Visiting Chiang Mai – Top 10 attractions and activities

By Derek Kirk

Visitors to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand come for the quaint, unhurried pace of life, the bargain shopping and the potential to break out on retreats into the mountains and jungle with a trekking trip. Whatever your reason for coming, Chiang Mai promises plenty of opportunities for excitement, relaxation and historic journeys into the city’s past.

A trip to Mae Sa
A 30–minute drive to Mae Sa is a fun event for the entire family, as the area is packed with activities. Tourists venture out for the orchid nurseries; the well–known Elephant Camp where visitors can ride elephants and watch performances including a football match played by elephants; a snake farm and bungee jumping. Finally, the Mae Sa Waterfall offers a place to relax or perhaps go hiking.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai is well–known for its handicrafts, silk and large markets. This all comes to a focus at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, a veritable shopper’s dream. Stretching the entire length of Chang Klan road, this market has become more of a tourist’s domain than it once was. Here you’ll find an assortment of jewellery, clothing, antiques, silver, all manners of souvenirs and knock–off designer items. It’s open every evening until midnight. This is where you’ll find many of Chiang Mai hotels.

Doi Inthanon National Park
Situated south of Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park is a unique wildlife preserve and often makes for a comfortable cool weather retreat after spending time in the city. It’s the tallest mountain in Thailand at a grand height of 8,415 feet. Camping is permitted in the park and the natural surroundings make for an excellent getaway. This is one of the best places for trekking in Northern Thailand.

Wat Phratat Doi Suthep
Overlooking the Old City of Chiang Mai, the mountain of Doi Suthep holds one of Thailand’s most sacred temples. The 300–stair climb leads you to the large chedi and golden spire. This large temple complex dates back to the 14th century and the view of the city achieved from the marble courtyard is worth the trip alone. No trip to Chiang Mai is complete without visiting Doi Suthep. Ask the concierge at the hotels for assistance getting up there, it’s one of the most important in Thailand.

Thai massage and spas
Places to get a massage can literally be found on almost every street of the Old City, and prices range depending on quality and accessibility. Thai massage is world–renown, and some of the most skilled masseurs can be found in the more upscale spas, which also offer body scrubs and detox and beautification treatments. Even at these high–end facilities, the money spent is still fantastic value when compared to the superb quality of the treatment.

Chiang Mai Zoo
Don’t be surprised if a local asks you if you’ve visited the zoo yet–most likely, they’re wondering if you've seen the pair of pandas which are on loan from China, an endless source of pride for locals. These are only two of the more than 6,000 animals on display at the zoo which sits at the base of Suthep Mountain, from where there are wonderful views of the city.

Courses and training
Chiang Mai overflows with all sorts of courses in which tourists can enrol for only a few days or weeks at a time. Due to the affordable prices and the comfortable atmosphere in Chiang Mai, visitors are tempted to dig in and stay a while. So whether you’re looking to learn the art of Thai massage, perfect your Thai cooking skills or study Thai boxing, you’ll find it here for every level and length of time. When in Thailand this is highly recommended.

The Old City
A tour of the Old City is easily done on foot or by bike, and is the best way to come face–to–face with Chiang Mai’s legacy. Portions of the old wall were restored in the 19th century, and the 700–year–old moat that surrounds the city has been beautifully preserved. The city gates have also been restored, and each marks an important commercial avenue in or out of the city. Temples are spread across the entire Old City, and some of the more important include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phrasingh and Wat Chiang Mai.

Adventure sports
Any number of adventure sports can be organised through travel agencies in Chiang Mai. Some of the more popular outings include white–water rafting on the Mae Tang River, which is 1 hour, 30 minute drive out of town; mountain biking on Doi Suthep with the added bonus of spending time at the temple if you make it all the way to the top, and rock climbing at Crazy Horse Buttress. There’s also an outdoor climbing wall located to one side of the Night Bazaar. Trekking in Chiang Mai is perhaps the biggest drawcard

Trekking Northern Thailand
It’s impossible to list the major attractions of Chiang Mai without mentioning trekking. Tour guide operators use the city as a springboard from which to organise trips into the surrounding mountainous jungles. Expeditions are packed with a variety of activities and range from daytrips to several night journeys that include hiking, elephant riding and bamboo rafting. Routes are planned around hill tribe villages, where overnight accommodation is provided. Trekking is the best way to see rural Northern Thailand.

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