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Chiang Mai sometimes written as "Chiengmai" or "Chiangmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, and is the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located 700 km (435 mi) north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. The city is on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city and has been attracting over 5 million visitors each year, of which between 1.4 million and 2 million are foreign tourists (depending on the year). Chiang Mai gained prominence in the political sphere in May 2006, when the Chiang Mai Initiative was concluded here between the ASEAN nations and the "+3" countries (China, Japan, and South Korea). Chiang Mai is one of three Thai cities contending to host the World Expo 2020. It has also recently positioned itself to become a Creative City and is considering to apply for Creative City Status with UNESCO.
Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) handles both domestic and regional international flights. The route from Bangkok is one of the busiest in the country (Thai Airways flies daily almost every hour, with additional flights in the peak tourist season). Other airlines operating direct services from/to Chiang Mai
A variety of daily buses leave frequently from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Moh Chit), offering varying choices of price, comfort and speed.
Rattling government buses make frequent stops at every minor township. The journey takes around 12hrs and costs 200 baht.
Non-stop 24/32-seaters and 1st class buses provide larger seats and snacks; making the long trip more comfortable. They manage the trip around 9 hours and cost around 500 baht. Be cautious about the so-called "VIP" buses touted on Khao San Rd; they may be cheaper, but you may end up crammed into a 2nd class bus or worse.
Services from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station leave on a regular daily schedule and take 12-15 hours to reach Chiang Mai.
Daytime services leave at 8:30AM, and 2:30PM with second class (281 baht) and third class (121 baht) carriages. The seats in each class differ in softness and width can become uncomfortable after 10+ hours.
Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center
This fully modernised multimedia history and cultural education centre has guides dressed in elegant traditional Thai clothing who will usher you into an air-conditioned room to watch an English-subtitled orientation video about Chiang Mai and the north. Next, you will be pointed to a series of rooms documenting the region's history and culture in chronological order from the pre-Muang period (7,000-12,000 years ago) to the early river civilizations, to the early kings through the wars with the Burmese and the last dynasty, to the city today and its plans for the future. Other rooms are devoted to Buddhism and other regional beliefs, agricultural history, hill tribe peoples and other regional cultures, and a run-down of the royal dynasties. The exhibits consist of a smart visual mix of video, scale models, enlarged photos, wall murals and text in Thai and English. 90 baht
Hilltribe Research Institute Museum
Founded in 1965 as a result of a proposal by the noted anthropologist Prof. W.R. Geddes, who was doing research with the hilltribe peoples at the time, the Institute Museum offers exhibits concerning the lives and cultures of nine hilltribe peoples in Thailand: the Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Yao, Hmong, Karen, Lua, Khamu, and H'tin. Also included are a non-hilltribe ethnic minority, the Mlabri, associated by some with the 'spirit of the yellow leaves'. The Mlabri population has dwindled to only approximately 180 individuals at present. The daily lives of the various hilltribe peoples are illustrated through exhibits of photographs, agricultural implements, household utensils, artefacts associated with the various traditional religions, musical instruments, and ethnic costumes. Some exhibits include models dressed in complete traditional costumes depicting daily activities, such as a Hmong family having a meal or a Lisu man serenading his sweetheart. The Institute has established a new museum in a three-story pavilion located on the attractively landscaped grounds of Ratchamangkala Park (Suan Lor Gao) on Chotana Road, just a fifteen minute drive from the city center. Slide and video show available daily 10AM-2PM
Wat Phra Singh
Corner of Singharaj Rd and Rajdamnern Rd. Probably Chiang Mai's best-known temple, housing the Phra Singh image, completed between 1385 and 1400. Of most historical interest is the Wihaan Lai Kham in the back, featuring Lanna-style temple murals and intricate gold patterns on red lacquer behind the altar. The large chedi was built in 1345 by King Pha Yu to house the remains of his father King Kam Fu. A typical scripture repository is located at this temple as well. These repositories were designed to keep and protect the delicate sa or mulberry paper sheets used by monks and scribes to keep records and write down folklore. The high stucco-covered stone base of the repository protected the delicate scriptures from the rain, floods and pests. The walls of the chapel are covered with murals illustrating Lanna customs, dress, and scenes from daily life. The lovely Lai Kam chapel houses the revered Phra Singh Buddha image. Sadly, the head was stolen in 1922, and a reproduction is now seen
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
The quintessential image of Chiang Mai with its large gold-plated chedi, visible from the city on a clear day, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is 18km from town, sitting at a 1,073m elevation on the slopes of Doi (Mount) Suthep. Built in 1383 during the Lanna Thai period, legend has it that the temples site was selected by an elephant sent to roam the mountain side, where upon reaching a suitable spot, it trumpeted, circled three times, knelt down and promptly died - which was interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site. The temple is and offers grand views over the city, but no reward is without effort as you must accent the 300-plus steps of the Naga lined stairs. The climb may be a strain in high altitudes thin air for the less fit so you may opt to take the cable car for 20 baht. The entry fee is 30 baht. During July it is traditional for people to walk from the zoo to the temple and vast numbers make the pilgrimage to the top, which takes around 4-5 hours.
Elephant Nature Park
Approximately 60km north of Chiang Mai is a sanctuary for rescued and distressed elephants. They are not here to perform or do tricks and people visiting here will leave with a whole new understanding of these magnificent creatures. Day and overnight visits as well as one week volunteering opportunities can be booked via their website. During the day visit, which costs 2500 Baht per adult, you will feed and bathe the elephants, watch them wander around the 150 acre area, and will be provided with a magnificent buffet lunch. They will also pick and drop you off at your hotel in Chiang Mai
November - February
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