Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second most-visited city after Bangkok, and could be described as the capital’s more mature older sister. It still has the temples, markets and city life, but without the high octane chaos that attracts the crowds of young backpackers and night owls to Bangkok. Chiang Mai is peaceful in comparison, a haven of quiet temples and hole-in-the-wall eateries where you can really appreciate Thailand’s rich culture.
Buddhism is a hugely influential factor in Thai culture, and it’s not uncommon to see monks at temples or even just walking the streets. Chiang Mai has some of Thailand’s most famous and beautiful temples – two of the best are Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. Chiang Mai is also the best place to go to experience Songkran, a Thai New Year festival celebrated with huge water fights across the country.
Markets are a great place to pick up amazing souvenirs and gifts at great prices, and Chiang Mai has Saturday and Sunday ‘Walking Streets’ where whole roads are closed off for huge pedestrianised markets. Thai massage is a unique therapy that must be experienced on a Thailand holiday, and from Chiang Mai many people venture into the surrounding countryside to visit an elephant sanctuary or go on a jungle trek.
When booking a package holiday to Thailand, you’ll notice that B&B or hotel only deals are much more common than all-inclusive. This is because the food is so cheap that it’s actually more economical to find your own meals, and there are countless restaurants and street food stalls where you can sample Thailand’s delicious cuisine. You can even learn to recreate your favourite Thai dish yourself on a half or full-day cooking course!