The easy going northern city of Chiang Mai sits on a lush plain watched over by its two sacred mountains, Doi Suthep and Doi Pui. The city perfectly balances culture and nature, its old city the site of 30 temples that endure from its days as capital of the Lanna Kingdom, whilst the surrounding countryside offers hill tribes, trekking and historical day tripping.
Chiang Mai’s moated, and originally walled, old centre, built by the Lanna kings, retains many of its traditional old houses and peaceful gardens. The main reason to visit, other than relaxed exploring, is the vast number of temples, 30 in total, built in a variety of styles all elaborately ornamented. The must visit wats include the classically Lanna-style Phra Singh, the 14th/15th century Chedi Luang and Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, founded around 1296, Chiang Man. You’ll also find at the heart of the old quarter the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre where you can learn about the province’s history and culture.
Chiang Mai’s night bazaar is a massive partially indoor, partially outdoor market that offers a bustling and vibrant evening every day of the week. Selling a huge range of wares, from classic souvenirs to cottage industry handicrafts to antiques, there are plenty of stalls and stores to browse. Sate the appetite you worked up shopping by visiting the huge open air food court at the market’s heart to nosh on a huge variety of freshly prepared delicious foods.
Rising from the plain to Chiang Mai’s west is Doi Suthep, a mountain crowned by one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was founded in 1383 its location, according to legend, decreed by a white elephant. Whilst you can reach a certain point on the mountain by road, the final few hundred metres can be completed by tram or on foot up 300 steps flanked by fearsome Nagas. The views from the top, over the city and the plain, are spectacular and the temple itself beautiful making this a Chiang Mai must do.
There is no better way to explore Chiang Mai’s spectacular surroundings and mist-cloaked mountains than on foot. There are many different trekking options, whether you are looking for a day of easy wandering through forests, harder trekking with a night spent in a hilltribe village or getting lost in the wilderness for three or four days. For an extra adrenaline rush there are also plenty of adventure activities such as whitewater rafting, kayaking and zip lining.
Just an hour from Chiang Mai, Lampang’s rich Lanna heritage has a much more undiscovered feel that the other hubs of northern Thailand lack. Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, built in the 11th/12th century, particularly is one of Thailand’s best examples of the Lanna style – located 12 kilometres outside of Lamphang, this temple is a worthwhile visit. In the town itself, where horse drawn carriages are still a major form of transport, head downtown to visit the elegant temples in the Burmese style before discovering more about the ceramics for which the city is famous.
Run by the Save Elephant Foundation, the Elephant Nature Park provides sanctuary for elephants rescued from street begging, logging and tourism. Located 60 kilometres from Chiang Mai, on a day trip here you will get to interact with the elephants by feeding them, helping bathe them and walking with them as well as learning about the plight of the Asian elephant and how you can help make a difference. The sanctuary is also home to over 350 dogs who were rescued from the streets of Chiang Mai and from the Bangkok floods in 2011.
Le Méridien Chiang Mai presents an intriguing blend of Le Méridien's European heritage and local Lanna Era style. The luxurious rooms have a clean, contemporary Asian design with glass and marble bathrooms. Hotel facilities include an outdoor swimming pool, fitness centre and a luxury spa.
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The world’s largest and most populous continent, Asia is a vibrant and rambunctious fusion of ethnicities, cultures and customs; an incomparably rich and turbulent history showcased by mindboggling feats of architecture and engineering; a geography that encompasses towering peaks, unfathomable gorges and paradisiacal beaches; and a biodiversity that is so abundant that you’ll be reaching for your wildlife guide.