What I find so appealing about Chiang Mai is how it still fells very much like an old Thai village because of its many landmark pieces of Lanna history. The olden feeling much comes from the old part of the city which is preserved, and, in a way, separated by the newer parts of the city by a moat that runs around the city’s perimeter.
There are gates to the old city on all 4 sides of the moat which are then connected to sections of the original ancient wall. They are still standing and once enclosed the entire Lanna Kingdom and protected it. The inner part of the old city is also graced by a number of beautiful ancient Lanna style temples.
Lanna itself dates back to 1291 when King Menrai founded the Lanna Kingdom and it is because of him that the people of Chiang Mai have become so well known for their relaxed quality and kind, northern Thai hospitality.
Chiang Mai rest in the top rim of the country, over 700 kilometers north-west of Bangkok and is home to over 300 Thai Buddhist temples. That is almost as many as Bangkok. The city itself sits within a valley that is surrounded by the striking Doi Suthep mountains. They rise almost 1,700 meters above the city and atop the mountains is a well known temple housing a beautiful golden Chedi (spire) and lovely hand-painted temple murals on its inner walls.
When I visit the city, I feel quite relaxed as it gives off such a tranquil feeling. Traditional northern Thai culture is also very different from its neighboring central plains and it is easily distinguishable by its differences in the style of food, dance, clothing, architecture, and its distinctive northern Thai language dialect.
The north of Thailand has also becomes well known for its beautiful handmade wears, many of which originated within the Chiang Mai region. Some of the top northern handicrafts include wood carvings, paper umbrellas, fabric weaving, silver jewelry, and ceramic pottery.
No trip to Chiang Mai is ever complete though without eating some northern Thai noodles with chicken in a soup-like curry known as Khao Soi. This dish is made from a mixture of crunchy, deep-fried egg noodles, together with boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, ground chilies fried in oil, and a boiled chick drumstick all within a curry-like coconut milk sauce. The curry is somewhat similar to that of Thai yellow or Massaman curry but with a thinner consistency. It is a popular in both restaurants and as a street food dish amongst Thai people in the north of Thailand.
Aside from the well known central parts of Chiang Mai, my favorite place of all is an area about 20 kilometers further west of the city known as the Mae Rim Valley. Still mainly preserved in its natural state, it is dotted with waterfalls, orchid and butterfly farms, and lots of great, relaxing places to sit and have something to eat, all while enjoying the peaceful and relaxing fresh northern air. Don’t miss it!