Formerly the seat of the Lanna Kingdom and regarded as the northern capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is completely opposite to what first-timers to Thailand expect it to be. Unlike its southern counterparts, Chiang Mai is known for its laid back vibes, numerous temples and monasteries, crowded local markets, natural and historical sites and countryside with lush greenery. Catering to a large number of expats, young contemporary travellers and families alike, Chiang Mai is a backpacking haven where activities like hiking, cycling, rafting and a plethora of outdoor activities take precedence over a supercharged nightlife of drinks and loud music. Serviced by Chiang Mai International Airport and lying just an overnight train journey away from Bangkok, this sleepy northern town sees a rising footfall of enthusiastic tourists with each passing year. But despite the increase in demand for modern-day tourism, Chiang Mai vehemently has been able to defend it's rustic and old world charm.
Wat Phra Doi Suthep and Wat Phra Singh are some of the most visited Buddhist temples in this region with the former being a landmark attraction housing the famous Emerald Buddha statue. Old world temples like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Umong are also frequented by tourists. Visits to these temples involve hikes through scenic routes and sometimes tropical vegetation. Chiang Mai also caters to those who love the outdoors and all things natural with Doi Inthanon National Park catering to hikers and trekkers and the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon offering cliff jumping and swimming. If adventurous enough one can hike through uncharted paths to go waterfall hopping. Similar to Phuket down south, the elephant farms such as Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and Patara Elephant Farm offer tourists a vibrant experience of interacting and feeding the gentle giants.
Cultural experiences too are at the forefront in Chiang Mai. Dishes like Khao Soi are proudly presented to tourists who are looking to try the local flavours. If interested enough, one could even indulge in affordable cooking classes. Visitors are encouraged to visit the many hill tribes in the region such as the Karen Longneck tribe and interact with them. Local bazaars like the Warorot Market and the Sunday and Saturday weekend markets offer a wide variety of souvenirs, clothes, accessories and an unapologetic course in bartering with the locals. On the more modern side of things, Nimmanhaemin Road hosts many shopping complexes, cinemas, bars and high-end restaurants.