CHIANG MAI (700 kilometers north of Bangkok) is Thailand's second largest city. Located on the Ping River with mountains rising up in the distance, it is colorful, exotic and rich in history and has traditionally been the gateway to Northern Thailand, a starting point for hill tribe treks and or northern Thailand adventures. It it used to a hippie mecca, similar to Kathmandu in Nepal or Cuzco in Peru, and a smuggling center for jade, rubies and sapphires from Burmese mines and opium, heroin and marijuana from the Golden Triangle. In recent years it has become more highbrow and now upmarket crowd with its posh resorts.

Although it was found in 1296, Chiang Mai means “new City.” It is northern Thailand’s largest city. In 2020 Chiang Mai was named the No.4 city in the world in Travel and Leisure's World's Best Awards. It was second in 2010. . In the mid 2000s it consistently was ranked the No. 5 city in the world and the No.3 in Asia. Surprisingly, however, it slipped out of the top ten 2011 and 2012. But, hey, how much can things change in a couple of years. The large community of ex pats that live here say it many of the good points of Bangkok without the bad.

Chiang Mai can be reached from Bangkok on a pleasant $30, 13-hour night train ride or a one-hour flight. It one of the few places in Thailand—if not the world—where historical and modern co-exist so exquisitely: where a Seven-Eleven can look so at home next to a 400-year-old pagoda. This dichotomy is best appreciated within the moat-encircled old city, which retains much of the fortified wall and four main gates that today have all matter of vehicles and types of people streaming out of them. For many years Chiang Mai was seen as a jumping off point for treks, rafting trips and elephant shows. Only in recent years have more people come to appreciate Chiang Mai for itself.

Peter Jon Lindberg wrote in Travel and Leisure: “Guidebooks have long described Chiang Mai as Thailand's cultural capital, an outsized village where old-time street life, craftmaking, and folk rituals are on vivid display. As such, it has traditionally attracted a more respectful and curious traveler. That's changed as Chiang Mai has grown into a minor metropolis, with the attendant go-go bars and party crowds. But it is still culture—or the promise of it—that keeps visitors coming... Foreign airlines are adding direct flights to Chiang Mai, bypassing Bangkok. The demographic of visitors has changed, as well, since the 1995 opening of the Regent resort (now the Four Seasons).... The Regent exposed Chiang Mai to a new, well-heeled audience. Now luxury properties are opening all over.” The Chedi, an Aman offshoot, arrived in in 2005, A Shangri-La arrived the next year followed by a Banyan Tree resort. “ ith the luxe lodgings has come a wave of shops, restaurants, and bars catering to the upmarket visitor. [Source: Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel and Leisure, April 2005]

History of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is more than 700 years old. It was a major religious, cultural, and commercial center until 1556 when Burmese invasion reduced it to a vassal state. The Burmese were driven out in 1775, and Chiang Mai and the surrounding Lan Na Thai kingdom once again became part of northern Thailand.

Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 by the founder of the Lanna Kingdom. King Mengrai. He chose the city because of its location on the Ping Rver and its access to other rivers in area but established the first Lanna capital in Chiang Rai. King Meng Rai the Great founded the city as the capital of the Lanna around the same time as the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom. He even conferred with his friends, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao before choosing the site where the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Chiang Mai not only was the capital and cultural core of the Lanna Kingdom, it was also a major center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. King Meng Rai himself was a very religious leader who founded many of the city’s temples that remain important to this day.

Chiang Mai literally means “new city” and has retained the name despite celebrating its 700th anniversary in 1996. In the 14th and 15th centuries Chiang Mai was capital of Lanna. In 1477 its prestige was such that it hosted the 18th world synod of Theravada Buddhism. In 1556 it was captured by the Burmese and retaken by the Thais in 1775. Until the 19th century Chiang Mai remained the center of a region that paid tribute to the main Siamese kingdom but was largely independent thanks to wealth it earned by controlling the caravan routes between Southeast Asia and China and Burma. Northern Thailand kingdoms were not always enlightened. Heavy taxes were levied on farmers and slavery was practiced well into the 19th century. The kingdoms left behind more than 50 major temples.

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: For the physical remains; the inner and outer town walls, moat and forts are preserved on their original locations from when Chiang Mai was founded. They represent the traditional construction methods and style of Lan Na. Parts of the earthen wall still stand; the western wall is still in perfect condition. The reason for this could be due to the double layer design of the wall. Although the city gates have been adapted to some extent by development, the relationship of the remaining structures to the overall city design is clear and the condition of the city remains essentially that which was restored by King Kawilain 1782 after the wars with the Burmese. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

The people from the Chiang Mai region of northern Thailand. are called the Yuan. According to the “Encyclopedia of World Cultures”: ““In the middle and late nineteenth century, although ostensibly under the rule of the king of Siam, the Yuan of Chiang Mai were actually under the absolute control of the Chiang Mai prince. The landed nobility came to his court once a year to offer their allegiance. Well into the twentieth century, the nobility imposed limitations on the property and personal rights of farmers and artisans, including corvée and military conscription. Also, farm products and manufactured items were taxed and requisitioned. (In one ironworking vil1age, for example, the tax was to be paid in the form of elephant chains and cooking pots). Slavery was still extant in the nineteenth century. Warfare and resettlement caused massive social dislocations. There was, as well, great exposure to external influences in the form of trade. Annual Chinese trade caravans ran from Yunnan to Chiang Mai, Moulmein, and back. The Yuan operated trade caravans, which included cattle, to Burma. In addition, the river was an important trade link with Bangkok and other downriver settlements. [Source: “Encyclopedia of World Cultures Volume 5: East/Southeast Asia:” edited by Paul Hockings, 1993 |~|]

Controversial former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who hails from Chiang Mai province, spent millions to boost tourism, improve transportation, and lure industry to the region. When Thaksin was in power in the early 2000s Chiang Mai was a boomtown filled with cranes, highway projects and developments going up at a Bangkokian pace. Thai expert Joe Cummings told Travel and Leisure: Thaksin gave “the city a blank check for development. Unfortunately, the kind of infrastructure Chiang Mai needs most—like real mass transit—is being ignored. There are no zoning laws, no statutes to preserve disappearing landmarks, no control on vehicle access to the historic center."

Modern Chiang Mai

In recent years, Chiang Mai has lost some of its appeal to overdevelopment. Monastery compounds are used as parking lots, wats have been swallowed up by concrete office buildings, the once quiet streets are becoming ensnared in traffic, and teak houses have been muscled out by Internet cafes, bars, restaurants, massage parlors, convenience stores and guesthouses that cater to backpackers waiting for or returning from treks. But what city has not endured similar changes and pressures. Chiang Mai boast more than 300 wats, several more than 500 years old. The green campus of Chiang Mai University takes up a large part of western Chiang Mai. The city has a laid-back population of only 250,000 people (although the metropolitan area that covers several neighboring districts has a population of about 1 million) and the level of development and traffic is just a fraction of that in Bangkok. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Today, Chiang Mai is a city very much alive and exuberant, with a population of more than 1,600,000 (on official count), of whom 172,000 live in Chiang Mai city. About 80% are locals by birth, speak the Lanna’s "kam muang" language, and practice the Lanna style of Buddhism. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

The city has been expanding rapidly, bustling with all modern facilities - first class hotels and restaurants, theatres and cinemas, sports complexes and golf courses, shopping malls and supermarkets and open markets, hospitals and condominiums. Yet the city and its people are conscious of this historical and cultural uniqueness and are trying rather successfully to preserve and maintain the city’s historic quarters, buildings and spaces, and its natural setting. Chiang Mai is today a seat of learning in many disciplines, and is home to five universities, Buddhist and Christian seminaries, technical colleges, four international English language schools and one German school, as well as a large university teaching hospital and several private ones, some with nursing schools. There are also many private language schools as well as the AUA, the British Council, Australian and New Zealand centers and the Alliance Francaise. Chiang Mai is also the home of many museums, galleries, archives and library, and of many heritage administrations located within the temples and communities.

There are many conservation groups in the Chiang Mai Communities; some of them are the elderly people, and many of them young students and active academics, who gather regularly at their community temples to do many kinds of social and cultural voluntary works and to organize traditional and religious events. These people form the core of the conservation group of the Chiang Mai, capital of Lanna. Although many monuments have suffered from the elements of time, nature, neglect and war, they have been subsequently restored and renovated as most of the monuments and sites within Chiang Mai are closely related to the spiritual identity of the people. The skilled craftsmen and artisans who are responsible for the restoration and renovation, therefore, carried out their work at ancient temples with the aim of making them to be complete and whole as original, to the best of their knowledge and ability. These artisans are still continuing their school of arts and crafts within the family or the communities located near the temples. These families and communities together with the temples served the important function of cultural transmission to ensure that the arts and architectural styles of Lanna will remain intact into the future. Threats and risks

The present threats which are currently harmful to the integrity of Chiang Mai as a whole, is over-development, rapid urbanization, the influx of tourists (about 5 million per year to Chiang Mai, and 1 million per year to Doi Suthep), and the migration from outside Lanna. There are also unskilled workers who migrated from the neighboring areas who take up all kinds of jobs at the marketplace and the night bazaars. As a result, land ownerships are changing hands very rapidly, and old quiet quarters of Chiang Mai have become nightclubs, karaoke bars, and other cheap entertainment joints. The "Love Chiang Mai group" and other NGOs have been very active and vocal against these threats. The Chiang Mai municipality has recently issued a local law prohibiting demolition, adaptation, and reconstruction in historic and designated areas that will become effective next year.

Traveler Information for Chiang Mai

Tourist Information in Chiang Mai: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chiang Mai Office (Temporary), 164/94-95 Chang Khlan Road, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50000, Tel. +66 5327 6140-2, Fax. +66 5327 6143-4 E-mail Address:, The main tourist office is located near the Nawarat Bridge at 105/1 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road,Tambon Wat Ket, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50000. Tel. 0 (5) 324 8604, 0 (5) 324 8607, 0 (5) 324 8605. Website: ;

Orientation: Despite have a nice, neat, squared and walled old city in the middle of town many places of interest and necessity are scattered around. The main temple is on a hill outside the main city. The main train station is some distance away. There are several bus stations. And the most interesting shopping area is six kilometers away. However the airport is close: only three kilometers from the city; a number of beautiful wats are in the old city; and the night market is a short walk away. Recommended maps include “Nancy Chandler’s Map of Chiang Mai”, which is chock full of interesting information about the city and is updated annually.

Climate: January is Chiang Mai's coolest month, and warm clothing is needed at that time. Temperatures start to rise in February, reaching their hottest in April with highs of 42°C 107°F. The rainy season runs from May through October and brings heavy rainstorms, muddy roads and leaches. November and December are the best months with bright, sunny days and cool nights.

Tips and Warnings: 1) Many elephant camps do not engage in Elephant-friendly practices. Avoid patronizing camps that exploit Thailand’s elephants. 2) Patronizing the Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Training Center in Mae Hong Son benefits both villagers and the authenticity of native arts. 3) The admission fee for the Chiang Mai Zoo does not include the fee to visit the Pandas. You have to pay extra for that. 4) If you plan on arriving in Chiang Mai during the Songkran festival (April 13-15) make sure you pack everything in plastic prior to placing it in your luggage.

Accommodation in the Chiang Mai Area

Chiang Mai features an amazing array of accommodation choices, including dozens of mom-and-pop guesthouses, mid-range hotels, and some of the finest luxury resorts in Thailand and . The Regent Chiang Mai Resoort & Spa, Lanna has ranked high in Travel and Leisure magazine hotel surveys. Among the top ranked hotels Travel and Leisure’s top hotels in Thailand in 2013 were: the Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai (No. 3 with a score of 92.68); Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai (No. 4, 92.38); and Le Méridien, Chiang Mai (87.69).

Many of the nicest places a resorts outside the city. Cameron McLauchlan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “There's plenty of accommodation in the city for those on a shoestring budget, but for a traveler looking to indulge themselves, the Veranda Chiang Mai hotel is an oasis of luxury 15 kilometers from the airport. The hotel's expansive reception lobby sits beyond a courtyard complete with a pond, and has huge cane chairs with cushions for several people and cylindrical light shades hanging down like giant fat stalactites. The rooms are a short walk away (or you can get a ride on one of the electric carts) and offer a breathtaking view of the nearby hills. Although concrete is prominent, the huge slabs have a contemporary design and barely detract from the sensation of being surrounded by nature. [Source: Cameron McLauchlan, Daily Yomiuri, November 28, 2010]

The hotel has a gym, health spa treatments, a conference room and an "infinity swimming pool" that seems to extend out to the hills and sky beyond. The rooms have a crisp, sophisticated design and are laid out to maximize the views (even from the open-style bathroom). An inviting day bed tempted me to curl up with a book for a while, but with only 36 hours in Chiang Mai, it seemed a shame not to see what the city had to offer.

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is one of the plushest and most imaginative resorts in northern Thailand. Among the features of this $80 million, 60-acre facility is 33,000-square-foot spa and a 5,000-volume library. It formally opened in December 2005 after five years in the making with 40 guest rooms and 124 villas and suites. Peter Jon Lindberg wrote in Travel and Leisure: “The Mandarin Oriental name assures Dhara Dhevi plenty of attention, but that's not the reason hotel junkies have been buzzing. This is simply one of the most ambitious resorts Asia has ever seen: a teakwood fantasia modeled on a northern Thai village, with vegetable gardens, lotus ponds, moats and fortified walls, towering palaces, a marketplace, a town green, even a temple, all of it occupied by a veritable army of merchants, servants, farmers, weavers, cooks, woodcarvers, and massage therapists. The scale is roughly on par with Colonial Williamsburg, or a Las Vegas mega-resort; the effect is a mix of both. Guests are taken to their villas in glittering horse-drawn carriages or antique samlors, saluted en route by uniformed, heel-clicking guards. From the infinity pool you can gaze upon farmers harvesting rice and imagine you're a 15th-century nobleman in his own private fiefdom. [Source: Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel and Leisure, April 2005]

Suchet Suwanmongkol owns several Ferraris but turns up for meetings in sandals and a windbreaker. He's been on the premises almost every day since the groundbreaking, supervising construction from a golf cart adorned with a Rolls-Royce grille. Dhara Dhevi's staff refer to Suchet as "the owner" (in fact, his daughter is the primary shareholder), and say little else. There's something Howard Hughesian about the man, not least his unbridled vision. When Suchet conceived of Dhara was on a much smaller scale. He began it, by most accounts, as a vanity project, until the realities of running a hotel set in. In 2004 a management deal was struck with Mandarin Oriental. But Dhara Dhevi remains Suchet's obsession, and he's spared no expense. Witness the gems embedded in the most unassuming bas-reliefs, and the 3,600 trees—some 80 feet tall—that were transplanted to the property intact. Officials put the current price tag at $80 million, though the final tally is rumored to be twice that—either way, an astronomical cost for an Asian resort.

The architecture at Dhara Dhevi is literally all over the map. Strolling the grounds, you pass continually from era to era, region to region—from colonial Burma to rural Laos to medieval Chiang Mai. The pathway itself morphs from brick to flagstones to tiles and back. Along one side might run a primitive mud wall, opposite might be a fence of polished teak. Some villas are sided with clapboards, others with red brick, still others with primrose plaster. Interiors are equally eclectic. My villa, No. 11, is spare and rustic, with varnished plank floors and dark walls; other rooms fairly glitter with rococo touches. The Colonial Suites, opening later this year, are to be outfitted with plush divans and sumptuous fabrics that will recall Raffles in Singapore.

The resorts architect Rachen Intawong “defends this mishmash of styles by explaining that the resort is essentially a small city—and a city is, by nature, composed of varying, even clashing, aesthetics. To his credit, this is precisely what sets Dhara Dhevi apart: it is the furthest thing from anodyne. Most Asian resorts seem blandly familiar once you've seen a few; their design is intended to soothe the eye, not provoke it. Dhara Dhevi is a whole different animal, as challenging and dynamic as an actual city. Some guests will love it straightaway, some will require a few days to process it, and some may just feel a bit dizzy.

If the property has a focal point, it must be the Dheva Spa, a magnificent re-creation of a 19th-century Burmese palace, fashioned entirely from burnished teak and capped by a 64-foot, seven-tier roof. The spa unfolds over 33,000 square feet, with no fewer than 35 treatment rooms. Developers plan to construct a separate "ayurvedic village" in a far corner of the property, where guests will be encouraged to stay for several weeks.

Edification, not mere indulgence, is Dhara Dhevi's mission. Suchet hopes to provide guests with a full-scale cultural immersion. "Any hotel can put you in a good mood, but it lasts only as long as the trip," he says. "We want to give an education." Guests will have access to a 5,000-volume library, lectures from visiting academics, and a 250-seat amphitheater for dramatic, musical, and dance performances. In-depth, guided excursions to temples, historic sites, and artisans'villages will be on offer. But since not all guests are inclined to leave the premises, Dhara Dhevi also brings the countryside to them. Three weather-beaten stilt houses were carted in and resurrected near the tennis courts; they now function as a working crafts center, where wizened ladies from nearby villages are invited to drop by and practice basketry, weaving, and woodcarving in public view.

Instructional programs abound. Honeymooners can plant rice alongside farmers in the field, executives on corporate retreats can prepare duck curry at the cooking school, and kids can learn to play takraw (the Thai version of volleyball). Suchet says he envisions "a billionaire weaving a key chain for his Bentley or making his own letterhead from mulberry leaves. Yes! I think he'll do it, just so he can say, 'I made this.’

Shopping in Chiang Mai

Shopping in Chiang Mai is a premier activity there. Nearly every souvenir item found elsewhere in Thailand is available for sale here. The advantage of shopping in Chiang Mai is that visitors can learn about handicrafts production by watching artisans making the stuff. Both in the city itself and in several outlying villages, particularly along the Bo Sang-San Kamphaeng road, there are establishments where visitors can purchase handicrafts and works of art directly from the people who produced them. Chiang Mai is famous for parasols, silk and cotton textiles, jewelry, woodcarvings, silverware, celadon, and lacquerware. The Chiang Mai night market features numerous street stalls and shops. The Sunday Market offers more unique, independently created souvenirs and products, and the indoor, air conditioned Central department store shopping complex on Huay Kaeo Road sells international brand name products.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar attracts hundred of tourist and features tables and stalls with handmade dolls, hill tribe textiles, hand-embroidered clothes, silver opium pipes, bongs, T-shirts, wrap-around sunglasses, belts, jewelry, hats, watches, knickknacks, DVDs, copies of European designer clothes and cheap items from Burma and China. There are also lots of food stalls. The Galare Food Center, opposite the market, has free traditional dance performance every night from 9:00pm to 10:30pm.

Every evening, stalls are set up on the sidewalks on both sides of the road and along a maze of side street. Few items have price tags. The vendors will give you a price when you ask or show an interest in an item, but that tends to be a feeler put out to test the waters — you can make some good deals if you want to haggle, but the prices are usually fairly cheap to begin with. In fact they are so good that some importers make deals here. The bazaar is often busy with tourists until late into the evening. Plenty of tuk-tuk taxis are on hand to take you wherever else you might want to go next.

Arts and Crafts Places in Chiang Mai include: Baan Tawai, a village of wood-carving handicraftsmen and a the major cultural attraction of Chiangmai for Thai and foreign tourists; Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center (Prapokklao Rd., Tambon Sriphum), housed in an old building of elegant architectural design built in 1924; Kad Suan Kaeo Art & Cultural Centre (in Kad Suan Kaeo Shopping Mall), a centre of art and cultural performances; Lanna Woodcarving Art Museum; and an Roi An Phan Yang Museum, an exhibition center of antiques and woodcarving masterpieces located at Chiang Mai-Sanpatong Road,

Bo Sang (six miles from Chiang Mai) is known for its hand- painted paper umbrellas and fans. Artists also adorn handbags, blue jeans or camera cases with beautiful hand painted designs. Cameron McLauchlan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Bo Sang craftsmen make “umbrellas, including the paper used for the canopy, by hand. Visitors can watch artisans in every step of the process, from pounding mulberry pulp with a mallet to make the canopy, to carving the handles on a lathe, to making the bamboo frame, to affixing the canopy. You can even try your hand at painting your own umbrella, and some of the resident artists will give you a few tips for whipping up your own masterpiece.

And if the sign hanging behind the women deftly cutting bamboo strips into umbrella ribs is anything to go by — "Save the planet, use bamboo umbrella" — these products are more than just a useful item for a rainy day. The store also sells a rainbow of umbrellas in various shapes and sizes, as well as traditional reed musical instruments, carvings and exquisite envelopes made from the same paper used on the umbrellas. [Source: Cameron McLauchlan, Daily Yomiuri, November 28, 2010]

San Kamphaeng (a couple of miles down the road from Bo Sang) is where you can see how silk, teak furniture, celadon pottery, cotton and silk fabrics, hammered silverware, brass utensils, painted fans and umbrellas, lacquerware and wood carvings are made. On Highway 1006 between Chiang Mai and San Kampang there are numerous shops selling silk, lacquerware, wood carvings, pottery, lather, antiques, silver jewelry and precious gems. Nearby there is a town a devoted soley to papermaking, another to lacquerwate and others to cotton, silk, woodcraving and silver.

Transportation in Chiang Mai

Getting Around in Chiang Mai: By Samlor or Tuk-Tuk: For relative short distances you can take a samlor or tuk-tuk, three-wheel cabs that are respectively pedal or motor powered. Fares must be bargained in advance. Short rides within the city cost between 20 and 30 baht. Longer rides may cost as much as 50 baht. By Taxi: Meter taxis, nearly identical to those running around Bangkok, are now available in Chiang Mai, where fares likewise begin at 35 baht.

According to ASIRT: Almost as congested as Bangkok. Rapid growth and a lack of urban planning contribute to traffic congestion. Inadequate enforcement of traffic laws contributes to congestion and high road crash rates. Be alert for cyclists; motorcycles and bicycles account for more than half of all traffic in the city. Pollution levels are high. Public mass transportation system is very poor; number of transport vehicles, inadequate. Bus fleet consists mostly of red minibuses. Transport also supplied by pickup trucks modified to carry passengers and Daihatsu minibuses. Chiang Mai International Airport: An elevated road is being constructed to the airport. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)]

By Songtaew: Songtaews (red pickup trucks with benches in the covered flatbed portion of the truck) are the most common means of transportation in Chiang Mai. Passengers can hop in and out as they wish. Simply tell the driver the destination and negotiate the price before boarding. Fares range from 10-20 baht depending on the distance, considerably more for long rides up to Doi Suthep, where the songtaew will wait for you to explore and then return you to town, stopping at various sights, such as the zoo, along the way if you wish. By Bicycle: Some travelers prefer to ride bicycles around the city as most of the roads and alleys are accessible by bicycle. Bicycles can be rented from bicycle shops and certain guesthouses.

Getting Around in Chiang Mai Province: By Bus: If you travel to any districts in Chiang Mai, use the Chang Phuak Bus Terminal located on Chotana Road, tel. 053 211 586. Destinations include those located along the northern route (Highway No. 107) which passes through Mae Rim, Mae Taeng, Chiang Dao, Chaiprakan, Fang and Mae Ai. Some buses continue to Tha Ton, the northern-most district of Chiang Mai.

By Rental Car: All major international car rental companies, such as AVIS, Budget, and Hertz, as well as Thai car rental companies, have various vehicles for rent and are ready to provide suggestions on travel itineraries. The easiest way to locate a car rental company is to ask at the airport or a major hotel, as those are the places where most rental agency offices are located. While most Chiang Mai roads are in good condition with signs posted in English, be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road.

By Motorbike: For anywhere from 150 to 1,000 baht per day you can hire your own motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law and foreign visitors unfamiliar with either driving motorbikes or driving in Thailand should drive carefully and obey all local traffic rules (there are numerous one way streets in Chiang Mai city).

Getting to Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the main transportation hub for the north and can easily be reached via car, bus, train, or plane. By Train: Express and rapid trains operated by the State Railways of Thailand leave for Chiang Mai from Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Station six times a day from 8.00am to 10.00pm The trip takes about 11-12 hours on an express train. For more information, contact tel. 1690, or 02 223 7010, 02 223 7020. Chiang Mai Railway Station, tel. (053) 24 2094, 244 795, .247 462 245 363-4

By Car: Driving from Bangkok takes approximately 8 hours and is best by one of the following routes: Route 1) Drive on Highway No.1 (Phahonyothin Road) and turn left to Highway No.32 (Asian Highway) which passes Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, and Nakhon Sawan; then take Highway No. 117 to Phitsanulok and Highway No. 11 through Lampang and Lamphun to Chiang Mai. The total distance is 695 kilometers. Route 2) Follow route 1 to Nakhon Sawan and then take Highway No. 1 through Kamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang until you arrive in Chiang Mai. The total distance is 696 kilometers.

By Bus: From Bangkok there are ordinary, 2nd class, and 1st class air-conditioned buses leaving throughout the day from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) for Chiang Mai (8.00am to 9:00ampm) Call 02 936 3600, 02 936 2852, and 02 937 8055 for an updated bus timetable. Private buses, which can be conveniently booked in tourist centers in Bangkok, are also available. However, the public buses from the Northern Bus Terminal are generally more reliable. The journey takes approximately 10-12 hours, depending on traffic. From other provinces, including Mae Sai, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Nan, Phayao, Phrae, Lampang, Lamphun, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sot, Mae Sariang, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), and Udon Thani, there are direct buses that service the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. Contact tel: 0 5324 2664 for an updated bus timetable.

By Air: Domestic airlines, including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, AirAsia, and Nok Air, operate several flights daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Depending on where you are flying from, one of these airlines can also fly you directly to Chiang Mai from Mae Hong Son, Pai, Chiang Rai, and Koh Samui. From international destinations, visitors can fly directly to Chiang Mai on a number of domestic and international air carriers. While these routes are subject to their economic viability for individual airlines, it is usually possible to fly directly to Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur, Luang Prabang, Singapore, Vientiane, and Yangon. International airlines servicing Chiang Mai from those destinations include Silk Air, Lao Airlines, and Mandalay Air.

Airport Transportation: There is a licensed airport taxi service available at the taxi kiosk outside the baggage-claim area. Purchase a ticket and present it to the drivers waiting by the arrivals exit area (on your left as you leave baggage claim). The trip will cost approximately 100 baht for a sedan car that seats 4-5 people (with luggage). From the airport, train station and bus terminal, you can easily get a ride in share songtaew (red mini-bus). To charter a minibus or car, please check the correct fare at the TAT counter first. Normally, first-class hotels provide complimentary transportation between the airport, railway station, or bus terminals and the hotel for guests who have made advance reservations.

Sights in Chiang Mai

More than 300 temples dot Chiang Mai. Perhaps the most famous is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which is perched on a hill northwest of the city. Dating back several hundred years, the temple affords excellent views of the city on clear days — getting to the temple, however, involves either a cable car or a lung-busting climb up more than 300 steps. Wat Chedi Sao features several glimmering white pagodas and a colorful collection of painted stone oxen, tigers and mythical lions.

Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center is a pleasant place where people can sample traditional northern Thai stir-fry noodle dishes and watch performances of traditional Thai dances and hill tribe folk dances. Also check out the Hill Tribe Education Center (620-25 Thaalai Road), Hill Tribes Products Promotion Center (21-17 Sutheo Road).

Old Chiang Mai Medical Hospital is Thailand’s most respected massage school. Massage by students begin at around $4. Twelve-day intensive courses are available for around $100. There are also dozens of street-side massage centers and other massage schools in Chiang Mai.

Mae Sae Valley (10 kilometers north of Chiang Mai) features elephant camps, orchid and butterfly farms, snake farms and northern-style stilt houses. See Elephants Below.

Wats in Central Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang (right in the middle of Chiang Mai) contains the largest ruined chedi in Chiang Mai. Built in 1401 during the reign of King Saen Mueang Mak, the seventh king of Mengrai Dynasty, and partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1545, it contains 10-foot-high stone elephants and a tall tree which is considered the pillar of Chiang Mai. The 98-meter tall and 54-meter wide chedi was built in the reign of King Tilokkarat. The construction was completed in 1481. The chapel in the front was built by Chao Khun Uba Lee Poramacharn (Sirichantathera) and Chao Kaeo Navarat in 1928. The magnificent methodological serpents ramble from the entrance of the chapel to its door on both sides. It is believed that they are the most beautiful man-made serpents in the northern Thailand. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00 to 5:00pm

Wat Phan Tao (on Phra Pok Klao Road beside Wat Chedi Luang) . The temple was a throne hall for King Mahotara Prateth, thus the peacock shaped doors were built. It is believed that peacock is a symbol of king. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00am -5:00pm

Wat Chiang Man (off of Ratchapakhinai Road inside the old city walls on the northern side) is the oldest wat in Chiang Mai. Built in 1296 by King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai. The temple is famous for its Lanna-style chedi supported by rows of elephant-shaped buttresses and an ancient and invaluable Buddha image named Phra Kaeo Khao. The main temple has massive teak columns and a stenciled wooden ceiling. The small chapel to the right is decorated with painting describing Buddha's past lives and a 30-centimeter-high bas-relief that was reportedly produced in Sri Lanka or India 2,500 years ago (a very unlikely claim). A much venerated 10-centimeter-high figure, known as the Crystal Buddha, in the small chapel is said to be 1,800 years. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm

Wat Phra Sing (on Sam Lan Road) is one of Chiang Mai's most important religious sanctuaries. Founded in 1325 to house the remains of King Kham Fu, and restored in the Lanna style in 1806, it is a beautiful building and contains the famous Phra Buddha Sihing of Chiangsaen and murals dating back to the forth reign of the ancient Thai kings. The revered Phra Phutthasihing Buddha image, cast in Subduing Mara, is now enshrined in Viharn Lai Kham. During the Songkran festival, each April 13-15, the Buddha is carried around Chiang Mai town in a traditional procession and given a ritual bath. The oldest chedi at the temple was built by King Pa Yu, the fifth king of Mengrai Dynasty, to house his father’s ashes. The temple compound includes the lovely Viharn Lai Kham featuring exquisite woodcarvings, northern-style murals paintings, a magnificent scriptural repository, striking bas relief, and a circular, bells-shaped, Sri-Lankan-style stupa. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm

Wat Prasat (on Inthawarorot Road near Wat Phra Sing) contains a traditional Lanna architecture chapel. The chapel roof is decorated with pieces of colourful glass and carved wooden lions. It houses a rare Lanna-style Buddha image. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm

Wats on the Outskirts of Chiang Mai

Wiang Kum Kam (southeast of Chiang Mai, between kms. 3 and 4 along the Chiang Mai-Lamphun route) is an ancient, ruined city built in the 11th century by the Mon well before the reign of King Mengrai mostly in the 13th century. The city was surrounded by moats fed by by reservoirs. There are 20 ancient remains in and around Wiang Kum Kam, including buildings and temples such as Wat Chedi Liam, Wat Chang Kham, Wat Noi, Wat Pu Pia, Wat Ku Khao, Wat E Kang, Wat Hua Nong, and Wat Pu Song. Getting There: To get to Wiang Kum Kam take take the Chiang Mai-Lamphun route to Tambon Wang Tan in Saraphi district. Take the road at Nong Hoi Polce box to the Ko Klang Pa Kluai intersection and en route to Chedi Liam Police box. Wiang Kum Kam Information Center Tel: 0 5327 7322

Wat Chedi Liam and Chedi Ku Kham were built in 1288 in the reign of King Mengrai to honor the appointment his minister Aey Fah in to Lamphun. King Mengrai established a town in the northeast of Chiang Mai for five years and then resettled a town near the Mae Ping River in 1277 and renamed it “Wiang Kum Kam”. In 1287, the stupa of Wat Jamthewi, Lamphun was rebuilt in Wiang Kum Kam for the locals to worship. After that for hundreds years, the temple was left abandoned. In 1908, a Burmese tycoon renovated it in Burmese rather than Khmer architectural style. Only some parts were rebuilt in the Khmer style. Tourists can purchase bamboo sticks at Wat Phra kep Don Tao, which they can use strike the dozens of hanging bells around the perimeter of the Wat. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.

Wat Chet Yot (near the National Museum on the Chiang Mai-Lampang Super Highway, four kilometers from Chiang Mai town.) contains a unique chedi that is composed of seven spires, inspired the Indian temple of Bodgaya. Also known as Wat Photaram Mahaviharn, the temple was built by King Tilokaraja in 1455, when Chiang Mai hosted the Eighth Buddhist World Council. Wat Chedi Chet Yot was recently renovated and also goes by the name Wat Photaram Mahaviharn. The interesting attraction of this temple is the seven tapering finial stupa, which is supported by lovely divine sculptures at its base. The stupa was built in the Phuttakaya style of India. It contains ashes of King Tilokkarat. Hours Open: Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.

Other Wats in Chiang Mai: Wat Suan was originally built in the 14th century pleasure garden of a Lanna king. Several white chedis contain the ashes of members of Chiang Mai’s former royal family. Wat Ku Tao (near Chiang Mai stadium) features a unique watermelon-shaped chedi. Wat U-Mong is a meditation temple with a lovely setting.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (15 kilometers from Chiang Mai) is located on a 3,051-foot mountain that overlooks western Chiang Mai. Originally built in 1371 and expanded and restored by various Chiang Mai rulers, it is home to a gold-covered chedi with many sacred Buddhist relics inside. The main stupa has four ceremonal umbrellas, at each corner that symbolize kingship. The view of Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountains is spectacular. The temple can be reached by an inexpensive funicular or a 300 step staircase with a stylized snake banister. The temple’s pagoda contains holy Buddha relics, and attracts Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world throughout the year. The temple compound offers an exhilarating view of Chiang Mai city and surrounding countryside. Hours Open: Open everyday from 6.00am to 5:00pm

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: The Temple of the Sacred Buddha's Relic Doi Suthep, situated at the top of one of the mountain peaks of Doi Suthep, and can be seen glittering in the sun on a fine day. It was originally built by King Kuena of the Mangrai Dynasty in 1419 AD to enshrine the Relic brought from Sukhothai by the learned great monk, Pra Sumana Thera. [Source: Thailand National Committee for World Heritage, 2015]

There are many legends told and recorded about the history and development of the temple, especially about the selection of its special location. When Pra Sumana brought the Buddha's the Relic to Chiang Mai, there was only one Relic, and the King had planned to build a stupato enshrine at Wat Suan Dok just outside the Western Gate where the King 's Garden Palace was located,enclosed within the fortified walls. The Buddha's Relic then duplicated into two pieces. The King therefore kept one piece at Wat Suan Dok, very much associated with the King. The other piece therefore must be placed where the people in entire area could be associated with King Kuena placed the relic in a safe container and put it on the back of an elephant. Starting from the Gate of the Head of the City in the North, now called the Chang Puak Gate, the elephant was let loose, and it ran all the way up to the top of Doi Suthep where it moved around an area three times and collapsed on the spot. The King then decided that the spot was auspicious as the site for the Relic Stupa and its temple.

Wat Pra That Doi Suthep has been regarded,in the past as in the present, as the number one destination of Buddhist pilgrims from all area of Lanna. It has been expanded and further embellished by successive kings in the historic time, and the commoners made donation in whatever way they could as the Lanna people traditionally believed, and still do, that restoration and embellishment of the sacred temple would ensure the greatest merit not only for this life but also for the next life.

Museums in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai National Museum (on the Chiang Mai-Lampang Super Highway near Wat Chet Yot) opened un 1973 and was built according to traditional northern architecture, with a Lanna Thai rooftop. Interesting exhibitions include: 1) The natural and cultural background of the Lan Na Kingdom including the geology, ecology, geography and prehistoric settlement of the north. 2) Topic 2: The history of the Lan Na Kingdom from the establishment of Chiang Mai city to its peak and decline under Burmese control from 1558 to 1769. 3) The city of Chiang Mai under the Kingdom of Siam, from the time Chiang Mai regained its freedom from Burma, to the reestablishment of Chiang Mai city in 1782. 4) Trade and economy of the Lan Na Kingdom from 1782 to 1939. 5) The modern way of life and social development: agriculture and industry, banking, international relations, education and public health. 6) The development of the Lan Na Art Style, and the history of art in Thailand from the Dvaravati period to the present day. Hours Open: Closed Monday and Tuesday, Open from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50300, Tel. 0 5322 1308.

Tribal Museum (not far away from the Chiang Mai National Museum in King Rama IX Lanna Garden on Chotana Road) is an ethnology museum featuring the indigenous culture of nine hill tribes: Karen (Kariang), Hmong (Meo), Mien (Yao), Lisu (Liso), Akha (Iko), Lahu (Musoe), Lau, Thin, Khamu and Malabri. Each tribe possesses unique identity and culture. The museum exhibits ways of life, culture, beliefs, and local wisdom of these tribes. The museum contains artifacts, handicrafts, musical instruments, farming implements, ritual items. There are also cultural descriptions, photographs, histories, slide and video shows, account of the Thai Royal family with hill tribes and library with one of the world’s best collection of information on hill tribes. Hours Open: The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday and national holidays. Other days it is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Tel. 0 5321 0872. Admission: 90 baht for adults.

Ban Kham Un Museum (right side of km. 4, opposite Mae Sa Snake Farm in Amphoe Mae Rim) is a private museum of Thai art is owned by an accomplished artist-cum collector family. Inthakhin Archaeological Site and Pottery Museum (at Ban San Pa Tong, Tambon Inthakhin, Amphoe Mae Taeng) is an archaeological dig site which uncovered ancient Inthakhin kilns of the Mueang Kaen area of Thailand. SBUN-NGA Textile Museum (Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center) is the largest textile museum in Thailand. See over a thousand ancient and rare textiles revealing the elaborate weaving skills of both royal and ordinary people.

Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center opened in 2003 and chronicles the city’s long history. The permanent exhibition is housed in 15 rooms, each devoted to a different theme of Chiang Mai history. There is also a courtyard for temporary exhibitions and cultural events such as music and dance.

Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders was founded in 1999 by Dr. Rampa Rattanarithikul, a medical entomologist who discovered over two dozen mosquito species and helped identify 420 more. In the museum are cat-size mosquito models and some of the hundreds of thousands of mosquito specimens that Dr. Rattanarithikul collected. Rattanarithikul, began work as a lab technician in 1959 at a mosquito project in Bangkok whose goal was to protect U.S. troops from diseases like malaria. Even though she had little former education she learned Japanese and earned a doctorate in medical entomology from Kobe University in Japan when she was in her 50s. She is regarded as the world’s foremost expert on mosquitos in Southeast Asia and her skills is unmatched in determining disease-carrying mosquito species from run-of-mill, non-disease-carrying varieties. Her life’s work is the six-volume Illustrated Keys to the Mosquitos of Thailand. Location: 72 Siri Mangkalajarn Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand; Hours Open: 9:00am-4:00pm Getting There: According to to Atlas Obscura: The museum is located roughly halfway between Chiang Mai Old City and Nimmanhaemin Road. Finding it can be a little tricky, though. The building is fairly unremarkable from the outside and, because of its long and complicated name, asking to be taken there will often confuse taxi and tuk tuk drivers. If you ask them to take you to the Green Palace Hotel, you’ll find the museum next door.

Chiang Mai Zoo and Night Safari

Chiang Mai Zoo (next to Huai Kaeo Arboretum) is a well-managed large zoo, which occupies the lower forested slopes of Doi Suthep Mountain. The zoo contains more than 200 types of Asian and African mammals and birds. The most popular star here is a couple of pandas. Withi n the zoo is a two-kilometer-long mono-rail service. A twilight zoo is open from 6.00pm to 9.00pm. The new aquarium houses the longest underwater tunnel with a moving walkway in Asia. It is 133 meters long and takes visitors past both fish and other forms of life from both the sea and freshwater sources. In the zoo there are fish and animals from various areas such as the upper mountain ranges of Northern Region, Khong River Basin, the Amazon River Basin and of mangroves. The Nakhon Ping Bird Aviary covers an area of 6 rai and is the largest one of its kind in Thailand. It contains 132 local and international species of bird in the midst of a natural environment with a waterfall.

Hours: Open everyday from 8.00am to 7.00pm Contact: For more details or advance booking contact Tel: 0 5322 1179, 0 5322 2283 Accommodation and Food: Restaurants and a camping site are available. Admission: 150 Thai Baht ($4.50 USD) for adults and 70 Thai Baht ($2.11 USD) for children under 135 centimetres in height.There is a separate admission fee for the pandas. Getting There: By shared tax. You will pay about 50 THB ($1.3) for a shared taxi one-way ride. Taxis leave from Chang Pauk Gate. You can also travel by regualr taxi with a meter that you can catch anywhere on the street.
Website: Official website chiangmai.zoo

Chiang Mai Night Safari (10 kilometers from Chiang Mai in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park) is an open landscape zoo that is open during the day but comes aive at night. Visitors can see various kinds of animals such as elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, Asiatic black bears, tigers, hyenas, crocodiles from an open-air tram. There is also a trekking route to see the wild animals among trees and by a lake. The Night Safari is essentially a zoo set out like a theme park.

Location: Contact: Chiang Mai Night Safari, Tambon Mae Hia and Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, Tel. 0 5399 9050, 0 5399 9000. Open on Monday to Friday between 1.00pm-4.00pm and Saturday and Sunday between 10.00am and 4.00pm. Hours Open: Open everyday. The night safaris are held daily between 6.00pm and 11.30pm.
Accommodation For more information on and accommodation, contact Tel: 0 5399 9050, 0 5399 9000 or check Admission: US$22 adults; US$11 for children. Getting There: You can arrange you own transport to get to the Chiang Mai Night Safari or there is a free return mini bus that runs every evening from outside the Tourist Police office in the middle of the Night Bazaar. To get there: Go along Huai Kaeo Road, turn left into Highway No. 121 toward Amphoe Hang Dong for around 10 kilometers, then turn right and continue for 2 kilometers. Website: Official website

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.

Last updated August 2020

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