Chiang Mai is considered the cultural capital of Thailand and a great starting point for discovering the wonders in the north of the country. The region was once known as ‘Lanna’, meaning ‘land of a million rice fields’, and during the green season, it becomes apparent why. From above, you can see vast expanses of emerald-green paddy fields nestled in the valleys between the mountains. While the kingdom of Lanna no longer exists, the heritage of Lanna lives on in the local food, language, and way of life. Chiang Mai and North Thailand have a distinct charm that sets them apart from Bangkok and Southern Thailand, making them a perfect complement to a beach vacation and showcasing the incredible diversity that Thailand has to offer.
Highlights of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is renowned for its temples and walking around the historic Old City area you will see a number of delightful buildings. Amongst the most impressive are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man. Don’t miss the chance to see the most revered temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Located on a hilltop that overlooks the city, there is a local saying that roughly translates as “You haven’t visited Chiang Mai until you’ve visited Doi Suthep”.
Away from the city, make trips out into the Chiang Mai countryside to experience the natural beauty of the province. Go rafting or hiking, and take time out to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary. Experience the cool air at the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon, and pay your respects at the twin pagodas.
Getting around Chiang Mai
Within the city, distinctive red songthaews operate as shared taxis. They don’t run on fixed routes and are relatively easy to use with base fares starting at 30 Baht to destinations in the central city area. There are also tuk-tuks which offer better value than their Bangkok counterparts. You will need to negotiate the fare before getting in, but do it with a smile and enjoy the ride. An increasingly popular alternative is to use one of the ride-sharing apps with Grab and Bolt being the most popular.
For an old-fashioned and genteel form of transport, you can take a samlor ride. These bicycle rickshaws are less common, but you can take a tour with them and it’s a wonderful way to see Chiang Mai and at the same time, help preserve this traditional form of transport.
Food and drink
Chiang Mai is home to some fabulous food ranging from street food to Michelin-rated restaurants. If you’re visiting Chiang Mai at the weekend, don’t miss the Walking Street Markets. The markets set up late afternoon on Saturday along Wualai Road and on Sunday in the Old City along Ratchadamnoen Road and the adjacent streets. If you’re not in town at the weekend, pay a visit instead to the Night Bazaar, open daily along Changklang Road.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
The Old City is at the very heart of the city and home to a good range of accommodation options from budget guest-houses through to luxury boutique hotels. Staying near the Ping River puts you closer to the Night Bazaar, while the Nimman area offers accommodation close to the trendy bars, restaurants and boutique shops in the west of the city.