The majestic mountains and sprawling rice fields that give this area its distinct image are what make northern Thailand such a beautiful and rewarding place to visit. Nestled in the hillsides are gorgeous trails, century-old temples, ancient cultures and incredible wildlife.
As the unofficial “second city” of Thailand, Chiang Mai stands in a beautifully stark contrast to the country’s actual capital, Bangkok. With a more relaxed atmosphere, picturesque landscapes, a strong culture with its own language, cuisine, customs and architecture, and relatively little western influence, the region is truly a hidden gem. Chiang Mia is a remarkably beautiful location to explore, with its charming historic centre, vibrant street markets and stunning national parks. It also serves as a gateway to some of northern Thailand’s other great treasures.
The country’s rugged mountainous north, with its dense forests, mysterious grottos, jaw-dropping waterfalls and rural communities, lures visitors from all over the world. The cooler temperatures and natural beauty provide the perfect setting for thrilling adventures. In Chiang Mai, the cascading mountain rivers provide host a bounty for white water rafting boats and canoes. All throughout the region, visitors embark on multi-day mountain treks that include mountain biking, motorcycling and stops at nearby hill tribes. Other tours revolve more around the natural beauty of the hills and focus on bird watching and hikes through orchid-dense forests, caves and watering holes.
In addition to housing the country’s best natural wonders, it is believed that northern Thailand is where the first Thai Kingdoms originated. Known as the cultural and religious epicenter of the country, the region has a unique and strongly celebrated culture – strongly influenced by the Burmese – whose presence is seen throughout. Chiang Mai’s Old City, the heart and soul of the region, is made up of remains of ancient walls and moats that enclosed a multitude of temples (wats). Wat Phra Singh, the most visited temple boasts a Burmese-style or Lanna style three-tiered roof, elaborate golden spires, beautiful mosaics and the famous “Lion Buddha.” Meanwhile, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the most sacred temple in the region, sits atop Doi Suthep Mountain. The 306-stair climb is well worth the effort. Some temples throughout Chiang Mai and other nearby cities like Chiang Rai, Chiang Saen, Mae Hong, offer “monk chats.” Those who are interested in learning about Buddhism can arrange for question and answer sessions with a resident monk.
The rich diversity of the people is seen in the many ethnic minority groups. The southern ancient city of Sukhothai features amazing temple ruins of Siamese civilization and is also a must-see. In the remote hill tribes, villagers have retained much of the same lifestyle. In some instances, visitors have the opportunity to participate in a home stay and learn about the local customs and traditions in what is a truly rewarding experience.
Elephants have long held a sacred place in Thai culture. The gentle giants – kind, curious and highly intelligent – are truly awe-inspiring. A ride or even a brief encounter makes for an unforgettable experience. There are several camps throughout the region, so it’s important to research them diligently and find one that is humane. The Thai Elephant Conservation Centre is one of the most highly recommended. Meanwhile, the Lampang evening market, like many markets in Thailand showcases an eclectic mix of sumptuous food, handicrafts and miscellaneous treasures. For a truly unique culinary experience, head to the nearby Sri Lanna National Park and dine at one of the floating restaurants in Mae Ngat Reservoir. And, while mountain cliffs afford travellers breath-taking views of the surrounding forest and city, sometimes the best and hassle-free way to experience the sheer magnitude and beauty of the region is by hot air balloon.
Chiang Mai and northern Thailand’s rugged geography and lush national parks provide a beautiful haven for outdoor enthusiasts. Rolling mountains that span to Laos and Myanmar are brimming with lush greenery, caves, waterfalls and hill tribe villages that have remained unchanged. Chiang Mai and neighbouring towns feature jaw-dropping temples, vibrant markets and enriching cultural experiences.
Adventure seekers will enjoy the numerous trekking opportunities and extreme sports like white water rafting, rock climbing and elephant rides. Those seeking a quieter holiday can take part exploring the culinary offerings of the region, visit ancient temples and learn about the diverse culture of the north.
Things to do in Chiang Mai & Northern Thailand
For more information about Travelbag’s custom holidays to Chiang Mai and northern Thailand, please contact us at 0871 703 4713 Costs 13p/min + network extras and speak with one of our friendly and knowledgeable experts.
Since the weather in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand is hot, bring plenty of lightweight, breathable clothing. However, if traveling during the cool season (December to February), bring light sweaters and a jacket for the colder nights and mountain destinations. Remember that Thais are generally conservative despite any westernized appearances. When visiting temples, palaces, sacred spaces and most public places outside of the beach, cover up.
Here, the sun is relentless. Sunscreen, hats and light, long-sleeved clothing are advisable. Be aware that sunscreen is hard to find in town, so pack plenty. Also bring a small first aid kit and be sure to include insect repellent, a mosquito net, water purification tablets rehydrating solutions, and other pain medications and antibiotics.
Pack plenty of waterproof bags to protect personal belongings from the water. A pocket-sized torch is essential. It may also be a good idea to bring a water bottle and any gear needed for outdoor excursions.
Like the majority of the country, the weather in northern Thailand and Chiang Mai is typically tropical and humid. However, its proximity to the Tropic of Cancer and mountainous topography makes the weather in northern Thailand more agreeable than other parts of Thailand.
The region experiences three distinct seasons – cool, hot and rainy. Chiang Mai is affectionately called the “Cool Capital,” because of its noticeably cooler temperatures than those of Bangkok. December to February is characterized as the cool season, with average daytime temperatures reaching 30°C and cooler nights. In addition to the pleasant weather, the numerous festivals during these months make it the best time to visit.
The hot season runs from April to June. During this time, the weather can be unbearable with high temperatures and extremely high humidity levels. May through November is the rainy season, during which short lasting, but heavy downpours blanket the entire area. Although this can be a pleasant time to visit, the water does attract mosquitoes.
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