Once the capital of the northern Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai lies in the verdant valley of the Ping River, surrounded by mountains which form part of the foothills of the distant Himalayas.
Its Old Town is a unique city within a city, surrounded by ancient moated walls and home to over 300 Buddhist temples. Founded in 1296 by the great King Mengrai as his capital, the city is rich in Lanna culture and charms, which draw many tourists annually, especially during April’s Songkran and November’s Loi Krathong traditional festivals and over the Christmas/New Year period.
The gem of the city is its mix of traditional and modern Thai culture, with many of its hotels gloriously furnished and decorated according to traditional Lanna styles, combined with Western standards of comfort. From five-star luxury to teakwood Lanna-style boutique accommodation and attractive budget lodgings and guesthouses, there’s a great choice here at surprisingly inexpensive rates.
The most convenient places to stay are found along the moat road and the banks of the river, as well as inside the Old City – all within walking distance of the major sights, restaurants and nightlife.
Chiang Mai is cooler than Thailand’s southern beachside destinations and steamy Bangkok, and exhibits three seasons: dry, hot and rainy. The coolest time is from November through February, with daytime highs averaging around 27°C, while the hot season between March and May sees averages of 36°C with upward spikes. The rainy season sees showers and sunshine until the monsoons strike in September and October, cooling the air.
Getting here is easiest via Chiang Mai International Airport as the city is 700kms from Bangkok and bus and trains services are an overnight trip from the capital. International flight destinations are limited to major air transport hubs in Asia, but the city is a short hop from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Public transport here is limited to songthaew (shared taxis), tuk-tuks (motorised rickshaws) and a few metered taxis, making hiring a car the best way to travel if you intend to tour all the attractions in and surrounding the city.