to explore the bustling food markets like Central Shopping Airport, Chiang Mai is one of the cheapest places to vacation for gastronomic adventure.

Tips for First-Time Visitors to Chiang Mai

Weather And Air Conditions

The best time to visit Chiang Mai is from June to October. This is the time when tourist places are not crowded and accommodations are cheaper. However, March to May is the season when farmers burn their crops and the air gets pretty polluted.

November air is cooler and signals the end of the rainy season. Doi Ithanon and Sunflower Bloom are the top attractions on this timeline. On the flip side, November to end February is the peak season whereby hotel’s prices are higher and locals flock to this northern city.

How to Get Around Chiang Mai

Tuk Tuk: This iconic three-wheeled vehicles can be found throughout the city. Negotiate the fare before getting in and ensure you agree on the price to avoid any confusion.

Songthaews: Songthaews are red shared taxis or converted pickup trucks with benches in the back. They follow specific routes and can be flagged down along the main roads. Inform the driver of your destination and pay the fare when you exit.

Grab: Ride-hailing service, Grab are available in Chiang Mai. Simply download the app, enter your pickup and drop-off locations, and a driver will pick you up. These services often offer fixed fares, providing transparency and convenience.

Renting a Motorbike: Renting a motorbike is a popular choice for exploring Chiang Mai and its surroundings. Several rental shops offer daily or weekly rates. Ensure you have a valid license, wear a helmet, and familiarize yourself with local traffic laws and road conditions.


Cultural etiquette tips for first-timers includes appropriate dress code for temples and respect for local customs when in local traditional restaurants and visiting hill tribes. 

Safety precautions and reminders, such as staying hydrated, being cautious of street vendors, and taking care of personal belongings. Most bars and nightspots are pretty safe, but don’t get too intoxicated.

Your Travel Planner:

  • Check out popular affordable tours at Viator
  • Craving for sumptuous local food? Go with eatwith
  • Rent yourself a comfortable car for trips to top attractions 

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