A Chiang Mai Temple © Michael Jenselius
Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city, and
an excellent starting point for excursions into the northern
territories. Its name means 'new city', even though Chiang Mai is
much older than Bangkok, having been built in 1296 under the rule
of King Mengrai. The city straddles the gap between urban and rural
Thailand, and offers the best of both worlds in terms of
attractions and activities for Thailand tourists.
While Chiang Mai has more than 300 ancient temples, including
the one at Doi Suthep, which offer breathtaking views over the
area, its popularity is largely due to the elephant treks in the
surrounding countryside. Travellers can also use Chiang Mai as a
launching pad for excursions to the Lisu Hill-Tribe, Bhubing
Palace, Isaan province, and Chiang Rai. Thai cookery classes are
also a popular tradition, and the city also has an extensive night
market, with dozens of street vendors selling a variety of
traditional Thai wares that can be obtained at very low prices if
travellers have the patience to bargain for them.
Chiang Mai is small enough to get around on a bicycle, has
several attractions, and offers excellent accommodation, although
tourists are advised that it can be difficult to find a room in
peak season, between December and March.