The largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand Chiang Mai is quickly becoming a prime destination for travellers coming to the Southeast Asian nation. Unique from its southern cousins, the Northern capital’s distinct cuisine, customs and climate, hub of culture, art and beautiful historical monuments make Chiang Mai a must! A perfect Asian city for any traveller to explore, without the chaotic traffic for a change!
As the long ago capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, Chiang Mai is built upon pillars of history, and within the historical boundaries of its former walls and remaining moat are some thirty temples and countless examples of ancient Thai architecture. Yet, Chiang Mai has expanded far beyond its former walled epicenter into what is now one of the country’s most modern and bustling cultural capitals. Beyond its famous temples that drawn in travelers — including the gold-plated Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and ancient Wat Phra Singh — Chiang Mai is a must see, with plenty to offer any traveller. It’s also well worth exploring beyond its landmarks.
Chiang Mai, like most of Thailand, isn’t short on markets selling anything from fresh food to handcrafted wares. The Flower Market, just north of Tapae Road and along the river, is a perfect place to take in the natural scents of Chiang Mai, and as it is busiest late at night or in the still-dark early hours of the morning, it’s a stunning setting to see Chiang Mai in a different light. Just next door at the Wororot Market is the largest collection of market stalls, and the labyrinthine maze of tables and walkways is easy to get lost in, but a must-see element of Chiang Mai’s market scene.
For a taste of country culture, held weekly is the Hill Tribe Friday Morning market. Held in a small lot near the Chiang Mai Mosque on Chang Klan Soi 1 near the night bazaar, the market is a popular gathering place for the surrounding hill tribes’ farmers and workers. As the sun rises, the market is already buzzing with energy, and a leisurely morning stroll through the marketplace’s narrow walkways is a feast in color, sights and smells. Come nightfall, the Anusarn Night Market comes into full swing, and since many of its stalls are packed with fresh food and cooks busy at work, it’s also a perfect place for a traditional Thai dinner. Try a bowl of khao soi, a traditional Northern Thai specialty that shouldn’t be missed when in the city.
Perhaps one of the most charming elements to Chiang Mai is its thriving cafe life, never short on diversity and quality. Nearly every road in Chiang Mai is home to a collection of coffee shops and cafes, but the locally famous Nimman area and the “old city” within the moat borders is particularly dense with charming shops. Ranging from outdoor patio style cafes to swanky indoor establishments, there’s a cafe for nearly every disposition in Chiang Mai. Head to Librarista for one of the most modern cafe experiences in the city, or to Coffee Bar for an outdoor patio that’s especially popular with the locals.
Since Chiang Mai is bursting with coffee shops, and nearly every corner of the city is sure to have a collection of delicious choices for the morning (or evening) coffee pitstop, finding a tasty cup is as easy as walking down the street. But to navigate the array of choices, peruse the popular Citylife Chiang Mai Magazine for not only great spots, but for a regular list of events coming to the city.
Chiang Mai’s vibrant energy after dark is perhaps one of the best in Thailand outside of Bangkok. The city’s bars and clubs bursting with the city’s night owls owes to Chiang Mai’s youthful population of both locals and foreign expats. For live music, a favorite among residents is North Gate Jazz Co-op, which lures in droves with their world-class jazz music, and it is regularly packed full of lively party-goers and music lovers. For a more eclectic mix of live music, head to Brassier for a range of modern rock to reggae.
Those looking to spend time with Chiang Mai’s local population, both Thai and foreign, will certainly find the regular crowds heading to Gossip Bar and Gallery, which boasts a fantastic line-up of music and a fantastic outdoor patio to enjoy the breeze. More daring travelers might venture to the Nimman area, where locals flock to packed out beer gardens and into the area’s many thumping clubs. Favorites among the locals are The Monkey Club and Warm Up, both easily spotted with their pounding speakers.
Chiang Mai is perhaps one of the best places in Thailand to celebrate the country’s many festivals in a different environment from the tourist metropolis of Bangkok. Throughout the year, locals in Chiang Mai celebrate the countrywide Songkran Festival, Loy Krathong Festival, and the Northern Thai traditional Yi Peng Festival that comes around the same time as Loy Krathong.
In addition to traditional Thai Holidays, Chiang Mai is a popular spot for locally-created festivals, including an enormously popular Chiang Mai Jazz Festival. The annual event draws in both local and international jazz musicians, and draws on Chiang Mai’s already popular brand of jazz music that kicks off regularly in the city’s venues. And, as part of the city’s popular Doc Arts Asia film society and non-profit centre, the Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival, generally held in February annually, is a perfect way to enjoy Chiang Mai’s creative culture.