The Thai city of Chiang Mai is an incredibly popular tourist destination. The city receives nearly 11 million visitors a year, a combination of local Thais and international visitors.
The city in northern Thailand was founded in medieval times and was the capital of a Thai kingdom, the Lanna Kingdom, which left behind rich architecture and historic buildings.
Walk through the city and marvel at the stunning architecture and historical legacies, such as the walled Old City and Wat Chedi Luang.
Visitors are also charmed by the stunning mountains around Chiang Mai and the delicious regional cuisine, which was featured on popular travel shows such as “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown”.
There are many reasons to visit this picturesque town, but you probably want to know more about the practical concerns of visiting. Is the experience as beautiful as the city, or are there hidden problems in the form of safety challenges?
This article can help you decide if visiting Chiang Mai is safe or not. Keep reading for detailed information about risks and precautions, including crime.
Is Chiang Mai Safe to Visit in 2023?
You’ll probably be relieved to find out that Chiang Mai is safe to visit! The laid-back Thai city has a low crime rate and is free from many of the problems that plague more crowded parts of the country such as Bangkok and Phuket.
That being said, you will still need to take some precautions as problems that you might encounter elsewhere in Thailand, such as petty theft, are obviously present here as well.
Chiang Mai is located in Thailand, a country that is very popular among tourists, but which has its fair share of problems. Many countries, such as the Canadian government, advise their citizens to exercise a high degree of caution when visiting Thailand.
Common problems in Thailand include:
- Political unrest
- Bag snatching
- Sexual assault
However, the good news is that Chiang Mai does not experience many of these problems or experiences them at a lower rate. Although it has its fair share of crime, the city is not as big or as crowded as Bangkok, so the crime rate tends to be lower.
While you should still be on your guard, you don’t have to be as constantly vigilant as you may need to be in Bangkok. Chiang Mai also doesn’t experience some other problems mentioned in the advisory for Thailand.
For example, it has lower levels of political unrest. Since it is just a regionally important city, not the nation’s capital, you won’t have to be as aware of political demonstrations and sensitive topics as you might in Bangkok.
In fact, Chiang Mai is the safest city in Thailand and in Southeast Asia according to some metrics!
Visitors, expats, and locals report feeling safe in this laid-back city. You don’t want to get too complacent, but you should also join the locals and relax while you are here.
Crime in Chiang Mai
When visiting most cities in Thailand, visitors tend to be wary of crime. The country has a reputation for plenty of crime targeting tourists, with government advisories issuing lengthy warnings to travelers wanting to visit.
Although some of this reputation is unearned and caused by stereotypes, it is true that Thailand has a high crime rate, and that tourists are often affected by crimes.
Chiang Mai is a bit of an exception to this stereotype. Although crime exists (it is a big city with a high population, after all), the crime rate tends to be much lower than in other parts of Thailand.
Most crimes that occur are petty crimes that may embarrass and inconvenience victims but not injure them. According to Numbeo, Chiang Mai scores an 18.47 out of 100 on the crime index, which is a very low value.
The city has maintained this low value for several years running, which helped earn it the title of the safest city in Southeast Asia.
This shows that crime in Chiang Mai is not widespread at all. Numbeo also offers a breakdown of which types of crimes people tend to be worried about when in Chiang Mai.
The crime that affects people most is corruption and bribery, which is the only type of crime that scores a high value on the crime index (although this type of crime doesn’t affect tourists much).
After that, the most common crimes are drug abuse, break-ins, and petty property crimes such as theft. Chiang Mai has very low rates of violent crime in particular.
The city only has 1.4 gun deaths per 100,000 people each year, meaning that the homicide rate is low. Usually when the homicide rate is low, that is it means that the rate of other violent crimes is also low, because homicide rates are usually tied to rates of other violent crimes.
As you can see, crime is not one of your main worries when visiting.
You should still be somewhat on your guard, because pickpocketing and scams exist here like in any other city in Thailand (although it may be more accurate to say like in any other popular tourist city in the world). However, you don’t need to be constantly vigilant.
As in the rest of Thailand, petty theft is the most common type of crime that occurs in Chiang Mai and the one that is the most likely to affect tourists.
You should definitely take precautions to prevent this kind of theft. Common forms of petty theft are pickpocketing and bag snatching. The Australian government warns about petty theft in its travel advisory for all of Thailand, including Chiang Mai.
Thieves steal valuables from hotel rooms, rifle through luggage in train or bus cargo holds, and snatch bags on the street. Thieves in Thailand tend to get creative, so you need to be vigilant to prevent theft.
Pickpockets in Chiang Mai tend to be more common around popular tourist destinations, such as Chiang Mai Night Market and Tapae Gate.
Chiang Mai thieves don’t tend to be hardened, violent criminals, so you can thwart them with some precautions. The most important thing is to never, ever leave your valuables unattended or somewhere where they can be easily stolen.
Always hold onto your things, even in places that may feel safe such as hotel lobbies or café terraces. Careless handling of your valuables, such as hanging them off the back of your chair, can result in theft.
You also don’t want to do anything that draws attention to your valuables and singles you out as a potential target. For example, don’t use the ATM on the street (many have skimmers anyway) and only use ATMs inside banks or post offices during the day.
Thieves often target people who just got done using ATMs and are quick at snatching your cash as you are putting it away in your wallet. Bag snatching is fairly common in Thailand, including Chiang Mai.
Thieves sometimes use razor blades to separate bags from their straps. Others use motorcycles and snatch bags from the shoulders of pedestrians.
You can try to avoid this crime by holding bags close to your body and walking away from the edge of the sidewalk. Wear a cross-body bag instead of a tote as they are harder to snatch. However, if someone tries to snatch your bag, don’t fight back.
People have been injured before, especially if the thieves were on a motorcycle or scooter. If you can, avoid carrying bags altogether, or use a decoy bag for some of your stuff and store valuables around your body.
Some people turn to deception instead of outright theft to part tourists from their money. Like in other popular tourist destinations, there are plenty of scams in Chiang Mai.
Scammers tend to congregate around places that attract a lot of foreigners, including popular tourist destinations such as Tapae Gate and transportation hubs such as the train or bus station.
Tuk-tuk drivers are common sources of scams. These drivers rarely use their meters and then overcharge tourists. Either insist that your driver uses the meter, or make sure that you agree on a price before you get in the tuk-tuk and head to your destination.
Tuk-tuk drivers are sometimes accessories in other scams. Never, ever go to a business recommended by a tuk-tuk driver, whether that is a tour operator, tailor, or guesthouse.
Usually, they are working with scammers at the business and get a share of whatever overpriced item you are forced to purchase. Sometimes, drivers will tell you that the original place you wanted to go to was closed and insist on taking you to a place of their recommendation.
Insist that they take you to your destination to check. Other scammers take advantage of tourists when they are booking excursions or services.
Some guesthouses will charge mandatory excursions if you want to stay there, which can be expensive. To avoid this, book ahead of time and never go to a guesthouse that has a tout attracting tourists.
When booking a tour or excursion, research ahead of time what it’s supposed to cost as operators sometimes prey on the ignorance of visitors.
Finally, the gem scam is another common scam in Thailand. Never, ever transport items for strangers, even if they promise you a hefty reward. You could get into serious legal trouble.
Avoiding Bad Areas
Tourist parts of Chiang Mai tend to have higher pickpocketing rates, especially around Tapae Gate.
Some of Chiang Mai’s clubs, such as Zoe in Yellow and Spicy, can get rowdy, with everything from pickpocketing to groping to bar fights happening in one night. You can visit those clubs but try to leave early before the party really gets going.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional tips for Chiang Mai.
- Air pollution can get very bad in the city, especially during the burning season (February to April), when farmers burn their fields to prepare for the next season. Avoid the city if you have respiratory issues.
- Traffic in Chiang Mai is notoriously wild. Always be careful when crossing the street. Don’t be tempted by the motorcycle rentals as you have a high likelihood of getting in an accident.
- Be sure to obey local laws. Public drinking is illegal in parts of Chiang Mai, such as around Tapae Gate. You also need to follow Thai laws, such as not insulting the royal family. Penalties can be hefty.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common questions you may ask before visiting Chiang Mai.
Is Chiang Mai safe to walk around?
Yes, Chiang Mai is safe to walk around. However, you need to be careful of traffic, and not all areas of the city have the right infrastructure for walking, such as sidewalks.
Is Bangkok or Chiang Mai safer?
Chiang Mai is safer than Bangkok. It is less busy, and it has a lower crime rate.
Is Chiang Mai or Phuket better?
Chiang Mai and Phuket are so different that it is impossible to compare them—one is a stately mountain city, while the other is a party beach town. In terms of safety, Chiang Mai is better than Phuket.
How many days in Chiang Mai is enough?
Three days in Chiang Mai is usually enough if you want to explore the rest of Thailand. However, many people fall in love with the city and end up staying for longer.
What should I be careful of in Chiang Mai?
Be careful of thieves and scammers who often target tourists. They often operate in areas that are popular with foreigners and get crowded, such as the Chiang Mai Night Market.
So, Is Chiang Mai Safe to Visit?
Like any city, the city has its dangers. The most likely to affect a visitor is pickpocketing or another form of petty theft.
But as long as you are vigilant about handling your valuables and do your research before agreeing to a deal that seems too good to be true, you should have a safe time in Chiang Mai. Happy travels!