Cheap flights to Chiang Mai, via Bangkok, leave from Perth, with flights from Sydney and Brisbane costing only a little more. Australians do not need a visa to enter Thailand for stays of less than 30 days. Chiang Mai airport is only 10 minutes to the south-west of the city centre via taxi, which travel the Super Highway and Chiang Mai Road. Travellers can book limousine or car rentals from the transportation service counters on the first floor opposite the arrival lounge, but the cheapest way to get into town is by minibuses (songteaws) or tuk-tuks which operate taxi services outside the terminal building. Expect to pay about 50 baht (A$1.60) for a return trip to the airport. Many hotels also offer free transfers to and from the airport.
Transport options for getting around Chiang Mai are straightforward. The old town can be crossed on foot – although a bicycle is better - but most travellers either rent a scooter or rely on local tuk-tuks, or the distinctive red songteaws. All are easily found and are cheap. Public transport in Chiang Mai is rather basic, with a limited bus service which runs on fixed routes. Taxis and tuk-tuks are easy to flag down, though taxis tend to limit themselves to the airport run and private calls, leaving the casual trips to tuk-tuks and songteaws. Tuk-tuks are the ubiquitous and quintessential Thailand icon and Chiang Mai has plenty, usually gathered in tourist areas. Fares can vary, as clients are expected to haggle, but because they are so cheap, travellers usually find themselves haggling over a few cents. Renting a scooter is cheap, from about 150 baht (less than A$5) a day. Most guesthouses rent out scooters, or bigger bikes.
Located in attractive countryside about 5km south of Chiang Mai along the Ping River, are the ruins of Wiang Kum Kam, an ancient city dating back to the eighth-century Haripunchai Kingdom. Keep an eye out for interesting items such as stone tablets with Mon inscriptions, Buddhist sculptures and architecture, earthenware and pottery. Taking a horse-drawn carriage is a popular way to enjoy the ruins although some visitors prefer to take their time to appreciate this large site on foot or by rented bicycle. The mountain of Doi Suthep overlooks the city from the north-west and is a must-see when in Chiang Mai. Combined with Doi Pui and Doi Buakha it forms one of Thailand’s most picturesque national parks, famous for its waterfalls. While nature’s beauty is breathtaking, the main reason many visitors come to Doi Suthep National Park is to visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple and one of the most holy Buddhist sites in Thailand. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a major pilgrimage destination, especially during the Buddhist holidays of Makha Bucha and Visakha Bucha (February 13 and May 11).
A variety of pubs, bars and lounges can be found along Moon Muang Road and at the Night Bazaar. Choices include the full spectrum, from local places with cheap drinks to high-end lounges with funky music. A great place to hang out with locals is at pubs and bars located near Chiang Mai University. A visit to Chiang Mai would not be complete without a 'Khantoke' dinner. Guests sit on the floor on cushions around a round woven or wooden table (a khantoke), laid with delicious northern Thai specialties. 'Khantoke' dinners are available at a number of local hotels and at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre. However, the most popular area to try this traditional set menu is at cheap informal eateries along the Ping River. Cheap street food is mainly available around Tha Phae Gate (Old City). Somphet Market is open 24 hours and is a good place to find unusual delicacies. Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar is the best place to shop for cheap souvenirs, handicrafts, CDs and DVDs, silk, silverware, clothing, art, decorative homewares and accessories. The Sunday Street Festival is another shopping must-do, a chance to get a sense of a very local atmosphere with vendors dressing up in traditional Thai costumes to sell their merchandise.