Surrounded by the mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a flourishing city often used as a base among both backpackers and tourists wishing to explore the lush landscapes, hill tribes and outdoor adventures of the region. Nevertheless, Chiang Mai itself is a large and culturally important city where historical and modern Thai architecture and traditions coexist.
A walk around the historic center bestows views of old city walls and dozens of beautiful ancient temples. However, the most famous of these temples, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, lies outside Chiang Mai on a mountainside overlooking the city. Modern-day Chiang Mai offers handicraft markets, an abundance of massage and spa parlors, botanical gardens, swimming pools, zoo and an elephant nature park where visitors can bathe, feed and ride elephants.
Those seeking to experience the beauty, wildlife and adventure of the mountainous region will find a large variety of organized tour companies operating out of Chiang Mai that feature trekking, mountain biking, waterfalls, elephant rides, ziplining, canopy walks, river rafting and visits to local hill tribes and elephant training camps.
Chiang Mai’s diverse range of restaurants is second only to Bangkok with representatives from cuisines all over the world. A popular local Northern Thai dish is khao soi kai, a curry broth cooked with yellow wheat noodles, beef or chicken, pickled cabbage and lime. The city’s nightlife scene is the most animated in the North with numerous bars, discotheques, karaoke lounges and nightclubs.
Transport options for getting around Chiang Mai include motorbikes, samlors (3-wheeled bicycles), tuk-tuks and songthaews (covered pick-up trucks).