Charming Chiang Mai is the capital of northern Thailand and is often a firm favorite with travelers. It’s quieter and more manageable that Bangkok which can all get a bit much for many people after a while. Much smaller than sprawling Bangkok, Chiang Mai is full of delightful temples, delicious food, stunning nature and museums for a bit of cultural exploration.
Elephant Nature Park
The Elephant Nature Park is the top attraction in Chiang Mai and is a great place to go if you want to visit Thai elephants responsibly. The center rescues elephants that have been abused or illegally kept and provides them with medical treatment and allows them to roam freely around the park. You can take part in feeding or bathing the elephants and this is one area where you can feel assured that you are contributing to the livelihood of the animals.
Thailand is the land of temples, but Chiang Mai has some superb examples, so if you like visiting religious monuments then don’t skip these. There are many choices, but probably the most famous is Wat Doi Suthep (first photo) which is perched on Doi Suthep Mountain and is part of its national park, and offers gorgeous views over Chiang Mai. Others to check out are Wat Phra Singh (second photo), which is the main temple in Chiang Mai and the focal point of all Buddhist ceremonies, and Wat Chedi Luang (third photo), one of the largest temples in Chiang Mai located in the old town and built in the classic Lanna style of the region.
As opposed to many places in Thailand where museum tours are not high on the list of priorities, Chiang Mai has a whole range of wonderful and engaging museums to choose from that are just the thing if you are interested in Thai culture and history. Many of them are newly built, inviting, and interesting, so they are definitely worth dedicating a day to if you have the time. The Lanna Heritage Center will tell you all you need to know about Lanna culture, the name for the northern kingdom of Thailand in the days of old, and it is comprehensive and well decorated. Another good choice is the Chiang Mai Historical Centre which is in the north of the city and will give you an overview of life in Chiang Mai through the ages. In the centre of town you will find the Chiang Mai National Museum which is small but detailed and will also take you on a whistle-stop tour from Chiang Mai in days gone by until the present. Certainly these museums are far better than many in Thailand and information is clearly displayed in English in all of them so don’t pass up the opportunity to take in a bit of a history lesson if you get the chance.
If you love to get into nature but without seeing too many people, this is your thing. There are a few great opportunities to trek into the jungle of Northern Thailand giving you a great adventure for a few days. Normally we don’t recommend using any type of guide, but here we make an exception, as you’ll need someone who knows the jungle unless you want to get completely lost. When you do this in the low season, there’s a good chance that it’ll be just you and your guide or just one or two other people, making it almost a private tour. Bring some good shoes for the hike and get ready for a great experience in which you can expect to see stunning nature, rice paddies, wildlife, hill tribe villages, refreshing waterfalls and even some river rafting if you get lucky!
Chiang Mai is a laid back version of a big city like Bangkok but with more history and culture thrown into the mix to interest history buffs. The surrounding areas are beautiful and the temples and museums provide a bit of context that is often lacking in other parts of Thailand where the emphasis is just on having a good time.