Chiang Mai Holidays
Chiang Mai, the "Rose of the North" and Thailand's unofficial second city, is a charming and relaxed contrast to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Surrounded by scenic mountains and lush rainforest, it's a captivating and laid-back town with 700 years of history, as well as a distinctive and picturesque culture. Its attractions include centuries-old temples, ancient ruins, fascinating markets and spectacular mountain adventures, meaning that Chiang Mai holidays will be a delight for every type of traveller.
Featured Chiang Mai Hotels
At the heart of Chiang Mai is the Old Town, built in 1296 as a walled city surrounded by a moat. The newer parts of the city have grown up around it, but the moat is still in use to this day, and several sections of the city walls are still intact, including the four corner bastions. The moat and the ancient walls are among Chiang Mai's most impressive venues for sightseers.
Inside the moat, the old town is an extraordinary spectacle, and a wonderful place to explore on foot. Wherever you look there are the pagodas of spectacular temples, laced with gold filigree and decorated with gorgeous wood carvings. Among the temples the narrow lanes are filled with barefoot monks in flame-coloured robes and street-vendors peddling their wares, and dozens of markets are scattered through the area.
The most renowned of the markets is the Night Bazaar, which brings the streets alive every evening and stretches for several blocks. It's one of Chiang Mai's biggest attractions and not to be missed -- there's plenty of food, drink and entertainment, and you can pick up almost anything at fantastic bargain prices. In addition, the dozens of other markets include the two "walking street" markets, the Saturday evening market, through the traditional silversmiths' quarter, and the Sunday market throughout the Old Town, both excellent sources of authentic arts and crafts.
The most famous of Chiang Mai's temples is not actually inside the old city at all -- Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, dating from about 1383, overlooks the city from the summit of Mount Suthep to the west of the city, and is Chiang Mai's most recognisable landmark. You can hike up the mountainside, drive up the scenic route, or take a songthaew (the red trucks that are the main form of public transport), and when you reach the temple you have to climb the 300 steps or take a cable car. The entrance to the temple is guarded by two demon statues, and the ornate temple interior is adorned with elephant carvings, dragon statues and many Buddha representations. On the way back, don't miss Wat U-Mong, a largely underground temple in the foothills of Mount Suthep.
Within the city itself, the best known of the many temples is Wat Phra Singh, on the western side, a classic example of Northern Thai architecture from the mid-14th century. It houses the renowned Phra Singh Buddha, and a huge chedi, or shrine, dating from 1345, its walls covered with hand-painted murals depicting customs and dress of the ancient Lanna kingdom, to which the area once belonged. Wat Chiang Man, in the north-east, was the first temple to be built, and houses two rare statues, the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha, and at the rear an ancient chedi decorated with elephants.
Further afield, there are no fewer than seven National Parks in Chiang Mai province, meaning that many mountain excursions are within easy striking distance of the city centre. Both the dramatic boulder-strewn river-canyon landscape of Ob Luang National Park, and the waterfall and cave attractions of Doi Inthanon National Park, are within a two-hour drive. Bamboo rafting and elephant trekking in the Mae Wang River region is a delightful way of experiencing the region's luxuriant forests, and at the Elephant Nature Park you can get close to elephants in an ethical way, without the cruelty associated with so many of the elephant camps.
There's more than enough to do in the city itself, with street food, temple visits, and beauty, mystery and culture round every corner. And beyond the city boundaries there are unique communities deep in the mountains, amazing adventures, and awe-inspiring wildlife, all surrounded by natural perfection. Holidays to Chiang Mai have so much to offer, one visit can never be enough.