In the heart of Northern Thailand is the city of Chiang Mai. While Chiang Mai is a big city, and has a diverse population, it still retains plenty of pristine wilderness and gorgeous scenery. That’s why Chiang Mai is often known as the Rose of the North. Though often used as a base to explore the surround region, those who visit Chiang Mai will also be able to tour incredible ancient temples, spot elephants in the wild, explore the local culinary landscape and even shop at bustling night markets. An overview of the top tourist attractions in Chiang Mai:
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There is no shortage of spectacular temples in Chiang Mai, but Wat Umong stands out as one of the most interesting. At more than 700 years old, Wat Umong was supposedly built for a monk with a reputation for taking long walks in the forest. To keep the mad mad monk from wandering off several maze-like tunnels were constructed. The temple is outside of the city, giving it a more secluded feel. Also worth noting is the grand stupa at the entrance of Wat Umong and the scenic ponds where visitors can feed the turtles.
The enormous Wat Phan Tao is made entirely from wood, with gorgeous teak panels being the highlight of this architectural structure. Located within the walled center of the city of Chiang Mai, Wat Phan Tao is elegant and detailed. The roof boasts golden finials meant to represent snakes, the Lanna flower motif is repeatedly carved into the teak facade and large, sturdy wooden posts support the equally impressive wooden beams overhead. At the back there is a pond and a Buddha statue underneath a Bodhi tree. Bright orange flags and the bold colors of the monk’s robes only intensify the visual appeal of this remarkable temple.
Rajapruek, or Ratchaphruek, is the name of Thailand’s national flower. It boasts small but vibrant yellow blossoms, and it is sometimes known as the golden shower tree. The Royal Park Rajapruek is named for these gorgeous blooms, and it is a public space where visitors can admire a stunning collection of gardens and ponds. The park is large, but there are trams that can shuttle visitors around the park to see as much of the space as possible. The area is a popular place for a scenic stroll as well as a picnic when the weather is sunny.
Just next to the Ping River is the Talat Warorot, one of the biggest and oldest markets in all of Chiang Mai. The market is a unique blend of vendors that appeal to both tourists and local residents. Stands offer goods like hand knotted nets for fishing, bags of dried tea leaves and spicy Thai sausages. In addition to the more permanent stalls, vendors navigate the paths through the market with carts on wheels, calling out what is for sale along the way. Talat Warorot is also one of the few spots in Chiang Mai where shoppers can still flag down rickshaws for rides.
The best known of Chiang Mai’s temples is the Wat Phra Singh. Housed inside of the temple is its most famous attraction: The iconic statue of Buddha called the Phra Buddha Sihing. Legend says that the statue itself was brought to Chiang Mai from Sri Lanka. The Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century, and it was built by the King Pha Yu as a tomb for his father. The temple also boasts incredibly detailed murals, many of which depict scenes from Thailand’s history. Buddhist monks still gather, train and live within Wat Phra Singh, so religious respect should be given.
Chiang Mai is known for its elephants, but not all elephant attractions have the best interests of the animals at hearts. For animal lovers, there is a perfect solution: The Elephant Nature Park. Located north of the city, the Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Visitors can get up close and personal with elephants, watching them eat, wash and play in a natural, wild habitat. Visitors can come to tour the premises for the day, but there is also the option of overnight stays.
Although it isn’t as decorative or grand as some of the other temples in the city, Wat Chedi Luang is still a historic stop. This towering, tiered temple dates back to the 15th century and was constructed in the traditional Lanna style. At one point, the temple was the largest structure in Chiang Mai, but damage in centuries past from hurricanes and fires caused extensive ruin. Thankfully, serious restoration has been going on for 30 years, and visitors can now admire the Buddha statue called Phra Chao Attarot and watch the daily rituals performed by monks just outside of the temple structure.
One of the most popular pastimes for travelers to Chiang Mai is taking part in Thai cooking classes. There are over two dozen establishments within the city where it is possible to learn to cook traditional, authentic local cuisine. Most classes will focus specifically on dishes from Northern Thailand, and many others emphasize vegetarian cuisine. One of the most enlightening choices is cooking in a home with a local, or getting to shop at the local markets for fresh ingredients. A popular dish to create is khao soi, or noodles in a spicy red broth that is often topped with either chicken or beef.
There is no shortage of fantastic markets in Chiang Mai, but the Night Bazaar is by far the most famous. Not surprisingly, it is also one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chiang Mai. As the sun begins to set, the Night Bazaar comes to life. From about 6 pm each evening until midnight, the Night Bazaar is filled with locals and tourists alike who are browsing the various stalls. For souvenirs, this is undoubtedly one of the top spots to shop. Many sellers speak English, and most are willing to negotiate on price. Turn into the smaller alleys off the Night Bazaar for more local products and vendors as well as fewer tourists.
What makes Wat Phra That Doi Suthep such an impressive temple, and one that should definitely be visited, is its location. The temple is found on a mountain overlooking the city of Chiang Mai, which means it has the best vantage point in the entire region. Of course, location isn’t the only reason to visit. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is highly recognizable thanks to its gold-plated chedi, or stupa, which is sometimes visible from the city below on clear days. In order to reach the temple, visitors will have to climb over 300 stairs at high altitude or opt for the cable car.