After Sukothai we moved on to Chiang Mai. Thailand’s second city and the economic and cultural heart of the North.
Chiang Mai was the capital of a semi-independent principality, usually referred to as Lanna, for six centuries: even after the last prince’s death in 1939 and for its relatively modest size, it retains a capital’s grandeur, the impressive monuments that come with it and a noticeably distinct local culture. To visitors, Chiang Mai offers a wide range of activities (and delicious food) inside the city as well as easy access to the mountainous North’s many other attractions. We stayed for a few days for a taste of both.
Inside Thailand, Chiang Mai is perhaps most well-known for its famous cluster of Buddhist temples, located inside the well-preserved historic walled city. We particularly liked Wat Chedi Luang, with its partly collapsed fifteenth-century chedi (tower), atmospheric prayer hall and the city’s founding stone, and Wat Chiang Man, the city’s oldest containing two particularly revered Buddha images as well as some beautiful life-sized elephant statues. Top off your visit with the exhilarating ride up to the mountain-top sanctuary of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep high above the city, where you can see the impressive gilded buildings, but do follow the signs and do not pat gong noise.
As everywhere in Thailand, it is easy to get lost in the plentiful amazing food: especially the particularly mild Northern curries and soups are worth a mention, but perhaps our most special food discovery in Chiang Mai is a ubiquitous street snack: coconut ice cream.
Due to time constraints we did not manage to see much of the North outside Chiang Mai, but we did take the time to visit the magical Thai Elephant Care Center at Mae Rim. This sanctuary adopts and cares for elderly elephants who have been abandoned by the more traditional (and awful) elephant entertainment industry: they offer thoughtful half-day and one-day packages, giving visitors the opportunity to interact with the elephants in a responsible way, feeding and bathing them.
Making ‘cookies’ for the gentle giants and hanging out with them was among the best experiences of the whole trip.
In terms of shopping, Chiang Mai is obviously no match for Bangkok: however, do check out Warorot Market. We especially appreciated the wide range of high-quality, affordable silks. Of course, there is also market food, such as the enormous Northern sausage, which one of your writers particularly appreciated.
We absolutely want to return to Chiang Mai. What else should we see?