The ancient temples of Chiang Mai
For many travellers heading to Thailand, the itinerary is often the same- jump off the plane in Bangkok, and head straight to the sandy beaches down south.
But just an hour’s flight north of the capital, you’ll find an exciting city that’s well worth a look.
Chiang Mai boasts a vibrant mix of stunning scenery, intriguing historical sites, tasty local cuisine, and more temples than you can shake a stick at – about 300 of them are scattered across the city and outlying areas.
If you’re a history buff, head to the walled-in old town. The area is compact enough to walk around, and is home to some of the most impressive temples, or “wats” in the city.
Don’t miss Wat Chedi Luang, with its serene moat, golden Buddha statues and colourful prayer flags hanging from the ceiling. The temple cuts an unusual shape against the Chiang Mai skyline, as a chunk of the roof fell off in an earthquake in 1545 and it was never fully restored.
Richly decorated Wat Phra Singh reflects the area’s ancient Lanna culture and is home to sacred scriptures, while the golden exterior of Wat Phan On sparkles in the sun, and the carvings inside are a feast for the eyes.
Outside the walls of the old town, Wat Buppharam boasts intricately carved Buddha sculptures, and enormous Wat Suan Dok, home to a 5 metre high bronze Buddha, is a mesmerising complex of whitewashed structures clustered around a central gold dome.
But perhaps the most popular spot is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, accessed via a winding drive up a mountain, followed by a short, steep funicular ride. Believed to be the where a white elephant carrying some of Buddha’s ashes decided to stop 600 years ago, the temple is lavishly decorated, with bells that ring out frequently for good luck. Legend has it that if a couple silently climbs the long staircase together and counts out the same number of steps, their love will last forever.
Top tips for Chiang Mai travel
- If you’re catching a tuk-tuk, (three-wheeler motorbikes popular throughout Thailand), haggling is considered the norm. The driver will always quote you an inflated fare up front.
- Chiang Mai’s night bazaar is worth checking out, and includes stalls selling handicrafts, clothing, jewellery, designer knock-offs and trinkets galore.
- If you’re after a bargain, the weekend market is the place to go. It has a similar range to the night bazaar, but with better prices. Bartering is expected, except for when a price is displayed.
- Street stalls are a great option for cheap, authentic and tasty food. But if you’re after something a bit higher end, head for The Service 1921, a restaurant at the Anantara Resort.
- If you want to stay somewhere central, Tamarind Village is a good option. Located in the bustling old town, the rooms offer traditional décor with a modern twist, and the leafy complex boasts a pool, spa and sumptuous Thai restaurant.