Chiang Mai

Known as Thailand's second city and the capital of the North. This old historic city, with its surrounding green jungles and scenic mountains is a beautiful part of the world. Whilst still a reasonably large city it retains a relaxed calmness and nice cultural feel. Within the city itself it has a great mix of old and new, with some of the Old City walls and waterways still visible. Chiang Mai has for a long time been popular with both tourists and expats and is one of Thailand's most iconic places.

Getting to Chiang Mai is as easy as can be, with an international airport, trains, minivans and buses on hand, getting to Chiang Mai is not a problem wherever you are in Thailand. When in Chiang Mai navigating the city is as easy as getting in. Like other city's there is an abundance of transports available to get you  where you want to go. Taxis and tuk tuk's are always on hand to get you about as are the cheaper local buses and songthaew. Renting a bicycle is a great way to get about, especially if just going around the Old City area, though a lot quieter than Bangkok, Chiang Mai traffic can still be pretty hectic especially at rush hour. So if on a bicycle (or walking) keep your wits about you and keep your eyes peeled for those who like to push the speed limit a little to far. Renting a motorbike if you have experience is a great and cost effective way to explore Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas. Minivans and tour buses are on hand to get you out of the city to see many of the surrounding attractions, these can be booked through tour shops and a lot of the time through hotels, hostels and guesthouses.

Your choices of things to do in and around Chiang Mai are almost endless. There are a huge number of beautiful and historic temples and religious landmarks to see, some of the most popular being Wat Chiang Man, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Jed Yod, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Umong, Wat Phra That Doi Kham,Wat Phra Singh,Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and the Royal Pavillion & Gardens.

Chiang Mai is surrounded by stunning natural beauty and has a number of amazing national parks boasting waterfalls, nature and unrivalled scenery. Doi Suthep Pui National Park is the most popular, its here you'll find Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of Thailand's most important and impressive religious landmarks. Another hugely popular park is Doi Inthanon National Park, dubbed the 'Roof Of Thailand'. Here you'll find Thailand's highest mountain and some of the most amazing views you'll ever see. Other national parks around the Chiang Mai area are Huai Nam Dang National Park, Op Luang National Park and Pha Daeng National Park. Some of the parks are quite a journey outside of Chiang Mai but are all well worth the visit.

The city has a wide range of interesting and educational museums and art galleries to see and a selection of beautifully vibrant gardens. Cooking classes can be found throughout the city. For those looking for something a bit more adventurous a huge number of sports and recreational activities like mountain biking, water rafting, jungle trekking, rock climbing, muay Thai, bungee jumping, tours to local villages, dirt biking, xorbing, zip lining and golfing to name a few can be done. If something a bit more chilled out is your thing then the city has a large number of massage shops and health spas for you to unwind and relax. What ever your into, Chiang Mai has it on offer and your only problem maybe that you'll need more time to fit it all in.

Whilst nowhere near as big as Bangkok, Chiang Mai still offers great shopping opportunities with a wide range of choices on offer. Various new and modern shopping malls are on hand with all the mod cons and latest trends. But its the Small independent shops that can be found all over city that have the real Chiang Mai character and personality, selling everything from clothes to arts and crafts to touristy souvenirs, some of the best shopping spots being around the Old City area and the Night Bazaar. It's also at the Night Bazaar where you'll find Chiang Mai's most popular market. Whilst the Night Bazaar is quiet amongst local Thai shoppers it's jam packed with tourists looking to grab a few bargains, the Night Bazaar is a great experience, whether just for having a look around or doing some serious shopping the Night Bazaar is the place to be. Smaller more locally orientated markets can be found around the city, Warorat Market, Sunday Walking Market and Saturday Walking Market being just a few of the other popular ones. Come the evening time small night markets can be found all around, especially round the outskirts of the city. For a really really local market why not try some of Chiang Mai's surrounding villages, here you'll find little tourists and real bargains, remember to bring your Thai phrase book as little English will be spoken here.

Just like any city in the world the choices of where and what to eat in Chiang Mai are huge. Thai food, western food, Asian food, African food, Arabic food, Indian food, South American food, you name it you'll find it in Chiang Mai. From the high end expensive restaurants to small street vendors. What ever your taste, you'll not go hungry. Even though a lot a smaller than the capital Bangkok, Chiang Mai is not far behind with its variety and quality of food and places to eat. Chiang Mai's main tourist areas of the Riverside, Old City, Nimman Road and the Night Bazaar are jam packed full of places to eat. Each area is very similar food wise as each area caters to all price ranges and tastes. The Riverside and Nimman Road area arguably offer a wider range of mid to higher end food and restaurants, whilst the Old City and Night Bazaar have more local food and reasonably priced eatery options. But this is highly debatable, as all the areas offer a fantastic mix of everything. There are some must try foods when in Chiang Mai, the city is famous for its Khao Soi, a dish of yellow noodles in a flavoursome aromatic curry broth usually served with either chicken or beef. A quite mild dish compared to some of Thailand's other spicier foods, a great dish to start with if your just discovering Thai food or not a fan of to much spicy. Another famous food of the north that's loved by Thais and tourists (and me) is Sai Ua. A northern style sausage of pork, herbs and spices, that's packed full of flavour. Many westerners prefer the Sai Ua as it contains no noodles like other Thai sausages. Sai Ua can be eaten anytime, breakfast, lunch or dinner, its that good it can be eaten anytime day or night.

As with it's great food options that rival Bangkok in quality but not in numbers is it's decent nightlife. Again mainly centred around the areas of The Riverside, Old City, Nimman Road and the Night Bazaar. The Riverside is a more relaxed vibe and perfect for romantic evenings or just an escape from the busier other nightlife areas. The Riverside is a pretty and scenic setting offering a range of bars, some bigger, pricier and more popular than others. With many of the bars offering live music of Thai and western in a chilled out atmosphere, the Riverside is great for a bite to eat, few quiet drinks and nice relaxing evening. The Old City has a good little mix of everything in the evening, from bars, nightclubs, pubs, beer bars/hostess bars, rooftop bars, nightclubs, reggae bars and cocktail/wine bars. For a lively night in the Old City area check out Zoe In Yellow. Also worth a shout is UN Irish Pub, where if you get there early enough you may be treated to some delicious free food from their bakery next door! Old City has something for everyone to enjoy and prices here are generally quite cheap. With its diversity of options the Old City is a great night out.

Over on the west on the outside of the Old City is Nimman Road area, a lively, vibrant and modern nightlife area. Here you'll find a young and trendy crowd of both locals and tourists alike. From swanky rooftop bars, electric nightclubs, posh cocktail bars and craft pubs, Nimman is where it's at in Chiang Mai and is slightly comparable to Bangkok's Thonglor. Prices in this area vary, and each place has its own vibe and character, giving good options of different places to go and something for all tastes. Myst rooftop bar is must if in the area, with great inventive cocktails and fantastic views it's well worth paying the slightly inflated prices. For a wild night in Nimman head to Infinity Nightclub or to The Warm Up Cafe, a Chiang Mai institution and well known throughout Thailand. The last of the popular night life areas is the Night Bazaar area. A little bit like Old City in the sense it offers a wide variety of different places. Here you'll find everything you can imagine a nightlife can offer. From family friendly venues to adult only only places. At the Night Bazaar you'll find live music joints, rooftop bars, nightclubs, bars, pubs, go-go bars, reggae bars, ladyboy cabaret shows, wine bars, cocktail bars and everything in between. A night out at the Night Bazaar is great fun, and if something is not to your taste then just head on to the next venue as the range of options are vast. With the Night Bazaar Market and a huge range of drinking and party options this area is arguably the best in the city. As said before Chiang Mai is nowhere near the size of Bangkok but it definitely holds it's own when promoting a good night out. And taking into account that its generally cheaper than the capital, easier to get around and not so crowded, there are many who believe Chiang Mai's nightlife is maybe better than Bangkok (and that takes some beating).

It's not only Chiang Mai's food, nightlife and activities that give Bangkok a run for its money, it offers many different types of accommodations with a range of styles and prices. Around the Old City area you'll find a good mix of places to stay, predominantly in the budget range to mid range, with a large number of backpackers choosing the area. The Old City makes a good base within the city given its central city location, good shops and sightseeing, transport links, and eating and nightlife options. Just outside the Old City walls the Nimman Road area is modern and popular with a youthful new feel to it. Great for its shopping malls, nightlife and dining, Nimman has a range of accommodation, and something to suit all price ranges. It's also a good area to find some great deals on hotels, you'll find you can get quite a lot for your money here. The Riverside offers more mid to high end hotels and resorts. Here is quieter, picturesque and more relaxed than staying in the centre of the city. Here makes for a good stay for couples and families looking for something not to hectic and a bit more of a higher price range. Over in the Night Bazaar area the accommodation is varied, ranging from backpacker hostels to high end hotels. It's variation of places to stay mirrors it's personality. It's great shopping, dinning and nightlife and overall good mix of people and make it a great place to stay whatever your budget may be. If your looking for something more rural then there are a number of places around the outside of the city in the countryside, mountains and jungles. These range from top luxury resorts, where you'll be waited on hand and foot, countryside Thai style bungalows, homestays with local families and even jungle stays in tents. Where ever it is you do end up staying in Chiang Mai remember that northern Thailand is generally cheaper than Bangkok and the southern islands so your money will go a lot further, so have a good look around and you'll get some great deals.

Many people come to Chiang Mai and only plan to stay a few days or so but end up sometimes staying a lot longer. It's got a great vibe, its cheap, the people are friendly, foods fantastic, there's so much to do and see and it's surrounding areas are some of the most beautiful places on the planet. It's so easy to see why Chiang Mai is so popular and has been such a large part of Thailand's tourism for many years, and will continue to be for many many years to come.