So you’ve spent a few nights in Chiang Mai (hopefully not drinking Changs all day erry day). Now you’re trying to work out where to go after playing tourist in Chiang Mai. Luckily Chiang Mai is essentially the centre of northern Thailand which provides a few different options which we will discuss here.
Option One: Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a few hours from Chiang Mai by bus and is believed to be the Chiang Mai of 20 years ago. The main attractions in Chiang Rai are both the Black and White temples. The white temple is the more popular one with the inside unlike anything you have seen before, it is also very photogenic which helps. The food scene in Chiang Rai is also starting to improve, rapidly! If you’re not sure if you’re going to be in Chiang Mai for 3 or 4 days, Chiang Rai can make for a great day trip to add to your itinerary on your last day in Chiang Mai.
Option Two: Chiang Dao
Chiang Dao is located two hours from Chiang Mai and is most well known for three things: caves, hot springs and Chiang Dao mountain. If caves get you excited, you will definitely want to check out Chiang Dao. Chiang Dao however isn’t a thriving area for tourists meaning many people skip over it. If you want to get off the beaten path for a bit, Chiang Dao is certainly a good place to hang out for a couple of days.
Option Three: Pai
Pai is the most popular places people go after Chiang Mai due to its epic reputation. Pai takes three – four hours to reach via bus, or you can take a scooter or even fly there if you want as well. When you get to Pai you will find a walkable small town full of farangs. The food in Pai is exceptional and there is generally no need to book accommodation in advance unless it’s a public holiday. One things I always recommend people research before visiting Thailand is when the next batch of festivals and public holidays are, as there are so many.
Some of the best Pai attractions are: waterfalls, walking street, Pai Canyon and hiking!
When you leave Pai, you pretty much have to go back to Chiang Mai before heading to your next location. Alternatively, you can carry on travelling to Mae Hong Son.
Option Four: Sukhothai
Sukothai is not a very popular location to go to after Chiang Mai despite its historical significance. You can get a bus straight to this town but given most people travel from Chiang Mai to Bangkok direct they skip out on other towns in between like Sukhothai, Lopburi, and Ayutthaya.
Option Five: Kanchanaburi
If you’re looking to get closer to Bangkok after Chiang Mai, but want to stop off somewhere first, Kanchanaburi is a great choice. You can get direct buses from Chiang Mai, and you’ve probably heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai. It’s a cool down, I only spent two nights there but there are a bunch of things to see in Kanchanaburi that’ll keep you busy for at least two full days. I really should have gone to Erawan Waterfall…
Option Six: Myanmar
If you have fetched your Myanmar visas from Bangkok there are two borders you can realistically reach to enter Myanmar from Thailand. Up north the Mae Sai-Tachilek border normally sees people heading straight to Kengtung. Unfortunately it is not possible to get south overland to Mandalay from this border due to some roads not open for tourists….yet. You can fly from both Kengtung and Tachilek to Heho airport for around $70 – $100.
You can also head south to the Mae Sot border which is much more practical.
Option Seven: Laos
The most popular route to Laos from Chiang Mai is by slow boat on the Mekong River The trip takes two – three days and is an entire experience on its own. The Mekong is impressive though and this is a trip I want to do sooner rather than later.
Still not sure? If you like decision paralysis, my buddy Anna created an awesome Thailand guide book for more inspiration.
An Easy Way To Book Buses & Trains In Thailand
Booking buses and trains in Southeast Asia can be a pain. For Chiang Mai that usually means having to go to the bus station in advance to book your ticket. You can take a chance and turn up at the bus and/or train station, but there’s a chance it’ll be sold out.
Solution: 12Go.asia is an online booking system for trains, buses and planes. The ticket prices you see online will be more expensive than booking in person but by the time you spend time getting to the train or bus station, the extra cost of the ticket may well have been cancelled out with transport and time.
Definitely consider booking your tickets online when taking the bus and train around Thailand and Southeast Asia.
So Where To Go After Chiang Mai?
Trying to decide where to go after Chiang Mai can be tricky. Pai is definitely worth a visit for at least two nights. Chiang Dao and Sukothai can usually be given a miss unless caves or UNESCO World Heritage Sites are up your alley.
If you have your visa for Myanmar sorted, you are probably going to head that way already. Laos is the least recognised of the ‘BIG FOUR’ Southeast Asia countries of Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
Southeast Asia is awesome and regardless of what you choose, you can always decide to make a quick exit immediately if you decide the place you chose isn’t a good fit for you.