Chiang Mai is a large city in northern Thailand which has that amazing mix of ancient meets modern that is so typical of big cities all over Asia. Situated 700 kilometres from the capital Bangkok, it is ideal for backpackers to visit and you’ll find so many weird and wonderful attractions that you’ll wish you had longer to stay here. Its name literally means “new city”, although it was founded in the late thirteenth century and you’ll still spot the remains of the ancient moat that once served as its protection.
There are various ways to get around in Chiang Mai and riding a moped is fun if you have the appropriate backpackers insurance to give you peace of mind. Another popular method of transport is the songthaew, a covered truck with two rows of seats on the back. Buses and rental cars are also available. Guides are not really necessary and you can easily visit all the important sites on your own.
The most famous temple is Wat Prathat Doi Suthep. It is situated to the north east of the city on Doi Suthep Hill. It has a beautiful gold chedi, numerous bells that can be rung by tourists and an unsurpassed view of the city. Those daunted by the 300-plus steps up the mountain can take the cable car.
Close by is Bhuping Palace, the royal winter residence. Although itself nothing out of the ordinary, it has beautifully extended landscaped gardens containing tropical flowers, trees that are hundreds of years old and giant bamboos.
An alternative garden that is fascinating to visit is Dokmai. It hosts hundreds of different vegetables, edible fruit plants, native orchid species, wild bird species, the golden birdwing butterfly and populations of the Atlas moth.
Thailand is synonymous with elephants. The Elephant Nature Park, established in 1990, is a sanctuary for rescued and distressed elephants. They do not perform tricks but visitors can wash and feed these gentle giants, learn more about them and stay for a buffet lunch.
Thailand produces the best silk in the world, so you should visit one of the factories to see the beautiful silk clothing manufactured there and sold at a very reasonable price. The Umbrella factory will supply you with excellent items to have hand-painted at a very low cost.
The Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre has guides in traditional costumes taking you through this modernised multimedia and cultural education centre. It tells the story of Chiang Mai from its beginnings to the present day. Side rooms are dedicated to Buddhism, agricultural history and regional cultures.
After a busy day, nothing will relax you more than an expert massage in one of the many spas or parlours throughout the city. At ‘Let’s Relax’ at the Chiang Mai Pavilion and Chiang Inn Plaza, the facilities are spotless and there is air conditioning. 45 minutes of foot reflexology is usually more expensive than at any other spa, but thoroughly worth the cost.
The night market or night bazaar is a bargain hunter’s dream. Spread out over nearly two kilometres, it sells excellent-quality silk articles and hand-crafted items. The quality and price are even far better than in Bangkok and many items are available only at this market. Tourists with backpacker insurance can wander around here for hours. There are also many restaurants and bars close by on the banks of the River Ping where you can end your exciting day in Chiang Mai.