Bangkok vs Chiang Mai: An Honest Comparison To Help You Choose!

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Last updated on December 24, 2022 by Wandering our World

Tonight! Tonight! In the big fight at Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, the City of Angels takes on the New City—Bangkok versus Chiang Mai—in the heavyweight championship fight!

If we likened Thailand’s cities to prized Muay Thai fighters, Bangkok would surely be the champion but Chiang Mai would be the number one contender for the belt.

In terms of tourism, Bangkok and Chiang Mai are Thailand’s two biggest cities, and they can both draw in the crowds.

With both cities boasting impressive stats, we’re going to pit them against each other to see which city wins the belt and becomes the undisputed champion – i.e. which you should visit on your vacation!

Bangkok, known locally as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or often just Krung Thep for short, is Thailand’s largest city and the country’s capital.

Its shortened Thai name translates as “City of Angels,” and for many tourists visiting the Land of Smiles, it’s their first port of call in the country.

The bustling metropolis of Bangkok is more convenient to visit and is a hive of activity with plenty to do for visitors: shopping along Sukhumvit Road, cultural tours to temples and palaces, and exploring its vibrant and eclectic nightlife. And if you’re looking for evening fun and a busy vibe, Bangkok may be a better choice than Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is located in the northeast of the country and is one of its most popular tourist destinations away from the beaches.

The name Chiang Mai translates as “New City,” and the city is known for its myriad temples, delicious food, and its cooler climate. It’s a great place to visit if you want to see a less visited city in Thailand, but one that’s becoming increasingly popular with digital nomads.

We’re going to have a closer look at these two cities to see which one you would prefer to visit…

CONTENTS:

  1. Which Is Easier To Get To?
  2. Which Is Better For Temples?
  3. Which Is Best For Day Trips?
  4. Which Is Best For Nightlife?
  5. Which Has The Best Hotels?
  6. Which Is Best For Digital Nomads?
  7. Which Is More Expensive?
  8. What Time Of Year Is Best?
  9. Which Is Better?
Bangkok vs Chiang Mai infographic

Which Is Easier To Get To?

Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) is one of the busiest airports in the world, and as such, its host city is one of the most visited and easiest to reach.

No matter where on the planet you are based, you shouldn’t find it difficult to source a flight into Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi (pronounced su-wanna-boom) is a relatively new airport, opened in 2006, and it has good connections to the city center.

Depending on where you are flying into Thailand from, you may find it a little trickier to find a flight directly into Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX).

The airport receives direct flights from a few of South East Asia’s bigger cities—Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, and Hanoi—but travellers from other locations may need to transit via Bangkok.

If you plan to visit Chiang Mai and need to transit through Bangkok, make sure you go to the correct airport in Bangkok. Bangkok’s former main airport, Don Mueang International Airport (DMK), handles the lion’s share of the country’s domestic flights, and you don’t want to end up at the wrong airport, especially if your flight is close to rush hour.

Domestic flights with Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways do usually depart from Suvarnabhumi, though, so you should definitely check your booking before making your way through Bangkok’s traffic.

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Back view of woman tourist backpacker travel in Khao San road, Bangkok, Thailand
iStock.com/Nattakorn Maneerat

Which Is Better For Temples?

If you are a culture vulture and plan to visit Thailand’s temples and historic monuments, you will find that both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have enough attractions to keep you busy during your stay.

Some say a trip to Thailand is not complete unless you visit one of the many stunning temples, and both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have some excellent ones to visit.

The main three temples that crop up on tourists’ to-do lists in Bangkok are Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew, and Wat Arun. Wat is the Thai word for temple, and these three all boast something unique.

Wat Pho is most famous for being the home of the Reclining Buddha statue; Wat Phra Kaew is the home of the Emerald Buddha; and Wat Arun is also known as the Temple of the Dawn.

A view of Bangkok
iStock.com/tawanlubfah

The most famous and most visited temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The temple was built atop Doi Suthep (Suthep Mountain), and in addition to a stunning temple, you will be blessed with amazing views across the city.

Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh are two ther popular temples to visit in Chiang Mai, and they are separated by a mere ten-minute walk through the Old City.

Wat Phra Singh is famous for its golden chedis, and Wat Chedi Luang is a fine example of Lanna architecture.  Both are well worth a visit, and you can easily explore them both in a single morning or afternoon.

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Landmark pagoda in doi Inthanon national park at Chiang mai.
iStock.com/tawatchaiprakobkit

Which Is Best For Nightlife?

It depends on how you interpret the word “nightlife,” but on the whole, Bangkok’s nightlife is hard to beat and better than in Chiang Mai.

As a major capital city, there’s always something going on and something new to experience. There is a plethora of fine dining options, and also Michelin-starred street food to enjoy.

In terms of partying, well, there’s no shortage of that in Bangkok—its name may translate as “the City of Angels,” but not everybody who lives there is an angel…

Chiang Mai can also boast a vibrant nightlife, but on a smaller scale. There are plenty of excellent restaurants, bars, and clubs to enjoy, and as a more compact city, it’s easier to move around from venue to venue as the night progresses.

Thailand is pretty well-known for its nightlife, and neither Bangkok nor Chiang Mai will disappoint or leave you twiddling your thumbs trying to find something to do once the sun has set…

Crowd applauding at club
iStock.com/bernardbodo

Which Is Best For Day Trips?

If you visit these two Thai cities during the hottest time of the year, you may want a day away from the heat and humidity and the hustle and bustle. And you can find some respite by joining one of the great day trips on offer from both locations.

From Chiang Mai, you can easily get out into the great outdoors and away from the stifling streets in the city center. In fact it’s probably a little easier to get into nature here than it is in Bangkok.

One such day trip to escape the city is a trip to Doi Inthanon National Park. Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest mountain, and it’s a very easy walk to the summit—the car park isn’t far from the top. You can also take longer, more scenic routes to the summit, but you will be required to hire a guide for these trails.

The impressive caves at Chiang Dao National Park, 90 minutes north of Chiang Mai, are also accessible from the city. The caves offer the perfect respite from the tropical sun, and of the hundred or so caves in the system, five are available to explore. Two of the caves are set up for free exploration with lighting, while the others require a torch.

Beautiful sunset at Kew Mae Pan viewpoint in Doi inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
iStock.com/tawatchaiprakobkit

If you are looking to get out of Bangkok for the day, the two most popular daytrips are to Kanchanaburi and to the ancient city of Ayutthaya.

Kanchanaburi is best known as the location of the Bridge on the River Kwai and the Death Railway.

The Thai-Burma Railway was built by prisoners of war during World War II under the supervision of the Japanese soldiers who occupied the area during the war. The bridge was also built by POWs and immortalized in the eponymous 1957 war movie.

Ayutthaya was the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam and is a great day trip from the current capital city.

The ruins of the former capital are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with remnants of palaces, temples, and Buddha statues to explore. Ayutthaya is about an hour by road from Bangkok, or you can make this trip extra special by cruising up the Chao Praya River.

Panorama views of Bridge on River Kwai Kanchanaburi Thailand where British and Australian prisoners of war where held by the Japanese.
iStock.com/Elias

Which Has The Best Hotels?

Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai have a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget.

Backpackers and businessmen alike visit Bangkok in large numbers, and the city’s two main areas to stay in for foreign visitors are the backpacker area of Khao San Road and the more up-market area and shopping mecca around Sukhumvit Road.

For Chiang Mai, the Old City neighborhood is a very popular choice, especially if you are looking to explore the cultural aspects of the city. Other areas to look for in Chiang Mai include Nimmanheamin (often shortened to Nimman) and the chic Riverside area.

To help you out if you’ve not visited either city before and to see what’s on offer in each destination, we have the best hotel options for each budget range below:

Bangkok cityscape. Bangkok night view in the business district. at twilight
iStock.com/thitivong

Bangkok

Best Budget Option: Chillax Resort boasts an excellent location, being just a five-minute walk from Khao San Road and a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride from the Grand Palace or Wat Pho Temple.

The downside of this area is that it’s not linked to the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) nor the Metropolitan Rapid Transit (MTR), so if you want to explore other areas of the city, you may need to grab a taxi or a tuk-tuk. See photos and rates here!

Best Mid-Range Option: If you intend to spend more time in Bangkok’s air-conditioned megamalls than in its temples and palaces, a stay at the Mövenpick Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 15 (‘soi’ is Thai for a sidestreet) will put you in an ideal location, with the major malls only a ten-minute walk away.

Sukhumvit Road is well-connected to the city’s public transport systems, and you can move around the city quite easily from here too. See photos and rates here!

Best Luxury Option: The plush Centara Grand at Centralworld also boasts an impressive and convenient location. This hotel sits atop Centralworld shopping mall, and the upmarket Siam Paragon mall is a short walk around the corner.

The hotel also boasts one of Bangkok’s finest rooftop bars (CRU Champagne Bar), an outdoor pool, and nine dining options. The hotel is also a short walk from BTS and MTR stations. See photos and rates here!

Image of couple drinking cocktails when relaxing on chaise-lounges by swimming pool
iStock.com/DragonImages

Chiang Mai

Best Budget Option: With a central location at the edge of the Nimmanheamin area of the city and a couple of kilometers away from the Old City, Furama Chiang Mai is a great base from which to explore the city.

Nimman Hemin Road, Chiang Mai’s shopping area, is a five-minute walk away, and the airport is a fifteen-minute transfer away. The rooms have city or mountain views, and the hotel features a rooftop bar and restaurant. See photos and rates here!

Best Mid-Range Option: Situated at the heart of the Old City area, Phor Liang Meun Terracotta Arts provides an excellent base from which to explore the city.

The hotel features a restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool, and a tranquil garden, and Chedi Luang Temple, the Three Kings Monument, and Tha Pae Gate are all close by. See photos and rates here!

Best Luxury Option: Located in the upmarket Riverside area of the city, the comfortable rooms at RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort feature wooden furnishings and traditional Thai décor and offer views across the river.

The resort has a fitness center, a library lounge, a spa, and two restaurants. The outdoor pool has a swim-up bar, and the resort offers free shuttles to the center of town. See photos and rates here!

Opened door of hotel room with key in the lock
iStock.com/DragonImages

Which Is Best For Digital Nomads?

If you have been or are considering working as a digital nomad, you will be pleased to know both of these cities could make a great base for a few months.

The digital nomad community has been growing rapidly in Thailand over the last few years, and both places have shared workspaces, shared accommodation options, and very good internet speeds. And on top of that, they are both reasonably affordable places to call home for a while.

Chiang Mai in particular is gaining a reputation for being one of the best places to set up as a digital nomad for a few months. The cost of living is relatively low, and the city is small enough that you won’t feel anonymous, as you can in larger cities.

The digital nomad community in Chiang Mai is centered around the Nimmanheamin area, and there are lots of options here for affordable long-term rental.

Bangkok also has plenty of affordable accommodation, with many digital nomads renting apartments on a long-term basis.

While Bangkok has a lot of pros for the digital nomad, including great food and fast internet speeds, some prefer the smaller city of Chiang Mai as it has a friendlier vibe and the digital nomad community is less spread out.

Chiang Mai City from the viewpoint on Doi Suthep is a city highly defined by tourists visiting Thailand.
iStock.com/powerbeephoto

Which Is Cheaper?

On the whole, Chiang Mai is cheaper than Bangkok, but there’s not a huge difference. As Bangkok is so large, there are plenty of options for accommodation and food, and you can always find something that will suit your budget.

Chiang Mai will have slightly lower prices on many things, but the difference will not be that significant. While it’s true the average hotel price will be a little lower in Chiang Mai, with so many options in Bangkok, you will always be able to find something to suit your budget there too.

Chiang Mai is also slightly cheaper for food, but in Bangkok there are many more options for cheap eats, and you can easily survive in both locations on the same food budget.

If you are on a budget and traveling through these cities, be sure to sample the excellent street food on offer—it’s very affordable and very moreish!

A stay in Bangkok may mean you need to spend more on transportation to get around and see the sights too, as it’s a much larger city where there are more miles to travel to get around it.

The BTS and MTR systems make travel to certain areas very easy and affordable, but if you take a long taxi ride at rush hour, you may watch in dismay as the meter keeps ticking over.

All in all, both Chiang Mai and Bangkok are very affordable, and if you’re happy to hunt out a bargain, they’re definitely there to be found. While you can spend time in either location easily within a budget, if you are looking to go crazy and have a blowout, you will find it easier to spend money in Bangkok…

Riverside Canoes In Front Of Xishuangbanna Night Market In Xishuangbanna In China
iStock.com/tonyzhao120

What Time Of Year Is Best?

While both Chiang Mai and Bangkok can be considered year-round destinations, there are certain times of the year that are better than others for both locations.

If you have never visited Thailand before, April can be a great month to visit, as the 13th of April is Thai New Year. Thai New Year is known as Songkran, and the country celebrates in style with a nation-wide water fight.

If you are in Bangkok for this celebration, you will also be in the middle of the capital’s hot season, and the water will be a welcome relief.

April is also good for Chiang Mai, as it’s usually the end of “burning season,” when farmers burn their fields to be ready for next season’s crops. Air quality drops at this time of year, and this burning season generally runs from January through March. During these months, many people choose to avoid Chiang Mai.

November through June are generally considered the best months to visit Bangkok, as they are the drier months.

The rainy season in Bangkok runs from July to August, which is perfect for backpackers who have just finished university, as this is when room prices are a little lower too. Chiang Mai will also be at its wettest during these months, with the rain possibly still falling in September.

But don’t completely rule out the rainy seasons, as they tend not to be as bad as some people think. Unlike in Europe, it won’t rain all day, every day. Tropical rainy seasons usually mean blue skies during the day and a torrential downpour in the late afternoon.

Chiang Mai city view in Thailand
iStock.com/stockinasia

Bangkok vs Chiang Mai: Which Is Better?

Which of these two fantastic cities will appeal to you the most will depend on what you are looking for when you visit.

For many, Bangkok is an easy option, and many people who are heading south to the islands plan a couple of days in the capital either at the start or end of their holiday. Because the majority of international flights into Thailand arrive in Bangkok, this is an easy and convenient way to spend a few days in the capital. It’s perfect for a couple of days of last-minute shopping before catching your flight home.

Chiang Mai is a little bit out of the way for many tourists who are mainly coming to visit the southern beaches. However, it’s far from impossible; it just requires a little bit more planning. You can easily fly up to Chiang Mai from Koh Samui, Phuket, or Krabi airports in the south to add a few days of culture and shopping before flying home.

Perhaps for many, Bangkok is much more convenient to visit and therefore gets the lion’s share of tourists. If you are visiting Thailand for a short time only, a jaunt to Chiang Mai may be reaching too far, but Bangkok is always an easy place to visit and to fit into your itinerary.

With amazing sights and sounds and awesome food in both locations, you are sure to have a great time. Both Bangkok and Chiang Mai are great cities to spend a few days or a few months. There will always be something new to discover, plenty of cultural sites to visit, and some of the best street food in the world to enjoy…

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  • Wandering our World

    Hi and welcome to Wandering our World! This article was written by one of the Wandering our World team - a team of travel enthusiasts who live around the globe.