Bangkok and Chiang Mai are the two largest cities in Thailand. However, there are some significant differences between them.
The first most obvious point is their difference in size. Bangkok is a lot larger, with a greater population than Chiang Mai. Presently, over nine million people are living in Bangkok, compared to Chiang Mai’s small population of only 139,000.
Bangkok is clearly the busier of cities and best suited for visitors who enjoy bustling city life and a wide range of activities. Alternatively, if you’re looking for somewhere with a slower pace of life with a quieter and more relaxed scene, then Chiang Mai may be better suited for you.
We will now go into depth, discussing the differences, similarities, questions, and misconceptions about the two diverse cities.
Our goal is to equip you with all the information necessary, so when you’ve finished reading, you will have all the required knowledge to decide which city is better to visit.
Is Bangkok Or Chiang Mai Better? (Bangkok Vs Chiang Mai)
To ask the question “Is Bangkok or Chiang Mai better?” is like asking if a Chocolate Milkshake or a Vanilla Milkshake is better. Both are great…it purely depends on which one you prefer.
To help answer this question, we are going to break things down into more specific topics.
When it comes to entertainment, Bangkok is the idyllic destination for offering a diverse range of activities. Shopping centres, sky bars, markets, temples, zoos, cinemas, trampoline parks, and Muay Thai gyms are just a small list of some of the things you can enjoy in Bangkok.
On the other hand, Chiang Mai is a smaller city and surrounded by mountains and thick jungles. This opens the door to activities set in a more natural environment, including an Elephant Nature Park, jungle trekking, cave exploring, and Chiang Mais very own version of the Grand Canyon.
Winner: Bangkok. Due to its size, Bangkok has a much bigger selection of activities to choose from.
Quality Of Life
Chiang Mai tends to have a much slower pace of life with a very laid-back atmosphere. In today’s modern age, everything we experience is at speed. We love, work and play fast, trying to achieve everything with efficiency, and of course, speed.
Most of our experiences are through secondhand experiences on our phones. We fill our minds with daily to-do lists, places to visit, and people to see, without thinking much about how we are going to enjoy those experiences. It’s easy to lose sight of what is right in front of us, just requiring us to put down our smartphones and living them firsthand.
Have you ever returned from a holiday feeling like you need a holiday? Vacations can be filled with excursions, sight-seeing and activity-seeking that it becomes so easy to forget to unwind.
That’s what makes Chiang Mai so unique, the ultra-slow way of life. It takes you back to your roots, making you feel more relaxed and enjoying each moment better.
On the other hand, Bangkok is what you would typically expect from a city: Crowded streets, fast-paced environment, and an overall chaotic atmosphere.
Life in Bangkok is super fast, from the crazy traffic to the heaps of tourists. If you’re looking for a place of serenity, you won’t find it in Bangkok. There are no park benches, nowhere to take a peaceful walk, and pretty much any concept of quiet areas are unheard of.
It’s hard to even take a walk down the street without being hassled by a Tuk Tuk driver, taxi, masseuse, or bespoke suit merchant. You tend to get accustomed to it after a while, but it can certainly be overwhelming for a first time visitor to the capital.
Winner: Chiang Mai. In terms of quality of life, Chiang Mai is our winner. Do you disagree? Leave us a comment with your thoughts!
Both cities have many accommodation options to choose from; however, Bangkok has a higher volume of luxury and western-style resorts. Although Chiang Mai does feature some exclusive hotels that match the luxury benchmark of its competitor, there is sheerly more choice in Bangkok.
Accommodation tends to be cheaper in Chiang Mai, with a better selection of hostels and low-budget guesthouses. Overall, though, we would have to say that Bangkok is our winner due to its greater value for money and the more comprehensive choice of modern resorts.
Winner: Bangkok. For families, couples, and individuals looking for western-styled comfort, then Bangkok is our chosen winner. If you’re a backpacker with a tight budget, then Chiang Mai may be suited for you (although Bangkok does offer its own great selection of hostels).
The prices of food are almost the same in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. If you’re looking for street food, then Bangkok has a vendor on nearly every corner. Street food in Chiang Mai is a little more organised, mostly found at one of the many night markets.
The food selections are very similar, with both cities offering a mixture of local Thai dishes to western favourites.
Winner: Equal. The food is delicious in both cities, with a diverse range of cuisines to experience.
Cost Of Living
Chiang Mai is hands down a far more affordable place to live than Bangkok. To live in Bangkok, you will need at least 50,000 baht per month to cover all of your bills which include rent, food, transportation, and entertainment.
Sure, you can probably live in Bangkok for cheaper, but we’ve found that 50,000 baht allows you to live comfortably and well beyond (or within) your means.
In contrast, to live in Chiang Mai, you only need to set aside 30,000 baht per month. It’s much smaller, and prices tend to be a lot lower. Rent prices start from as little as 5,000 baht per month. Transportation and food costs will also be less.
Winner: Chiang Mai. Almost everything is at least a handful baht more affordable in Chiang Mai.
Although both Chiang Mai and Bangkok feature a nightlife scene, Bangkok is far bigger and better. The nightlife in Chiang Mai primarily consists of a single street that flaunts a strip of bars and places to eat.
It’s great if it’s your first time in Chiang Mai but can become repetitive if you’re visiting the same few bars every night.
Meanwhile, Bangkok is huge, and there are plenty of different options to choose from. You can visit sleazy places like Khao San Road, one of the main hubs for backpackers.
Asides from your bars with the typical old western man balding, there are also a variety of classier and more expensive bars that serve some of the tastiest cocktails we’ve ever experienced.
Bangkok has an abundance of choice, and there is always something to do and a new place to visit.
Winner: Bangkok. Due to its bigger selection of choice.
In Thailand, the weather is always hot. Even during the “winter” months, the temperature remains a consistent 27 degrees.
Naturally, Bangkok is hotter, as you would expect from a bigger city. During the summer it can become an uncomfortable hot, reaching temperatures of up to 40 degrees.
Chiang Mai is somewhat less hot, with some mornings and nights being cold enough to need a jumper.
Air pollution in Chiang Mai is one the worst in the world, notably due to farmers burning their fields in the preparation of new harvests for the upcoming rainy season.
Similarly, air pollution is Bangkok is also bad, mostly caused by industrial emissions. Other contributing factors include rubbish burning, open cooking, and agricultural burning methods.
Winner: Tie. Typically, the weather is hot in both cities. Chiang Mai can be slightly less hot, especially during the mornings and night times.
How Many Days In Bangkok And Chiang Mai?
The question ‘how many days in Bangkok and Chiang Mai’ is entirely subjective, as it depends on several factors.
For instance, if you’re a city lover and enjoy being in the heart of all the action, then you may want to consider spending longer in Bangkok. If, however, you prefer being in nature, surrounded by rice paddies and tall mountains, then go and spend longer in Chiang Mai.
The classic Thailand trip usually involves staying in Bangkok for four nights, and another four in Chiang Mai. This will allow you time to see all of the major sights, plus giving you a little extra time to unwind and relax.
Is Bangkok more expensive than Chiang Mai?
Bangkok is less expensive than Chiang Mai, but not by much.
The most notable difference is the accommodation prices, with Chiang Mai being roughly 20% cheaper than its rival. Food, drink, travel, and entertainment we found pretty much the same, but of course, it depends on where you are.
Both cities are worth visiting as they each have their own diverse things to see and to do.
Bangkok Vs Chiang Mai: Conclusion
Bangkok is the bigger city that has everything apart from nature. It’s slightly more expensive, but with the constant temptation to go out regularly and spend more money. Just like with most cities, you will never run out of things to do in Bangkok.
If you’re longing for more natural and quiet surroundings, then check out Chiang Mai. Located 700km north of Bangkok, you will find the land of misty mountains and dense rainforests.
So what it ultimately comes down to is this: Do you want a first-class city for cheap or do you want a delightful, charming but secluded large town?
More Thailand Guides: