How to book tours in Chiang Mai

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Elephant in a Field

How to book tours in Chiang Mai

Category : Tips/Tricks

Wat Rong Khun – White Temple in Chiang Rai

Congratulations on booking your trip to Chiang Mai!  Now is the time to start planning your days.    What are you planning to see and do while in Chiang Mai?     As you begin to look into the different options, you’ll come up with many many questions as most people do.   Here are some of the most common questions we get and our best try at answering them:


“So, I want to (Insert your tour of choice here).  Which company/group is the best?”

Unfortunately , this is one of those unanswerable questions.    Unless you’ve actually been on every available option, there will never be any way to say that “this” tour is the best.   Yes, I know your friend that came through Chiang Mai 3 years ago said “I went to xxx and it was amazing.”  And they were right.  In fact, just about EVERYONE goes home and says the same thing to their friends.    Is it a conspiracy?   No, it just shows that most of the tour operations are good at what they do (They do it everyday!)

Luckily, we have sent thousands of guests to various tours.  So we have created a list of the tours that our guests have enjoyed the most.    That does not mean that they are the best, it means that they have a great history as far as we are concerned.  We have no financial/personal reasons to recommend these tours over any others.   That being said, we are happy to book any tour you like.  As stated before, we can get discounts on most tours, listed on this site or any other site.   Just let us know the name or contact info and we’ll give them a call.

My Recommendation:   Check out out the list we put together of the more popular tours.  As explained above, they are tried and tested and we can happily recommend them.   It will also help with ideas for those who don’t know where to start.  –>  THE BEST REVIEWED TOURS LIST  <– 


“Ok.   I’ve decided on which tours I want, how do I make the booking?”

This is probably the easiest part!   The simple answer is to let us make the booking for you.   Yes, its that easy.    If you are staying with us you probably already know that we prefer to book for our guests.    If make sure that we don’t get calls early in the morning from lost drivers.   We extend this to people using our website as well.    If you contact us through CMStay, whether by booking through the tours page or by simple messaging us, we can arrange any tour on your behalf.
Here is the dirty little secret that most Westerners (non-Thais) don’t realize.    The prices on brochures and most tour company websites are padded (include a commission for an agent).   Yes, that’s right.   When an agent books for you in Thailand, there is NO ADDED COST to you.    In fact, that is how we get discounted prices for our customers.   We simply cut or share the commission leading to a cheaper price for you.    Why?   It’s a long term investment.    We give away what commission we make here and there and we get great reviews and great reputation.   In the long run, that is worth much more to us than 100thb or so…
If it’s not completely clear, let me put it like this:


***The HIGHEST possible price you can pay is by going directly through the tour’s brochure contact or through their website!    This is not a typo!***


All of my US friends and rolling their eyes or pulling at their collars now.   Yes, I know its always better to cut out the middle man to save money in the US, but not here.   Give it a try.  If we can book at the same or cheaper, you’re welcome to book it yourself.
Now, there are some tour companies that do not have commissions built in, but in those cases using an agent will get you the brochure/website price and help with translation issues and location confirmations.   You still get the same price, but with a bit of added service (FREE!)


“When should I book?”

The simplest answer to this question is: Book as soon as you are sure of the tours and dates.   Most tour companies have a no cancellation/no refund policy.   This is not a big issue for most people.  If you let them know in a reasonable amount of time, most companies will allow you to reschedule or even change between tours that they offer.   This is why its probably better to book just a few days before the actual tour as you’re schedule will be better defined and less chance of needing to miss the tour due to scheduling issues.
*HOWEVER, certain tours do book out completely during the high season and especially during holiday periods.
For example, during the high season, you may want to book the elephant camps a week or more in advance.   If you are planning to come during Yee Peng, you may even want to book a month or more in advance.

“How do I pay for the tours I want to book”

This will depend entirely on how you make your booking and for what tour.   More and more tour companies are creating websites where you can ask for a booking.   Depending on the size of the company and level of sophistication, these sites will range from having a fulling functioning credit card payment system, PayPal, or simply provide instructions for a bank transfer.
Keep in mind that Thailand is still a mostly cash economy and most places will prefer not to use credit cards or PayPal as they will incur extra changes for using them.   For this reason, most smaller organizations will not take online bookings at all or will charge an additional percentage to cover their fees.
This is another clear reason to use a local friend/host/agent to make a tour booking on your behalf.   A local can easily run over to the office or even make a free bank transfer to cover the tour fees.
If you are staying with us, you already know we offer this service to all of our guests.   For those of you not staying with us, we can still help.   We currently accept online transfers of PayPal and BTC.   We hope to have the credit card system up and running soon.   If you’re not sure, or just have questions, send us a message at


“What do I do on the day of the tour?   Where will they pick me up?”

Another often overlooked benefit of having a local book the tour for you is being able to arrange pick up/drop off and explaining where you are staying.   This is no small feat, when you consider that addresses do not work here and names (non-thai) of streets, hotels, Airbnb’s get transliterated and can become impossible to find.
We’ve come across many travelers that did not realize that 99% of tours include transportation.   And of course the tour company did not make a point to let them know either.   So they diligently get up early and start walking across town to get to the office, while everyone else is being picked up.
So, on the day of the tour make sure to be prepared before the scheduled pick up window.  Its a best practice to make it as easy as possible for the tour guide/driver to find you.   If you’re at a smaller hostel/hotel, wait in front so they can simply ask for you by name.   This is usually the best case scenario for large hotels as well, but there will be times to simply tell them your room number and have them ring you when downstairs.
  • TOURIST DISCLAIMER – Keep in mind that everyone going on the tour is a tourist on holiday.   They may not be as puctual as they would be in their normal lives    If one person is late, not ready, or hard to find when the tour driver comes, everything/everyone gets slowed down.   And of course, if gets worse and worse if others are not prepared.    Don’t be one of them and keep in mind that the pickup time window is a “best guess” estimate.  They could be 15 mins late or more depending on the other tourists.


“What do I bring with me?”

Have your receipt ready.  When you make your booking you will receive a payment receipt stating the tour name, date of the tour, price, etc.    If you book online, this could be emailed to you.  Please be sure to have a printed copy to give to the tour guide.
You should also bring your camera/phone, bug spray, and sunblock.    These would apply to pretty much any/every tour in Chiang Mai.   If you are going on a tour where you will get wet (Rafting, Elephants, Grand Canyon, waterfalls) a towel and change of clothes may be useful.   If you are going anywhere near a border (Chiang Rai/ White Temple, etc) bring your passport.   They have border police road blocks and they have the right to check that everyone is in Thailand legally.
Most tour will include a meal or food of some sort, entrance fees, and include transportation.   Unless on a private tour, or specifically stated, the only thing you should have to pay for on the day of the tour are “extras” not included in the tour such as souvenirs and drinks (most tours will include bottled water in their price)


Use a local agent/friend/host to book your tours.   They can cross the translation barriers, help with getting you picked up from the right place, and save you some money.   Seriously, give it a try.   The worst thing that can happen is they get you the same rate, but save you the effort of doing it yourself.


Our list of the Most Popular tours over the years:  CLICK HERE

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