Go for the rich culture, the night markets, the jungle adventures and the serene and beautiful temples...
Visitors fall for Chiang Mai's charms within hours of arrival. This is a typical Thai city in many ways: traffic hums on the streets, polluting the air, and street markets swarm with people - the sights, sounds and smells assaulting your senses. But Chiang Mai has a cosmopolitan and creative spirit and there's a youthful spring in its step despite the age-old monuments that draw hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. You can book a soothing Thai massage and then watch as locals work up a sweat during a Muay Thai (boxing) match. You can book a tour to see the local elephants before inspecting the city's cultural highlights at museums and temples.
It's easy to see an escape too, should the bustle get too much, as Chiang Mai is enveloped by tree-clad mountains and undulating countryside, in which you'll hear the delighted squeals of adventurers hurtling down rivers on rafts and swinging through the jungle on zip lines.
These jungles and rivers were, until only around 100 years ago, the only pathway to Chiang Mai; perhaps this is why the city oozes authentic charisma.
Chiang Mai hotels are easy to find and offer all levels of service and facilities...
Hotels in Chiang Mai have special allure and unique appeal, whether they are inexpensive, clean and basic, or luxury hotels affording all amenities. At one end of the scale, cheap hotels in Chiang Mai are often filled with backpackers and feature little in the way of amenities, while sprawling garden resorts welcome guests at the top end of the market. Swimming pools, spas and world-class dining options are the norm in the city's luxury hotels. There's everything in between in Chiang Mai too, with a number of lovely boutique hotels cropping up near the old city and offering a more personal experience, with just a few rooms and great amenities. With your hotel organised, you can plan an itinerary that allows you to make the most of this magical location.
The good news is that you can find all levels of accommodation across all city locations, so you don't have to compromise on staying in a central spot if your budget is limited. Chiang Mai isn't a massive city, so location isn't too much of a big deal anyway as it's easy to walk or just hail a tuk-tuk to get to where you want to be. The old city is a nice place to stay. It's got a range of hotels, no high-rise buildings and the area is peppered with temples. Downtown is considered to be the area around the famed Night Bazaar and visitors enjoy fast access to restaurants and bars. Hotels in close proximity to the Mae Ping River feature picturesque views, and yet these hotels can be inexpensive despite their charming location. Nimmanhaemin Road and the area around it feature boutique stores, fantastic eateries and some of the best city hotels.
Quieter accommodation options can be found on the outskirts of town, and, further out from the city, you can seek to be revitalised and exhilarated by the mountain air.
Wherever you choose to stay in Chiang Mai, you will be welcomed and treated with warmth and friendliness, as is typical of the Thai people.
How will you spend your time in Chiang Mai? Here are a few ideas to get you started...
There are more than 300 temples in and around Chiang Mai, a wealth of museums and markets, and dozens of tour operators offering trips to see all sorts of things. It is impossible to be bored in Chiang Mai.
Top five attractions
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Located on the mountain, Doi Suthep, this Buddhist temple is a little way out of the city but it's worth the journey for the incredible views and unbelievably ornate buildings and shrines. If you only visit one temple, make it this one.
Wat Chedi Luang
That said, this temple is worth a look too. Situated in the historic centre and with foundations dating back to the 14th century, stories of the past drift silently among the shrines and many moments of peaceful serenity can be enjoyed.
Also called the Old City and Old Town, you should visit this ancient walled part of the city and peer across the waters of the surrounding moat. It's a magical spot.
Make a beeline for Chang Khlan Road where every night, whatever the weather, the sellers at the Night Bazaar set up shop until around midnight. There's plenty to purchase, but even if you buy nothing you are certain to enjoy the buzz of this tourist market.
Chiang Mai Night Safari
See rhinos, zebra, the big cats and plenty of other wild beasts during this thrilling safari in the dark, just outside Chiang Mai.
Discover which annual events should not be missed during your trip to Chiang Mai...
The beauty of this city comes into the spotlight during Chiang Mai's annual events.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival; February: See Chiang Mai in full bloom during this joyous celebration of flowers, which includes arts and crafts fairs and a colourful parade.
City Pillar Inthakin Festival; May-June: Thousands flock to the sacred City Pillar at Wat Chedi Luang to wish for peace and happiness and to witness lively parades. There are all kinds of other festival activities taking place during this week-long event.
Yi Peng Festival; November: Thailand's Loy Krathong events see thousands of candle-lit hand-made boats drifting on the nation's waterways. In Chiang Mai you should look to the skies as well, as the city's Yi Peng Festival also sees thousands of lanterns floating upwards. It's an utterly mesmerising sight.