Once the capital of Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is the largest city in the northern region of the country. A big part of the appeal is in the wonderful Lanna architecture of temples around the ancient city, such as the ruined Wat Chedi Luang (103 King Prajadhipok Phra Singh Rd., Mon-Sun 7am-10pm) , Wat Phra Singh ( Sam Lan Rd., Mon-Sun, 8am-5pm), Wat U Mong (135 Moo 10 Doi Suthep, Mon-Sun 6am-5pm) and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Rd., 053-295-002, Mon-Sun 6am-6pm).
A trip to the Elephant Nature Park (209/2 Sridom Chai Rd., 053-272-855, Mon-Sat 9am-5pm) is also a popular choice for international visitors, while those seeking an ultimate nature-filled holiday can also opt for a hike on the highest mountain in Thailand at Doi Inthanon National Park or trek through the forest from Doi Pui Village to Doi Suthep. Additionally, cool jungle cafes with uniquely eco-friendly designs provide a refreshing experience from the minimalist cafes in modern cities.
In 2014, the city also welcomed a 20-meter-high Canopy Walkway at Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (100 Moo 9 Mae Rim District, Mon-Sun 8:30am-5pm), providing a lush greenery view of the mountains in the vicinity. The relatively cooler and calmer weather up north is a bonus.
But to locals, Chiang Mai’s biggest attraction is its reputation as a quaint, slow-life town. Its coffee scene has been growing steadily over the years due to its proximity to coffee plantations in the northern region, resulting in a proliferation of cafes with top notch brews. Big names include Ristr8to Lab (14 Nimmanhaemin Rd. Soi 3, 053-215-278, Mon-Sun [closed on Tue) 8:30am-7pm), Ponganes Espresso (204/5 Ratchapakhinai Rd. 087-727-2980, Mon-Sun [closed on Wed] 9:30am-4:30pm), Akha Ama (9/1 Mata Apartment, Hassadhisawee Rd. Soi 3, 086-915-8600, Mon-Sun [closed on Wed] 8am-6pm), Graph Cafe (Ratvithi Soi 1, 086-567-3330, Mon-Sun 9am-5pm) and Nine-One Coffee (Nimmanhaemin 11, 081-171-7575, Mon-Sun 7:30am-9:30pm).
If you’re a fan of a good brunch, a visit to Rustic & Blue (Nimmanhaemin Soi 7, 053-216-420, Mon-Fri 8:30am-9pm, Sat-Sun 8:30am-10pm) and Graph Table (Moonmuang Soi 6, 086-567-3330 Mon-Sun 9:30-6pm) is a must while you’re there.
For the lovers of art, we recommend a visit to the 300 sqm-space of Maiiam Contemporary art Museum (122 Moo 7 Ton Pao Sankamphaeng, 081-386-6899, Mon, Wed-Sun 10am-6pm), opened this year to house Eric Bunnag Booth’s family’s permanent collection, as well as rotating temporary exhibitions, joining the existing alternative spaces such as Gallery Seescape (22/1 Nimmanhaemin Soi 17, 093-831-9394 Tue-Sun 8am-8pm) and Hern Gallery (1/3 Pa Dad Rd., 088-268-3893, Mon, Wed-Sun 10am-6pm), creating much hype to the artsy town known for its artisans and unique craftsmanship.
To see the new and still underrated side of Chiang Mai, other interesting creative event spaces that are worth checking out while you’re there include Baan Kang Wat Artists’ Village (123/1 Moo 5 Amphoe Muang, 089-635-4942, Tue-Sun 11am-6pm) and Thapae East Venue for the Creative Arts (88 Thapae Rd. Soi 3, 091-853-4101), as there’s nearly always something happening, especially during winter time.
Not sure where to stay? Dcondo Nim and Burasiri San Shi Suea provide the best of both worlds, being located outside of the increasingly congested city center but also remains close to the hip Nimmanhaemin Road, amazing northern cuisines at Oh Ka Ju and Khao Soi Lamduan, the nature of Mae Rim district and Chiang Mai International Airport.