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Everything to know for your first trip To Chiang Mai!

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1. Prepaid mobile SIM cards are available for purchase at Chiang Mai airport!

My number 1 priority wherever I travel to – mobile data.

Once you clear customs at Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) and get out of the arrival gate, look out for an AIS booth near the glass doors. AIS sells prepaid mobile data SIM cards of different durations, meant for tourists, depending on your stay.

I was to be in Thailand for six days, so I bought a 7-day AIS mobile data SIM card for 259 baht, which was set up by the staff in a jiffy!

Alternatively, you can place an order for a Dtac Tourist SIM card via Klook, arrive at the airport, and pick up your SIM card from the Klook staff at the gate.

2. You can use Grab in Chiang Mai.

Given a choice, being alone overseas, I don’t like taking cabs (yep maybe I’m weird), definitely not buses. Trains would be my preferred choice but Chiang Mai doesn’t have trains for getting around in the city.

Grab was the only form of transport I used in Chiang Mai. Grab cars are aplenty at the airport and downtown. The drivers always arrive fast and I didn’t experience any problems in communication.

Ps: Sometimes, Grab’s payment in the app will go haywire when I’m overseas. On my last day of leaving Chiang Mai, it suddenly disabled my credit card option until I get an SMS code, and of course, I’m not getting any SMS because I didn’t have auto-roaming. Thankfully I still had spare cash left to pay the driver. Hopefully, phone operators and apps can get more intelligent and already implement other ways to send us codes, such as through email. 

The other option would be public transport in Chiang Mai, such as the red trucks or even tuk-tuks. You can read more about Chiang Mai’s public transport options on this travel blog =)

3. The city is actually more modern than you think.

Chiang Mai is not all greeneries and countryside and raw nature parks. Chiang Mai downtown is more of a modern city than a greenery-themed countryside.

When I visualized Chiang Mai in my head before going, it’s like Ubud in Bali – full of greeneries and nature. However, the Chiang Mai I visited (Old City & Nimman) turned out to be more like, Seminyak – developed and dusty.

Chiang Mai has different faces. It has plenty of elephant safaris, nature parks, golden temples, night market bazaars, modern shopping centres – a mixture! So keep your mind open and have fun doing up an itinerary.

Read all about my day trip to Doi Inthanon – home to Thailand’s highest mountain!

4. Shopping in Chiang Mai will not be as exciting than Bangkok.

As MAYA shopping mall was within walking distance from my AirBNB condo, I would head to MAYA for meals or to spend time. The tenant mix is not very exciting, to be honest.

Night bazaars in Chiang Mai should be more fun than its shopping malls.

You can head to night bazaars (which I didn’t), but, remember to check the markets’ opening days and hours!

5. Choose the right months to go. Chiang Mai’s air quality might not be as clean as you think.

When I went in March, for a few days’ running, Chiang Mai got ‘awarded’ the most polluted city in the world. Blame myself for not doing sufficient research, as usual.

March is popularly known as the ‘burning season’ of Chiang Mai. Forests were on fire, resulting in a haze everywhere. There was one day that was particularly bad – my eyes were stinging from being outdoors in less than twenty minutes! I had to quicken my steps to the building, and later dodge into a massage place to get a rest for my eyes first.

On my last day, the Grab driver sending me to the airport kept his N95 mask on, even in the car, so I followed too.

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