Chiang Mai, Thailand
Surrounded by mountains and lush countryside Chiang Mai is a popular base with those looking to explore the northern territory of Thailand.
Things to do
Chiang Mai and its outskirts are overflowing with Buddhist Temples (Wats), with around a dozen on the tourist map due to their historical or architectural significance.
These temples are situated inside the old city walls; Wat Phra Singh is one of the city's most important temples; Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in the city, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phrachao are also worthy of a visit for their beauty.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is 18km outside of Chiang Mai and overlooks the city sitting at a 1073m elevation on the slopes of Mount (Doi) Suthep. To reach the temple there are 309 steps to climbs, and if you don't fancy that there is also a motorised tram ride to the top.
When visiting a temple show respect by wearing appropriate attire (long pants for men, modest tops and skirts for women, no bare shoulders or plunging necklines and women must wear a bra). You must take off your shoes before entering the temple or other buildings.
Elephant tours are popular in this region, research you tour well before booking as some tours provide more experience than others, on your tour you can expect some private time with elephants, bathing in the river and feeding them. An elephant ride through the jungle can also be combined with a rafting trip down the Mae Tang River (rapids vary in seasons).
Out and about
Getting around Chiang Mai is easy as the old city is only a mile square, though if you're travelling a bit further or laden with purchases there are several modes of transport to consider; the songthaews are covered pickup trucks, samlors are 3-wheeled bicycles offering a quieter and slower pace than the noisy and frenetic tuk-tuks. Fares need to be negotiated before departing and each mode can be hailed down anywhere in the city.
Chiang Mai provides shoppers with just about every outlet imaginable, from modern shopping centres with all the usual big brand products to street markets with handmade products, arts and crafts. The night bazaar is a large indoor/outdoor market stretching along both sides of the road, offering identical stalls selling tourist-oriented souvenirs, handicrafts, fake goods and more.
There is a lively night-scene in Chiang Mai with discos, karaoke bars and live music everywhere. The main areas are near Tha Phae Gate, Loi Kroh Road which has many of the tourist-oriented bars and pubs and along Charoenrat Road on the eastern bank of the Mae Ping River. Also the Chiang Mai Entertainment Complex at the end of Loi Kroh Road is where you will find around 30 bars ranging from sports bars to girlie bars, and even bars staffed exclusively by kathoeys (ladyboys).
Other things of interest
Visiting a Northern Thailand hilltribe is a popular activity from Chiang Mai and there is a selection of tours available ranging from one day to overnight stays.
Chiang Dao is around an hour north of Chiang Mai and is a good starting point for treks into the mountains.
The city of Chiang Rai is about 3 hours drive away and as well as offering a range of attractions from ruins to Buddhist temples, and hill tribe villages to jungle trekking its also the commercial centre serving the Golden Triangle border region of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
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