The second-largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai is touted as
the ‘Rose of the North’ for the beautiful flowers
that flourish in its cooler mountain climate. This small city
offers a much more pleasant atmosphere than Bangkok, but still
has all the modern amenities. Additionally, the location of the
city lends itself to excellent trekking and exploration of the
lush surrounding nature areas. The heart of Chiang Mai is its
old city, circled by ancient walls and moats and offering an old-world
feel, despite the heavy traffic circling it.
Chiang Mai Attractions
There is much to see and do in Chiang Mai, and one of the simplest
and cheapest tourist activities is to wander the windy, narrow lanes
of the old town and seek out the pretty moat with its ancient bastions.
The city dates back 700 years and many historic structures have
been well preserved. Perhaps the most distinctive is the 42m high
ruined Chedi Luang which stands in the town centre.
The Tribal Museum, which offers a glimpse into the culture of
the major hill tribes of Thailand. Here, you’ll find a massive
collection of handicrafts, costumes, jewellery, ornaments, utensils,
tools, musical instruments and ceremonial paraphernalia.
Wiang Kum Kam was the earliest historical settlement in the Chiang
Mai area and the excavated ruins are worth seeing. Established
around the 11th century, the city was flooded and abandoned in
the early 18th century. A four-sided chedi and the layered brick
pediments of Wat Kan Thom remain. An important four-piece inscribed
stone slab from Wiang Kum Kam is on display at the Chiang Mai
Bo Sang village is almost entirely devoted to the manufacture
and sale of beautiful umbrellas and visitors can see how the umbrellas
are made and decorated. A particularly good time to visit is during
the colourful annual Umbrella Festival in mid-January.
Doi Inthanon National Park is home to Thailand’s tallest
mountain (2,563m), which is just 47kms south of the city centre.
The park covers 932 square kilometres, encompassing magnificent
waterfalls and wild orchids. It is an ideal spot for some walking
and picnicking, and camping is also permitted.
Chiang Mai Temples
One of the main attractions of Chiang Mai is its many temples.
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in the city, dating from 1296,
and was created using typical Northern Thai temple architecture.
It houses two key Buddha images: Phra Sila, which reputedly came
from Sri Lanka or India 2,500 years ago, and Phra Satang Man,
a crystal seated Buddha that dates from about 1,800 years ago.
Doi Suthep mountain (1,676m) lies 16kms northwest of the city
centre and is topped by one of Thailand’s most sacred temples,
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, dating back 600 years. The area around
the wat features several other interesting attractions. Visitors
who make it up the 300 steps to the temple are rewarded by great
Wat Chedi Luang is located near to Tha Pae Gate, where many travellers
begin their visit of the city. This complex at one time housed
the Emerald Buddha, which is now located at Bangkok's Wat Phra
Kaeo. Wat Phra Singh is the site of many important religious ceremonies,
particularly during the Songkran Festival. More than 700 monks
study here. Wat Chet Yot (Wat Maha Photharam) features a chedi
constructed during the late 15th century; it is considered an
Chiang Mai Trekking
Many visitors use Chiang Mai as a base for mountain treks, especially
to visit the hill tribes that live in the surrounding area. Treks
can last anywhere from one day to a month and may include bamboo
rafting and elephant rides. The Tourism Authority of Thailand
(TAT) publishes a list of licensed agencies and there is a Professional
Guide Association which issues accreditation to guides. Wandering
around the touristy areas of town, you'll discover plenty of companies
offering treks operating out of small shops, but the quality of
these does vary wildly..
Chiang Mai Thai Massage
The art of Thai massage has been refined during hundreds of years
of practice and passed down through generations. Masseuses use
hand pressure and their own body to apply forces that aim to work
pressure points and re-align energy lines in the body. After receiving
a massage, you might decide you want to learn how to give one,
and there are many excellent places in Chiang Mai offering massage
courses. The Old Medicine Hospital offers two 10-day courses a
month costing 3500 baht; the focus here is on traditional Northern
style massage. You can also try Baan Nit (near the northeastern
corner of the moat); Lek Chaiya on Ratchadamnoen rd; or International
Chiang Mai Thai Cooking
Thai food is popular with most people, and Northern dishes are
especially powerful and spicy. There are several cooking schools
that offer excellent one-day courses in preparing Thai cuisine.
They usually take you to the market to learn about unique vegetables,
herbs and spices commonly used in this region, and teach you how
to prepare an array of dishes. Afterwards, you’ll sit down
and eat what you cooked!
Chiang Mai Meditation
Chiang Mai is also a great place to learn about Buddhism and mediation.
You can enter Wat Rampoeng, near the foot of Doi Suthep, for a
strict 30-day programme, living as a monk or nun. There is no
charge, although a donation is welcomed. Wat Doi Suthep also offers
a programme, with a more flexible stay. Another option is Wat
Chom Thong, which provides strict but popular two-week minimum
meditation programmes, under the direction of well-known monk
Chiang Mai Shopping
Chiang Mai has an international flair and serves as home to many
Westerners. There is accommodation, food and shopping to suit
all tastes and budgets. The Night Bazaar is a popular and famous
place to shop for bargains and souvenirs. It takes up several
blocks between the eastern moat and the river. Here, shops and
street vendors offer a huge variety of Thai goods and handicrafts
at bargain prices. Chiang Mai is especially famous for its beautiful
handicrafts of silk, silver and wood. The Anusarn Night Market,
down Charoen Prathet road, carries more hilltribe goods in authentic
Chiang Mai Nightlife
Those who are interested in seeing a Thai cultural performance
should head to the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre, which offers
a live dance performance and khantoke dinner at 19:00 every night.
There are plenty of restaurants, and the Good View and the Riverside
are two of the most famous along the Mae Ping River. Additionally,
you’ll find a good assortment of bars, pubs, nightclubs
and other entertainment venues.