For those making the journey to northern Thailand, a stop over in Chiang Mai is almost unavoidable. In contrast to most realities so labeled, however, this is far from an unfortunate thing. Considering the fact that the capital of Chiang Mai province has access to some of the country’s most impressive geographical features, is thought in some circles to constitute the cultural epicenter of the country and boasts an internationally renowned catalog of original culinary creations, it’s surprising it’s taken so long for this metropolis of about 1 million residents to make it to the traveling big leagues. But make it it has, as recent tourism numbers will tell you. Don’t want to be the last to the party? Then take a minute to learn all about why a visit to Chiang Mai should be right at the top of your Thailand to-do list.
For the adventurous/culturally inclined, northern Thailand can’t help but satisfy your appetites. Mountains like Doi Suthep, Doi Pui, Doi Inthanon and Doi Khun Tan (among countless others) are ripe with hiking and mountain biking trails, not to mention an exciting and well developed zip-lining infrastructure that propels visitors through the province’s scenic treetops. Though rock climbing and whitewater rafting are relatively new to the Thai adventure scene, the Mae Taeng river offers plenty of rapids to navigate while nearby Crazy Horse Buttress is quickly developing into a world-class rated limestone crag. More interested in temples and tradition? You’re in the right place, as a variety of Southeast Asian cultural influences have covered this region in rich history and beautiful architecture. Doi Suthep’s stunning Wat Phra That may be the most widely recognized temple in Chiang Mai, but inside the walls of old city and throughout the surrounding countryside you’ll find hundreds of unique structures to explore.
But there’s much more than temples that make up this city’s rich cultural heritage, as a wide variety of markets and unique regional dishes can attest to. The tourist crammed Night Bazaar and Sunday Market are highly touted, but more authentic emporiums like Warorot, Sompet and Sanpakhoy Markets are filled with everything from locally grown produce to inexpensive household wares. Hungry? Why not opt out of the restaurants suggested by your hotel and instead hit up the ubiquitous food stalls in and around old city, where local (and cheap) dishes like khao soi and kaeb moo can’t help but delight both your palate and your wallet. Throw in some surprisingly entertaining nightlife options and a handful of city-wide celebrations like September/October’s Vegetarian Festival and, well, you’ve got yourself an exceptionally well balanced city experience with all the necessary trimmings. Now get planning.