Oscillating at an entirely different speed to southern Thailand’s bustling cities and beaches, ancient Chiang Mai offers a snapshot back to the traditional Thai life. Friendly, welcoming and spectacularly beautiful, it’s not surprising that Chiang Mai has garnered itself the nickname, ‘Rose of the North’.
Built in 1296, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second oldest city and in some parts of town you can still see remains of crumbling centuries-old walls and moats from its early years. Fantastic temples can be found right in the heart of Chiang Mai. Visit Wat Chedi Luang, which is strung with brightly coloured silks and contains a gleaming emerald Buddha. Others, such as Wat Doi Suthep, are situated out in the hills.
For more outdoor explorations, head to Doi Inthanon National Park, home to the highest peak in Chiang Mai and two beautiful pagodas. The National Park contains waterfalls and a hill tribe village too, and also offers guided stargazing at night
Delve further into Chiang Mai’s culture by shopping up a storm at the local markets. Among the best of them is the buzzing night bazaar on Chang Klan Road, where it is a rite of passage for visitors to haggle for local handicrafts. Stalls here sell everything from hand-painted silk to hand-carved wood and lacquerware.
If it’s Thai delicacies and local street food you’re after, then Talat Wararot is the perfect place to pick up a steaming bowl of Kow Soy, an aromatic curry broth with wheat noodles. For family-friendly shopping and entertainment, take the kids to the Sunday Walking Street Market, which has musicians and puppeteers.
This beautiful part of northern Thailand is also a nature and animal lover’s delight. Volunteer for the day at the Elephant Nature Park, a rescue and rehabilitation centre, and help wash and feed the elephants. Alternatively, saddle up for a full day’s cycling tour through Chiang Mai’s famous rice paddies. Pass by local farmers along the Ping River and see artisans making homemade terracotta pots. For a fun family day out, take the kids to Chiang Mai Zoo where they can gawp at animals including koalas and a giant panda.
The main ways to navigate Chiang Mai’s roads are by using rot daang (which translates to mean red trucks), which are akin to shared taxis, and tuk-tuks. There are no fixed prices for the latter, so make sure you agree a price before you set off. For a more comfortable way to travel, book a space on an air-conditioned bus or with a private driver.