Chiang Mai - Central Point of the North
By Benjamin Malcolm
As both a destination in itself and a stepping-off point
for further northern excursions, the city of Chiang
Mai seems to fit in easily into the travel plans of most
people. It is indeed the green jewel of the north - a reminder
of the glory days of the Lanna Kingdom, encircled by crumbling
brick walls and a moat around which the vibrant hum of traffic
surges day and night.
Chiang Mai has all the conveniences of Bangkok without the
traffic hassles, although the city does grow year by year,
attracting in more people and commerce into its confines.
It is the undisputed centre of the north, with the second
highest city population in the country. Its international
reputation grows every year and there are a number of high-class
hotels and restaurants, resorts, golf courses and well-groomed
hideaways to rival the other more well established tourist
centres. It is also accessible by all means of transportation.
The northern railway ends here and there is an international
airport southwest of the city.
Like the rest of the north, Chiang Mai is cooler in temperature,
because of its elevation, especially during the cold season
There is a bounty of activities to pass the time within and
without these crumbling walls. An excellent first step would
be a walk, bicycle, or motorcycle ride around the city's
interior, within the moat, exploring the numerous smaller
streets and temples. There are many places from which bicycles,
motorcycles or cars may be rented for reasonable prices. Bicycles
and motorcycles are the best mode to choose, as Chiang Mai
is small enough to explore via these conveyances.
Chiang Mai's reputation as a "city of temples"
quickly becomes apparent during this journey through the interior.
Among the more important ones in the area are Wat Chedi Luang,
which was built in 1401, the beautiful Wat Pra Singh and the
stunning Wat Doi Suthep, a temple built on the summit of nearby
Mount Suthep. Suthep, which takes some 40 minutes to reach,
provides a panoramic view of the countryside and city and
is well worth the journey to visit, especially if the weather
For those desiring a luxurious stay, head north toward Mae
Rim and book a night or two at the Regent Resort or Mae Rim
Lagoon Hotel. Other international hotels, such as the Westin
Riverside Plaza, Chiang Mai Orchid and Royal Princess, are
located in the heart of the city.
Many visitors opt for lessons in massage or in Thai cooking.
A veritable cottage industry has sprung up catering to these
two peculiar Thai institutions - there are a number of schools
that teach both and others that hold weeklong seminars on
the techniques involved in ancient Thai massage.
Night life and food are other reasons to extend one's
stay here, as Chiang Mai really comes alive during the evening
hours. Two of the more popular areas with visitors are the
Tha Phae Gate area and the Night Bazaar, although there are
plenty of other smaller, less-travelled areas that beckon
the explorer. Tha Phae is the centre of the aforementioned
cooking schools and is a backpacker's haunt. The Night
Bazaar is a shopper's paradise offering just about everything
under the sun, an every-day Chatuchuck-like open air market
that thrums from sunset to around midnight. There are plenty
of rip-offs here such as copied CD's of dubious quality
and other tourist trinkets, but there are also some great
buys. Excellent northern woodcarvings, cloth and textiles
and other decorations may be found at rock-bottom prices.
Bring your shopping savvy and enjoy the atmosphere as much
as anything else. There are boxing demonstrations, northern
dancing and other interesting performances all over the area,
as well as any manner of Go-Go bars. Good deals can be found
on tailored clothing and carvings.
Another option for those who like better deals is the lesser-known
Warorot Market, north of the Night Bazaar, an all-day open
market with food, fruit, flowers, textiles, clothing and other
Coffee houses also seem to be a growing industry in Chiang
Mai, feeding off the region's coffee bean producers.
While there is a Starbucks in the Night Bazaar area, coffee
aficionados are better off exploring the cappuccinos and caf?
au laits of Tha Phae's J.J.'s Bakery and Bake and
Bite and the Lanna Caf?, which is located on Huay Kaew Road
near the Central Department Store.
For excellent food and higher-end shopping options, head across
the river to the Charoenrat Road area where textile, antique
and cigar stores prevail, as well as high-end restaurants
that sit door-to-door along the banks of the Ping River. Most
of these restaurants, in particular Good View, the Riverside
Restaurant and the Antique House II are popular with city
residents especially, for their nightly music and open air
atmosphere. Others, such as Brasserie, The Gallery and the
Oriental Style, are quieter options.
Another cottage industry is the city's Khantoke dinners,
which combine northern cuisine with northern dance into a
night-long dinner performance. There are several centres for
this in the city. For a more modern alternative, head toward
the Huan Soontaree Vechanont Restaurant northeast of the city
beside the river - here diners can sit down to Chiang-Mai
specific food, while rotating musicians and the restaurant's
namesake, entertain with classic Northern Thai music.
Chiang Mai is renowned as the stepping-off point for further
adventures into the north and its travel agencies are primed
to send people off toward whatever destination they have in
mind - be it a raft trip, a visit to the hilltribe territories,
cave exploring, or an ascent up the highest mountain in Thailand
- Doi Inthanon (2565 metres).
There are excellent day trip options including the aforementioned
trip to Doi Suthep, the Bo Sang umbrella-making village and
San Kampaeng weaving village, the magnificent Wat Phrathat
Hariphunchai in Lamphun and the elephant conservation centre
near Lampang. Other adventures lie farther afield, but can
also be easily arranged in Chiang Mai.
If you are thinking of visiting the hilltribe areas, you can
get a preview of these northern subcultures at the Hilltribe
museum, which is located north of the city on highway 107.
The museum contains thoughtful displays and abundant information
about each tribe, their location and their status.
With all these options and more, it is small wonder that Chiang
Mai is a constant choice in travellers' itineraries.