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Venues for a meal out in Chiang Mai are plentiful with everything from street-side stalls serving simple Thai food to gourmet meals at Le Crystal Restaurant, the home of French culinary excellence, on offer. A fairly recent addition to the city’s Italian restaurants was Billy’s. Billy’s proved so popular that just six months after it opened a move to larger premises became necessary.
Billy’s has moved less than 100 metres along Kampaeng Din Road from its original location. Friends say signs indicating where the restaurant is are not much better than before, but the tantalising aromas of Italian cooking are a dead giveaway. Although the proprietor is Burmese-born, he honed his skills working under master chefs at some of the finest Italian eateries in Northern Thailand.
Billy’s is an atmospheric spot made all the more pleasant by the bonhomie of the owner. Eclectic menu items are economically priced and come in large portions. Billy’s bruschettas provide the perfect appetiser for patrons. Pizzas have slightly thicker bases than is the norm and come with generous amounts of topping. The pasta collection is varied with savoury salmon one of the more popular orders.
Billy’s is open every day from 12:00 to 23:00. The 1Stop guide to Chiang Mai restaurants gives a taste of the diversity of the dining venues in the city.
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There are around 20 clubs in Chiang Mai in which nightlife aficionados are able to dance in a convivial atmosphere and enjoy a selection of beverages. The Hot Shot Nightclub in the basement of the Pornping Hotel is probably the longest established of the clubs.
Due to its proximity to the Night Bazaar and some of the major tourist hotels, Hot Shot attracts a mixed clientele of Thais and foreigners. There is an entry fee which covers the cost of the first drink. Each subsequent drink costs the same as the admission charge. The music is so-so and is a fusion of Thai and English tunes.
The Warm Up Cafe is popular with the younger crowd and is located on Nimmanhaemin Road. The cafe is said to have the best music selection of any of the Chiang Mai clubs. It gets very busy on weekend nights. A dining area outside the club allows visitors to combine an evening of dinner and dance.
Infinity Nightclub is another club which sees more than a few farang (foreign) tourists and expats. Bands play live and cover mostly Thai numbers with the odd English one thrown in. Resident DJs spin a pleasing mix of dance and hip hop. Infinity is spacious, contemporary and imbued with a vibrant party atmosphere. It is on Nimmanhaemin’s Soi 6.
The 1Stop pages on nightlife in Chiang Mai list other options for a night out.
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Chiang Mai boasts around 300 Buddhist temples which Thais call wats. With so many to choose from it takes a special beauty or landmark attraction to stand out from the crowd. Wat Chedi Luang manages to do this in more ways than one. The focal part of the large temple complex off Phrapokklao Road contains the 60–metre-high Chedi Luang (Great Pagoda).
A chunk of the ancient pagoda was toppled by an earthquake in the mid-1500s yet there is plenty left to remind visitors of the grandeur of this monument. Stone naga and elephant statues guard stairways on the pagoda. A niche high on the east side used to contain the legendary Emerald Buddha Statue. A copy of the statue was enshrined in the niche in 1996 while the original now resides in a temple on the grounds of Bangkok’s Grand Palace.
Lak muang translates into English as city pillar. Chiang Mai residents believe the prosperity of their city hinges on the spiritual happiness of the pillar and it is housed in its own pavilion at the temple. The pavilion has two statues of fierce giants and three gigantic rubber trees standing guard around it. Lak muang even has a festival, Inthakin, dedicated to it.
Wat Chedi Luang’s grounds also feature an abundance of ornate pavilions and Buddha statues. The recently revamped viharn (prayer hall) is easily the most grandiose of these and, as it faces the temple’s main gate, is most visitors’ first impression of this Chiang Mai landmark. Our 1Stop guide to sightseeing in the city details the charms of this temple and the other main draws in the locality.
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When Chiang Mai first made its way onto the international travellers circuit the principal activities for visitors were jungle-trekking, bamboo-rafting and elephant-rides. As the years have passed the choice of activities has kept pace and tourists are now able to choose from a dazzling array covering the whole spectrum from yoga-training to whizzing through the treetops on a gravity defying zipline.
Several elephant centres in the hills surrounding the city now offer courses in taking care of and riding elephants. Mahout courses at Woody Elephant Training in Mae Tang constantly receive glowing reviews. Woody’s courses are available as half-day, one day or two days and the longer the time spent with the pachyderms the greater the rapport.
The tuition provides basic instructions for budding mahouts to give their charges such as left, right and forward. Then comes the opportunity of assisting with feeding before climbing up for a ride around this pristine part of Chiang Mai Province. The courses also include bathing and cleaning the elephants. The actual level of interaction depends on the particular length of course chosen.
People taking the two-day option spend the night in rustic accommodation onsite and help with the preparation of traditional Thai delicacies. The price of the courses includes round-trip transportation from Chiang Mai. The 1Stop guide to courses in Chiang Mai lists the other main educational programmes available for visitors.
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There were several 10-pin bowling alleys in Chiang Mai a few years ago. The only one that still seems to be open, on a regular basis anyway, is Bully Bowl in the Kad Suan Kaew shopping and entertainment centre on Huay Kaew Road. The facility is on the upper floor of the centre and has more than enough lanes to cope with sudden rushes of customers.
Bully Bowl is open from 11:00 to 01:00 every day. Those looking for a bargain will find it is better to play in the daytime on weekdays when prices are lower. Offers change regularly but usually give either three or four games for 100 Baht. In the evening games are still only 70 Baht. The low cost of games coupled with shoe hire at 30 baht make playing here an attractive proposition when compared with Western countries.
It pays to bring your own socks because you will have to buy a pair if you don’t. During the daytime, the alley has normal lighting. At around 16:00 the format changes to disco lighting. The alley has a fully licensed bar which also serves snacks and light Thai meals. Other amusements onsite include a pool table and a dartboard.
Our 1Stop Chiang Mai activities pages offer details about what to do when on holiday in the locality.
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There are two shooting ranges close to Chiang Mai which provide people with the chance of handling real guns and firing live ammunition. Both are to the north of the city. The Thai army runs the nearest and oldest established of the facilities. Visitors are offered a selection of weaponry which includes Colt 45s and Ruger 10/22 rifles.
Instructors and staff at the range are consummate professionals and ensure shooters don the correct safety gear and rules are followed to the letter. Targets are human silhouettes or bull’s-eyes and depend on the specific gun chosen. The club is located on the left side of Highway 107 when heading for Maerim and opens from 08:30 to 18:00 every day.
Maerim Shooting Range is in the Mae Sa Valley on the other side of Maerim. This range has a selection of pistols, rifles and shotguns. As with its nearby cousin, safety is of paramount importance at this range and shooters are provided with top-of-the-range protective glasses and ear muffs.
A recent addition to central Chiang Mai’s draws is a Top Gun simulator. This facility allows gamers to emulate Tom Cruise with the latest in laser guns on realistic targets. Hits are automatically recorded and players are able to monitor their progress with ease. The 1Stop Chiang Mai activities webpages have a list of the diverse things for visitors to do here.
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Tomorrow sees the official start of the Songkran Festival. For many Thais and expat residents in Chiang Mai the festival is the highlight of their annual calendar. Although the festival is known to many for its signature water-fights there are also lots of traditions attached to it that mark the transition from the old to the new year.
City authorities say the parade from Chiang Mai’s railway station and up Thapae Road to Phra Singh Temple will take place as usual. The parade is a celebration of the heritage of the old Lanna Kingdom which the city was once the capital of. The retinue features wonderfully adorned floats accompanied by marchers and dancers in traditional costume.
The parade passes through the main combat zones for the water-fights. The local water-board has already released water into the city’s moat (koo muang) to ensure that Songkran revellers have enough ‘ammunition’ to load up their water-pistols and buckets. Bars and restaurants typically stock up on their supplies of beers and food for Songkran.
In previous years the roads around the moat were the setting for one massive party. This year the Thai government has stated that alcohol is banned from the main water-fight arenas, but it still remains to be seen whether Chiang Mai’s police force will actually enforce the ruling. The 1Stop Chiang Mai home page has a featured article giving more details about Songkran.
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Joining a Chiang Mai cycling tour offers a relaxing way of sightseeing in the surrounding areas of the city with the added bonus of enjoying a little exercise. Chiang Mai Mountain Biking is one of the finest cycle tour operators in Southeast Asia. The company uses only top quality bicycles and offers a variety of tours to suit all particular requirements which are led by some of the most knowledgeable guides in the business.
The guides lead daily mountain biking trips to the pristine mountains and national parks that ring Chiang Mai. The company provides transportation from pre-arranged pick-up points to the chosen cycling venue. There is a range of different trails available for cyclists from novice level to skilled mountain-bikers. Tour options include the half-day City Cultural Ride and one-day odysseys such as the Hunter’s Escape Routes.
The three-day Adrenaline Rush is a real gem for activities enthusiasts and provides one day of biking in the mountains, one day of rock climbing and one day rafting. The mountain bikes utilised for the tours feature full suspension. Safety equipment is included in the cost of the tours. Before setting off on the bicycles guides run full orientation sessions for participants.
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Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, or Doi Suthep as most Chiang Mai residents abridge it to, is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Thailand. Most people living in the city say that if you haven’t taken a trip to the hilltop edifice on the west side of the city then you haven’t really been to Chiang Mai.
The temple is an 18km journey up a tortuous road which slopes up from behind the city zoo. Shared songthaew taxis, private tours and rented cars or motorcycles are the transport options for the trip. Songthaews wait near the zoo and set off once enough passengers are aboard. Once at the top of Suthep Mountain, a 300-step flight of stairs leads up to the temple’s main portal. There is a cable-car service for those who do not want to climb on hot days.
Visitors need to take off their shoes and cover their upper arms and legs before entering the temple. There are sarongs available for people who are not suitably dressed for visiting a religious site. Inside the temple compound a golden pagoda (chedi), temple bells, and statues such as a replicated emerald Buddha and Hindu deity Ganesh are among the highlights.
A parapet running around one side of the temple offers commanding views over the city, although haze at this time of the year sometimes spoils the vista. Souvenir and Buddha amulet shops at the base of the temple enable visitors to take home their own unique memento of this renowned landmark. The 1Stop guide to sightseeing in Chiang Mai has more details about the abundant sights in the locality.
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Chiang Mai’s Bear Bar is a fairly recent addition to the city’s venues for nightlife and live music. It differs from other music venues in the city such as the Riverside and the Inter Cafe in that it does not feature the same bands every night. Some of the finest live acts in the region gig at the Bear, with guest appearances by other Thai and international musicians.
Due to the continual rotation of musicians on stage at the Bear genres are truly diverse and patrons are just as likely to hear blues, jazz, Latin or pop on any given night. The emphasis is on music and the acoustics and lighting are geared towards enhancing the experience. There are no televisions showing endless reruns of long past football matches here.
The Bear has a simple menu with popular Thai dishes such as yam woon sen (spicy glass noodle salad) and khao pat (fried rice) and pizzas on it. Pizza options are imaginative and named after cartoon characters. The Fozzie, for example, has a fiery topping comprising chilli chicken, onions, peppers, chilli and garlic.
Beer prices are about average with San Mig Light at 85 Baht. Those looking for a bargain could try the 18:00 to 22:00 happy hour when three large bottles of Leo or Chang are 199 Baht. The lengthy cocktails list includes house specialty Small Piece of Fluff. The Bear Bar is open every evening except Sunday with live music from around 21:00 onwards.
The Bear is located on Charoen Prathet Road, between the Night Bazaar and the Ping River. Our 1Stop guide to nightlife in Chiang Mai has information about alternate venues in the city.