Thailand’s city of Chiang Mai is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of the country’s capital city; Bangkok. Steeped in rich culture and history, this city has a distinctive charm and sense of genuineness.
Located in the northern region of Thailand, Chiang Mai is nestled beautifully between mountains and lush countryside and has earned itself the title of the ‘Rose of the North’. Although Chiang Mai is Thailand’s fifth-largest city, and is almost 1000 years old, it’s home to less than 200 000 people. Instead of throngs of people filling streets, malls and immense markets; here you’ll find a much more peaceful, personal and slower-paced way of life.
Once the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is home to a plethora of stunning temples and ruins, which still survive today with their delicate adornments, carvings, pagodas and naga and angelic images. One of the most notable of these temples is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which attracts locals and visitors alike. The temple sits on top of Doi Suthep Mountain, overlooking the city, and is one of the most revered spiritual sites in Thailand. Legend says that a sacred white elephant carrying a magical Buddha relic chose the location for the beautiful gold and granite temple to be built. Chiang Mai is also a nature-lover’s paradise. Just beyond the city, you’ll find vast national parks where elephants roam freely in the jungle and Hill Tribe people still lead a very traditional way of life. Doi Inthanon is one of the most popular parks of the area, and visitors are treated to breath-taking waterfalls, where you can swim, picnic and explore. The most famous of these waterfalls is Mae Ya waterfall, which is one of the most beautiful in Thailand. Falling from a height of over 250 metres into a series of wide, calm pools; visitors can enjoy a refreshing swim in the crystal waters.
Elephants hold a special significance to the people of Chiang Mai, with the result that much of the area’s mountainside forests serve as sanctuaries. Visitors are welcome to join mahouts (elephant handlers) in the forests to experience these gentle giants foraging, socialising and bathing in their natural habitat.
The city, in keeping with its devotion to tradition and culture, celebrates many festivals throughout the year. Floats, dancers, music, people and food fill the streets for weeks at a time. Buddha statues are bathed, dressed and paraded through the city, while people give each other blessings, make offerings to deities and release thousands of lanterns to give thanks. The people of Chiang Mai, as in most of Thailand, are exceptionally friendly, proud of their traditions and always eager to invite visitors to share in their celebrations. When festivals aren’t taking place, there are still lots of options to enjoy the local cultures and crafts. Intimate night markets sell beautifully hand-crafted silk, cotton and pottery, and small traditional villages welcome visitors with tea, stories about their people and tours of their community.
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