Northern Thailand is an adventurer’s playground and Chiang Mai is the best place to be if you’re into trekking, rafting and kayaking, mountain bike or dirt bike riding, or just chilling out in the jungle. There are mountains everywhere, which means brilliant waterfalls, excellent hiking and no noisy cities or package tourist overload like at Phuket or Pattaya.
Chiang Mai is also one of the most historic cities in Thailand, and the old town is surrounded by a perfectly preserved moat, and sits near the Ping river. There are more than 300 temples in the city and hiring a bike to cruise around the small lanes is the best way to see the sights. More on tours of Chiang Mai
Within an hour’s drive of the city are all sorts of attractions. Doi Suithep is the big old mountain west of the city which can be seen from everywhere and has a famous temple on top. If you hire a motorbike (150 baht a day) you can ride up and check our the views, swim at Huay Kaew and Monthathan waterfalls and visit hill tribe villages to see how rural Asian people go about life in a traditional way.
The Mae Sa Valley is also nearby and here you can ride elephants, amuse yourself at the monkey or dog show, check out the snake farm and orchid nurseries, bungee jump, ride ATVs and visit the impressive Mae Sa waterfall. Near Chiang Mai, there are also hot springs, elephant camps and day treks.
Chiang Mai is one of the cheapest places to visit in Thailand. No kidding, you can get by on $10 a day, and there are chilled guesthouses everywhere. And the nightlife in Chiang Mai isn’t too bad either. Being a tourist town, it’s lively at night but it isn’t all spoilt by crowds and you can choose from plenty of cheap restaurants and bars and head to discos later, or get yourself a Thai massage. More on Chiang Mai nightlife.
Trekking in Northern Thailand is another main reason backpackers come here, and we can offer you a several options for heading into the hills with experienced guides. You’ll ride elephants, raft skiffs down unspoilt rivers and stay several nights in various villages of the colourful hill tribes.
While in Chiang Mai, you must get yourself to Pai – one of Thailand’s best kept secrets, and although it attracts a lot of free spirits in the season, you won’t see any silly package tourists, or go-go bars, or tuk-tuks and souvenir shops. The atmosphere in this Northern Thailand town is very chilled and the town itself sits astride a pretty river, and the bungalows are dirt cheap. The three-hour rollercoaster ride over the mountains is also spectacular. More on Northern Thailand tours.
Cheaper and less frenetic than the islands or Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a place where you can end up staying for weeks – studying massage, taking cooking classes, enjoying nature, partying or just relaxing. Northern Thailand has plenty to offer.