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Chiang Mai – Everything is fine in paradise

Political instability? Not in Chiang Mai

Peaceful Chiang Mai
Peaceful Chiang Mai

Given the international media coverage of Thailand’s political crisis, events in Bangkok over the last few months, and the plentiful travel warnings from foreign governments, it is hardly surprising many people are thinking twice about visiting Thailand this year.  But, they may be missing a trick.

Here in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city, 750Km away from a troubled Bangkok, everything is wonderful.  Indeed, with the fabulous cool season weather at its best right now, a drop in visitor numbers and a depreciating Thai Baht, there has perhaps never been a better time to visit.  There are practically no signs of Thailand’s troubles in Northern Thailand and for bargain hunters Chiang Mai is the perfect place to be.

There’s never been a better time to visit Chiang Mai

With plenty of international air connections Chiang Mai is effortlessly reachable without needing to transit through Bangkok at all.  Direct connections to major hubs include Singapore, Kuala Lumpa, Hong Kong and Seoul as well as other regional destinations giving several choices for routing and airlines to get here.

Photos of Three Kings Monument Square, Chiang Mai
This photo of Three Kings Monument Square is courtesy of TripAdvisor

According to Trip Advisor’s Travellers Choice awards Chiang Mai has been voted the best destination in Thailand. In world rankings it is the 24th most popular destination. Situated in a wide basin of the Mae Ping river, yet surrounded by mountains and jungle, visitors benefit both from a relaxed yet metropolitan city whilst remaining close to nature.

If you haven’t been to Chiang Mai in some time you may be pleasantly surprised at the changes that have taken place.  The city has experienced an enormous growth boom in the last few years and there is no end in sight.  Just in the last year three new mega shopping malls have opened, the latest being Maya in the north west of the city which just opened this week.  Numerous high end condo developments are also popping up around town.

Whilst in some ways this development has decreased the city’s old fashioned appeal, the traditional sites around the moat and the main tourist areas still remain along with hundreds of temples and antiquities.  And, you only have to go a few km outside the city limits to find areas of rural Northern Thailand that haven’t changed much in decades.

Beautiful Scenery in Rural Chiang Mai Province
Beautiful Scenery in Rural Chiang Mai Province

Although this year’s cool season started late, it has been the best in a few years, with clear blue skies, daytime temperatures topping thirty degrees and pleasant cool evenings making sleeping without air-con a delight.  And, much to the disappointment of the Thais who are dressed up like Eskimos at night, it seems likely to continue for a while yet.

Chiang Mai attractions and things to see

Chiang Mai provides a wealth of things for visitors to see and do.  A walking tour around the old city area is a great way to start and some attractions include:

Depending on your enthusiasm there are countless other temples in the city too.  But the must see attraction is a trip up Doi Suteph mountain to visit Wat Phra Tat Doi Suteph, with its golden chedi and splendid views over the city.  The trip can also be extended to include the Royal palace and gardens which are further up the mountain.

Chiang Mai – The view from Doi Suteph
Chiang Mai – The view from Doi Suteph

Other Chiang Mai attractions include trips out into the countryside with visits to Elephant Camps and Flight of the Gibbon being two of the most popular.  There is also Chiang Mai Zoo, with its famous Pandas and aquarium, the Night Safari and Tiger Kingdom for wildlife lovers.

Further afield, the Samoeng loop is a great drive at this time of year, or you can venture further out into Northern Thailand.  Suggested locations include:

  • Phayao with its peaceful lake and a scenic drive to get there
  • Chiang Rai and the white temple – Chiang Rai is Chiang Mai twenty years ago
  • The Golden Triangle and Mekong river
  • Mae Fah Luang – The Queen Mothers former residence and beautiful Gardens
  • Doi Mae Salong – former KMT military base and opium town transformed into a specialist tea growing area.
  • Thaton and the Mae Kok river, where you can get a boat to Chiang Rai
  • Fang with its vibrant town and hot springs.
  • Doi Angkhan
  • Chiang Dao Mountains and caves
Stunningly beautiful Mae Fah Luang garden in Chiang Rai Province
Stunningly beautiful Mae Fah Luang garden in Chiang Rai Province

Or to the west is the picturesque town of Pai, close to the burmese border and famed as a hippy hang out (guess why), the beautiful town of Mae Hong Son and Doi Inthanon National Park and Thailand’s highest mountain.  The best way to see all these places is to hire a car and just drive, ideally with a Thai friend for company.  You can also get a driver with your car from many rental companies, or there are countless guided tours available.

Shopping and Entertainment

For shopping the explosion in new malls has been amazing in the last year.  Probably the most exciting development for gay visitors is the Maya Lifestyle mall located in Chang Puek district right on the main Huay Kaew Rd and its intersection with Nimmanaheminda Rd.  This is close to most of the gay accommodation and nightlife and is expected to prove a great attraction.  The Harbour Mall, also on Huay Kaew is another new development.  Out of town, Central Festival and Promenada are both proving popular, but you need transport to get there.  On Sunday nights the walking street market in the old city from Thapae gate is a must and has replaced the Night Bazaar as the place to go and buy handicrafts, clothes and other souvenirs.

The gay areas of Chiang Mai
The main areas in Chiang Mai

For non-gay entertainment and nightlife the city has no shortages of bars and restaurants.  There are two main areas:  Downtown around Thapae gate and down to the river is the main tourist area, here you will find many places catering to tourists.  Nimmanhaeminda area is the city’s trendy nightlife zone more popular with residents and ex-pats. 

Some of the best places to eat downtown are along the river, “The Riverside” is an old Chiang Mai favourite, along with “Good View”, “Gallery” and “River Market”. The sois off Nimmanahemina Road are packed with every kind of restaurant and bar you can imagine, as well as some fun night clubs like Warm Up, Monkey Club, Infinity and Tawan Daeng. During the day its an intersting place to wonder and check out some of the coffee shops, whilst night time it becomes the full entertainment zone.

Chiang Mai for gay visitors

For the gay visitor Chiang Mai has lots to offer, including a plentiful supply of gorgeous Northern Thai boys, but it’s not like Pattaya, Bangkok or Phuket and you need to approach Chiang Mai in a  different way if you want to fully enjoy its gay delights.  Much more information is available if you browse through this website but the following is a quick summary.

The Commercial Gay Scene

Hunks from the Shan State at Adams' Apple Club - Chiang Mai's Best known Gay bar
Hunks from the Shan State at Adams’ Apple Club – Chiang Mai’s Best known Gay bar

There is a small go-go and karaoke bar scene situated in the Chang Puek district to the North of the city if that’s what you are looking for.  It is worth noting that, whilst the guys you will find in these places are among the most handsome in Thailand, most are actually from Burma’s Shan state which makes them an attraction in itself.  The other part of the gay for pay scene is the numerous gay massage places in Chang Puek and elsewhere in the city where you can go for a reasonably priced rub and tug with a cute massage boy and a happy ending.

The Social Gay Scene

The gay social scene is quite diverse.  For younger Thais, there is little appeal in traditional gay bars and they tend to hang out in the hundreds of bars and clubs in the city’s North western districts of Chang Puek and Nimmanhaeminda around the main universities.  These places are becoming increasingly popular with foreign gay visitors too, particularly the younger guys.  After midnight everyone heads to Chiang Mai’s premier gay club G-Star vintage which is packed, especially at weekends.

G-Star Vintage - Gay Club in Chiang Mai
G-Star Vintage – The best Gay Club in Chiang Mai – with coyote boy dancers

For foreigners, there a few gay bars orientated towards visitors and ex-pats where you can socialise and meet other foreigners without hassle from hustlers.  Of these Soho Bar and Ram Bar are perhaps the most popular.  There are also several restaurants serving various food types that attract a gay crowd such as Sabaidee Santitham, one of our current favourites.  Read more in our social scene guide. and guide to gay bars and restaurants.

Meeting gay Thais

If you are interested in meeting gay Thai’s, Chiang Mai’s two main saunas House of Male and Club One Seven are both popular options.  Club One Seven provides guest house accommodation as well and has a fantastic location on the river.  Otherwise your best bet is a lap top or smart phone since the gay hook up scene in Chiang Mai is now almost completely online.   Our hot tip is to make friends with people online who are happy to meet up, be friends and show you around the more interesting parts of the city, especially the places away from the fake Disney land that the tourist area has become.  And, don’t assume everyone is a money boy, though there are plenty of those to be found online too.

Gay Hotels and Guest Houses

For accommodation, apart from Club One Seven to the south of the city, all the gay accommodation is in the Chang Puek and Santitham districts close to other gay bars and restaurants.  You can check out our gay hotel and guesthouse guide or read this article staying gay in Chiang Mai for more information and suggestions.  Our guide to Santitham Coffee shops might also be of interest if you plan on staying there.  Or this article gives information about long stay accommodation options in the area.

Come to Chiang Mai – What are you waiting for?

Phayao Boys at Radchada Garden Cafe

We hope this article has helped convince you to put away any concerns you had about Thailand and head to Chiang Mai in the coming weeks.  We are sure you won’t be disappointed.

Be aware that the national election is scheduled for next week end on Sunday 2 February and alcohol sales are banned over the election weekend with most bars closed.  However, the following weekend is the annual flower festival, one of Chiang Mai’s most beautiful events and a fantastic time to visit.  The temperatures usually remain pleasant throughout February before increasing rapidly as we head into March.


Chiang Mai and Northern Thailand is waiting for you

Central Chedi at Wat PraTat Doi Sutep (Wikimedia)
Central Chedi at Wat PraTat Doi Sutep (Wikimedia)
Photos of Tha Phae Gate, Chiang Mai
This photo of Tha Phae Gate is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Photos of Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai
This photo of Elephant Nature Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor
Radchada Garden Cafe
Classic Lanna style teakwood buildings
Photos of The Mae Ngat Dam & Reservoir, Chiang Mai
This photo of The Mae Ngat Dam & Reservoir is courtesy of TripAdvisor
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