Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom dating from the 1200’s, is often called “The Rose of the North” and is Thailand’s second largest metropolitan area. Having lived here only since August, I am constantly in “discovery mode” for new neighborhoods, religious and historical sites, small eateries tucked down the alleyways of the city and scenes that capture the feeling of one the S.E. Asia’s most fascinating and oft-visited areas. Because Chiang Mai hasn’t embraced the infrastructure for mass transit, one if left to the plethora of tuk-tuks and songthaews to provide (usually) cost-effective transport from one area of the city to another, or even to attractions outside the city. Yesterday I took off on a completely unscheduled and serendipitous walk and ride tour of my temporary home town. As is often said about Thailand, “To see things once is gift. To see them again is a lesson.” In all honesty, I just made that up. But it works, don’t you think…?
As I have noted before, the city is home to anywhere between 200-300 “wats” or Buddhist temples dating back across the city’s earliest history in the 13th and 14th centuries. Here’s a peak at a couple I visited recently:
The city is an amalgam of old and new. Brackish water flows through the area via the Ping River and a variety of smaller streams and canals. In addition, the wall and moat of the old city showcase the area’s cultural and historical significance.
Food stalls are a culinary mainstay for much of the population. Even CNN correspondent Anthony Bourdain alluded to the variety and quality of the local food in a recent a recent bit 10 Essential Things To See and Do.
And as with much of S.E. Asia, it is a land of contrasts and contradictions. Visitors can choose to live large and spend their time ensconced at one of the city’s most elegant hotels, like the magnificent Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai , or stay in one of the plethora of hostels, boutique hotels and B & B’s. Wherever you sleep allows plenty of space and time to wander and discover one of Thailand’s most fascinating areas. It’s not for the timid, to be sure. But for those who value the thrill of what might be just around the next corner, Chiang Mai will never fail to thrill, entice, surprise and fascinate the willing.