It would be difficult to find a city that reflects more of the country's diverse cultural heritage and modern aspirations than Chiang Mai. Founded in 1296, it was the capital of Lanna Thai and flourished as a major religious, cultural and trade centre until 1556. Chiang Mai now offers a wide variety of activities and entertainment and there are countless possibilities to enjoy your stay, including trekking amid wonderful mountain scenery, visiting hill tribes, elephant training centers, temples and cultural shows and fantastic opportunities for handicraft shopping and delicious food.
Things to do in Chiang Mai:
Temples & cultural performances The old city of Chiang Mai is made up by some magnificent temples. The lovelytemple Wat Phra Sing dates from 1345 and is one of the focal points of Songkran festivities each year in April. The temple compound includes the Lai Kham chapel with its exquisite woodcarvings and northern style murals. Wat Suan Dok is a favorite spot for photographers, particularly for striking sunsets. Several of the white chedies contain ashes of Chiang Mai's former royal family. Thailand's oldest temple Wat Chiang Man (1296) was the residence of King Mengrai who founded Chiang Mai. Wat Phrathat Doi on the top of Doi Suthep mountain just out of town is Chiang Mai's most important and visible landmark and dates from 1383.
Elephant training centers Each morning, trained elephants demonstrate their formidable and highly valued forestry skills from 09:30 until 11:00h at the Mae Sa Elephant Training Center, some 30 km out of town. A jungle tour on elephant back, lasting more than 2 hours through adjacent forests, is offered after the show. Elephants can also be seen at the Pong YaengElephant Center and the Elephant Nature Park at Mae Taman.
Trekking Various hill tribes live throughout northern Thailand's mountains. Each tribe has their own distinctive customs, rituals, games, dances, language and hygiene habits. Popular jungle treks last 2 to 5 days and take visitors through forested mountains and valleys. They include visits to remoter high altitude hill tribe settlements for overnight stays. Treks commonly feature a combination of travel by foot, sometimes boat, elephant back, horse back or jeep and raft. Respect hill tribe beliefs, dress modestly, ask permission before photographing someone and avoid trading western medicines and articles.
Mountains, caves & waterfalls Chiang Mai's most photographed Mae Klang Waterfall lies some 58 km west of the city at the foot of Doi Inthanon mountain and provides a picturesque setting for picnics and relaxation. A 10 minute drive and a walk of some 2 hours take you to the Borichinda Cave. Doi Inthanon National Park covers Thailand's highest mountain (2565m). The lovely Wachirathan, Siriphum and Mae Pan Waterfalls share the mountain with Meo and Karen hill tribe settlements. The Mae Ya Waterfall, 12 km from Chom Thong market, is one of the highest waterfalls in Thailand.
Orchid & Butterfly farm Major nurseries in Chiang Mai's Mae Sai valley include the Mountain Orchid, Mae Rim Orchid and Sai Nam Phung Orchid complexes. Each provides opportunities for visitors to admire these exotic year-round looks. Certain orchid farms also have special butterfly enclosures wherein exotic species can be seen in their natural environment.
Shopping Chiang Mai is a major centre for quality handicrafts. At the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar in the city centre you can buy a wide variety of antiques, silver jewelry, hill tribe opium pipes and embroidery, Thai silk, cotton, silverware, furniture, lacquerware, woodcarvings and umbrellas.
Festivals Chiang Mai celebrates many annual festivals. Three are particularly lovely and noteworthy. They are the Chiang Mai Flower Festival on the first weekend of February, Songkran from 13 to 15 April and Loy Kratong on the full moon night of the 12th lunar month, generally in November. The 3 day Flower festival occurs when Chiang Mai's flowers are in full bloom and at their colorful best. Festivities include colorful floral floats, parades, music, dancing and beauty pageant. Songkran celebrates the Thai New Year with religious merit-making, pilgrimages, beauty parades, dancing and uninhibited, good-natured water throwing. Loy Kratong is the time when people float away under the fool moon, onto rivers, canals and lakes, banana-leaf boats bearing a lighted candle with incense, flower and small coin to honor the water spirits and was away the previous year's misfortunes.
Where to go in Chiang Mai:
Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center houses a permanent exhibit that walks visitors through a tour of pre-history to the present. Another section houses short-term local exhibits of all types. This is a popular choice for those looking for some historical insights.
Chiang Mai National Museum While its collection of historical treasures is not nearly as extensive as that of Bangkok'sNational Museum, this quick stop does provide something of a historical overview and is the highlights of the region and the city. The Lanna kingdom, Tai people, and hill-tribes are highlighted in simple displays with English explanations.
Tribal Museum Formerly part of Chiang Mai University's Tribal Research Institute, this small exhibit showcases the cultures and daily lives of the hill-tribe people of North Thailand. It is recommended as a good introductory course for those who plan to visit many northern villages.
Wat Chedi Luang Because this temple is near the Thapae Gate, most visitors begin their sightseeing here, where there are two wats of interest. This complex, which briefly housed the Emerald Buddha, dates from 1411 when the original chedi was built by King Saen Muang Ma.
Wat Chiang Man Thought to be Chiang Mai's oldest wat, this was built during the 14th century by King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai, on the spot where he first camped. Like many of the wats in Chiang Mai, this complex reflects many architectural styles. Some of the structures are pure Lanna. Others show influences from as far away as Sri Lanka; notice the typical row of elephant supports. Wat Chiang Man is most famous for its two Buddhas: Phra Sae Tang Khamani and the marble Phra Sila Buddha.
Wat Jed Yod Also called Wat Maha Photharam, Wat Jed Yod is one of the central city's most elegant sites. The chedi was built during the reign of King Tilokkarat in the late 15th century (his remains are in one of the smaller chedis), and in 1477 the World Sangkayana convened here to revise the doctrines of the Buddha.
Wat Phra Singh This compound was built during the zenith of Chiang Mai's power and is one of the more venerated shrines in the city. It is still the site of many important religious ceremonies, particularly during the Songkran Festival. More than 700 monks study here and you will probably find them especially friendly with tourists.
Wat Suan Dok was built amid the pleasure gardens of the 14th century Lanna Thai monarch, King Ku Na. Unlike most of Chiang Mai's other wats, Wat Suan Dok houses quite a few monks who seem to have isolated themselves from the distractions of the outside world.
How to travel to and in Chiang Mai:
By Plane: When planning your trip, keep in mind that Chiang Mai has international links with major cities throughout the region. Lao Airlines connects Chiang Mai to Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos four times each week. Air Mandalay has limited flights to Yangon and Mandalay, in Myanmar. Silk Air, the regional arm of Singapore Airlines, connects Singapore with direct service three times a week. Budget option Tiger Airways connects Chiang Mai to Singapore four times a week. Thai Airways has direct services from Kunming in Yunnan, Southern China.
Domestically, Thai Airways flies from Bangkok to Chiang Mai nine times daily. There's a direct flight from Chiang Mai to Phuket daily but the return sector is not direct. Bangkok Airways has an office at the airport in Chiang Mai and flies at least twice daily from Bangkok.
Chiang Mai International Airport is about 30 minutes from Old Town and has several banks for changing money, a post and overseas call office, and an information booth.
By Train: Of the seven daily trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, the 8:30am Sprinter is the quickest. The other trains take between 13 and 15 hours, but for overnight trips, second-class sleeper berths are a good choice. Private sleeper cabins are also available, but the cost is the same as flying.
By Bus: Buses from Bangkok to Chiang Mai are many and varied. The trip takes about 10 hours. There is also a frequent service between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, Phitsanulok, and Chiang Rai. Most buses arrive at the Arcade Bus Station on Kaeo Nawarat Road, 3km northeast of the Thapae Gate; a few arrive at the Chang Puak station, north of the Chang Puak Gate on Chotana Road.
The climate of Chiang Mai is controlled by tropical monsoons and falls into three main seasons. The weather, like in most of Thailand, is typically hot and humid with the temperatures in Chiang Mai are often close to or above to 30°C. From June to late October, you can expect frequent rain and thunder showers.
This season starts in November and lasts until February. Chiang Mai’s climate remains warm for most of the year and the cooler weather normally only occurs in the northern mountains, therefore tourists often prefer this season.
The hot season starts from mid-March until late June. Higher relative temperature and infrequent rain are the general characteristic of this season.
The rainy season in Chiany Mai lasts from July to October. Heavy downpour dominates and flash floods can occur. The temperatures range from 25°C to 34°C.
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