Top Attractions in Chiang Mai
The city of Chiang Mai is situated in the mountains in the north of Thailand. The city is famous for its many temples, trekking, elephant camps, artisans, and local craft. Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city after Bangkok and lacks the general stuffiness and congestion of the capital. Flights to Chiang Mai are regularly available from Bangkok and take roughly one hour.
The climate in Chiang Mai can be more bearable than other tourist attractions in the south of Thailand. The ideal time to visit is during the cool season from November to February. During the cool season there is less chance of rainfall and the temperatures are more agreeable for most people.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Approximately 15km from the city of Chiang Mai is arguably its most famous tourist attraction, the sacred temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. The temple takes its name from the mountian where it is situated 'Doi Suthep' (Doi = mountain). The locals say if you have not visited Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep then you have not truly been to Chiang Mai.
The temple dates back as far as 1383 when a Monk asked the King of Thailand to take a sacred relic to the mountain. Legend has that the relic was mounted on the back of a white elephant and the elephant was allowed to roam freely. As the elephant made its journey up the mountain, it trumpeted three times, before it died, and it was at this spot where the temple was built.
The temple is easily reached from the city as many tour operators offer daily tours to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. After a short ride on the twisty mountain road up to the temple you will be faced with a 309 step climb. For those of us who don't fancy the exercise, for a small fee a tram service is available (it is free for Thai nationals).
On a clear day there are some breathtaking views of Chiang Mai from the temple grounds. Within the temple grounds there are bells, pagodas, Buddha statues, shines, paintings and murals. To enter the main temple area there is a dress code, shoes have to be removed and shorts and short skirts are now allowed. However for those not conforming to the dress code, additional clothing is provided. The featured attraction is large gold plated chedi which houses the sacred relic.
A visit to this temple is a must for anyone who visits Chiang Mai.
Maesa Elephant Camp
A visit to Chiang Mai would not be complete without a visit to an elephant camp, where you can see elephants perform in their natural environment. One of the most famous Elephant camps in Thailand is the Maesa Elephant Camp. What put this place on the map was the Elephant painting that has featured in many tabloids and magazines throughout the world.
The camp is situated on the outskirts of Chiang Mai and is set in lush green forestry with a river running through it. Prior to the show some of the elephants take a bath in the nearby river, so it pays to arrive early as it is certainly worth witnessing. Each elephant has its own 'Mahout' (Elephant driver) who in most cases care for the elephant for the rest of its life. In fact mahout training courses are available at the camp. The mahout is responsible for training and the general health care of the elephant. For more information on this and other general info on this camp you can visit their website.
Once the bathing is finished it's time for the highlight of the day, the elephant show. The show consists of many tasks and activities including elephant football, darts, logging, dancing, painting and more. It is quite remarkable what these magnificent animals are capable of doing. After the show has finished you have the chance to purchase some food, usually bananas and sugar cane and feed the elephants. The camp also caters for elephant treks through the lush jungle that surrounds this camp. On a visit to Chiang Mai don't pass up the chance to visit this fantastic place, you certainly won't regret it.
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Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and Market
Every evening from 6pm to midnight in the heart of Chang Mai on the Chang Klan Road tourists flock to the Night Bazaar. This is the ideal place to purchase a bargain or souvenir of your holiday in Chiang Mai. Stalls line both side of the road stretching for about 1km and sell all types of goods and craft, mostly handmade by local artisans. Craft and goods available for purchase include, woodcarving, lamps, jewellery, soap flowers, saa paper, paintings, wall fans, and so much more. There are also many fake products including clothing and watches.
When shopping at the Chiang Mai night bazaar don't pay the initial asking price, be prepared to haggle a little for the best price. The vendors expect you to haggle with them, but don't be too greedy as the prices are often cheap to start with. There are also several indoor shopping arcades located directly off the main street packed with shops and places to eat.
Getting to the night bazaar is easy as taxis and tuk tuks are plentiful in the city of Chiang Mai. Finally if all of that shopping has given you an appetite, don't worry as there is no shortage of restaurants and stalls selling food. In fact you will be spoilt for choice, as Chiang Mai has so many restaurants catering for all tastes.
Chiang Mai Zoo
Chiang Mai Zoo is situated at the foot of the Suthep mountain (Doi Suthep) on the Huay Kaew Road. The zoo was founded in 1977 and covers a vast area of over 200 acres, set in lush green hilly terrain.
The entrance fee is 100 baht for adults and 50 baht for children, for Thai nationals it is a little cheaper. There are addition fees to view some of the animals, attractions, shows and for transport.
There are hundreds of animals to see at the zoo, and these include mammals like big cats such as tigers and lions. There are also pandas, koalas, elephants, hippos, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, and bears. Other animals include a wide selection of reptiles and birds. There are also two recent additions to the zoo, the aquarium, with many types of exotic sea life, and the snow dome where visitors can play and experience snow. There are also animal shows at set times during the day, including the seal show and the bird show.
As the zoo covers a vast area, it is recommended that some form of transport is used, stopping at key points to view the animals. You can choose from the open top bus or a recently opened monorail, both stop at various locations in the zoo grounds, where you can view the animals. Once you have finished viewing the animals in that area simply catch the next bus / train and move on the the next area.
Scattered around the zoo are small food stalls where you can buy food and drink to keep you refreshed. Finally, at the zoo entrance/exit there is a souvenir shop.
Situated approximately 10km south west of the city of Chiang Mai, Ratchaphruek Garden is one of the newer attractions. Ratchaphruek Garden is set in a lush mountain landscape with a truly breathtaking backdrop. The gardens which cover about 60 acres are immaculately maintained with all types of plants and flowers. Other features of the garden are sculptures, architecture and lakes.
There are several popular features at Ratchaphruek Garden including:
- The Ho Kham Royal Pavilion which is the centerpiece of the gardens. The pavilion is built in the traditional Lanna of Northern Thailand.
- There are the Corparate Gardens which showpiece environmental and eco friendly agricultural and horticultural maintenance practices.
- The International Gardens features individual gardens representing 33 countries including China, Holland, Japan and Bhutan. The architecture and sculptures in these designs represent the culture and land marks of the respective country.
- Other gardens and exhibitions include the outdoor and indoor exhibitions and the Rare Plants garden.
As the site covers a large area a tram is available for travelling through the grounds, stopping off at the Ho Kham Royal Pavilion. However to really explore and get some good photos of the gardens walking is recommended.