Thailand – Getting to know Chiang Mai

To truly get to know the Thai kingdom, whose history and culture date back to the seventh century, you really have to spend some time exploring Chiang Mai. Thailand’s second largest city isn’t just a gateway to the rural valleys and minority hill tribe villages, it boasts bustling markets, superb accommodation, and excellent food to be found everywhere from street corners to fine restaurants.

A world away from both the exciting pace of Bangkok and the seductive charms of its beaches and islands, Chiang Mai enhances any visit to Thailand. It couldn’t be easier to reach from the capital, with dozens of daily flights or – if you have the time – the overnight train, which provides a more leisurely experience. It’s also easy to reach by flight from various points across Thailand and South-East Asia.

Chiang Mai’s alluring charms are so diverse that it’s as suitable for families and honeymooning couples as it is to adventurers who seek a spot of trekking or cycling through mountain valleys to the hill tribe villages where foreigners are still something of a rarity, and centuries of culture and tradition remain largely untouched.

What to do in Chiang Mai

Although much of it has been engulfed by the ‘new’ Chiang Mai, the old city is a charming starting point for exploration. It’s an area bursting with fascinating temples and where, after dark, its famed night market is a great place to simply stroll, or pick up a bargain or two.

A visit to Wat Phra Thad Doi Suthep is a must. The region’s most sacred temple, it offers outstanding views of Chiang Mai from its hilltop location. Time your visit for dusk, when the tourist masses have left the temple grounds, and witness the magical evening chanting of the monks.

Less well-known, but equally worth a visit, is Wat Umong, also known as the ‘Tunnel Temple’. This 14th century temple is hidden amongst the trees at the foot of Doi Suthep, and comprises of a network of underground tunnels and caves. In one of these quiet corners, it’s possible to receive a blessing from a local monk.

The cuisine of northern Thailand is distinctive – not to mention hotter! – and there are a number of excellent cookery schools adept at sending travellers home with some impressive new culinary skills. For an authentic experience we can arrange a cooking class in a family home. As well as learning to cook traditional Northern Thai recipes, it’s a unique opportunity to chat with the family and learn about local life.

Beyond Chiang Mai

    For many visitors to northern Thailand, one of the great attractions is a visit to the region’s minority hill tribe communities. There are a selection of villages and lodges easily reached from Chiang Mai, providing a fascinating day trip or an immersive overnight stay.

    Lampang and Phrae can be easily reached from Chiang Mai and included in a journey through northern Thailand. Lampang is one of the largest towns in the region, noted for its significant 19th century teak trade and today the only place in the country where horse carts are still used as public transport (albeit mainly for tourists). Phrae is awash with traditional Thai teak architecture in the form of beautiful old houses and temples, as well as several large historic mansions.

    One hour north of Chiang Mai is Sri Lanna National Park. This vast area of forest-clad hills and mountains, fresh water springs and multi-tiered waterfalls is the ideal location for an active day of cycling and canoeing.

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Photos of Chiang Mai

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    • Matt
    • Asia Specialist
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    • Asia Specialist and New Zealand Specialist
    • Emily
    • Thailand and Asia Specialist

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