About Chiang Mai

Since its foundation more than 700 years ago, the bustling city on the Ping river has been the capital of the northern region. For centuries Chiang Mai was the heart of the prosperous Lan Na Kingdom, and its unique architecture still reflects an independent history and strong Burmese influences, as is best preserved in the more than 300 brilliant Buddhist temples. If there is one place for which a temple tour should be recommended, it is for Chiang Mai. You can easily do it on your own, as many of the most splendid temples, such as Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chedi Luang, are located within the old city.

Often dubbed as the Rose of the North, Chiang Mai is situated in the large and fertile Ping Valley, which is surrounded by densely forested mountains rising as high as 2565 meter. In the 19<sup>th</sup> century, the rich teak forests attracted Europe’s major timber companies, almost resulting to the country’s colonization, but eventually leading to the region’s successful integration into Siam—now Thailand.

In the meantime, following chronic warfare in southern China, tens of thousands of mountain farmers from a dozen of different tribes moved into the North. The successive waves of migrants transformed the region into a living ethnographic museum. Some of them were notorious poppy cultivators, and together with Burma and Laos, northern Thailand became the world’s major producer of opium—later the term Golden Triangle was coined for the area. In the 1970s, when heroin addiction soared in the United States’ cities, Uncle Joe pushed Thailand to eradicate opium cultivation. Due to large US aids programmes and dozens of Royal Projects under the leadership of Thailand’s beloved King Bhumibol, former poppy cultivators were forced to give up opium cultivation and encouraged to grow cabbages, tomatoes, flowers and coffee as cash crop substitutes for the opium.

The colorful tribal handicrafts and textiles became much desired items in the steadily expanding tourist industry. Now Chiang Mai and its neighbour hoods are regarded as the world’s largest handicraft center, producing, beside hill tribe products, traditional Lan Na crafts such as silk fabrics, silverwork, furniture, the famous <em>sa</em> paper umbrellas, wood carvings and neillo work.

You should sample this abundance of local arts and handicrafts in the cosy town centre located between the eastern Tha Phae Gate and the westbank of thePingRiver. Hundreds of stores offer these crafts, Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazar Area being the very center of this shopping paradise. In Bo Sang, just a few kilometers to the east of the city you will find the major work places where you are invited to see how these products are made. Most furniture and woodcarving factories, however, are in Ban Tawan near Hang Dong, twenty kilometers south of the city.

The people of Chiang Mai are proud of their traditions and celebrate their age-old festivities with great fervor. Nowhere in the country the celebrations of traditional New Year (mid-April) and Loi Krathong, the Festival of Lights (usually in November) are more vibrant than in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is home to a surprising number of excellent restaurants, many of them the shopping district, on the bank of the Ping River and around Nimmanhaemin Roadnear ChiangMaiUniversity. They offer the much appreciated Thai cuisine as well as a choice of northern Thai dishes, such as khao soi and kaeng hangle. What’s more, there is a large array of international restaurants. These quarters are also well-known for their vibrant nightlife, including pubs, karaoke and a go go bars, and various forms of entertainment, such as muai thai (Thai kick boxing).

More attractions are awaiting outside the city. First of all there isDoi Suthep Mountain, rising more than 1600 meters just west of Chiang Mai. Wat Phra That on this mountain is one of the country’s highly venerated temples, and its fantastic location makes it a must for every visitor.

Less well known are the mountain’s splendid, well-preserved forests, one of the world’s richest habitats of tree species. Spectacular lianas and fascinating plants abound, such as rafflesias with brilliant red flowers the size of canon balls. It is also home to a rare salamander that looks like a miniature dinosaur.

Liam’s Suan Dok Mai can arrange a one-day trip to Doi Suthep.

Other highlights around Chiang Mai are elephant camps that offer shows and demonstrations and rides on a pachiderm. Also worth a visit are the snake farms, orchid and butterfly farms, picturesque waterfalls, and the splendid Sirikit Botanical Garden. For the adrenaline junkies there is a choice of zip lines and sky bridges where you can ‘fly’ through the jungle. Many of these attractions can be visited on organized one day tours, but you can also go there on your own by taxi. Most are located in Mae Sa Valley, some twenty kilometers north of Chiang Mai.

Another option for a day trip is Doi Inthanon,Thailand’s highest mountain (2565 m) about eighty kilometers to the southwest of the city. Impressive cloud forests and waterfalls, and colorful hill tribe villages are its main attractions.