Located 700 kilometers north of Bangkok, for me, Chiang Mai is the must see destination in this fascinating country. With its hundreds of temples, delicious food, cooler climate, and friendly people this is a city that mixes the old and new and has something for everyone.
I have been visiting Thailand since 2002, although it has only been since 2008 that I managed to drag myself away from the islands and beaches of the south. I had always wanted to visit Chiang Mai, after hearing the positive stories from so many of my fellow travelers, so finally in 2008 I decided to bite the bullet and head north by train from Bangkok. Winding its way north through the central plains full of paddy fields, and finally up into the mountains, it took 12 long hours but I will never regret it.
Chiang Mai, at an elevation of 1100 feet is a lot cooler than the south of Thailand, and the friendly and hospitable people certainly seem a lot more relaxed than their southern countrymen. From the train station it was a short and cheap tuktuk ride to my hotel.
The city was built in 1296 by the Thai King Phaya Mengrai on the banks of the Ping river, one of the major tributaries of the Chao Praya which flows to Bangkok. Over the centuries Chiang Mai has been an important stop over of the spice and silk trails between China and India, and therefore has been fought over many times, and the even to this day the city is the cultural and handicraft center of Thailand.
The old city limits are marked by a moat and wall which were built to keep out the Burmese, today these landmarks make navigation around the city very easy.
Chiang Mai has over 300 temples within the city limits, making for fascinating sites round nearly every corner, but mixed in with these ancient structures are modern buildings, don’t be fooled, Chiang Mai is a modern and vibrant city, and all the modern facilities one would expect.
The city is also the gateway to the Golden Triangle, Burma, and Chiang Rai, but there is also plenty to do outside the city, with hot springs, beautiful waterfalls, and the jewel in the crown that Doi Suthep, a mountain just outside Chiang Mai with one of Thailands most important temples at its summit.
It is possible to trekking in the mountains and jungle, where you can visit and stay with indeginous hill tribes like the Hmong and the famous Long Neck Karen.
Of course its possible to party in this city just like it is down south, although its a little bit more laid back and chilled, just the way I like it!