Thailand’s second city, Chiang Mai is one of the nation’s most beloved tourism destinations. It is set in a valley ringed by verdant mountains and home to an eclectic collection of historic temples and monuments. Chiang Mai provides access to an assortment of outdoor activities guaranteed to excite all tastes. Great dining options, first-class nightlife, rejuvenating spas and massages, and shopping opportunities to die for are the other key attractions.
The Old City surrounded by the moat and the remains of the red-brick walls first built by King Mengrai 700 years ago is the heart and soul of Chiang Mai. Although the main thoroughfares of this historic zone tend to be busy, venturing off the beaten track along one of the smaller sois (lanes) gives a taste of the Chiang Mai of yesteryear. More on Chiang Mai History.
The Old City is home to the famed Chedi Luang Temple and its ancient and lofty pagoda, Phra Singh Temple, the landmark Three Kings’ Statue and the peerless exhibits in the Arts and Cultural Centre. On Sunday evening, the east side of the Old City leading in from Thapae Gate is the venue for a huge street market. Vendors here sell a massive assortment of the handicrafts, unique souvenirs, knick knacks and fabrics the city is justifiably famous for. More on Chiang Mai Walking Street Markets.
As well as the Old City, tourists landing in Chiang Mai have a diverse collection of cultural sites and sightseeing attractions to choose from. Highlights include the hilltop Doi Suthep Temple, Chiang Mai Zoo, the Night Safari and Chiang Mai National Museum. Smaller themed facilities such as the Lanna Folklife Museum and the Art in Paradise 3D Museum are a delight to visit. More on Chiang Mai Attractions.
Chiang Mai is a bastion of culture and a variety of national festivals are living testament to this. The Songkran Water Festival in April is the flagship of these but the diverse happenings linked to Loy Krathong later in the year ensure it is a close second. Other annual festivals include Bo Sang Umbrella Festival, the Chinese New Year celebrations in Chinatown the Flower Festival and the Inthakin City Pillar Festival. More on Chiang Mai Festivals.
Eating is a special treat for Chiang Mai visitors. Gourmands have a heaven sent chance of sampling signature dishes such as khao soy curry noodle soup, green curry and tabtim ruby fish garnished with herbs. Thai culinary delights are not the only choice and a wander around the city’s streets will reveal eateries serving the likes of Mexican, Middle Eastern, Indian and French cuisine. More on Chiang Mai Dining.
The choice of shopping destinations is on a similar scale to dining. The Old City street market plus another one on Wualai Road on Saturday and the Night Bazaar feature a wonderful array of peerless mementos. Other great locations for shopping are the wood-carving village at Ban Tawai, Bor Sang Umbrella Village and the Sankamphaeng factories. More on Chiang Mai Shopping.
Jungle adventure treks are the activity which first put Chiang Mai on the Southeast Asian tourism trail. Treks from half-a-day to six days typically include several hours of walking, a stopover at a hilltribe village, a short elephant ride and bamboo rafting. Other popular activities are cycle tours, golf, treetop zip-line adventures and rock-climbing. More on Chiang Mai Adventures.
National parks in the surrounding areas of Chiang Mai make interesting day excursions. Sankamphaeng is famed for its hot springs. A dip in a spa water bath or the swimming pool and a relaxing massage are among enticements to visit. Doi Intanon National Park is named after Thailand’s highest mountain and is also home to Wachiratan Waterfall, Kaew Mae Pan Nature Trail, Hmong villages, Kaew Mae Pan Nature Trail and two massive chedi pagodas. More on Chiang Mai National Parks.
The side route to Mae Sa Valley is 25kms north of central Chiang Mai. The valley boasts a collection of attractions and activity centres to suit all tastes and age groups. The Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, Mae Sa Waterfall, an elephant camp, Tiger Kingdom and an orchid and butterfly centre are close to the valley’s main road. At the valley’s Xcentre, adrenalin junkies can overdose on ATV rides, bungee jumps, bouncing in a Xorb ball and driving a drifter go-kart. More on Chiang Mai Mae Sa Valley.