Nestled in the luscious forests of the peaks of Northern Thailand, is Bangkok’s smaller sister city, Chiang Mai. Thailand’s second city is a bit slower but not without the colour and vibrancy that is unique to this exciting country. Chiang Mai is still considered a metropolitan city and is cosmopolitan in both residents and visitors, with many travellers being lured back time and again by its charm. It is where traditional Thailand meets the lively modern world, where generations of interesting history meets the newness of an ever-changing Thai culture.
Chiang Mai is 700km north of the bustling city of Bangkok, along the Ping River, a major tributary of the famous Chao Phraya River which flows through the capital of Thailand. It is positioning itself to gain UNESCO Creative City status, which would mean that its cultural and artistic activities would be recognised for their value and contribution to the city’s economic and social functioning. Panoramic views of the city and its surrounding natural scenery are a must see from atop mountains, graced with some of the most striking temples and well-manicured gardens in Thailand.
Wat Phratat Doi Suthep is the city’s most famous temple and can be found on top of the mountain of Doi Suthep. It was built in the fourteenth century, one century after Chiang Mai replaced its neighbour Chiang Rai as the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom or “Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields”. To get up to the top of Doi Suthep to witness the majestic Wat, one can travel on foot on a rather strenuous hike or else hire a motorbike for an easier ride. To see the oldest Buddhist temple in the city of Chiang Mai, visit Wat Chiang Man. Built in the thirteenth century, it houses the Phra Sila and Phra Satang, made by hand from marble and crystal respectively.
The climate in Chiang Mai tends to be slightly cooler than Bangkok. It is largely wet and tropical in nature, with typical monsoon weather that is generally warm all year round. The dry season cools down the temperature a bit. The climate in Thailand is highly conducive to outdoor activities and in Chiang Mai there are tons to choose from. Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and is home to a temple surrounded by a national park of the same name. Visitors can take long hikes along the mountains of the park or shorter walks in the gardens near to the temple, after which a dip in the pools at the base of spectacular waterfalls is sure to cool you off. Part of the visit to Doi Inthanon must include a trip to the local hill tribe village, which is of great significance in Northern Thai heritage.
While some elephant parks in Thailand have often gotten a bad rap for mistreating those animals under their care, the Elephant Nature Park on the outskirts of the city of Chiang Mai is home to elephants rescued from such negligence. Those visiting the sanctuary are expected to volunteer in the feeding and bathing of the elephants, and the utmost consideration is given for the well-being of the animals. To experience Chiang Mai’s nature from a different perspective, book yourself in for one of the Flight of the Gibbon zipline tours. Careening through the treetops, adventure seekers are bound to get both the thrill and fantastic sights they are looking for.
Chiang Mai has a number of markets to offer travellers who want to grab a bite to eat or a souvenir to take back home. But be prepared to haggle if you’re going to get a decent price! The Chiang Mai Gate Market happens every night of the week, with the weekends being smaller. This is compensated by the Sunday Walking Street which takes place during the day near to the Gate Market on Rachadamnoen Road. Colourful sights and glorious smells will fill your senses; you won’t be able to leave a Thai market empty-handed or hungry.
On the full moon of the twelfth month of the traditional Thai lunar calendar, around November, the Festival of Loi Krathong or Yi Peng takes place. During this festival, local Thai people light candles placing them either on banana leaves to float them on waterways or in lanterns to watch them fly above the city into the night sky. A magical sight! The other important festival is Songkran, which celebrates traditional Thai New Year occurring around April. Here, a city-wide water ‘fight’ takes place, with both young and old joining in with buckets of water and water guns until everyone is drenched and cool.
Whether it is ancient beauty to be viewed during the day, the energetic nightlife found in the city centre or outdoor adventures among the hills and wildlife, Chiang Mai provides something for everyone. Kapunka, Chiang Mai! Thank you, Chiang Mai!