Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally important city in northern Thailand. Located 700 km north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern, attracting millions of visitors each year.
The province surrounding the city has stunning scenery, forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and offers the opportunity for many different adventures, from riding the rapids to elephant safaris.
Many gay travellers mistakenly believe that a holiday in Thailand is just about beautiful beaches in the south and the nightlife of Bangkok. But this is only half the story. The northern region, particularly Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, offers a very different environment with many interesting activities you could enjoy.
Apart from its rich culture and abundant nature, Chiang Mai offers a small, laid-back gay scene. There are friendly Gay Bars and Gay Saunas where locals and visitors meet and socialise. Gay Massage Spas and retreats are quite popular.
Many years ago, the main gay nightlife centered around The Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai’s main tourist destination. But times have changed. Today, much of the city’s gay bar scene can be found in the ChangPuak and Nimmanhaemin areas, located to the northwest of Old Town.
More gay-owned businesses such as restaurants and guesthouses are scattered around the city. And in general, Chiang Mai is very gay-friendly and welcoming as the local people are known to have a genuine, easy-going attitude.
The fastest and easiest way is to fly from Bangkok. Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) handles both domestic and regional international flights. Flight time from Bangkok is approximately one hour. Several low-cost airlines offer flights daily.
A variety of daily buses leave on a regular daily schedule from Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit) offering varying choices of price, comfort and speed. Travel time is about 10 hours.
Services from Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station leave on a regular daily scheduleand take 12-15 hours to reach Chiang Mai. Different classes are available.
These covered pick-up trucks have two long bench seats in the back and are usually in red. Some pick up passengers en route who are going the same way, while others don’t follow a specific route and just roam the main streets around markets, temples or the bus/train stations.
Songthaew (or red truck) is most convenient if you are going somewhere specific. Expect to pay a minimum of 20 baht anywhere within the city walls and 40-60 baht outside.
Tuk-tuks are a quick way to get around. Expect to pay 30-40 baht for a short hop and 50-10 baht for longer distances, depending on your bargaining skills.
Chiang Mai has metered taxis, but you may have to negotiate a fixed fare. Generally, you cannot hail taxis in the street. Your hotel can call a taxi for you or you can contact individual drivers on the mobile phone numbers displayed on their vehicle.
By moped or motorcycle
Mopeds are a cheap and convenient way to get around town or reach the outlying sights. There are many rental outfits in town although most guesthouses can arrange rental. A valid international drivers permit is not required to ride.
Traffic inside the old city walls in Chiang Mai is slow enough to make biking a safe way to get around. Bike rentals are plentiful and cost around 30-250 baht per day.
Car rentals are available both in the city centre and at the airport.
Chiang Mai’s most popular areas include the Old Town, near Ping River or near Nimmanhaemin Road. For our list of recommended hotels, visit our Gay Chiang Mai Hotels, Budget Hotels and Luxury Hotels pages.
Doi Suthep – famous and important temple overlooking the city from its mountainside perch. It sits about 3,500 feet above sea level and is accessible via a steep staircase comprising around 300 steps.
Chedi Luang Temple – Built about 600 years ago, this impressive temple once housed the precious Emerald Buddha.
Doi Inthanon National Park – Thailand’s tallest mountain offering one of the best places for bird watching. Other attractions include the twin stupas dedicated to the King and Queen (see the picture at the top of this page) and the Wachiratarn Waterfall.
Chiang Mai Zoo – This zoo houses more than 6,000 animals in an environment comprising two waterfalls, reservoirs, an open park, camping spots and animal breeding areas.
Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens – contains many vegetation types including some rare species. The best time to see the flowers in bloom is during the cool season.
The Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Garden – garden houses many plant and flower species from 2016 Royal Flora Ratchapruek Fair. The place also has unique and delicate artwork and architecture reflecting nature and Thai culture.
Night Bazaar – good place to buy local handicrafts, souvenirs, silver and other local items, located near city centre.
Elephant Camp – popular activity for visitors to Chiang Mai. There are many elephant camps to choose from, most of which offer pickup & drop-off service. We recommend Patara Elephant Farm.
Loi Krathong (known locally as YiPeng – a traditional festival held in November where people float containers decorated with flowers and lit candles onto the waterways. Lanna-styled sky lanterns (famous in Chiang Mai) use hot-air balloons, made of paper and are launched into the air.
Orchid Farms – garden and retailer of various Thai orchid flowers
Chiang Mai is great to visit all year round, although peak season is in the winter (December-January) when the weather is a bit cooler, and especially chilly up on the mountains.