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Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai (Thai: เชียงใหม่) is a province (changwat) Thailand's second largest, is located north of the country. The province borders (from the northeast under clockwise) include: Chiang Rai, Lampang Province, Lamphun province, province Tak and Mae Hong Son provinces. To the north, the province bordering Myanmar's Shan State.
Chiang Mai Overview
Chiang Mai is home to a particularly large expat community and is on the main tourist route, and many come here to indulge in the vast amount of trekking and outdoor activities available in the surrounding province. Foreigners are, therefore, a very common sight in town.
 
Founded as early as 1296, Chiang Mai was once the capital of the early Lanna Kingdom and much of its current charm derives from this period. The historical center of the city sits inside a crumbling but handsome wall and its picturesque encircling moat. The four huge gates to the old city remain and give access to this part of town.
 
The modern part of the city expands in all directions from the moat, but is especially thriving toward the Ping River in the east. This is where tourists will find the bulk of Chiang Mai's hotels and the famous Night Bazaar.
Chiang Mai History
The settlement, founded as a royal residence in 1292 and as a town in 1296, served as the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom until 1558, when it fell to the Myanmar. In 1774 the Siamese king Taksin drove out the Myanmar; but Chiang Mai retained a degree of independence from Bangkok until the late 19th century.
 
In contrast to the normally densely populated Asian city, Chiang Mai has the appearance of a large village—orderly, clean, traditional, and almost sprawling. The older part of town, particularly the 18th-century walled settlement, is on the west bank of the river; it contains ruins of many 13th- and 14th-century temples. The modern east-bank portion is a more open area. Two bridges cross the broad Ping River. Chiang Mai is a flourishing tourist and resort centre. Phu Ping Palace, the summer home of the Thai royal family, is nearby.
 
The city is renowned as a centre of Thai handicrafts. Small villages nearby specialize in crafts such as silverwork, wood carving, and making pottery, umbrellas, and lacquerware. Traditional Thai silk is woven at San Kamphaeng to the east.
 
Educational facilities include the Northern Technical Institute (1957), the Maejo Institute of Agricultural Technology (1934), and Chiang Mai University (1964). Affiliated with the university are the Tribal Research Centre, the Lanna Thai Social Sciences Research Centre, the Regional Centre of Mineral Resources, the Industrial Economics Centre of Northern Thailand, the Anaemia and Malnutrition Research Centre, and the Multiple Cropping Project.
 
Chiang Mai is the terminus of the railway of 467 miles (752 km) from Bangkok and is also linked to southern Thailand by road and air. It has an international airport.
 
The temple complex of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Thailand’s most famous pilgrimage sites. The temple lies at an elevation of 3,520 feet (1,073 m) on the slopes of Mount Suthep, one of Thailand’s highest peaks (5,528 feet [1,685 m]), just outside the city. The Doi Pui National Park occupies 40,000 acres (16,000 hectares) around the mountain. King Kue-Na built the monastery of the complex in the 14th century; its spired pagoda is said to hold relics of the Buddha.
 
Many other temples are in the city itself. Wat Phra Sing (1345) houses Phra Sing, the most venerated Buddha figure of the north. Wat Chedi Luang (1411) housed Bangkok’s famous Emerald Buddha during the 15th and 16th centuries. 
Chiang Mai climate and best time to visit
The ideal time to visit Chiang Mai is between October and April. Weather during this period is mostly cool and pleasant with light breeze, which is also why it’s peak tourist season. Another good time to visit Chiang Mai is during the festivals when the city is at its vibrant best. Here's a monthly break up of season and events so that you can plan your trip better?
 
November to February: This is the ideal time to visit Chiang Mai because the weather is perfect for all kinds of outdoor activities. While it does not get too cold, you should carry a jacket and some light woolens. January is usually considered the best month and sees a high influx of tourists. If you plan a trip in November you will catch the Loi Krathong festivities and in February you will see the Chiang Mai flower festival.
 
March to May: While summers start setting in from the end of March, tourists still visit Chiang Mai and it's a good time to look for deals on hotels and flights. Even if the temperature during the day is high you can spend the afternoon in the pool and head out after sunset. Temperatures rise up to 40°C between April and May. Carry light cottons, sunglasses and hats to beat the heat.
 
June to October: The temperature during the rainy season cools down although the humidity rises. While it rains less than southern Thailand, monsoons are still heavy in Chiang Mai as well. So you will have to be prepared with umbrellas, raincoats and study shoes. Not many tourists visit Chiang Mai during the monsoon so if you are looking for a quieter holiday in this ancient town, then this is the time for you.
Chiang Mai Transportation
How to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok
Bangkok to Chiang Mai is one of the most travelled routes in Thailand. As such, getting between these two destinations is usually hassle-free and inexpensive.
 
Train (11hrs - 15hrs)
The easiest and simplest way is to go by train. For people put off by the idea of Asian train travel, understand that trains in Thailand are far superior to that of other Asian countries. Thai trains are very comfortable, modern, efficient, and are current with international safety standards.
 
Chiang Mai to Bangkok is by far Thailand’s most travelled train route. The air-conditioned train cars provide relief from the often brutal heat while trekking through Thailand’s beautiful scenery. The overnight sleeper train will cost about £18 and provide you with a stunning early morning backdrop as you arrive in Chiang Mai. Alternatively, you can take a day train which will cost you around £12 and experience the full range of the Thailand landscape.
 
There are many different options for you to take when travelling by train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Depending on your level of desired luxury and time spent gazing at the sweeping panoramic views, you can expect to pay anywhere from £5 - £30.
 
The biggest downside with train travel is that it’s the slowest way to get around. But if you have the time, traveling by train is the best way to go to get the best scenic and cultural experience.
 
For more information on train travel, go to the official website at http://www.railway.co.th. But the site is not in English, so having a means to translate it will be necessary providing you don’t speak Thai language.
 
Bus (9hrs - 11hrs)
Alternatively, you can travel to Chiang Mai from Bangkok by bus. Like the trains, these buses are very modern and provide a lot of comfort when making the often 11 hour journey northward.
 
Most buses come with air conditioning, washrooms, and even offer snacks, while the more expensive charter buses are also equipped with televisions and meal services. For these more expensive buses, expect to pay about £17 while the lesser luxury (and often slower moving) buses will cost around £9.
 
Several companies run bus services in between these two cities, so it’s a good idea to see which ones match with your time schedules and budget. Buses are usually a little bit quicker than trains, but are much less scenic as they traverse over busy highways and well-travelled paths.
 
Flight (1hr - 2hrs)
Flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is the quickest method. There are multiple airlines which run this route regularly so finding a flight will not be a problem. And the price is not expensive either.
 
For a 1.5 hr flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, expect to pay £20. That price tag may look enticing, but keep in mind that there’s the expense of getting to and from the airport which adds significant cost, not to mention additional travel time.
 
Luckily, the airport in Chiang Mai is only about 20 minutes away from the city by car (or taxi), but no public transportation is available.
Things to do and see in Bangkok
Wat Umong
There is no shortage of spectacular temples in Chiang Mai, but Wat Umong stands out as one of the most interesting. At more than 700 years old, Wat Umong was supposedly built for a monk with a reputation for taking long walks in the forest. To keep the mad mad monk from wandering off several maze-like tunnels were constructed. The temple is outside of the city, giving it a more secluded feel. Also worth noting is the grand stupa at the entrance of Wat Umong and the scenic ponds where visitors can feed the turtles.
 
Wat Phan Tao
The enormous Wat Phan Tao is made entirely from wood, with gorgeous teak panels being the highlight of this architectural structure. Located within the walled center of the city of Chiang Mai, Wat Phan Tao is elegant and detailed. The roof boasts golden finials meant to represent snakes, the Lanna flower motif is repeatedly carved into the teak facade and large, sturdy wooden posts support the equally impressive wooden beams overhead. At the back there is a pond and a Buddha statue underneath a Bodhi tree. Bright orange flags and the bold colors of the monk’s robes only intensify the visual appeal of this remarkable temple.
 
Royal Park Rajapruek
Rajapruek, or Ratchaphruek, is the name of Thailand’s national flower. It boasts small but vibrant yellow blossoms, and it is sometimes known as the golden shower tree. The Royal Park Rajapruek is named for these gorgeous blooms, and it is a public space where visitors can admire a stunning collection of gardens and ponds. The park is large, but there are trams that can shuttle visitors around the park to see as much of the space as possible. The area is a popular place for a scenic stroll as well as a picnic when the weather is sunny.
 
Talat Warorot
Just next to the Ping River is the Talat Warorot, one of the biggest and oldest markets in all of Chiang Mai. The market is a unique blend of vendors that appeal to both tourists and local residents. Stands offer goods like hand knotted nets for fishing, bags of dried tea leaves and spicy Thai sausages. In addition to the more permanent stalls, vendors navigate the paths through the market with carts on wheels, calling out what is for sale along the way. Talat Warorot is also one of the few spots in Chiang Mai where shoppers can still flag down rickshaws for rides.
 
Wat Phra Singh
The best known of Chiang Mai’s temples is the Wat Phra Singh. Housed inside of the temple is its most famous attraction: The iconic statue of Buddha called the Phra Buddha Sihing. Legend says that the statue itself was brought to Chiang Mai from Sri Lanka. The Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century, and it was built by the King Pha Yu as a tomb for his father. The temple also boasts incredibly detailed murals, many of which depict scenes from Thailand’s history. Buddhist monks still gather, train and live within Wat Phra Singh, so religious respect should be given.
 
Elephant Nature Park
Chiang Mai is known for its elephants, but not all elephant attractions have the best interests of the animals at hearts. For animal lovers, there is a perfect solution: The Elephant Nature Park. Located north of the city, the Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Visitors can get up close and personal with elephants, watching them eat, wash and play in a natural, wild habitat. Visitors can come to tour the premises for the day, but there is also the option of overnight stays.
 
Wat Chedi Luang
Although it isn’t as decorative or grand as some of the other temples in the city, Wat Chedi Luang is still a historic stop. This towering, tiered temple dates back to the 15th century and was constructed in the traditional Lanna style. At one point, the temple was the largest structure in Chiang Mai, but damage in centuries past from hurricanes and fires caused extensive ruin. Thankfully, serious restoration has been going on for 30 years, and visitors can now admire the Buddha statue called Phra Chao Attarot and watch the daily rituals performed by monks just outside of the temple structure.
 
Thai Cooking Classes
One of the most popular pastimes for travelers to Chiang Mai is taking part in Thai cooking classes. There are over two dozen establishments within the city where it is possible to learn to cook traditional, authentic local cuisine. Most classes will focus specifically on dishes from Northern Thailand, and many others emphasize vegetarian cuisine. One of the most enlightening choices is cooking in a home with a local, or getting to shop at the local markets for fresh ingredients. A popular dish to create is khao soi, or noodles in a spicy red broth that is often topped with either chicken or beef.
 
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
There is no shortage of fantastic markets in Chiang Mai, but the Night Bazaar is by far the most famous. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chiang Mai. As the sun begins to set, the Night Bazaar comes to life. From about 6 pm each evening until midnight, the Night Bazaar is filled with locals and tourists alike who are browsing the various stalls. For souvenirs, this is undoubtedly one of the top spots to shop. Many sellers speak English, and most are willing to negotiate on price. Turn into the smaller alleys off the Night Bazaar for more local products and vendors as well as fewer tourists.
 
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
What makes Wat Phra That Doi Suthep such an impressive temple, and one that should definitely be visited, is its location. The temple is found on a mountain overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, which means it has the best vantage point in the entire region. Of course, location isn’t the only reason to visit. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is highly recognizable thanks to its gold-plated chedi, or stupa, which is sometimes visible from the city below on clear days. In order to reach the temple, visitors will have to climb over 300 stairs at high altitude or opt for the cable car.
Chiang Mai Travel Tips
Festivals & Events
 
Bo Sang Umbrella & Sankampang Handicrafts Festival
The Bo Sang Umbrella and Sankampang Crafts festival is held in January. The festival is held in Ban Bo Sang, Sankampang, about 15 km west of Chiang Mai, where the village’s main road is blocked and converted into a “street fair”. Shops decorated with traditional lanterns and umbrellas in typical Lanna style on both sides of the street create a fantastic look and a festive atmosphere. In addition there will be competitions, exhibitions, cultural performances, local entertainment, and various shows.
 
The 2nd Orchid Fair 
This festival is also held in January, and is the biggest orchid festival, with an orchid market, activities, and more.
 
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Chiang Mai’s Flower Festival is an annual event held in the first weekend of February. The city is completely dressed in vibrant colors, everything from electric orange, various shades of pink, purple, and even white. The abundance of Bougainvillea, petunia and other flowers which appear here has helped give Chiang Mai its flowery name, the Rose of the North. The cool, clear February evenings as well as the cozy atmosphere during the Flower Festival attract a lot of visitors, and a good advice would be to book your stay far in advance.
 
Songkran Festival
The Songkran festival is celebrated as the Thai New Year around April 13 to 15. It is celebrated throughout Thailand, and in some areas it is extended for people to enjoy the festivities for longer. The most obvious sign that you are in the middle of the festival is when you get soaked by someone pouring a bucket of water over you or sprayed with water from a water gun. This tradition comes from when the water was first poured over holy statues, then over people, as this water was expected to bring good luck. The well-wishing now takes form of a free for all water fight, and you will undoubtedly get wet, so think about how to dress for the occasion. At the same time it is also a way to stay cool in the hot and humid month of April.
 
Loi Krathong Festival
The Loi Krathong Festival in Chiang Mai is held around the month of November. Loi Krathong is a visual treat with colorful paper lanterns with lit candles inside which provide buoyancy. Additionally, many beautiful girls show up in traditional colorful parade outfits, and there will be tons of tasty Thai food and delicacies, and fireworks to top it all. Loi Krathong festival is a 3 day long event, and the last night of the festivities usually falls on a full moon. The festival is held in Mae Jo, a small town just north of Chiang Mai. The launch of the festival is very scenic with hundreds of hot air balloons or “Khum Loy”, as they are called locally, are sent up at the same time. This special way of arranging Loi Krathong by simultaneously sending paper lanterns into the sky is a unique aspect of Chiang Mai, and the traditional way means that when these huge lanterns float away together, the community’s residents’ problems also float away. There will also be plenty of entertainment during the festival in the form of various competitions, light and sound presentations on the Ping river, and cultural events with traditional Lanna folk music and performances. This is a “must” if you are staying in Chiang Mai during this time. The festival is very popular and attracts lots of people, so a good advice would be to book well in advance if you would like to experience Loi Krathong in Chiang Mai.
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