Chiang Mai: The Most Underrated City in Thailand

Story by: Tiana Thompson     Date: 11 May 2022    Image by: Canva | tawatchaiprakobkit

9 minutes reading time Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in Thailand. Every year, millions of people visit the city to see its beautiful temples, participate in its many festivals, and enjoy its delicious food. Chiang Mai is known for its beautiful landscapes, lush forests, and rolling mountains surrounding the city. With its laid-back atmosphere, vibrant culture, and delicious food, Chiang Mai’s unique culture, and vibe make it a must-visit for every traveler!

But despite it being such a stunning and idyllic destination, Chiang Mai does not get as much attention from tourists as other cities in Thailand like Bangkok and Phuket. This is unfortunate because Chiang Mai has so much to offer its visitors!

This city is a hidden gem that offers everything from natural beauty to temple ruins and is absolutely one of the most underrated cities in Thailand! If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination in Thailand, Chiang Mai is the city for you.

Chiang Mai Moat

Where is Chiang Mai?

Located in the northern part of the country, near the border of Myanmar and Laos, Chiang Mai is the capital of Chiang Mai Province and the largest city in Northern Thailand. It is about 700 kilometers (435 miles) from Bangkok, and takes around 10 hours to drive there or 1 hour and 45 minutes by plane.

Chiang Mai is a popular destination for tourists from around the world, especially those who are interested in exploring Thailand’s Buddhist temples, its lush natural scenery, rolling mountains, or its delicious food. The city is also home to a thriving art scene, incredible festivals year-round, and some of the best hiking trails in all of Thailand.

Chiang Mai is also a popular city for many ex-pats and digital nomads who are drawn to its laid-back atmosphere, friendly locals, and affordable cost of living. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing vacation, an adventure backpacking trip, or a place to settle down and live long-term, Chiang Mai is the perfect destination for every type of traveler!

7 Reasons why Chiang Mai is the Most Underrated City in Thailand

Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful and unique cities in Thailand, with a vibrant culture, delicious food, and stunning landscapes that make for the authentic Thai experience you can’t get in many other places in Thailand.

Here are just a few reasons why Chiang Mai is the most underrated city in Thailand:

Chiang Mai Night

1. Chiang Mai is a hidden gem that most tourists don’t know about

One of the main reasons that Chiang Mai often gets overlooked by tourists is simply because it is outside of the typical tourist circuit in Thailand. Most people who visit just make a beeline straight for the popular beaches and islands in Thailand, like Phuket and Koh Samui, and therefore miss out on all that Chiang Mai has to offer. But Chiang Mai is an absolutely beautiful city that should not be missed!

When I visited Chiang Mai back in 2019, I felt like I was actually getting to see the real Thailand, rather than just the version that is designed for tourists. Chiang Mai offers a much more authentic and relaxed experience than Bangkok, without skimping on the sights and activities. You really get a sense of the culture and the way of life here while still being in a big city with lots to see and do, from exploring the historic old city to hiking through jungle-covered mountains. Although it may not be as well-known as some other Southeast Asian destinations, I think that’s part of its charm!

It can be quite touristy in some parts, but if you venture away from the main areas you’ll find some amazing hidden gems. I would definitely recommend Chiang Mai to anyone looking for an authentic Thai experience.

Chiang Mai Landscape

2. The landscape and natural beauty of Chiang Mai are unmatched

From its rolling mountains and lush forests to picturesque waterfalls and rivers, Chiang Mai is a nature lover’s dream. Chiang Mai has some of the most stunning landscapes in all of Thailand, with its rolling mountains, lush forests, and beautiful waterfalls. Whether you’re into hiking, camping, or just exploring, there’s plenty to do in Chiang Mai for nature lovers!

One of the most popular attractions in Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple that sits atop a mountain overlooking the city. The views from here are absolutely breathtaking, and it’s definitely worth the hike up! If you’re not into hiking, you can also take a cable car up to the temple.

Chiang Mai is also home to a number of elephant sanctuaries, where you can learn about these incredible animals and even get to feed them! There are also many waterfalls located just outside of the city, like Mae Sa Waterfall and Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls, which make for a great day trip.

Another popular spot for nature lovers is Huay Tung Tao Lake, which is located just outside of the city. This man-made lake is surrounded by forest Park, and it’s a great place to go for a swim, relax, or hike. There are also plenty of cute cafés and restaurants nearby where you can grab a bite to eat.

Chiang Mai Temples

3. Chiang Mai is home to some of the most iconic temples in Thailand

Chiang Mai is famous for its many beautiful Buddhist temples, which are scattered throughout the city, in parks and gardens, and on mountainsides. Whether you’re looking for intricate golden temples or peaceful pagodas surrounded by greenery, you won’t be disappointed!

One of the most popular temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which sits on a mountain overlooking the city. This beautiful temple was built in 1383 and features intricately detailed architecture, stunning views of the city, and a long and winding staircase that leads up to the entrance.

Other famous temples in Chiang Mai include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Sri Suphan, and Wat Chet Yot. No matter where you go or what time of day you visit, you’re sure to be blown away by the incredible beauty of these iconic temples!

Chiang Mai culture

4. The vibrant culture of Chiang Mai is unlike anywhere else in Thailand

With its unique blend of Chinese, Burmese, and Lanna Thai cultures, Chiang Mai is truly unlike any other city in Thailand. From its food to its art and music, the culture here is rich, vibrant, and always evolving.

One of the best ways to experience the unique cultural scene in Chiang Mai is by visiting one of the many boutique art galleries or craft stores that line the streets of the old city. Here you’ll find everything from traditional Thai paintings and sculptures to modern art and funky home decor.

Another great way to experience the culture of Chiang Mai is by attending a performance at the renowned Siam Niramit cultural show. This world-famous show tells the story of Thailand through music, dance, acrobatics, and special effects. Whatever your interests are, you’re sure to find something that will inspire and excite you in Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai food

5. It’s much more affordable than Bangkok or Phuket

While Chiang Mai may not be as well-known or as developed as some other Thai destinations, what it lacks in tourist infrastructure, it makes up for in affordability. Compared to other popular cities like Bangkok and Phuket, Chiang Mai is definitely much more affordable and budget-friendly, which is great for budget travelers like me.

You can get a 3-course meal for under $10, a beer for less than $2, and even stay in a nice hotel room for under $50 per night! Transportation around the city is a breeze, and you can even get around by bicycle or tuk-tuk if you prefer for even cheaper.

Whether you’re on a tight budget or just looking to save some money on your vacation, Chiang Mai is the perfect destination.

Chiang Mai Locals

6. The locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming

Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met have been in Thailand, and the locals in Chiang Mai are no exception. From the moment you arrive in the city, you’ll be greeted with smiles and warm hospitality.

Whether you’re lost and need directions or just looking for a place to eat, the locals here are always happy to help. They’re also very friendly and always up for a chat, which makes exploring the city that much more enjoyable. Many locals in Chiang Mai don’t have much money, yet they are still some of the happiest, most content people I’ve ever met.

Every person I met there was so willing to share their culture, customs, and traditions with me—it really made my trip so much more special than if I had gone to a “typical” tourist destination. The locals here are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and they’ll make you feel right at home in no time!

Chiang Mai Night Market

7. The night market is one of the best in Thailand

No trip to Chiang Mai is complete without a visit to the famous night market. Every evening, hundreds of vendors set up shop in the center of town and sell everything from clothing and accessories to food and trinkets. The night market is the perfect place to find souvenirs for friends and family back home, and it’s also a great place to eat, as there are tons of street food vendors selling delicious Thai food.

If you’re looking for a more authentic shopping experience, make sure to check out the Saturday Walking Street Market. This market is only open on Saturdays, and it’s definitely a must-see if you’re in Chiang Mai. You’ll find everything from handmade goods to local art, and it’s the perfect place to get a taste of the real Thailand.

Whether you’re looking for a unique souvenir or just want to try some traditional Thai street food, the night market is the perfect place to shop, eat, and people-watch. This is an experience that you can get in many parts of Thailand, but the energy in Chiang Mai is truly something special.

Beautiful Chiang Mai

Is Chiang Mai worth visiting?


I absolutely loved my time in Chiang Mai and I would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a budget-friendly travel destination with plenty to see and do. It’s the perfect combination of Asian culture, exciting activities, and laid-back energy.

From its stunning temples and scenic mountains to its vibrant culture and friendly people, Chiang Mai is a place that will surely inspire and excite you, and is without a doubt one of the most underrated cities in Thailand!

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