Northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai is an iconic Thai city surrounded by the walls of the Old City, with ornate temples and lush forests just a short drive away.
Here you find a charming centre easily navigated on foot, clean air, and a somewhat cooler climate. Founded in 1296 as the capital of the ancient Lan Na Kingdom, the 600-year-old moat, 30 temple spires and elaborate Buddhist temples, including the 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang are an extraordinary vision.
Located on the top of the hill at the end of a winding mountain road and overlooking Chiang Mai is the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a part of the city’s daily life. To reach the temple you climb a 309-step staircase with bannisters bejewelled with mystical serpents, at the top a gold-plated chedi and white elephant shrine to honour the temple’s legend.
In the city, there are numerous galleries and boutiques to explore, and each night street-food vendors set up near the Chang Puak Gate next to the Ping River, offering a range of authentic Thai, Chinese, and Japanese cuisine. The city’s bustling Chinatown spreads across an area known collectively as Worarot, the centrepiece being a three-storey covered market with excellent value shopping.
At the market, savour the banana spring rolls, and lemongrass tea served in bamboo and sticky rice with mango. Offering a quieter and more authentic look at the Kingdom of Thailand, Chiang Mai has developed a reputation as a spiritual retreat, a place to study meditation and yoga, and an area where you can immerse yourself introspectively into Northern Thai culture.
Barefoot monks in flame-coloured robes bow as bells ring from hilltop temples, the air ripe with the lingering sweetness of burning incense and lotus flowers placed at the foot of the stupa and peace and spiritual divinity feel so easily within reach.
Elephant Nature Park
Further afield in the Mae Taeng District is the Elephant Nature Park, run by Lek Chailert, who has been working in elephant conservation since 1996. An elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre where dozens of rescues have created a thriving elephant herd. Absolute soul food.
Peace is the highest bliss. ― Buddha
** This post forms part of my 100x Magical Places series which offers an introduction to my favourite destinations.
** Pics sourced.