The countryside around Chiang Mai is mainly comprised of jungle and mountain ranges which are home to some of Thailand's distinctive hill tribes. With its many temples and rich cultural heritage, Chiang Mai is one of Thailand's, and Southeast Asia's, most attractive luxury holiday destinations.
Chiang Mai literally means 'New City' and has retained the name despite having a 700-year history. The city was founded in 1296 by King Meng Rai as the capital of the Lanna (A Million Rice Fields) Kingdom, and became the cultural capital and centre of Buddhism in northern Thailand. As a result, the city and its surroundings are now graced by over 300 temples and pagodas. Until the 1930s, Chiang Mai was only really accessible by river or by elephant, and such isolation helped to preserve the unique Lanna culture.
Apart from exploring the town and visiting some of the many wats (temples) there is plenty to do on holiday in and around Chiang Mai. One highlight is the famous Night Bazaar, where you can hone your haggling skills shopping for local handicrafts at the hundreds of stalls and shops stretching along the Chang Khlan Road.
Mountain biking, white-water rafting and boat trips on the river are among the other possibilities in the vicinity of Chiang Mai. The mountaintop temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, ten miles from town, is also well worth a visit.
The 'Golden Triangle' in neighbouring Chiang Rai province is a remote area, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Burma converge. It was notorious for its connection to the opium trade, but the Thai area has now been transformed. Activities here include nature walks, visits to hill-tribe villages and learning the skills of a mahout at the elephant camp before going elephant trekking through jungles and rivers.