Nipa and Steve 15/10/2007
NIGHT MARKET: I went to the night markets in Chiang Mai almost every night. They were FANTASTIC! The vendors seemed much more friendly and willing to negotiate than in many of the places in Bangkok. If you can speak Thai, do it, even a little bit. If you smile and play the "game" you are far more likely to have a fun experience. Always remember, their first price is always going to be a bit outrageous, but don't offend them by asking for 20% of the asking price! If you shop around beforehand and get a good idea of what everyone is asking, you will have some leverage. I was looking for some Crocs (sandals) and they were priced anywhere from 150-280 baht. Polo shirts some may start at 400 baht, depending on how dumb you look (not me of course), but you can get them for 150-200 baht. Look around be strong, don't just agree to any price. But, also remember, that this is their living, so don't cheat them. Play fair and you'll all come out ahead!(maybe)
Chiang Mai definitely has a different vibe from the rest of Thailand. More relaxed, less tropical. Most people head here for the shopping or the hilltribe treks. I enjoyed a short 2-day trek, however, be sure to prepare well (I took far too much stuff without having any idea). The night market is also fun, and worth visiting--good seafood and you will enjoy bargaining with the locals. Buying trinkets from the tribes in the villages seemed good value while up in the local hills and mountains.
Wendy and Family 10/06/2007
Visitors coming from Bangkok will find Chiang Mai far more relaxed and the weather cooler. But it has its traffic jams at rush hours and pollution can be felt. However the center of the city (inside the moat) is calm with many temples, small houses with garden, shops, cheap restaurants and hotels.
With the introduction of low cost airlines it is really easy and cheap to fly to Chiang Mai taking only one hour and costing arond 1800 baht , but it is also accessible by night train (it has to be tried at least once) and many buses (bus not fun). Like othertowns cities in the kingdom you feel really safe at all hours, the most dangerous place being the road, there are frequent accidents due to reckless driving and drunks (especially at night).
People are smilling and friendly even though in touristy places you feel its no more a natural smile but a commercial one. This is the place to go for your shopping, everything is made locally in the region, so it is a lot cheaper (but if you go straight to the factories you won't get a better price than on the markets). Street food is the best, better than in many restaurants and of course cheaper, my only advice when picking a street vendor, choose the ones where Thai people go, avoid those without customers.
In just a few minutes you can be outside the city and enjoying the beautiful sceneries and fresh air of the nearby mountains, it is a great starting point to explore the rest of the northern regions (Mae Hong Son, Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen). Great deals on dental works and eyewear. Some hospitals (incl. Ram Hospital) have great standards, so don't panic if you need some medical attention. (worry if it's a snake bite)
Nightlife is not as excessesive as you'll find in Bangkok, but there are many good spots located along the river and around the night bazaar.