Chiang Mai is located in the far north of Thailand, around 700 kilometres north of Bangkok, and this makes it about a 10 hour air conditioned bus trip, overnight train trip or an hour plus flight from Bangkok.
The best time to come here is during the cooler so called Winter months, November to February when the day temperature averages around 25⁰ C (about 80⁰F) with the rainy season being May to October and the dry season, March to May when day temperatures are over 30⁰C (90 to 100⁰F)
The City itself is surrounded by mountains and dates back to the year 1296 when it was built as a walled city. Today parts of this old walled city with its moats still exists in the city centre with around 400,000 people living in the whole city that spreads out beyond the walled city centre. You can also see the original entranceways gates to the city – Tha Phae Gate and Chang Phueak Gate.
There are many beautiful Wat Temples here in Chiang Mai – over 200 Temples in and around the walled city, including the Wat Chiang Man that dates back to 1296 when the City was first established. There are even more Temples in the small towns and villages that are in the area.
Other Wat Temples such as Wat Umong date back as far, while others have been built over the centuries since then. There is no doubt that you will visit a Wat Temple while you are here in Chiang Mai and while all have their individual stories and interesting features, one of the most interesting ones is Wat Phra That at Huay Kaew Road outside the city which has Royal Patronage.
The story of Wat Phra That on Doi Suthep Mountain involves an Elephant that was carrying religious relics from Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai, but instead of walking along the valley, it headed to the top of Doi Suthep Mountain where it refused to move. Taking this as an omen, they decided to build a Temple here, and today that Temple, the Monastery and its compound with chedis and other buildings, including the shrine to the white elephant is one of the most revered of all Temples, some dating back to 1383. Today you can visit the Temple and monastery and either walk the 300 or so steps to the top of Doi Suthep Mountain, or take an elevator from the carpark below the Temple. There are great views from the top too.
In Chiang Mai itself look to see some of the other Wats too – such as Wat Phra Sing, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Muen Ngon Kong. They are all interesting to see and to hear the story of the Temple told by a Monk from the Wat.
In this northern part of Thailand there are many hill tribes, and in Chiang Mai you can see many of their textiles, crafts, farming and hunting equipment as well as learn more about their society at the Chiang Mai Tribal Museum in Ratchankla Park in Chotana Road. On Chiang Mai- Lampang Road you will also find the National Museum that has exhibits that tell the story of Chang Mai's development and history.
If you can, see if you can visit some of the villages around Chiang Mai to gain an understanding of village life and people.
In Chiang Mai itself, you can visit the Chiang Mai Zoo where there are giant pandas from China as well as other animals to see, and there is also an Elephant Training Centre where you can see how the elephants are trained by the Mahouts and used to carry logs and even take a mud bath.
A big part of enjoying Thailand comes from eating great Thai food, and in Chiang Mai there are lots of great Thai food restaurants to enjoy, and if you want there are Thai cooking classes too at a number of locations.
Meditation, spas, massages are also here in Chiang Mai and many foreigners come here to Chang Mai just for the pleasure of a great massage. There are lots of big high rise hotels too with in-house restaurants, pools and other services, but equally smaller places too.
The Ping River is here too where you can take a cruise on the River and if you want to experience something a bit faster, catch a Scorpion Boat for more of a thrill ride. There are also golf courses in Chiang Mai and guides and tours that will take you to the mountains for rock climbing and jungle treks, bird watching and more. Around 90 kilometres southeast of Chiang Mai is the Doi Inthanon National Park where the Doi Inthanon Mountain is located. This is the highest mountain (over 8000 feet high) in Thailand and you will also find the Mae Klang and Mae Ya waterfalls. It is a beautiful area to see with a number of small villages here too – so worth taking a tour to see the Park and the waterfalls.
Near San Kamphaeng there are hot springs and even a geyser that shoots water into the air and near the village of Mu Song there are the Tam Muang On underground caves with Stalactites and Stalagmites to see.
For shopping there are lots of people trying to entice you to come to their shop with shops along the roads in the old City, the main ones being Tha Pae Road and Loi Kroh Road. There is also the Night Bazaar with lots of stalls selling their wares. You will find the big Night Bazaar and Night Market at the same place on Chang Klan Road. Just bargaining and wandering the stalls in the market is entertainment in itself.
In Chiang Mai you can find great tropical fruits to buy, flowers including many orchids, antiques, jade, furniture, Buddha images, paper products, metalwork, wood carvings, masks, locally made craft work, silk, clothing, lacquer ware, painted Thai umbrellas, paintings, jewellery items and much more.
If you are looking for hill tribe souvenirs head to the Hilltribe Products Promotion Centre on Suthep Road; Thai Tribal Crafts on Bumrungrat Road and the Northern Village in the Central Airport Plaza Shopping Centre. You could also head out to the village of Ban Tawai – just a few kilometres from Chiang Mai, where almost the whole village is making crafts. There is also the village of Bo Sang where you can see umbrellas being made and painted, while in the village of San Kamphaeng you can see silk making.
The more time you spend in Chiang Mai the more time you will have to get to know the city and also have the time to visit villages, see the countryside, farms, teak forests and mountains and maybe do a trek.
There is no doubt that you could hire a car and drive to some of the villages and towns around Chiang Mai, but equally there are lots of tour companies and guides too, who will be able to tell you more about what you are seeing and add to your knowledge of Northern Thailand.
Akha, Hmong, Karen and Lisu villages and their way of life, clothing styles, customs, food and crafts all differ, and in coming here you are also experiencing a very different lifestyle to your own.
There are also a lot of festivals in Chiang Mai, and hopefully you will experience these too.
We hope you have a good time seeing Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas.