How to Experience Chiang Mai like a Local

Chiang Mai is a popular destination for travelers, tourists and expats. It’s rich with culture, many activities, good food, and an affordable destination. The many reasons so many choose to visit Chiang Mai or make it their permanent residence.

Whether you visit Chiang Mai or decide to make it your home, you can choose to live as a foreigner or experience Chiang Mai as a local. I truly believe you receive a more authentic experience in any country when you can live or visit as a local.

For each country this means something different depending on how foreigners are looked at in a country. Chiang Mai and it’s people embrace tourists and foreigners. For one tourism brings a lot of business to local business owners especially during the high season. Secondly, most locals enjoy the company of a ‘farang’ a.k.a foreigners. They like to hang out with them and drink together.

Keep an Open Mind

Little Girl on Swing in Chiang Mai - Experience Chiang Mai as a Local

When visiting any country I recommend an open mind. Thailand is a second world country, so depending on where you’re from Chiang Mai could be sort of culture shock. Of course, there are higher end malls, restaurants, and hangouts but outside of the city, you’ll find people living in villages that work to survive. At the markets, you’ll find butchers chopping meat out in the open, and fried bugs. It’s definitely better to approach the environment with an open mind and embrace local life as it is without judgment.

At night markets you’ll see children or elderly begging for money, Songtaew drivers lined up to give you a ride, and many people haggling at street stalls for handicrafts.

Learn the basic language

A Temple in Chiang Mai - Learn a Little Bit of Thai to Truly Experience Chiang Mai

Of course, you don’t have to be fluent in Thai, but learning the basics such as ‘Hello’, ‘Thank you’, ‘How much’, etc. are important. Although most Thai’s know basic English it’s just respectful and nice to be able to respond in Thai words as much as possible. You are a visitor in their country so you don’t want to expect that every Thai person is able to know your native language.

Eat Street Food

Street Food in Chiang Mai - Eat the Street Food to Experience Chiang Mai as a Local

By far the best food is the street food. Sure you can find a good bowl of noodle soup or Phad Thai in a fancy restaurant that is overpriced. But you’ll find the best tasting, and authentic, dishes at the street carts that line the streets of Chiang Mai. Not only is it better tasting, but much much cheaper and a great way to experience Chiang Mai as a local.

You can find noodle soup stands, sausage stands, and dessert stands placed alongside mostly any road in Chiang Mai. Head to a local market where people come to serve and cook the best tasting food all day long. Grab a whole fried fish for only 170 Baht, or a bag of curry for 40 Baht.

Venture outside the City Center

Bike Along a Country Road in Chiang Mai - Experience Chiang Mai like a Local and Escape the City

Most visitors tend to stick to the Old City Center or the New City areas, as most hostels and hotels are located in these areas. But these are definitely not your only options. Venture outside the city center to places like Sankamphaeng. Here you’ll find the way true locals live.

With local food markets, home shops, and local businesses head to a small village to see the way they live. Most have brick and mortar homes, some the traditional Thai homes built on stilts. Some households and most in my village tend to set up a shop outside their home. They’re almost like mini-marts, and it’s a way for the families to make money.

Venturing outside the city also means making way towards the mountains. Where you’ll find less traffic, and more nature. You also can’t beat the views way up in the mountains. Rent a motorbike or grab a Songtaew to head up into the mountains. You’ll find local shops, viewpoints and places to eat.

Hire a local tour guide to Experience Chiang Mai

Me and My Local Guide in Chiang Mai - Experience Chiang Mai like a Local

Local guides are great for many reasons. It’s a way for some Thai’s to make a living, and they know all the history and culture of their city. They can teach you how to say certain phrases, show you the best places to eat and shop, and teach you about the history and culture of Chiang Mai and it is a great way to experience Chiang Mai from a local’s perspective.

On your next visit to Chiang Mai, I recommend trying to experience Chiang Mai as a local for a rich and diverse experience. Experiencing another country as a local provides an authentic and truly unforgettable trip.


Nichole is a lifestyle and travel blogger currently living abroad in Thailand with her husband. Also a full-time student and young adult, she encourages authentic and budget friendly travel experiences. She blogs at The Daily Pursuit.


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  2. Thanks so much for these tips! My partner and I are going to be traveling in Thailand in the new year and will definitely keep these in mind. Can’t wait to visit Chiang Mai!

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