Meaning 'new capital', Chiang Mai has been the cultural and administrative centre of Northern Thailand on and off since 1296. At its heart are remnants of the medieval moated walled Old City, which was built to defend against Burmese invaders.
Surrounded by hills, the modern city of Chiang Mai lies at the base of the slopes of Mount Doi Suthep, which is home to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep: a sacred Buddhist site brimming with gilded stupas, rich jewel colours and intricate shrines. Climb the stairs here among beautifully-dressed local children from the nearby traditional hill tribe villages to be met by this magnificent temple complex and arguably the best panoramic views.
The rural areas encircling Chiang Mai offer many natural and cultural attractions; ranging from hill tribes, treks and tucked away village temples. Aside from these, the biggest draw of all is the handful of ethical elephant sanctuaries to be found here. Visit Patara Elephant Farm in Hang Dong City to interact with these gentle giants and embrace the chance to feed and wash them, which is sure to be a highlight of your trip. We also recommend travellers with an adventurous spirit to go bamboo rafting in Mae Wang National Park.
Within the city, cookery and massage schools can easily be enjoyed, giving you a different insight into Thai culture. Chiang Mai is also renowned as Northern Thailand's shopping capital with a wide range of crafts and textiles for sale in the buzzy night markets, bazaars and stalls. We recommend keeping an eye out for delicate silverware, leather goods and antiques, too.
The cool climate and lush landscape make Chiang Mai a marked change to the hotter climes of Bangkok and the beach resorts, so this location makes for an ideal addition to a bespoke itinerary in Thailand – especially if you are after a relaxed pace.