Located in the mountainous northern region of Thailand, Chiang Mai is an old city (and the largest in Northern Thailand) dating back to the 1200s that is now a cultural and religious center with many visible connections to the past. Home to hundreds of ancient and elaborate temples, Chiang Mai is a beautiful place to visit that provides a unique experience away from the bustling capital, Bangkok.
One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is to spend a day in the Thai jungle near the city at the Elephant Nature Park and Patara Elephant Farm, where visitors can swim with and wash an elephant in the river while learning more about its daily through its caretaker. Another beautiful must-see experience is one of its two Lantern Festivals: Yi Peng and Loi Krathong. Yi Pend is centered in the northern suburb and 3,000 paper lanterns are released in the sky, while Loi Krathong focuses on lotus-shaped floating lanterns being placed into the water. Both festivals take place within a couple of weeks of one another, and occasionally overlap on the same full moon in November. Other things to do in Chiang Mai include taking a walking tour of the old temples in town (Dragon Temple, the Monastery of a Thousand Kilns, Temple of the Great Stupa), sign up for a monk chat at a temple in Old Town where you can learn about their lives teaching them English, and check out some of the popular nighttime spots, including the backpackers’ Freedom Bar and the pubs located on the Eastside of Old Town. You can also go shopping at the daily Night Market for souvenirs and other goods, which is located near the Mae Ping River.
Chiang Mai is a great jumping off point for other day trips through Northern Thailand. One place you must visit is the Tiger Kingdom, located on the edge of Chiang Mai where you can play with baby tiger cubs and bottle feed them. Baan Tong Luang Village is located just west of the Tiger Kingdom and has a Five Hill Tribe exhibition village where visitors can buy souvenirs and take photos with the local women. Just 45-minutes outside of Chiang Mai is Wat Doi Suthep Temple, which was built in 1383 and features a carved snake staircase, replica of the famed Emerald Buddha statue, a large golden pagoda, and the International Buddhism Center.
The Old City is the most popular place to stay for tourists, filled with lots of temples, coffee shops, restaurants, and bookshops. It has a tendency to be on the quieter side during the evening. The night market area has a more active nightlife and has lots of bars, restaurants, and massage places. There is also nice accommodation along both sides of the river, from apartments to Thai homes.
Tuk-Tuks are one of the most exciting and popular forms of transportation around Chiang Mai. A Tuk-Tuk is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi that is inexpensive and can easily get around traffic. Buses are another popular form of transportation in Chiang Mai. Tourists often use the air-conditioned red minibuses known as songthaews that run about every 15 minutes on fixed routes. Taxis are another way to get around and can most often be found in tourist areas. You can also rent a bike or scooter if you’d like to explore the town on your own, but it is advised to drive with caution and keep an eye out for fellow motorists.
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