Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city, is also unquestionably the most beautiful, its location earning it the soubriquet of "Pearl (or Rose) of the North". It sits at the foot of Doi Pui (1685 m (5530 ft)), one of the highest mountains in the Indo-Chinese range, in a sheltered, mountain-ringed and fertile basin irrigated by water from the Menam Ping.
At one time splendid capital of the independent kingdom of Lan Na ("Kingdom of the Thousand Rice-fields"), Chiang Mai today takes pride in being the "northern capital" of Thailand. It has long since ceased to be simply the "City of Golden Temples" - as it was christened by the first European visitors. Austere modern concrete buildings and an efficient road network, together with many of the usual trappings of late 20th c. life, mean that old teak houses with tropically luxuriant front gardens have become something of a rarity. Bangkok's nouveaux riches consider it particularly smart to have a second home in Chiang Mai. Consequently more and more of the countryside is being developed and traditions evolved over centuries here in northern Thailand are being eroded. The resulting cultural contrasts could hardly be greater. Just a few kilometers from this university city, mountain peoples such as the Meo, Akha and Lisu continue in their age-old ways.
Chiang Mai is also the center of the Thai craft industry, exporting elaborate wood carvings, brightly painted sunshades, batiks, silk fabrics and fine silverware to the tourist centers of the south as well as to all parts of the world. Less well known is Chiang Mai's role as the Thai center for jade, this much prized mineral being brought in (often illegally) from Myanmar (Burma).
By car: from Bangkok via highways 1 or 32 to Chainat, then 1 (to Lampang) and 11 (about 696 km (432 mi.)).
By bus: air-conditioned bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (journey time 12 hours).
By rail: from Bangkok Hualampong (751 km (466 mi.)). Comfortable sleepers are available on overnight trains.
By air: about 700 km (435 mi.) from Bangkok (several flights daily, flying time about an hour).