Chiang Mai

"The Rose of the North"

Chiang Mai offers its own distinct Northern culture and cuisine, plus adventures into the mountains to visit the many different ethnic minority hilltribes and elephant sanctuaries and go trekking or white-water rafting. The city is not just the starting point for these adventures, the city itself also has many attractions, including ancient temples, exotic night markets and much more. 

Cultural center of the north
Cultural center of the north

General information about the region around Chiang Mai

Its geographical location, in the southwestern foothills of the Himalayan mountain region, to the north of the central lowlands of Thailand and directly on the Ping River, gives the Chiang Mai region wonderfully varied and picturesque landscapes with a huge abundance of fauna and flora thriving here.

 

Chiang Mai has always been a melting pot for the different cultures and ethnic communities found in the area, but many of them, especially in the highlands and more remote mountain valleys, still retain their tradition cultures and customs. Buddhism, like everywhere in Thailand, is the dominant religion and its 200 temples are imprinted on everyone’s image of the city. The best time to travel to Thailand for a vacation in the north are the months of November to April, when there is little rain. The most rain falls between July and September. Average daytime temperatures are around 30 ° C, but can fall into single digits at night during the winter months at higher elevations. 

Rich in history - The "Rose of the North" and Lan Na

Chiang Mai itself has been an important town since the 13th century AD.  It was founded in 1292 A.D. documented at the instigation of King Mengrai, whose former capital of the Lan Na Kingdom, Chiang Rai, was difficult to defend due to the proximity of aggressive enemies, and the capital was moved several times before settling in Chiang Mai. (Chiang Mai literally means: new city).  With strong city walls and a deep moat, it became the base for the powerful Lan Na armies and Lan Na kings dominated the region for many decades and the city experienced its greatest expansion in the 15th century under King Thilokaraj.

 

Almost constant wars with the early Thai kingdoms of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya, meant there were few periods for Lan Na. An 18-year war between Lan Na and Ayutthaya (1456 - 1474 A.D.) weakened both sides and prevented both kingdoms from flourishing. Much of the fight revolved around Sukhothai, where the traces of war on the ruins of temples and other buildings can still be seen. Lan Na was also always under threat from attack by the Burmese and until the 18th century it enjoyed little independence. Permanent liberation from Burmese oppression was only possible with Siamese help in 1774 A.D and from then on Lan Na had ever declining autonomy from Sia, and was absorbed into Siam in 1899.

The "Things-to-do" list of Chiang Mai's top attractions

  • Doi Suthep temple, a splendid temple on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai with a wonderful view of the city and the surrounding countryside, is at the top of the popularity list among travellers.
  • The highest mountain in Thailand is Doi Inthanon, rising to a height of 2,565 metres. It is surrounded by the national park of the same name which offers excellent trekking with many trails of varying difficulty.
  • The picturesque mountain villages of the many hill tribes in the area are well worth visiting. The traditional ways of life of the the Akha, Lahu, Hmong, Karen and Lisu tribespeople are fascinating to observe, however, tourism has not always been beneficial to these people so, please get detailed advice from a specialist on Thailand to ensure any arrangements made are operated ethically.
  • The Huay Nam Deang National Park on the road to Pai with its Pong Duet geothermal springs is one of the uncrowded destinations in the area that should be visited and look out too for the numerous waterfalls in the Chiang Mai area.

The best Attractions in Chiang Mai

As early as 1296, Chiang Mai was named the capital of his Lan-Na empire by the legendary King Mangrai and it would be more than 400 years before Chiang Mai actually became part of Thailand, and even then, the proud residents were largely autonomous from Bangkok and still retain their distinct charter and speech.

 

Many of the temples from this period are located in Chiang Mai's old town, within the old city wall and moat

  • Wat Chiang Man is Chiang Mai's first temple and, according to legend, is the place where King Mangrai is said to have prayed. It is built in the typical style of the Lan-Na period, which can be clearly seen from the golden-topped chedi carried on the backs of elephants. The temple owns two of the most valuable statues in the kingdom: the Phra Sila statue, an approx. 30-cm-high stepping Buddha and Phra Kaeo Khao, the legendary crystal Buddha. Both are said to have magical powers and watch over Chiang Mai.
  • To the west of the old town is Wat Phra Singh, home to the holy Buddha statue Phra Phuttha Sihing, which is highly venerated throughout the country. Legend has it that the statue's head was cut off and stolen in 1920 and only a copy of the head is in place today. The statue makes its grand appearance every year for the Songkran Festival (April 13th - 15th), the traditional Thai New Year. Then Phra Phuttha Sihing is carried through the streets so that the people can douse it with water.
  • Wat Chedi Luang is an imposing temple in the middle of Chiang Mai. Built between 1385 and 1402, the massive chedi or pagoda is an important part of the city's skyline and is clearly visible from afar, and no wonder as it is around 80 meters high.
  • In no circumstances should you miss a visit to the Nightmarket. Here you will not only find numerous examples of the unique craftsmanship that is nurtured here in the north, but also many exotic delicacies.  Thai food in the north is sometimes even spicier than in Bangkok and presents you with completely new taste experiences. Perhaps this is the reason why cooking classes in Chiang Mai are booming.

Arrival and onward travel

  • By airplane: The flight time from Bangkok is just over an hour, with most budget airlines departing from Don Muang airport.
  • By train: the state railways SRT has several departures every day with everything from third-class hard seats to first-class air-con sleeping berths. with. The narrow-gauge track is rather slow and the journey time is between 12 and 15 hours.  Air-conditioned seats and berths should be booked in advance, especially at weekends and local public holidays.
  • By bus: Long-distance buses from Mor Chit bus terminal take around 10 hours and can should also be booked in advance, especially the VIP services.
  • Round Trips and Tours: There is much of interest to see and do between Bangkok and the north so consider taking a tour instead of heading straight there.

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