Bangkok versus Chiang Mai: What’s the Deal?

The two cities in Thailand that have the most popular appeal for visitors and long-term expats are Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Both have their charms, that’s for sure. But which one is best? How do Bangkok and Chiang Mai compare? If you are thinking of staying in Thailand or visiting for a long stay, where should you go? Here we look at the different attractions of Bangkok and Chiang Mai Thailand, what you can expect, and what you can look forward to.

Chiang Mai Thailand
Chiang Mai/ Image via js42/ Flickr

Food and Drink in Chiang Mai and Bangkok

You can be sure that you can find anything you want to eat, anytime you like, in Bangkok. Bangkok offers all types and varieties of Thai food, as well as Chinese food and any other types of food you can think of. There are some amazing restaurants in Bangkok that you need to visit – but some of the best food can be very pricey compared to the average cost of a meal in Thailand. To save money, eat at the night markets or at local restaurants. Chiang Mai offers spicy, juicy, delicious Thai choices and you also won’t go hungry in this city. You will find, in addition, a number of established cookery schools so you can learn how to prepare Chiang Mai specialties yourself. While Chiang Mai may not have the big, flashy restaurants that Bangkok has, you’ll find all you need to enjoy Thai food and other Asian specialties.

Culture and Vibe in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

You will find that Chiang Mai has definitely got that expat, backpacker thing going on – it’s definitely a place to enjoy when you are traveling on a long trip, with its traveler-friendly bars, cafes, and amenities. The place is smaller, of course, which contributes to the friendly vibe. Bangkok is more of a culture shock. Bangkok is big, brash, and full of contradictions. Here you will find the ancient and the modern, and you will encounter a working city packed with people going about their daily lives. Bangkok is less of a backpacker place and more of a working, economically charged city. Some people love the buzz of Bangkok while others crave the calm of Chiang Mai – whatever you decide, you’ll find both cities are fascinating.

Nightlife in Bangkok and Chiang Mai

Bangkok has the exclusive clubs and the budget-friendly dives. You can spend a week’s budget on one entry to a super-stylish club, or drink all you want in a backpacker pub on Khao San Road. Chiang Mai has a wide range of drinking places but you’ll find a more laidback vibe here – no big, brash techno clubs or bars where you can drink cocktails on the 55th floor of a tower block. Again, your preference will define whether you are happier in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. But Bangkok definitely has a greater variety of nightlife entertainment.

Trips from Chiang Mai and Bangkok

Chiang Mai is your place for trekking trips, trips into the limestone caves, and visits to hill tribes. You can make a trip to the Burmese border and get out into nature and the great outdoors very easily. From Bangkok you have all the options if you want to fly – planes depart the airport to anywhere in Thailand. You can also reach Koh Samet and Hua Hin in a couple of hours, and make a trip down to Phuket for beach-based partying and some spa relaxation. It is worth remembering that both Chiang Mai and Bangkok are sadly lacking in the beach department….

Shopping, Shopping, Shopping

Bangkok and Chiang Mai both have amazing night markets for all you need – electronics to clothes, souvenirs to home décor. Chiang Mai has, in general, a more traveler-type vibe in terms of shopping. You can find more hill tribe goods and interesting souvenirs. Bangkok has so many malls you could visit one every day of your stay and still be missing some. Here you’ll find designer goods and copies, international fashion, and top-of-the-range gadgets.

Bangkok from Wat Arun
Bangkok from Wat Arun/ Image via Thangaraj Kumaravel / Flickr

Cost of Living in Two Cities

Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the cheaper place to live, although your costs will obviously depend on how much you want to or are able to spend. Chiang Mai offers modern, comfy apartments for long-term residents that you wouldn’t be able to afford in Bangkok. But you have much more choice in Bangkok in terms of where to live, and price ranges. Expats living in the classiest apartment blocks, or simple, affordable and traditional homes. It comes down to how much money you have and how you spend it – both cities are affordable if you plan your budget.

Climate and Weather

Bangkok can get stifling and almost unbearable in the middle of the hottest summer, which is why a lot of residents escape to the islands and Hua Hin! Chiang Mai Thailand in the mountains has a much more manageable climate.

Need more info? Check out PhuketOn – your guide to everything in Phuket, Bangkok, Hua Hin and more. Take a look at restaurants and hotels in Bangkok and Phuket on PhuketOn.

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