With its paradisaical islands, centuries-old Buddhist temples, and verdant nature, Thailand is one of the world’s most popular vacation hotspots, having attracted over 15 million tourists in the first seven months of 2023 alone.
Though the majority of travelers either land in Bangkok, Thailand’s bustling financial center and national capital, or Phuket, the entertainment capital and trendiest resort island, the power duo are not the Southeast Asian giant’s only tourism magnets.
Chiang Mai is a major contributor to Thailand’s astonishing tourism recovery, hosting millions of visitors every year, but what exactly has the country’s second-largest city got to offer?
Chiang Mai Is More Traditional
Chiang Mai has been described as Thailand’s cultural capital, and its most traditional large city.
Though it is big and home to over a million residents, it doesn’t feel nearly as metropolitan as you would expect it to be, like Bangkok or Pattaya.
There are no huge, tall skyscrapers in the historic center; instead, you will find streets that are narrower and a much higher proportion of traditional eateries and family-owned shops, and it can certainly feel more authentically ‘Thai’ compared to the national capital.
It is one of the reasons why foreigners are so drawn to Chiang Mai, as it has not yet been overtaken by tourism as the islands or other coastal areas in Thailand have.
Don’t get us wrong: it is extremely popular, but authorities have done a stellar job at preserving its unique character.
It Is Cheaper
Thailand is a remarkably cheap destination by Western standards.
Even some of the country’s most expensive tourist zones, namely Pattaya and Phuket, can feel like a bargain to American travelers used to paying exorbitant prices traveling domestically or to the Caribbean for their yearly getaways.
You must bear in mind, however, that prices in Thailand’s tourist ‘belt’ do not reflect the cost of living in the country, and certainly not in Chiang Mai, where wages are much lower than in the islands.
If you find Phuket is a steal of a deal, wait until you get to the Northern capital.
On average, long-term tourists spend $523 per month or less staying in Chiang Mai (accommodation not included).
Restaurant prices are nearly half what they are in Phuket, and consumer prices are also 10.4% cheaper.
Trust us when we say your dollars will stretch a lot further here.
A Growing Expat Community
If you’re a digital nomad, you’ll certainly have no shortage of reasons to fall in love with Chiang Mai, as it is cheap, the weather stays warm year-round, the atmosphere is more relaxed than other major Thai cities, and there is a thriving expat community that calls it home.
Moving to Thailand, foreigners often favor a relocation to the Northern city over the capital or the islands due to the wide availability of services and housing at reasonable prices, the numerous work-friendly cafes and co-working spots, and the Old Town’s walkability.
According to One Stop Chiang Mai, as many as 40,000 foreigners reside in the city, where English is ‘commonly’ spoken and locals have grown accustomed to and even welcome the presence of Westerners, who help boost the local economy and generate jobs.
It Is Historical
Though it made its fame as a tropical party destination, Thailand is not all about beaches and crowded entertainment venues.
Chiang Mai, for instance, puts certain European cities to shame with its historical moated, walled Old Town and hundreds of elaborately built temples.
Besides housing temples and ancient fortifications, Chiang Mai is the gateway to the picturesque North of Thailand, where tourists will find elephant sanctuaries, quaint mountain villages, and sweeping natural vistas, making it an ideal destination for slow travelers hoping to truly take in the atmosphere.
43% of Americans going on an international trip this year are actively seeking a cultural immersion, as stated in a new study conducted by OnePoll, and traveling to Thailand is definitely where they will find it.
The Safest City In Southeast Asia
Last but not least, Chiang Mai has time and again been listed as the safest destination not only in Thailand but all of Southeast Asia, as well as the 32nd safest city in the entire world.
There may be some scammers and petty thieves around, particularly in touristy zones and/or during major events, such as Chiang Mai’s iconic yearly Songkran Water Festival, but crime rates are significantly lower compared to other cities in Thailand and the wider continent.
In the safety ranking put together by Numbeo, the Crime and Safety Indices by City, Chiang Mai ranks higher than Singapore, the most developed city (and country) in Southeast Asia, and even Tokyo, the capital of Japan.
In terms of urban security, it is only surpassed by Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com