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.