Lush, culturally rich Chiang Mai lies in the northern part of Thailand and is fondly called “Rose of the North”. A former Lanna kingdom, Chiang Mai is located 700 kilometers north of Bangkok. It is accessible by domestic flights, trains and long-distance buses, available from Mo Chit station in Bangkok. Lanna kingdom was a powerful 15th-century adversary of the powerful Ayutthaya dynasty and its kings were great patrons of art and culture. Chiang Mai also has soothing natural beauty. Some of Thailand’s highest mountains circle it and the Ping River, a major tributary of Chao Phraya river in Bangkok flows through it. The city was founded by the Lanna king Mangrai in 1296 AD after heavy flooding forced him to abandon his capital city of Lamphun. Incidentally, Chiang Mai remained as the Lanna capital for quite some time, till the honour went to neighbouring Chiang Rai.

Chiang Mai is a pretty city

Golden shower flowers blooming along the moat in Chiang Mai.

What makes Chiang Mai so popular?

Northern provinces of Thailand are a far cry from the brash beachy towns of the South. They are breathtakingly beautiful, sedate, and have cooler climates. A plethora of indigenous communities are settled in their wooded hills and there are some lovely national parks. Rice grows there in abundance, flowers bloom profusely, and sparkling rivers tumble down the cool, dewy slopes. The slopes of Northern Thailand draw adventure lovers and culture seekers in hordes. Chiang Mai also has a very young student population and a hefty number of expats call it their home. The old fortified city is centered around a moat and a spanking new urban sprawl exists outside its walls. This unique mix of the old and traditional with modern facilities make Chiang Mai so popular and despite being a cultural hub, the city has the quintessential sterile Thai aura.

Chiang Mai is very popular

Chiang Mai has a pleasant mix of traditional and modern.

The uniqueness of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s biggest attraction is its uniqueness from the rest of Thailand. Life existed here across thousands of rice fields and modernization came late. In fact, until 1920 Chiang Mai could be reached only by 2 days of uphill Ping river cruise or elephant trek. This kept the unique charm intact and the language(accent and dialect), food, sensibilities, and culture are completely different from the busy cosmopolitan Bangkok. The Lanna architecture is famous throughout Thailand and Chiang Mai has some excellent examples fondly preserved within the city.

Recommended Read: My memories of Songkran festival of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has many wats

The unique Lanna can be felt in the preserved architecture in Chiang Mai.

The city of hundreds of wats and beautiful festivals

Chiang Mai is a city of Wats or Buddhist temples and there are over 300s of them scattered all over the place. The most famous one, which is also closely associated with the city founder King Mangrai is Doi Suthep, which sits loftily on the mountain named after the wat. Unique and colourful Bo San umbrellas, Khantok dinners, Loy Krathon festivities, Flower Festival, and crazy Songkran celebrations mark typical Chiang Mai culture and it has been voted among the 25 best destinations in the world.

Suggested Read: Chiang Mai night market in photos

Slow traveling, lots of flowers, bamboo rafting, and forest treks

I love Chiang Mai and adore its easy languid pace, the disarming smiles and flat slow voices of its residents. The city makes a great base for a wide variety of activities and golden shower flowers and Thai cherry blossoms crowd it every nook and cranny. I have visited Chiang Mai nearly every time I went to Thailand and have explored this gem of a province to my heart’s content. Some of my favourite travel memories are from Chiang Mai and they involve a lot of slow traveling. Think relaxing massages, eating the delicious Lanna food, bamboo rafting, having monk chats, shopping at hill tribe markets, and exploring rows of world’s oldest rubber trees. Too many pleasant evenings have been spent by the moat and there have been many romantic dinners by the Ping River. Beautiful, languid and relaxing Chiang Mai is all about flowers, temples and gentle smiles. Do I need any more reasons to love Chiang Mai, Thailand’s beautiful, “Rose of the North”?

An aerial view of Chiang Mai

Shows the province’s lush greenery.

It is a city of hundreds of wats or Buddhist temples,

chiang mai has its special lanna culture

And a rich ancient Lanna culture.

Famous for food,

chiang mai has hill tribes

Local indigenous communities,

Lively markets, vibrant festivals,

And friendly local residents,

Chiang Mai is one of the nicest places in Thailand.

Have you been to Chiang Mai? How was your experience?