Chang Mai is the largest city in the north of Thailand and well worth a trip. In many ways, Chang Mai is similar to Bangkok, but without the mass of people.
Chang Mai is perhaps the most serene big city I have ever had the privilege of visiting. Located at the foot of a large mountain, the city nicely meshes older areas with modern conveniences. Serene Buddhist temples stand only a few blocks from bustling universities. Much of the city can be walked, but moped rentals are cheap and plentiful. Street markets are common, but the hustle and bustle of Bangkok is not.
The night market is perhaps the most noted thing about Chang Mai. Located in the eastern side of the city, the night market runs about a mile down the length of street dwarfed by malls, restaurants, stores selling art and spas. The stalls on the side of the road tend to sell cheap touristy products, but you should check them out anyway to sample some of the food items. Thais seem to take great humor from cooking anything they can get their hands on so long as they can gross out the tourist. Yep, you can munch on fried roaches, spiders, crickets and so on. For a good laugh, one can hang out around the stalls and watch tourist try the delicacies. It’s like the show Fear Factor without the washboard stomachs and breast implants.
To find the “good stuff” at the night market, you should head off the street and up into the open air malls. As you move towards the back of the malls, the quality of the products goes up dramatically. You’ll find artist not only hocking their wares, but also creating them before your eyes. There is some serious talent in the back of those malls.
If silk is your material of choice, Chang Mai is a good place to purchase it in bulk. Do not buy it at the night market. Instead, ask your hotel for a recommendation to a shop. Prices are low, but quality is high.
Guidebooks will tell you the best way to get to Chang Mai is to take an overnight train from Bangkok. Liars! Flying domestically in Thailand is very cheap. A one-way flight from Bangkok to Chang Mai will run you about $40US. There is no need to book ahead. Just walk into the airport in Bangkok and buy a ticket on the spot. If you prefer to spend the night in a bunk on a train, knock yourself out. Just keep in mind Thais tend to have smaller body masses than Westerners. Much smaller.
Of all the cities in Thailand, Chang Mai is my favorite. Yes, even more so than Bangkok.