Chiang Mai is the largest city in Thailandâ€™s north and can be seen as a cultural capital. It lies 700 km north of Bangkok on the Ping River, amongst high mountains. It has a population of about 160,000 and is divided into four wards or sections.
The old city center is enclosed by city walls. It dates back to the 13th century when it was made capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Eventually, Chiang Mai became part of Thailand ,Siam back then , but they still maintain their own language. Their language is Northern Thai or Lanna, even though they all speak and understand central Thai as well.
Chiang Mai has an airport with access to international airports, and busses connect to everywhere in the Country, but the most popular way of getting there from Bangkok would be by way of the night train. You can travel in your own first-class cabin, or mix with locals and other travelers in the second class. The seats convert to sleeping berths that are actually very comfortable. Curtains give you enough privacy to have a proper snooze and wake up to coffee and a breakfast. Tickets can be booked at the Hualamphong train station in Bangkok or online, check out www.seat61.com or www.railway.co.th.
Traveling second class on the night train will not only save you some money, but will also give you a unique view of their society by forcing you to mingle with the locals. The locals tend to be very friendly and you can learn a lot of interesting stuff if you meet one that speaks English and likes to talk.
Once you get to Chiang Mai and find yourself a cozy little guesthouse within the city walls, you will be best of to explore the little streets and alleys by foot, or bike. Lots of temples are worth a visit, and some are a bit further out, so jump on the wheels and dive into Thai traffic! Cycling is very common here and you will fit right in. You will rapidly learn how to ride your bicycle like the locals do. If you have ever ridden a bicycle in New York City then you will do just fine here.
Temples to visit are: Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, Wat Chiang Man, Wat Pra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chet Yot, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Umang. To name a few only...
After a good day spent on the bike, you should relax yourself in one of the numerous massage parlors, But you need to be aware that in Northern Thailand mass aage can be even more painful than the one youÂ´ve tried in Bangkok. The Lanna influence from the north can be a bit ruthless at times, so ask for a soft version to start with.
The night bazaar outside the city walls is a perfect place to spend your evening. You can eat there and shop for about everything you can imagine. Meet up with locals and expatriates in one of the bars on the other side of the river, a good spot with live music is always the Riverside Bar, and there are lots more along Charoenrat Road.
Everybody loves Thai food. Pad Thai, Green Curry and Spring Rolls. If you travel to Thailand, you will be tasting it all. But how about spending a day in Chaing Mai learning to do it yourself?
You will be introduced into the local cuisine, visit the market where you learn about all the herbs and spices, veggies and meats they use, followed by cooking...and eating it all.
Â You can find out about cooking schools on the internet or the travel books. At the Cooking School Baan Thai in Chiang Mai everybody gets their own chopping board and stove and they show you how easy the recipes really are. After the day of cooking, you will be sure to know how to dish up your favorite Thai meal with no problems at all. You will even learn how to make coconut milk and a traditional Thai curry paste.
One very important tip for the day is: Do not eat anything before you go! You will usually learn how to cook between four and six dishes, and you will be absolutely stuffed by the end of it!
Chiang Mai is also the starting point for many outdoor activities in the area. Travel to Pai and Mae Hong Song and go rafting, elephant riding Â or choose from one of the numerous activities available in the area. Go zip lining in the middle of the thick rainforests and feel like a Gibbon, flying from tree to tree. You can head up towards Chiang Rai and all the way up to the Golden Triangle, where Laos, China and Thailand meet and you will learn all about Opium and the hill tribes from the area.