Bangkok may get all the glitz and glamour, but Chiang Mai is its creative and carefree sister. The focal point of Lanna culture and for many a jewel of the north, Chiang Mai is Thailand’s fifth-largest city and one with plenty of heart. It’s no wonder this northern gem is often called 'Thailand’s second city'.
Chiang Mai enjoys a reputation as one of Thailand’s most artistic cities, thanks in part to its laid-back and carefree vibe. Spectacular mountains, hill-dwelling tribes and majestic temples intermingle with traffic lights, international schools and a vibrant nightlife, creating a distinct character that has become Chiang Mai’s trademark. Getting a taste of its unique charm isn’t hard to do, just make sure you cover the essentials.
Camping Under The Stars
With seven national parks in the province of Chiang Mai, many mountain excursions are readily accessible from the city centre. You can bring your own tent to pitch at designated camping areas, or rent one on arrival from park headquarters. Ob Luang National Park boasts a breathtaking river-canyon landscape dotted with hefty boulders.Doi Inthanon National Park, named after the highest peak in Thailand, is sprinkled with waterfall and cave attractions by day and covered by an infinite stretch of stars at night.
Stairway To Heaven
Doi Suthep mountain, with its gleaming temple sitting atop its peak, is the most recognisable landmark in Chiang Mai and a popular stop for visitors. The temple is a working monastery by day and the trek up the 300-plus steps of the Naga staircase to the revered site grants panoramic views across the city. Make your way up in the early hours of the morning to catch the rising sun's rays slowly inching across the city below.
To Market, To Market...
A trip to Chiang Mai would be incomplete without a stroll to the market. The best choices are the night bazaar on Chang Klan Road, Saturday Walking Street on Wualai Road, and Sunday Walking Street on Ratchadamnoen Road. Find trinkets, boutique fashion and handicrafts during your market jaunt and if you’re ready for a rest, you can get a foot massage in the market or on the footpaths as you watch the crowds go by. Grab a fresh coconut and you’re all set!
A Dip In The Hot Springs
Chiang Mai’s ‘winter’ is brisk, with temperatures dipping below 20 degrees Celsius, and that’s when people head to the hills. For the hot springs, that is! A dip in steamy hot water when the air is crisp and you're surrounded by nature is certainly a blissful experience. You can even stay overnight to get a taste of the misty hillside early mornings. Some good choices for a steamy soak are Fang Hot Springs at Doi Pha Hom Pok National Park and Pong Duead at Huay Dang National Park.