Chiang Mai, With a cultural influence so distinct it’s almost its own country, Chiang Mai was seat to the ancient Lanna Kingdom, and the rolling hills guard over 300 temples. Rich with cultural beauty and scenic views, it is small wonder the old capital is nicknamed ‘Rose of the North’. Its altitude grants a natural cool climate – suitable for those easing into the tropical weather – and holding events at their richly decorated spaces is primed for comfort. From colourful hill tribes to artists’ market enclaves, the unhurried charm of Chiang Mai infuses every trip with an indelible impression unique to Thailand and Asia.
As the heart of northern Buddhist activities, the city’s Wat Phra That Doi Suthep beams like a golden beacon atop the mountain of the same name. Dating back to 1383, the compound is rich with finely-carved figures and gleaming decorations. The view from the enormous terrace is also spectacular. For a representation of Lanna design, head over to Wat Chedi Luang instead, where the remains of the large spire remain after a 1545 earthquake destroyed a third of it, but remains awe-inspiring.
If you had to pick, we recommend an encounter with the Karen tribe. Originally from Myanmar, the tribal group is famous for their definition of beauty – by extending necks with metal rings. Ask to visit Mae Rim for a warm and enlightening welcome.
Already aware of the social impact of cultural traditions, the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai seeks to ethically transform animal attractions in The Kingdom. It is a retirement home and education point, where locals and visitors alike will learn how to engage with these gentle giants in a safe and respectful manner. You’ll definitely find no riding or circus acts here!
Tweechol Botanical Garden, just 20 minutes away from the city centre, is one for the flora fans. Specialty gardens like herbs, succulents, bromeliads and local blooms sprawl over the compound, one which the on-site resort residents can enjoy anytime. An outstanding convention hall featuring multiple craft traditions was even built in 2018. And when you wish for a different perspective, there’s always the nearby hot air balloons to take you away!
To be in Chiang Mai means one must sample a Khantoke meal, a Lanna cultural bedrock tradition. Usually held at spacious venues that replicate Lanna palatial design, the communal meals come with traditional performances, as you tuck in to the Thai ‘tapas’ servings of sticky rice, curries, chilli dips, herbed sausages and more on a round floor table. Even if it sounds like something programed for tourists, this is actually still practised by locals today at special occasions such as weddings. Try Khun Khantoke, Old Chiang Mai Culture Centre, Benjarong Khantoke, or Sipsongpanna Khantoke if you’re looking for your first taste of these northern delicacies.