Once a quiet little town in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has now developed into a thriving city which has much to offer to those who visit its land. It is the second largest city in Thailand and having been overshadowed by Bangkok for many years, it is slowly blossoming into one of the hottest tourist hubs in South East Asia.
As you walk the streets of Chiang Mai, it is as if time stands still. Centuries-old chedis and temples with intricate carvings and designs, crumbling old stupas, and wooden houses are scattered across the city. Although modern technologies are clearly visible, it is still infused with history and culture so rich that it is reflected through its surroundings.
Chiang Mai, which means ‘new city’ in Thai language, was founded by King Meng Rai and became the capital city of the legendary Lanna Kingdom in 1296. Also known as the ‘Rose of the North’, she bravely withstood the test of time for over 700 years and witnessed the historic transition from Mon and Khmer domination over her land to the current Thai ruling.
Having been abandoned for 20 years in 1557 when the Burmese attacked the Thai people and neglected by her ruler, she slowly disappeared from the pages of history. It was not until the city offered its allegiance to the King of Siam that she resurfaced and gradually grew to be what she is today.
Today she stands strong and proud, unashamed of her battle scars and willing to share her abundant beauty to all. Over the years, Ching Mai has become a backpacker’s paradise due to its natural landscape of mountains and friendly people. Now boutique hotels have mushroomed all over town and have attracted a great deal of tourists every year.
The Old Kingdom
The ‘Old City’ is a photographer’s haven. It is surrounded by the remains of the city wall and a moat where you can find the 30 remaining temples still standing with some dating back to 100 years. Here you will be able to have a glimpse of history as you wander freely on the grounds exploring each structures and architectures. One of the oldest temples is the Wat Chiang Man. It is said to be built in the late 13th century and was the first temple to be erected on this sacred land. The standing Buddha in front of the altar is the oldest statue in Chiang Mai which dates back to 1465.
As you make your way through the temple structures, you will be greeted by bald headed monks who are more than willing to share stories of the past. The ‘old city’ is where it all began, the heart of the city that attracts many to this historic site.
The Mighty Mountain
High up on the Doi Suthep mountain, a breathtaking view of the entire city can be clearly seen offering the sights of the old and new city, its beautiful temples and buildings as well as its inhabitants.
This mountain is considered by the locals to be holy and many hike up to the 5,498 peak a couple of times a year to acknowledge its existence. At the base of the hill lies a Buddhist temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep which has a glittering gold chedi that was built in the 14th century.
The Sacred Animal
Elephants are considered to be revered animals among the Thai people. For centuries the Asian elephants were used during the wartime to help the Thai’s attack the Burmese when their land was invaded. It was also used for farming and logging. But over the years, the number of elephants has dangerously declined.
On the verge of extinction, elephant sanctuaries are set up across Thailand to protect what is left of these beloved animals. One such place is the Elephant Conservation Centre. Here you will get a chance to witness firsthand the bond that is shared between the elephants and their mahouts which is truly remarkable. The centre will also train you to handle and command an elephant and at the same time honour and respect the animal.
The Elephant Nature Park is a rescue centre for distressed elephants that have been abused and ill-treated. It offers a sanctuary for these gentle creatures to live freely and happily with other elephants in the herd. The park has been recognised by many international organisations such as Animal Planet, CNN and National Geographic for their efforts in saving what is left of the Asian elephants.
Spending a day at the park lets you interact with these amazing creatures that will melt your heart with their playfulness and gentleness.
The Best Bargains
Chiang Mai is at par with Bangkok when it comes to being a shopping paradise. The famous Night Bazaar offers a plethora of items such as local arts and crafts, the latest in fashion and stunning jewellery.
Sunday Walking Street is another must-see place that will offer you goods from souvenirs to paintings, and wood carvings to textile products. An array of food stalls can also be found at these markets where you will have the opportunity to sample authentic Northern Thailand cuisine. With all these and more, it is impossible to go home empty handed after a trip to Chiang Mai’s province.
Chiang Rai is the place to be if you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some peace and quiet. The province which is made up of hilly terrains, vast paddy fields, and thick forest is more laid-back as compared to its neighbour Chiang Mai.
Before Chiang Mai became the capital city of the Lanna Kingdom, the title belonged to Chiang Rai. Although smaller in size compared to its sister land, it had the potential to grow economically due to its strategic location within the renowned Golden Triangle area where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converged.
The City of Muse
The beauty of Chiang Rai has attracted artists worldwide looking for a quiet place to get away from the chaotic Thai capital and other bustling towns. A place where masterpieces are created, it has adopted the name ‘City of Artist’ and has come to be the perfect avenue for painters and sculptors to draw inspiration from its breathtaking scenery and culture.
The High on Opium
Located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, it was known as the trading ground for opium poppies, a kind of drug that was used back in the olden days.
Opium was widely grown throughout Chiang Rai’s province and was used as an economic boost as countries such as China travel all the way through the Mekong River to get their hands on it. Since the drugs were said to be illegal, the government of Thailand cleared up all the opium and fields and maintained the land to be a drug-free zone.
However, tourists can experience what it was like back then at the Hall of Opium, a museum which presents the history of opium and the consequences of the drugs. The museum is created in such a way that tourists will not only read and see displayed exhibits but also experience the emotions and moods caused by these narcotics. It also tells of the origin of this illegal drug and how it influenced the lives of many till it cultivated the Opium Wars between China and Britain in the early 19th century.
Overall, it is an interesting and detailed piece of history which piques the interest of many who are wondering what opium is all about.
The Surrounding Beauty
What is attractive about this place is that it is blessed with natural beauty of towering mountains, ruins of ancient settlements, historic sites and hill tribes who still maintain their ancestral lifestyle and practices.
There is no better way to experience Chiang Rai as a whole than to trek all through the city and its surroundings. Trekking allows you to see the hidden secrets of this land and interact with the friendly locals who are always willing to share their culture and heritage with a constant smile that will capture your hearts. It is the perfect place for those who enjoy a good adventure and exploration.
The Perfect Vacation
With stunning landscapes, beautiful people, interesting culture and traditions, attractive sights and fun activities; Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai is a heaven on earth that is just waiting to be explored and experienced by the people of the world. They might be small cities in Northern Thailand but do not let the size fool you. These cities have created a name for it by offering an authentic and unique experience like no other. Make these provinces your next holiday destination and be enthralled by the beautiful sights and sounds it has to offer.
Where To Stay:
Four Seasons Chiang Mai
Mae Rim-Samoeng Old Road,
Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel: +66 (53) 298 181
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dheri
51/4 Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng,
Road Moo 1 T. Tasala A. Muang,
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel: +66 (53) 888 888
Ping Nakara Boutique Hotel & Spa
135/9 Charoenprathet Road,
T. Changklan, A. Muang
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel: +66 (53) 252 999
Shangri-La Hotel Chiang Mai
89/8 Chang Klan Road,
Muang, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Tel: +66 (53) 253 888
Anantara Golden Triangle Resort & Spa
229 Moo 1, Chiang Saen
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Tel: +66 (0) 5378 4084
Dusit Island Resort Chiang Rai
1129 Kraisorasit Road,
Vieng District, Amphur Muang,
Tel: +66 (0) 5360 7999
Katiliya Mountain Resort & Spa
388/1 Moo 4 Tambol Pha Sang,
Amphur Mae Chan,
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Tel: +66 (53) 603 000
Lanna Thai Villa Home Stay
1 Moo 4, Ban Salawat,
Tel: +66 (53) 696 341