The largest and historically and culturally most significant city of the North is Chiang Mai, which was founded more than 7 centuries ago as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The old city wall and surrounding moat that protected the old city can still be seen.
There are over 300 temples in this city, some of which are as old as the city itself. One of the oldest and most important is the Doi Suthep Temple on top of Doi Suthep mountain, from where the views of Chiang Mai are magnificent.
Chiang Mai, which is also called “The rose of the North” is often used as a base from which to explore the North and do activities like trekking, rafting or exploring hill tribes. It’s an excellent place to do shopping, especially for silver, silk products and all sorts of handicrafts, for which this region is famous.
Accommodation options are plentiful and range from basic to 5 Star; during Thai public holidays and around Christmas and New Year hotels can fill up quickly.
For those who appreciate relaxation and wellness, Chiang Mai offers a wide range of spas and massage shops, a perfect way to renew and relax. Dining options are plentiful, try some of the Northern food like delicious Khao Soi or try a traditional Khantoke dinner which is often accompanied by Thai classical dance.
A relaxing and enjoyable way to see some of Chiang Mai is to take a cruise on the Mae Ping river, either in the daytime or as an evening dinner cruise. Chiang Mai province has preserved a lot of its forests and there is a number of national parks like Doi Inthanon, which holds the highest mountain in Thailand and is an excellent place for bird watching.
Things to do & see in Chiang Mai
The number of things to do and places to see is practically endless; a few are listed here.
Visit Chiang Mai’s ancient temples
Chiang Mai and especially the old city is dotted with an enormous number of temples, some of which date back to the founding of the city itself. Three of the most significant temples, the Wat Chiang Man, the Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang can be visited on a temple tour. Walking the old town you will encounter many more temples of various architectural styles and ages, like the Wat Buppharam, the Wat Duang Di and the Wat Mahawan.
Elephant camps and training centers
The Elephant Nature Park in Mae Taeng district, around a one hours drive north of Chiang Mai is a magnificent place and an amazing experience.
This place is a rescue and rehabilitation center and nature preserve where elephants and other animals live in a natural environment and trees are planted to restore the rain forest. You can visit the park, however in order not to disturb the elephant herd walk-in visitors are not accepted, availability is limited and advanced booking is necessary.
This park also offers a unique opportunity to volunteer in various roles, like a project to allow elephants used by Karen hill tribes people to return into the wild free and to save the forests and wild animals in the area. A number of elephant camps is located around Chiang Mai, like the Maesa elephant camp and the Maetaman camp that offer shows and elephant rides.
Located close to Doi Suthep mountain the more than 210 acres large Chiang Mai Zoo & Aquarium makes for a great day out for the whole family. It is home to a large number of animals like elephants, rhinos, koalas, camels, zebras and many reptiles and birds. There is also an aquarium with almost 2,000 species of marine animals and there are a number of animal shows. The most famous inhabitants of the zoo are a pair of pandas. A panda baby was born in May of 2009, which has become the star of the zoo. The park is open daily from 8am till 5pm.
Chiang Mai Night Safari is a 300 acres large grounds located at around 10 kilometers from town. You can take a tram tour here over the “open savannah” where animals like deer, giraffe and rhinos can be seen or you can walk a nature trail. For some extra excitement take a tram at night and watch the animals when they are most active. Open daily from 11am until 11pm, day safari rides from 3pm until 5pm.