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Thailand’s second city and capital of the north, Chiang Mai has a great cultural heritage and is a charming place to spend a few days learning the art of Thai cooking, browsing through colourful markets or relaxing by the river after a trek. The city has a tradition for making handicrafts and the expertise here makes it a good place to pick up silk, silver, lacquer and wooden souvenirs. Chiang Mai is also famous as a religious centre and there are a number of interesting wats to visit as you wander around the city’s streets. Outside Chiang Mai lies a region of mountains, valleys and rivers where the hill tribes live and the city has long been a base from which to go trekking or start an exploration of the beautiful north of the country.
Chiang Mai has much to offer as destination in its own right and we have outlined a number of the sightseeing options below.
10 things to do in Chiang Mai
- Hunt for souvenirs at the famous Night Bazaar
- Bargain at the Sunday walking market
- Sample local culinary delights at the night market
- Enjoy an evening by the river at Riverside Bar & Restaurant
- Take in the views from Doi Suthep
- Cycle around the nearby countryside
- Have a massage, Chiang Mai style
- Try your hand at Thai cooking
- Cruise down the Mae Nam Ping River
- Head into the hills for a few days trekking
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai’s most famous market and one of its biggest attractions is the night bazaar which offers a huge array of art and local handicrafts as well as traditional Thai souvenirs from around the country. There are also a good selection of snack bars and restaurants nearby.
Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most important religious centres and has a number of interesting temples such as Wat Phra Singh with its Famous Buddha image, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man - the oldest temple in Chiang Mai built by King Managrai, Wat Suan Dok which houses the remains of many generations of the old Chiang Mai Royal Family and Wat Jet Yot.
Every Sunday some of the main streets of Chiang Mai are taken over by the ‘walking’ market. This is a great time to wander around as the locals tend to come out to shop, eat and gossip with friends. This is as much a market as it is a social occasion and whilst you are enjoying the people watching you can hunt for some bargains. Silks, cushion covers, scarves, candle holders, lampshades, jewellery, aromatherapy oil and plenty more can be found at this excellent market.
Chiang Mai National Museum
Established in 1954 this museum houses a fine collection of artefacts from around the region. It is also home to an impressive collection of Buddhas and historic weapons.
The handicraft villages lie just outside Chiang Mai and provide an opportunity to see the region’s handicraft experts at work. You can visit the silk factory at Sankampaeng to see the silk manufacturing process or alternatively the girls of Bor Sarng who make brilliantly-coloured parasols. Nearby there are opportunities to see work being carried out on silver, teakwood and lacquerware.
Wat Doi Suthep is perched on a forested mountain some 3,280ft high. This most sacred Chiang Mai temple provides a superb view over the city, as well as a wealth of images and frescos. Nearby you can also visit the city's biggest market, Talat Warorod, before going on to two important temples: Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Sing.
Elephant Riding & Bamboo Rafting
North of Chiang Mai is the Mae Ping Elephant Camp. Here you can watch the elephants taking their daily bath in the stream before beginning to haul timber in the forest. Afterwards visitors can ride on elephant back for one hour through the forest and then try some bamboo rafting with a 30 minute ride down the Ping River.