Historically speaking, Chiang Mai and Thailand’s other northwest provinces share a lot of the same flavor we found in Burma upon our visit last year. It’s coffee country. The regions have low elevation mountains and lush green and flowery tropical notes and more hill tribe folk the further in you go.
The Lan Na kingdom in the north was originally founded in King Phaya Mangrai and in 1296 was expanded to include areas of south China and into Laos up to Luang Prabang. Eventually there was a take over of the northern region of present day Thailand by Myanmar for about 200 years. After that period the defeated Thai army was reunited by Phraya Taskin, a leader from what is now present day Bangkok and they were liberated from Myanmarese occupation.
There is quite the mouthful of history to be accounted for in this region in Thailand, and its more interesting to experience it first hand than it is to be recounted by me, I’m sure. The bulk of attractions in present day Chiang Mai include historic temples, markets, museums and neighborhoods.
The old city is where many foreigners choose to hunker into as far as accommodation because there is a vast and high concentration. The same goes for food. You can eat high end, mid range, or low end and all have their peaks and valleys. There’s a good amount of “western” amenities as well if you’re jonesing for pizza or something of the like.
There is a great night market EVERY night on the south end of the old city inside the moat. Every variety of cheap eats from kabobs to noodle soups, fruit shakes and curries is present. You can even find crepes and roti stuffed with your sweet(or savory) of choice. Things get going right around sundown.
Midrange to high end restaurants are plentiful throughout the inside of the old city if a chair and table/ambience thing is more your jam, you will however pay extra for the ambience. The food is just as good at the night market, I swear…and the fruit shakes are only 20-30 baht instead of 60-80.
We checked out several museums in the old city on our day strolls. The Lanna Folk Life Museum had a wealth of information on the area’s history. We also checked out the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural center. They had installations outside both buildings created by university students. All very innovative and fun to peruse. I gathered much inspiration from the visit as life always seems to be most exciting in the planning stages for me….even if not every plan gets executed. It’s nice to have ideas even if you don’t act on all of them.
If r and r is on the agenda there are ample massage parlors everywhere and you can get an hour long traditional Thai massage(like someone doing yoga with your body for you) or a body massage starting at around 180-200 baht (between $5 and $6 USD). Yes please.
We began seeking out a motorbike rental the day before we wanted to leave on our motorbike loop through Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son Provinces. After much exploration we settled on Pop bike rentals just outside the old city moat on the East end. They weren’t a guesthouse/rental/tour company/restaurant combo. They specialized in motorbike rentals which is a good thing to look for if you’re planning on having a dependable bike that you can take 300+ miles and on highways. If you’re taking a bike for several days to a week or longer it is also advisable to negotiate a lower rate. We had two Yamaha Spark 125cc and we got her down to 170baht/day each…..approx $5. Not bad.
Our visit to Chiang Mai city was fairly relaxed and laid back. There’s plenty of activities in all prices ranges to keep you busy or you can grab a stack of postcards and pop a seat at a coffee shop if you just need some downtime. Though if you do that, you may just spend four hours distracted, chatting up a petty cab driver from Detroit.
They also have an IMAX theatre here with a 4DX theatre as well. There are only 4 of them total throughout the USA so we figured we’d take advantage and see Star Wars in the 3D IMAX and 4DX theatres while we were here. We both were glad we did.
Just like anything in travel, it takes a little time and research depending on what you’d like to see and do when visiting an area. The choices can be overwhelming but go with your gut and remember, “I’m one with the force and the force is with me.”