Bangkok may be the economic heartbeat of the nation, but Chiang Mai is the culture centre of a more authentic Thailand. Older than the capital and littered with ancient pagodas and golden temples, this is also the place to shop for handcrafted goods or explore Thai traditions past and present.
Chiang Mai is at its most spectacular during November’s Loi Kratong, when thousands of floating lanterns are set upon the river even as many more are launched into the air, illuminating the capital with dazzling golden light like a constellation of fireflies. The picturesque mountains that surround it could have fallen straight out of a Japanese watercolour and can be most readily explored from the back of an elephant.
Thais and travellers alike idealise this gorgeous walled city as a throwback to another time but beneath the covers it remains a modern and well-developed metropolis. Not only are there hundreds of years of heritage, but plenty of mod cons too.
Where to stay
U Chiang Mai has a great location in the Old City while retaining a contemporary and unpretentious interior with a range of modern and high-tech facilities. Puripunn Baby Grand is cosy but well-equipped and thanks to its small size the personal service is superb with attention paid to every detail.
Where to eat
Kitchen Hush has a great Japanese menu and a stylish, oriental interior, while Tengoku de Cuisine also services excellent Japanese food. Good, authentic Thai is served at Gekko Garden.
What to see
There are over three hundred ornately decorated Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai, including Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man. Chiang Mai Old Town is dripping in well-preserved history and is a lovely place to wander for a day. If you’re tired of heritage, try some culture with a Thai cookery course.