Gateway to the mountains: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai is the gateway to the mountains in northern Thailand and is situated at an altitude of around 316 m (1037 feet) above sea-level. It is surrounded by lush greenery and tropical mountains from all sides.
To reach the city of Chiang Mai, travellers have multiple options from taking a flight straight into Chiang Mai or an overnight train or bus from Bangkok.
Taking a flight is the fastest and also the costliest option, the bus from Bangkok which departs daily in the evening from Mochit, the northern terminal. Chiang Mai is located 685 km from the capital and it takes 9-10 hours in a super deluxe bus.
The train journey takes as much time as the bus but is nearly double the cost of the latter. Both the bus station and the railway station are around 3-5 km away from the city centre.
The most convenient way to reach the city centre is to hop onto one of the many Songthaew (red trucks) or book a taxi via Uber or grab. Booking a taxi via an app is a sure-shot way of not getting ripped by the Tuk-Tuk and Songthaew owners.
Once in Chiang Mai, the best way of getting around is to either hire a scooter or take a Songthaew from point to point and then figure the rest out.
The main attraction in Chiang Mai is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which is located 18 km from the city centre, sitting at a 1,073 m (3520 feet) elevation on the slopes of Doi Suthep (Doi = Mount).
Built-in 1383 AD during the Lanna Thai period, local legend has it that the site of the temples was selected by an elephant sent to roam the mountainside, where upon reaching a suitable spot. It trumpeted, circled three times, knelt down and promptly died, which was interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site. The temple offers splendid views overlooking the entire city, but no reward is without effort as you must climb up 300 steps of the Naga-lined stairs.
Another must-visit it the Hmong hill tribe village which is deep into the tropical forest on Doi Suthep. The village is surrounded by greenery and everything in the village is made out of wood from the houses to the shops and even the sitting area it’s all made out of wood. This is one of the only villages in Thailand which has no entry fee and will give you a first-hand feel of what the hill tribe way of life really is.
There are more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai and its outskirts, with a dozen stand-outs of historical or architectural significance within walking distance of each other. Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai exhibit a mixture of Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan and Mon architectural styles that reflect the varied heritage of Northern Thailand.
One of the main attraction which draws a substantial number of travellers from all around the country to Chiang Mai is the night market which is open every day of the week from 6 pm till midnight and longer over the weekends.
The night market is located around the city centre and has a galore of things for shopping. It’s literally a shopper’s paradise from electronics to clothes and even adult toys everything is sold here. The best part is if you haggle hard things will be super cheap.
There are even food stalls in the night market which serve excellent food. Here the night market is over a road which stretches for more than a kilometre and includes Thai massage, 24-hour suits, ice creams and plenty more.
The night market is a great place to pick up souvenirs for family and friends back at home and burgers as well as steak is sold along with the local beef curry, which are worth a try.
Accommodation in Chiang Mai is in plenty to meet the needs of all kinds of travellers. From budget backpackers who need a bed in a dorm to five-star hotels for the business travellers it’s all there in this city.
The best place to stay is just around the corner a little bit away from the night market that’s if you want a peaceful night. All guest houses have free maps and are mostly run by Dutch citizens.
Food options are in plenty with the night market being the best eating option other than that there are restaurants all over the place. A must-have in Chiang Mai is a bowl of Chiang Mai’s signature dish, Khao Soi Kai, with pickled cabbage and lime to add to taste. For those who like a bit of spice, this is exactly what you should try while in the north of Thailand.
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is during the winter months from October to March, when the weather is cool and pleasant. Light cotton clothes are recommended throughout the year.
Being the capital of the northern region of Thailand everything is very easily accessible from money exchange to visa extension everything can be easily done in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is the kind of place which will grow on you. The longer you stay the more you will like the place. If your the kind who just likes to walk and window shop then Chiang Mai is the place for you.
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