FIVE BEST THINGS TO SEE IN CHIANG MAI
By Ian Robert Knight
Part of the adventure of travel is going to a place you’ve never been before. Exploring new places that are vastly different from where you live can be an exciting prospect. Even the planning that you do ahead of the trip can be exciting. There’s so much to see and do, how do you choose? You’ve only got so much time there, right? To that end, here are the five best things to see in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Thailand is made up of 77 provinces, most of which are small. Many of them have their own distinct cultures and traditions. This is because the Thailand we know today has grown over the centuries. It ‘acquired’ several neighbouring territories and assimilated the people and their ways. Some of the cities in those provinces were once capital cities when it was not part of Thailand. Chiang Mai is one of those cities. In english, the name Chiang Mai means ‘New City’ and was once the capital of the Kingdom of Lan Na. That Kingdom was annexed in 1920 by Thailand, which was then known as the Kingdom of Siam.
OK, enough geography and history.
Chiang Mai does have a unique feel to it, compared to other places in the Kingdom. Many people, myself included, prefer the ‘feel’ of the city more than Bangkok. It’s more relaxed, has less population, and maintains a lot of its history. Large parts of the old city walls and moat are still intact today. The Old City section of Chiang Mai is situated inside these thick brick walls.
Because the city is smaller than Bangkok, it feels like you can get around the whole place on foot. But cycling or taking the ubiquitous tuk-tuks would be better for you. The heat in the dry season can overwhelm you, and the rain in the wet season can surprise you!
#1 – Wat Doi Suthep Temple
This temple is located about 15km outside the city limits, on the side of a mountain called Doi Suthep. The temple is actually called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, and is very sacred to the people in the region. The steep, winding road that leads up to the temple is full of hairpin turns. It can be a fun drive, if you don’t get dizzy.
To access this popular temple, you have to climb 309 steps to reach the entrance, but it’s worth it. There’s also a funicular if you prefer to take it easy. Once you are inside, remove your shoes and explore the large complex. You will encounter a large amount of gold and buddha statues. Many devout buddhists make a pilgrimage to the temple when they are in the area. So you’ll see a lot of people praying inside too.
#2 – Elephants
Thailand has long been associated with elephants. So much so, that the elephant is the national animal. A walk through any souvenir shop would confirm this. Elephants are not visible everywhere in the country though. But Chiang Mai is one of the places where you can encounter the amazing beasts.
Not far from the city, there are elephants camps where you can observe elephants. The better camps are functioning as sanctuaries for ageing elephants. In these places, you can care, feed and wash the animals. Some camps let you ride the creatures, but we don’t visit places like that in our tours.
#3 – Night Market
Although night markets are not exclusive to Chiang Mai, this city does it bigger and better than most. It’s hard to describe just how large the market is, but it’s probably bigger than anything else you’ve ever seen. You really need several hours to explore the whole place. And I challenge you to walk the entire market without buying something. It can’t be done. I rarely buy souvenirs, but even I succumb to the pressure to buy something!
#4 – Umbrellas
About 10 minutes away from the main city area, there is a small village that’s world famous for umbrellas. The village of Bo Sang holds a festival every January to celebrate all things umbrella. But the craftspeople manufacture and hand paint umbrellas all year round.
It’s fascinating to see how a wooden umbrella is made. There are many steps involved, and each artisan tends to keep to one task. The final step of painting the umbrella can be customized to whatever you want. You can even get your hat or bag customized!
#5 – Yi Peng Festival
The Yi Peng festival is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous events. It occurs every year on the full moon in the twelfth month of the lunar calendar. This date moves around a lot, so it’s never the same dates two years in a row. But it usually happens in November at some point.
The festival is well-known for it’s floating lanterns that are released into the night sky. It’s a deeply religious event, but laypeople can also attend. There are several locations that perform this yearly ritual, and the larger ones are outside the city. The lantern release happens at the end of a ceremony performed by senior monks from the hosting temple. It’s not necessary to understand Thai in order to enjoy the event. It’s a very moving experience that can quite emotional. This is definitely a bucket list item for many people.
Check Out Chiang Mai
Thailand is a hugely enjoyable country. It’s one of those countries that everyone should visit if they get the chance. And no visit to Thailand is complete without spending time in Chiang Mai. We’ve only listed the five best things to see in Chiang Mai, but there are countless more. Join us on a trip through Thailand. We journey twice per year, in trips of 9, 12 and 15 days long.