Chiang Mai named one of the “World’s Best Cities” by Travel + Leisure
Chiang Mai scored highly in Travel and Leisure magazine’s best cities list, pipped to the top spot by Charleston, USA. So what is it about this North Thailand city that engages its visitors to such an extent?
A city with a small town feel
Chiang Mai is technically a city, but its compact centre and warm welcome make a visit here feel like you’ve come to a small town rather than an impersonal metropolis. Once the capital of the Lanna kingdom, it still oozes history from every stone. The crumbling red brick walls that encircle the old city help to engender a sense of containment as opposed to sprawl. People are kind and helpful so in effect, both the people and the city are enclosing the visitor in a warm embrace.
So much to see
Crossing the moat and passing through one of the gates into the old city unlocks a settlement that was preserved by its isolation. Located about 700km north of Bangkok, it was cut off to all but the most intrepid explorers prepared to undertake the arduous journey by river or elephant as late as the 1920s.
The city itself is packed with delightful temples, bustling markets and tempting street food stalls. Over thirty temples span Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna culture, lavishly adorned with gilding, intricate carvings and other breathtaking detail. Ironically, the main draw is outside these walls. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a short ride away from the centre but well worth the effort, not just for the temple itself but for the stunning views from the hilltop on which it’s perched.
Food to die for
One of the essential experiences if you’re a tourist in Chiang Mai is food. A visit to the city’s night market is one of the best ways to achieve this. The dish above all others that says you’re in Chiang Mai is khao soi, noodles in a flavoursome curry broth served with chicken or beef, chilli paste, raw shallots and pickled cabbage. If you’re inspired, there are plenty of cookery classes on offer where you can unlock the secrets of Thai cooking.
Location, location, location
It’s the beautiful countryside a stone’s throw from the city that arguably exerts an even greater pull than the city itself. You don’t have to go far before you’re surrounded by verdant vegetation. Lush rainforests, hot springs and hidden waterfalls are the order of the day. Lanna actually means the “Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields” so it’s no surprise that green is the colour that you’ll associate with this part of Thailand.