Chiang Mai offers a slightly more chilled-out experience than Bangkok or Pattaya, but it's not without its share of scams and rip-offs. Here's how to stay safe.

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Hustlers, touts, dodgy guest house owners and rogue Tuk Tuk drivers can all be found in Chiang Mai, but there's no need to panic. here's how to navigate these possible encounters like a seasoned Nomad.

Air Pollution in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is as polluted as any other Asian City, but the smog in Chiang Mai has been getting worse for more than 10 years.

There aren't any emission controls or regulations regarding vehicles, so if you are sensitive to air pollution, it's a good idea to keep your medication handy and on bad days, limit your time outdoors.

Burning Season

Between February and April is probably the worst to visit Chiang Mai if you are sensitive to smoke, as fields in the countryside around the city are burned off. Smoke from similar activities in Myanmar, Indonesia and Malaysia can also reach Thailand. It's often referred to as the "southeast Asian haze".

Sufferers from eye irritation, respiratory discomfort, and headaches, should avoid a visit at this time. 

Songkran Festival

The traditional Thai New Year's Day, every April, is especially popular in Chiang Mai, with celebrations lasting up to six days. A party sounds awesome to us, and Chiang Mai turns into a giant water fight, actually a water celebration. Celebrating Thais will throw buckets of water on you, hose you with water guns, throw water balloons and use any other way to soak every human and beast in the city.

It's a great way to cool off in the blistering heat, is a really good time and a great experience for travelers. but remember:

  • The water used by the Thais comes from the local river. The water is meant to symbolically wash away the bad, but it can also wash away your health as the water can be dirty and contain some nasty bugs. Some people have cast iron immune systems, some don't. Be aware.
  • You don't want to leave the guesthouse or hotel and suddenly find yourself drenched by an excited Songkran celebrant as you get into a Tuk Tuk. Clothes dry, but your phones, backpacks, electronics, money etc can end up drenched. At this time of year, keep them locked up safe at your hotel or in waterproof cases or bags.

Chiang Mai Scams

Everybody needs to make a baht, but some people make serious baht scamming Chiang Mai visitors. Here are some of the more common scams to watch out for:

Credit Card Skimming

Avoid, the ATMs near Warorot Market Kad Luang.

Keep your bank card safe, always try to use an ATM at your hotel or inside a bank. Learn how to avoid Thai baht scams, ATM/Card skimming & more.

Pickpockets

Around Tapae Gate & Chang Mai Night Market. The usual travel safety rules apply: be aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables stashed safely and watch your daypack or shoulder bag.

Gem Scam

Somebody might strike up a friendly conversation and soon you will find yourself surrounded by mafia-types, asking you to take gems to your next destination. It can feel downright dangerous. If somebody makes you an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Tailor Scams in Chiang Mai

These often involve multiple people, who may or may not even be a Thai national - "Yes, I know that tailor! I've been purchasing excellent suits from him for two years and exporting them to Belgium - he is amazing". The Tuk Tuk driver, the coincidental referee, and the smiling kid at the wat, they all get a cut. Whilst not a direct threat to your wellbeing, it’s not a nice feeling to be taken for a ride. Check out our larger article on scams in Thailand to avoid getting gouged.

Chiang Mai Guesthouse Trek Upsells

You get into Chiang Mai on a bus from Bangkok and a tout takes you to a guesthouse. Arriving tired, you find out you need to book a nearby trek or tour as a requirement of your stay. This is how a lot of guesthouses make money. Don't take it personally, but find out beforehand and pre-book your accommodation.

Chiang Mai Tuk Tuk Drivers

Like elsewhere in Thailand, they aren't fond of using the meter. Read how to deal with Tuk Tuk drivers here.

Overpriced Temple Tours, Treks, and Adventures

"Oh man, I was sold a trip to Wiang Kum Kam for $100!” Always ask your hotel or guesthouse for a base price for any excursion you might be considering. Why pay $100 for an experience when you can pay $5. Do your research.

Traffic Dangers in Chiang Mai

The serious pollution problem is caused by a serious traffic problem:

Some parts of Chiang Mai don't have sidewalks. Local drivers really don't care about the wellbeing of foot traffic. Remember what they taught you in school. Pay attention, look both ways before you cross and you will stay safe.

Motorbikes in Chiang Mai: The Safety Angle

Even X-games athletes refuse to ride motorbikes in Chiang Mai. If you have the guts and want to give it a go, first check out this video and read our section on riding motorbikes in Thailand.

Drinking in Public in Chiang Mai

We don’t advocate drinking in public generally, but certainly, don't do it around Tapae Gate, it's a 1,000 baht fine. There are other places where you can't be publicly inebriated in Thailand. Getting caught can mean a bigger dent in your wallet and sometimes jail time.

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