Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand and the northernmost city in the Southeast Asian country. Thailand is a country famous for its tropical and idyllic beaches of Phuket in the south, the bustling metropolis of Bangkok with its temples and adult attractions in the middle and Chiang Mai with its mountains in the north. Thailand is one of the countries in Southeast Asia that Americans can visit without a visa.

Chiang Mai is one of the ancient Thai cities. Unlike European cities, most of the city’s historic buildings have been lost. However, the city preserves the ancient city plan with the city moats, parts of the old city walls and many of the old temples. While in Southeast Asia, exploring the fabled “Lost City” of Angkor Wat in Cambodia is a must.

Wat Pha Lat Monastery in Chiang Mai
Photo by Aaron Spray

Wat Pha Lat Monastery in Chiang Mai

Thailand has many excellent roads

It may come as a surprise to many, but the roads in Thailand are surprisingly good. While many of the back roads in developing countries around the world are potholed and in poor condition, this is not the case in Thailand. The main roads in Thailand are excellent and many of the minor side roads are also paved and well maintained. These roads can be breathtakingly beautiful and have very little traffic.

It is very easy and straightforward to rent a scooter/moped (locally called “motorcycles”) in Thailand. Mopeds are the main mode of transport in much of Southeast Asia (although cars are also the main mode of transport in Thailand and Malaysia). Mopeds are a very convenient means of transportation.

The streets around Chiang Mai are also full of cyclists. The mountains, temples, quiet cobbled streets and forests surrounding Chiang Mai make it a cyclist’s dream.

Village Hmong Doi Pui in Chiang Mai
Photo by Aaron Spray

Village Hmong Doi Pui in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is notorious for its air pollution – mainly from fires in the area and poor air circulation in the area. Air quality is often poor in February and March.

Related: You can visit Thailand’s Grand Palace and learn more about the history of Siam

What to see and do on a motorcycle tour around Chiang Mai

There is much to discover by motorbike in the forested mountains around Chiang Mai. There are always many Buddhist temples and monasteries to discover, as well as many hidden cafes and restaurants in the woods. A 30-40 minute scenic drive from Chiang Mai is the hidden Hmong Doi Pui Village. The Hmong Doi Pui village is inhabited by the hill tribes of northern Thailand – these are different ethnic groups from the dominant Thai population. They have their own mother tongues and traditions. There are many ethnic shops and markets in the village with many local goods for sale. Take time for a coffee or tea at the quaint café-restaurant Hmong Café.

A drive up the mountain through the tropical forests on narrow, paved but quiet country roads to the Doi Pui camping area is one of the most scenic drives in the region.

Sights to explore outside of the Chiang Mai area (note that “Wat” means temple):

  • Wat Pha Lat Hike (to Wat Pha Lat Monastery)
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Ratchaworawihan
  • Doi Pui Nature Trail
  • Camping Doi Pui
  • Wat Phra That Doi Kham
  • Hmong Doi Pui village

Mountain trails around Chiang Mai
Photo by Aaron Spray

Mountain trails around Chiang Mai

People can choose to take day trips to the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai or drive for several days. There are many guesthouses and accommodation options throughout Northern Thailand where you can stay. Await the journey and drive all the way to Chiang Rai – Thailand’s northernmost major city.

See also: Travel to Thailand: Put Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan Temple on your list

What you should know about renting a motorbike and driving in Thailand

Before traveling to Thailand, obtain an international driving license from your home country/state. International driver’s licenses are basically just translations of driver’s licenses into many languages. While people in Thailand can still usually rent mopeds without an international license, visitors face a fine if caught. Traffic police in Chiang Mai routinely target tourists and check if they have the required documents.

It’s also possible to get an international driver’s license online (and people can get one abroad too, but it can take a while). Beware of unauthorized websites offering international driver’s licenses online – unofficial documents can get people into trouble.

Mountains and forests around Chiang Mai
Photo by Aaron Spray

Mountains and forests around Chiang Mai

There are a few things to keep in mind when driving in Thailand. Thailand is one of the countries in the world that drives on the left side of the road (visitors need to get used to that). Helmets are also compulsory on mopeds. Driving in Thailand may be a little more chaotic than what people are used to in Western countries, but it’s still much better than other countries like India.


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