Chiang Mai may be Thailand’s second largest city, but it has a restfulness and beauty that is light years away from the bustle of Bangkok. Instead, it is a city nestled in the hills of northern Thailand which is filled with centuries-old Buddhist temples.
Anyone interested in art and culture should visit sights like the Wat Phra Singh temple, with its world-famous Lion Buddha image and walls that are covered in dazzling mural artworks. There are also fascinating museums to explore, such as the Lanna Folklore Museum.
Shopping is another highlight, and a trip to the market at Talat Warorot is an unforgettable experience (and a great place to buy unique souvenirs for those back home).
Although the city is a fine destination for history lovers, it also boasts a lively nightlife, courtesy of the thousands of students that it hosts, and party fans will feel at home right away. Chiang Mai is also a city of restaurants, from gourmet vegan curries to riverside diners, ensuring that all tastes will be catered for.
The area around Chiang Mai is filled with natural beauty and outdoor activities as well. Get to know some charismatic locals at the Patara Elephant Sanctuary, head out rock climbing under expert supervision or relax on a rafting expedition with a hamper full of food and drink.
There are adrenaline rushes to be had as well, with companies in Chiang Mai organizing whitewater adventures, as well as the “Flight of the Gibbon” park, which offers 33 different of zip-lines in beautiful surroundings.
And if all of that sounds like too much excitement, Chiang Mai is also home to several relaxation spas, providing traditional Thai massage.
With the area’s tropical climate, it’s important to pick the right season to visit. November is thought to be the ideal month to travel as temperatures hover around 30 degrees and the festival season gets into gear. Bear in mind that when festivals, such as Loy Krathong, are on hotel prices tend to rise. For a budget trip October or March might be just right.
For a quintessentially Thai experience, you can navigate the streets of Chiang Mai via tuk-tuk (a cross between a small van and a moped). They are plentiful and cheap, but be sure to arrange a price before leaving. Other options include vans with covered areas for passengers (known as “songthaews”), as well as privately rented cars. Cycle-powered “samlors” are also a common sight and a relaxing way to see the city.