All you need to know whether it’s your first time in Chiang Mai, or if you are recurring visitor.
Ask seven out of 10 Thailand visitors what their favorite destination in the kingdom is, and they will tell you without batting an eyelash: Chiang Mai. This province, part of the Lanna Kingdom that King Mengrai founded in the 13th century, has a gracious laidback character that makes even the most jaded traveler fall in love with it. Visitors go to Chiang Mai to experience its mountain scenery; to go trekking; to eat, drink, and party; to delve into history; and to seek out adventure. The quiet winding lanes of the old town, rustic old wooden guesthouses, lively riverside restaurants, colorful hill tribe folk, and the bustling Night Bazaar, all contribute to make Chiang Mai an unforgettable destination.
Once Upon A Time…
Chiang Mai is the name for both the province and its capital, the largest, most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It’s located 700 kilometers north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. Chiang Mai’s historic importance is derived from its strategic location on the Ping River—a major tributary of the Chao Phraya—and important trade routes. It has long been a major center for shopping Thai arts and crafts, in fact, it’s a shopping magnet. The many beautiful temples and chedis that still stand today are a legacy of Chiang Mai’s distinguished past, and a distinctive culture developed independently of the great kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya that were to arise after the heyday of the Lanna kingdom.
Founded by King Mengrai in 1296, Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai as capital of the Lanna kingdom. It formally became part of Siam in 1774, after King Taksin helped drive out the Burmese. Chiang Mai then slowly grew in cultural, trading, and economic importance to its current status, as the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, only second in importance to Bangkok.
Chiang Mai’s Lanna culture has survived intact to this day, and ancient traditions and skills have been passed down from generation to generation while blending seamlessly with other aspects of modernity. As a consequence, the city has emerged in recent decades as one of Asia’s most popular, best-value destinations.
Chiang Mai is a destination you can’t possibly cover in a single trip. The walled city alone needs at least three days to absorb and, if you want to venture farther afield, you’ll definitely have to stay longer. This is a list of must-sees you might want to squeeze into your trip.
● Doi Suthep and other temples
● Go on elephant rides in the wilds and go hilltribe trekking
● Enjoy khantoke with enchanting Thai performances
● Drink Thai coffee at Bhubing Palace or a Singha beer while listening to live folk music by the Ping River
● Join in fun festivals such as Yi Peng or Borsang Festival
● Seek out adventures, like treetop hopping and white water rafting
● Haggle at the night markets
● Indulge in spa treatments
Don’t Miss if You Have More Time
The majority of the travel agencies offer just the high points of Chiang Mai so that those with limited time can at least get a taste of its variety. However, if you’re planning to spend more time there, this list will be helpful:
● Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain peak in Thailand, is about 130 kilometers away
● Doi Ang Khang, the mountain where the renowned Thai coffee brand is planted and produced, is 157 kilometers way
● Mae Tang is great water rafting and other outdooes activities; it is located 40 kilometers away
● Chiang Mai Night Safari and Underworld are definitely most important to visit
● Hang Dong and Sankampaeng, the major handicraft districts, are 15 and 13 kilometers away, respectively
● Mae Rim, the main ecotourism and adventure area, is just 8 kilometers away
Off The Beaten Track
Now, if you already did all of the above and still want more of Chiang Mai, you might want to try these routes:
● Northern: Mae Rim, Mae Tang, Ciang Dao, Chai Prakan, Fang, Mae Ai, and Wang Haeng districts
● Western: Samoeng, Mae Wang, and Galyanivadhana districts
● Northeastern: Sam Sai, Doi Saket, and Phrao districts
● Southwestern: Hang Dong, Sanpatong, Doi Lo, Chom Thong, Mae Chaem, Hot, Doi Tao, and Omkoi districts
by Manfred Ilg, General Manager of 137 Pillars House, Chiang Mai
● A few kilometers further up the road behind Doi Suthep is Phuphing Palace, a royal summer residence that is open to visitors when no member of the Royal Family is residing there. It boasts beautiful gardens with a large exhibition of roses. During the time of the cherry blossom, continue up the road and you will find Chiang Mai’s answer to the Japanese Sakura.
● Some of the handicraft villages for bargain shopping, namely Baan Tawai, famous for its wood works and Baan Borsai, known for its beautiful, hand-painted umbrella. I just got myself a beautifully crafted and painted umbrella for the breakfast table on my terrace – for less than USD 35, including the bamboo stand.
● The old town inside the moat is full of surprises. Leave any sort of transportation behind and walk the small roads and alleys. You (and your wallet) will be surprised of the variety of shops, cafes, massage places, and other curiosities at a bargain price.