Chiang Mai Travel Guide
Introduction to Chiang Mai
For those that are turned off by the chaos that typifies Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a gigantic breath of fresh air. Surrounded by mountains, and covered with many tropical flowers that give Thailand’s second city the nickname “Rose of the North”, the pace of life in this gem is markedly slower paced and relaxed than its gargantuan cousin down south.
Many stressed out Thais from Bangkok have made their way north to start new careers, and this small cities’ absurdly low cost of living has attracted foreign nationals from around the world to live here on a long term basis. Pensioners, slow travelers, bloggers and entrepreneurs have made this place their second home for this very reason, making this city a very hard place to leave.
A wise man on my travels once said, “This city is so cheap, you could go broke here!” While there are many other places you should visit on your trip before you go broke, you sure won’t be taking a hit to the wallet during your stay in Chiang Mai.
Cultural Experiences in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a city filled with a wide assortment of significant temples important to Thai Buddhism. Chief among them is the one that towers over the city proper Wat Phratat Doi Suthep. To get here, take a songthaew down Huay Kaew Road to the Chiang Mai zoo and then get another songthaew up the mountain road, which switchbacks its way up Doi Suthep on its way to the temple, as well as some hill tribe villages that lie beyond it (do try to visit after your time at Wat Phratat Doi Suthep if time allows). At the temple, there are many ornate statues and interesting reliefs to take in, but walking past the bells on the outside of the temple, be sure to make your way to an exceptional viewpoint that has commanding views of Chiang Mai and its urban sprawl below.
As far as other temples in the city, Wat Chiang Man is one that you should definitely check out. This temple was built when Chiang Mai was founded as a settlement more than 700 years ago, and it contains Buddha images that are reputedly 1,800 and 2,500 years old. Another image to seek out here is a small crystal Buddha that is said to hold the power to summon rain, so keep an eye out for it while you are on the grounds of Wat Chiang Man.
Museum lovers will want to go to the centre of the old city along Rativiti Road and pay the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre. This museum, with its 100 baht entry fee, boasts guides, videos, scale models, and artifacts dating from pre-history to the present day, making for an afternoon well spent learning in air-conditioned comfort.
If you want to experience a festival near and dear to Thais, be sure to plan your trip to Chiang Mai in November. At this time, a festival of lights known as Yi Peng takes place. This festival involves the lighting of paper lanterns that are designed to float away under the thermal energy generated by the lit wick of the lantern. This symbolizes the release of regrets from the past year, and as such, it is heavily attended by locals and tourists alike. This is a spiritual event that is sure to move you!
Finally, don’t forget to check the Sunday Night Walking Street market, located along a road that cuts through the centre of the old city, starting at the East Gate. A massive collection of crafts made by Thai artisans, and boasting several open air food courts where you can stuff yourselves silly on the best of Thai food, it is an experience you need to have before leaving this storied city.
Activities and Courses in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is located in the mountainous north, which puts it within reach of a wide variety of outdoor activities. Other courses and activities have grown measurably in town as well, leading to Chiang Mai’s rising reputation as a place to learn and/or get outdoors.
Firstly, you’ll want to check out the many mountain and jungle treks that are available from the doorstep of your guesthouse. Trekking companies will pick up in the city, usually from where you are staying, and they will take you out on treks that range from day-long affairs to multi-day tramps through the wilds of Northern Thailand.
At the end of the rainy season, the rivers and streams just outside Chiang Mai are swollen and moving fast, making this the prime time to get out on a white-water rafting trip. The mountains within view of the city are the foothills of the Himalayan mountain chain, so the rivers outside of Chiang Mai are fully capable of delivering Class III thrills and spills for you and your friends.
For those looking for something just a little bit slower and closer to town, Chiang Mai hosts many cooking schools, looking to educate you in the ways of Thai cuisine. Taking classes here also has the added benefit of allowing you to learn specific Northern Thai dishes, such as the irresistible coconut curry Khao Soi. Learning how to make this treat may make it worth your while all by itself!