Chiang Mai - Abbey Travel, Ireland

Chiang Mai


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Welcome to Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city, and an excellent starting point for excursions into the northern territories. Its name means 'new city', even though Chiang Mai is much older than Bangkok, having been built in 1296 under the rule of King Mengrai. The city straddles the gap between urban and rural Thailand, and offers the best of both worlds in terms of attractions and activities for Thailand tourists.

While Chiang Mai has more than 300 ancient temples, including the one at Doi Suthep, which offer breathtaking views over the area, its popularity is largely due to the elephant treks in the surrounding countryside. Visitors can also use Chiang Mai as a launching pad for excursions to the Lisu Hill-Tribe, Bhubing Palace, and Chiang Rai. Thai cookery classes are also a popular tradition, and the city also has an extensive night market, with dozens of street vendors selling a variety of traditional Thai wares that can be obtained at very low prices if you have the patience to bargain for them.

Chiang Mai is small enough to get around on a bicycle, has several attractions, and offers excellent accommodation, although tourists are advised that it can be difficult to find a room in peak season, between December and March.

Information & Facts


Chiang Mai has a tropical climate, but is cooler and less humid than elsewhere in Thailand. Chaing Mai experiences monsoons. The south-west monsoon arrives from India at the end of May and lasts until November, with the heaviest downpours in August/September. Rain usually occurs in the late afternoon. Between November and May cool air blows in from China and northern Vietnam, bringing a dry season with mild days and balmy nights. Temperatures are at their lowest in December/January, and it is chilly enough to require a warm jacket at night.

Getting Around

Chiang Mai is tourist-oriented, and it is therefore relatively easy to get around, with several transport options. Three-wheeled tuk tuks, also known as samlors, are usually the quickest means of transport, and fares should be negotiated before travelling. Songthaewsare another novel (if slightly hair-raising) way to travel. Songthaewsare small, usually red, pickup trucks with benches fitted along the side; they have no fixed route but pick up and drop off passengers like buses and need to be flagged down. Be sure to check the destination with the driver. The Chiang Mai bus service is very limited; catching a metered taxi can be difficult at times as well. Renting a motorbike is a popular option, and car rental agencies are also available, though traffic can be heavy, and it is advised to rather hire a car with a driver. Bicycles are another good way to explore Chiang Mai and can be hired in the old city, though one does have to watch out for drivers.

Kids Attractions

Far more family friendly than Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great place to take the kids while on holiday in Thailand. The national way of life of sanuk(fun) is enough to keep the kids on their toes. Couple that with the friendly, child-loving and sometimes even child-like quality of the Thais, and you've got a recipe for a fun-filled holiday with the family in Chiang Mai.

Take the kids to watch the animal shows in the Mae Sa Valley where monkeys ride tricycles and play basketball, hold a cobra at the Mae Se Snake Farm, enjoy the views from an elephant's back at the Elephant Conservation Centre on the Chiang Mai-Lampang road, swim and play under a waterfalls in the Soi Suithep-Pui National Park, go fishing in a local pond, or visit Chiang Mai Zoo's two giant pandas from China, Chuang Chuangand Lin Hui.

Be sure to make sure the kids have plenty of sunscreen on and kit them out with a sunhat as the temperatures can be searing. With all these attractions and more, children on holiday in Chiang Mai will be entertained from dawn to dusk.

Thai is the official language, although English is widely spoken in tourist areas.
The unit of currency is the Baht (THB), which is divided into 100 satang. Currency can be exchanged at the airport, banks, hotels and bureaux de change. Banks are open Monday to Friday. ATMs are available in most cities and tourist resorts. Most large hotels and shops accept travellers cheques, but a better rate will be given at banks. Most major credit cards are accepted at hotels and larger businesses.

Shopping in Chiang Mai is an extremely rewarding experience! There is a vast array of goods available, most often at very good (if not dirt-cheap) prices. As one of the handicraft centres of Asia, Chiang Mai is the place to buy anything from silk, silver and ceramics to antiques and Buddhist art. DVDs, CDs and electronic equipment are also readily available, although sometimes of dubious origin.

The first stop has to be the Night Bazaar on Chang Klan road, with stalls and arcades offering all kinds of Northern Thai handicrafts including silk, cotton, wooden carvings, silver and saa (mulberry) paper. During the day, there are also some vendors around selling crafts and food. Another good market is held on Ratchadamnoen Road, in the old city. Near Chiang Mai, Bor Sang village also sells its famous colourful umbrellas.

In the centre of Chiang Mai there are numerous shops trading in fabric, shoes, antiques, jewellery and hill-tribe products. Gadgets, western-style clothes and multimedia goods are best stocked at the Kad Suan Kaew mall and Airport Plaza, while computer equipment can be found at the Panthip Plaza.


Chiang Mai is a magical wonderland for visitors to explore and with so many breathtaking natural and cultural attractions travellers will be hard-pressed to know where to begin. The best time of year for sightseeing in Chiang Mai is between November and May when the cooler weather makes for perfect days spent outdoors.

A must while on holiday in Chiang Mai is the Maesa Elephant Camp where visitors can enjoy an elephant ride and even watch them play football or paint a picture, and check out the Mae Sa Waterfall in the Soi Suithep-Pui National Park, while the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center will teach visitors about the region, its culture, religion and its history. And if you're into cultural activities, check out the Lisu Hill-Tribe display at the Hill-Tribe Research Institute Museum to learn about the lives of the hill-tribe people.

There are plenty of temples to visit too, such as Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks Chiang Mai from the slopes of Mount Suthep and Wat Phra Singh, the city's best-known temple which houses the Phra Singh statue, which dates back to between 1385 and 1400.

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The royal winter palace of Bhubing has beautiful, regal structures and extravagantly landscaped gardens for visitors to take in. The palace may not be entered but the gardens can be explored when the Thai royal family is not in residence. There is a strict dress code which must be adhered to when visiting this royal site.

The Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center is an interesting attraction near the Three Kings Monument (Saam Kasat). This multimedia history and cultural education centre offers English-subtitled video displays of Chiang Mai, followed by tours of the rooms documenting the region's history and culture since the pre-Muang period. There are also exhibits showcasing Buddhism and regional beliefs, as well as agricultural history, hill tribes and other regional cultures. The royal dynasties are also represented. The guides are elegantly outfitted in traditional Thai clothing.

Temple tours of Chiang Mai are a wonderful attraction for visitors. The old town is home to the most honored temples and some tranquil Buddhist sanctuaries. The historic Wat Pra Singh holds the revered Phra Singh Buddha, which dates from the 15th century. The oldest temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Chiang Man (establilshed by King Mengrai), noted for its ancient bas reliefs and massive teak columns. Wat Chedi Luang boasts a gigantic chedi ruin, said to be the tallest structure in the old town, and was once home to the sacred Emerald Buddha (now in Bangkok). Wat Rong Khun is an impressive white glass temple with colourful paintings inside; if you look carefully, you may even spot Superman or Keanu Reeves in them!

Boasting two giant pandas from China, Chuang Chuangand Lin Hui,Chiang Mai Zoo has earned itself quite a reputation with travellers as one of the top attractions in the region. The perfect destination for a day trip with the kids, the Chiang Mai Zoo also features exhibits such as a walk through aviary, Gibbon Island, an aquarium, a Cape Fur seal exhibit and even a special Children's Zoo. With two waterfalls, plenty of space to run around and a fabulous variety of exotic residents, a trip to the zoo is a must for all animal lovers and a great way to spend the day.

Nestled into the lush mountains of northernmost Thailand, Chiang Rai surrounds its visitors in hill tribe culture and scenery. Chiang Rai is also the name the city's province which has bared some infamy for being within the Golden Triangle, a previously heavy drug traffic zone shared with the nearby borders of Myanmar and Laos. An 11 hour bus ride from Bangkok can leave many visitors looking to relax. Fortunately they can, either by picking through hill tribe crafts in the night market, relaxing along the shore of the Mae Kok River or taking a look-out residence in the many hilltop guesthouses. Many travellers arrive in Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai to begin their treks to hill tribe villages.

Some 10 miles (15km) west of Chiang Mai lies the Doi Suthep Mountain, famous for the Wat Phrathat temple perched on the summit. Legend has it that in the late 14th century King Ku Na was looking for somewhere to house a collection of holy relics. He placed them in a howdah (canopied seat) on the back of an elephant and let the animal wander. The elephant proceeded to climb Doi Suthep, on top of which it trumpeted, turned round three times and knelt to indicate that this was the spot. Wat Phrathat can be reached either by a flight of 290 steps, or by funicular, and offers breathtaking views of the countryside.

The Dokmai Garden ( dokmaimeaning flower) displays a vast range of edible fruit plants, vegetables and vascular plants. Aluminium signs in English, Japanese and Thai guide and inform guests throughout the grounds, which are surrounded by plantations of teak, bananas and longan. The Atlas moth and the Golden Birdwing butterfly can also be observed here, as well as numerous mushrooms and fish species.
A worthwhile Chiang Mai attraction is the Lisu Hill-Tribe display at the Hill-Tribe Research Institute Museum. The lives and cultures of the hill-tribe people in Thailand are exhibited here through photographs, agricultural implements, religious artefacts and musical instruments. Household utensils and ethnic costumes are also displayed. The non-hill-tribe ethnic minority, the Mlabri (who are often associated with the 'spirit of the yellow leaves'), are included in this extraordinary exhibit.
Set in the lush Soi Suithep-Pui National Park, only 10 miles (15km) out of town, the Mae Sa Waterfall is definitely worth visiting. Follow the winding pathway to the waterfall's plummeting 10-tiered cascades. There are various little secluded areas along the trail where visitors can relax with a picnic. The jungle villages dotting the riverbanks are also fascinating to see. This popular spot does get a bit over-crowded on weekends.
Maesa Elephant Camp is an attraction located up in the Muang hills, about a half hour's drive north of Chiang Mai. Visitors to the camp will be privy to shows which include elephants playing football and even painting! There are also elephant rides available for the more adventurous. Although this is not a natural environment for these great animals, they are well cared for and very entertaining.

This might not be the best place to take little girls, but for little boys it's a wonderland of interesting creepy crawlies. Founded in 2002 by Manop Rattanarithikul and his wife, Manop, nicknamed 'The Mosquito Man', has a keen interest in insects and has been studying them for most of his life. He guides curious visitors through his vast and rare collection of insects and invertebrates that comprises 422 species of insects Thailand. From the tiniest little gnat to gigantic beetles, there are enough bugs here to make your skin crawl!


Located 83 miles (135km) up a coiled mountain road from Chiang Mai, Pai is an unlikely tourist attraction. The town has undergone a number of transitions from hill tribe village to hippie hideaway to a tourist playground. Its relaxed atmosphere and peaceful mountain scenery have enlarged its widening reputation and it is now a tourist hot spot. Pai is a popular base camp for treks into the hills which can be arranged through hotels or travel agencies in the city. Closer waterfalls and hot springs are worth a visit. Elephant camps are nearby as well. An airport now connects Pai to Chiang Mai, but the best way to get there is by motorbike or bus in order to see the beautiful scenery on the way.

A beautiful Chiang Mai attraction, the first genuine botanical garden in Thailand was the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden in the Mae Sa Valley. It now also serves as a centre of botanical research and studies. The main feature of this attraction is the Glasshouse Complex, made up of four exhibition conservatories and eight display glasshouses. A lovely river runs melodically through the grounds. The Thai Orchid Nursery and Rock Garden are other highlights of the gardens, as well as various walking trails and shaded rest areas. Facilities for visitors include a restaurant, a first-aid station, souvenir shops and toilets.
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