Chiang Mai vs Bangkok. The question we all ask ourselves when planning out an itinerary for a Thailand vacation. It can be a very difficult question to answer, especially if you have never been to Thailand before.
You always want to make the best decision when it comes to what city to check out and how long to spend there. You invest a lot of time and money in planning a trip and saving. You don’t want to end up picking a place that you get to hate.
Well in my opinion- it’s no competition- Chiang Mai all the way!! At least that’s what I think after spending time in both cities. After coming back from my first trip to Thailand I felt the need to share my thoughts on the question: Where should I spend more time- Chiang Mai or Bangkok? I am writing the article that I wish I would have read before we planned our honeymoon because I really do regret going to Bangkok at all. It ended up just not being a place that suited our lifestyle and I want to help someone else realize that it’s OK to go to Thailand and NOT go to Bangkok.
Bangkok gave me sensory overload.
My husband and I are fairly experienced travelers at this point and I would like to think we can make the best of any situation and have fun just about anywhere. However we really regret giving Bangkok so much time in our itinerary. It was not the fun and exciting place I thought it would be.
I felt totally overwhelmed when we were in Bangkok. I normally love an adventure and love being in unknown places, but this was too much for me. The sites, sounds and smells all at once did not make me feel welcome but rather put me on high alert. I just couldn’t relax and felt uneasy the whole time.
We actually had this conversation with a couple other groups of people we met in Chiang Mai and they all had similar opinions. Basically it wasn’t what we had expected it to be. It was too big, it was overpriced, it was too hot and hard to find authentic Thai food.
Now that is not to say you shouldn’t go to Bangkok- if this city is on your bucket list don’t let me talk you out of it. I’m sure if you are with people who knew the city or you do your research you could have an amazing time in Bangkok. However if you are planning a trip and you feel unsure- consider this article and inform yourself on what you are getting into.
Bangkok is huge. As in too big.
Bangkok is overwhelmingly large occupying 605.7 square miles (1,568.7 square kilometers). The city is very spaced out so if you do decide to go, make sure you book your lodging in an area that makes sense for where you want to be. We did not research this and were stuck in an area that didn’t have a lot of attractions for us on foot. We ended up having to take taxis all over. The city is so large it is actually broken down into 50 districts!
When we landed at BKK it took about 90 minutes to get from the airport to our Airbnb which was only 20 miles (32km) away. The ride into the metro area itself was overwhelming never mind the actual city. We passed high-rise after high-rise and neighborhood after neighborhood. The traffic would come to a total standstill on a 5 lane expressway and we crawled to our Airbnb at a very slow pace.
Chiang Mai is much smaller and easier to navigate.
Chiang Mai has a center center referred to as “Old Town”. It is a perfect square area in central Chiang Mai that is extremely easy to navigate on foot or bicycle. We stayed inside of Old Town and loved the location. The city is only 16 square miles (40 square kilometers) and there is plenty to do to keep you occupied for weeks.
Bangkok is very densely populated.
The population of Bangkok is over 8 million with a total of 14 million living in the surrounding metropolitan region. This number has to be falsely low because it’s from a 2010 census. That means the population density is 14,000 people / square mile. That means that there are people EVERYWHERE. And with people comes cars, garbage and traffic. Think New York City of Thailand.
Chiang Mai is not nearly as crowded.
Chiang Mai is still the second largest city in Thailand, however the population is a lot more manageable at 131,900. With a population density of 9,550/ square mile. Basically just under half the density of Bangkok. A lot more manageable!
Bangkok is hot. Almost unbearably so.
It is hot… as in it was NEVER BELOW 90F or 32.2C with crippling humidity. I love warm weather and can handle the sun and heat. But this was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I had to shower at least twice a day and even then I felt like a disgusting sweaty-swamp lady. I understand that you can get used to the heat index. Unfortunately we were coming from the dead of winter in Buffalo, NY where the average temp is 19F or -7C. It was a rough couple of days. Air conditioning is not really prevalent there either as everything is mostly open air. So that can make for an extremely uncomfortable situation.
Chiang Mai is north and much cooler.
It felt so good to be in Chiang Mai after Bangkok because although it was still warm, it was much more pleasant. We were still swimming outside in January and getting sun. But the humidity index is not nearly what Bangkok was, and since it’s surrounded by mountains it’s a lot cooler. I actually wore long sleeves when we went on a day excursion from Chiang Mai! I felt like in general the temperature was just more comfortable, I didn’t feel like I was sweating through my clothes as soon as I stepped foot outside.
Bangkok is not inexpensive.
One of the common themes you will hear when planning a trip to Thailand is that it’s so cheap. Well maybe it used to be, but Bangkok is not inexpensive. I will say the beer can and street food is still an unbeatable deal. However the prices in restaurants and cafes and shops were pretty similar to what I see in The States.
Chiang Mai is still cheap!
When people tell you that Thailand is so cheap to vacation in, they are most definitely talking about Chiang Mai. It’s still very cheap to eat and drink there which is great because you are going to want to do a lot of that! The shopping is also way more inexpensive that Bangkok.
Bangkok didn’t feel authentic Thai.
We honestly just kept feeling like our food was low quality, not fresh and thrown at us because we were tourists who didn’t know any better. Granted we could have been choosing the wrong places but it all felt like a giant tourist trap.
Also for the first and only time to date we got swindled by a tuktuk (taxi) driver. We ended up miles and miles away from where we needed to be with this man demanding we give him more and more money. We eventually just got out of the car and this man proceed to follow us on foot and try to coax us back to his car so he could try to swindle more money out of him. Very very frustrating.
Chiang Mai is the Thailand you see in pictures.
Chiang Mai was beautiful. There are hundred of meticulously cared for temples to explore. The food was so delicious (Koa Soi!!!) and the food was so fresh everywhere. I felt like everyone we encountered was so friendly and nice. I really loved it there and would go back in a heartbeart.
Don’t get me wrong, in Bangkok we had a ton of fun bar-hopping and people watching on Khao San Road- we absolutely did! However it seemed like all of the food and restaurant spots we kept picking were not authentic Thai food, but rather a crappier version made for tourists who don’t care or don’t know any better. After getting lost in the industrial portion of Chinatown on our 2nd day, and then immediately getting scammed by a Tuktuk driver- we decided to depart from Bangkok early and spend some extra time in Chiang Mai. This was a decision I will never regret and I do not have any desire to go back to Bangkok.
What do you think? Have you been to Bangkok and agree? Disagree?