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After Bangkok and Phuket, Chiang Mai is the most popular tourist destination in Thailand and the fifth largest city in the country. Although Thais idealize their beloved northern capital as a small, quaint town surrounded by mountains with legendary, mystical attributes, the truth is Chiang Mai has all but left that image behind to become a modern, cosmopolitan city exhibiting many of the hallmarks of contemporary world culture and technology. One of the city's most remarkable features is the omnipresence of Buddhist temples. With over 300 temples — almost as many as in Bangkok, but within a much smaller area — dotting the cityscape, one is ...

After Bangkok and Phuket, Chiang Mai is the most popular tourist destination in Thailand and the fifth largest city in the country. Although Thais idealize their beloved northern capital as a small, quaint town surrounded by mountains with legendary, mystical attributes, the truth is Chiang Mai has all but left that image behind to become a modern, cosmopolitan city exhibiting many of the hallmarks of contemporary world culture and technology. One of the city's most remarkable features is the omnipresence of Buddhist temples. With over 300 temples — almost as many as in Bangkok, but within a much smaller area — dotting the cityscape, one is never more than a kilometer away from a Buddhist sanctuary. A water-filled moat and the remains of Chiang Mai's 19th-century city walls and battlements — built to keep out Burmese invaders — form a picturesque quadrangle around the old city center. Auspicious Doi Suthep rises 5500 feet above the city to the west, providing an ever-present reminder that the fast-developing city is mountain-bound. Aside from Chiang Mai's physical charms, visitors are attracted by the high quality and relatively low price of accommodation, food and shopping, along with the friendliness of the people. With the increasing number of cultural and spiritual learning experiences available to visitors in Chiang Mai these days — Thai language, Thai massage, Thai cooking, yoga and vipassana (insight meditation) — Chiang Mai has become much more than just a quick stop on the northern Thailand tourist circuit.

Joe Cummings
About the Expert

Joe Cummings has contributed to more than 35 guidebooks, maps, atlases, phrasebooks and photographic works, including his bestselling Lonely Planet Thailand and Buddhist Stupas of Asia: The Shape of Perfection.

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Chiang Mai lies 700 km north of Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city stands on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river.
  • Language: Thai
  • Currency: Thai Baht
  • Research: Wikipedia | Wikitravel
  • Weather: Rainfall | Daylight
  • Current Time:

Climate

  • Best Time to Visit:

    June through February (the rainy and dry seasons)