Described as Thailand’s ‘Rose of the North’, Chiang Mai is one of the few places in Thailand where you can experience traditional and modern Thai culture seamlessly co-existing. Whether it’s in the form of lush green mountains, historic city temples or five-star luxury hotels, Chiang Mai’s beauty is undeniable. I recently spent some time in the city while attending Thailand Travel Mart Plus 2016, which was held in Chiang Mai for the very first time.
It’s really no wonder I fell in love with Chiang Mai almost instantly; the friendly, laid-back nature of the locals is akin to the easy-going Australian culture. The moment I stepped out of the airport I was told that Chiang Mai is very different to Phuket or Bangkok – things move at a slower, more easy-going pace and it’s something the locals are definitely proud of.
Five things you should know about Chiang Mai
1. Luxury accommodation won’t break the bank
There is no shortage of luxury accommodation in Chiang Mai and it is much more affordable than you would think. The Akyra Manor exudes luxury, right in the heart of the hip Artist Quarter of Chiang Mai. One night in a stylish Deluxe Suite with all the luxury trimmings, including a breathtaking bathtub on the balcony, costs as little as AU$250.
The renowned 137 Pillars House Chiang Mai blends traditional and modern architecture to deliver a hidden sanctuary for guests seeking a luxurious Thai holiday. A night’s stay in this luxury haven will set you back around AU$500, complete with daily breakfast, a welcome drink and fruit basket, and free Wi-Fi throughout the property.
2. You can hike in a national park by day and have fancy rooftop drinks by night
Adventure seekers won’t be disappointed with what Chiang Mai has to offer, just as sophisticated types won’t be disappointed with the abundance of unique spots for a cocktail. Flight of the Gibbon offers ziplining tours about an hour out of the city and it is definitely worth a visit. Or head to Doi Inthanon National Park, home to Thailand’s highest mountain, for a guided hiking tour, where you can learn about the history and culture of the area while getting some gentle exercise.
The best way to end a physically enduring day is with a drink (or three) at one of the city’s many bars. The Akyra Manor boasts an incredible rooftop bar with an impressive menu of cocktails, including classics with a unique twist.
3. The food is next level
Among the crowd favourites, like Pad Thai, green curry and sticky rice, Northern Thailand has its own unique dishes you would be a fool not to try. Don’t leave without trying the spicy Chiang Mai sausage and Khao soi, a soup-like dish topped with deep-fried crispy noodles. You’ll also find an abundance of Thai fruits, such as durian and mangosteen. And take my advice, every time you see a stall selling roti: stop, drop and eat. Seriously, you will never tire of light, crispy roti, covered in sweetened condensed milk and sugar – it’s the best.
4. The facilities are state of the art
Among the beautiful, tradition architecture in Chiang Mai, there is also high quality, modern facilities and infrastructure. Built in 2013, the Chiang Mai International Exhibition and Convention Centre (CMECC) is one of the largest convention and exhibition centres in Southeast Asia, with 60,000 square metres of usable space. The centre recently welcomed guests from all over the globe for this year’s Thailand Travel Mart Plus.
And even the roads are top quality. Driving up towards the famous Doi Suthep, the roads were modern, well signed and secured with barriers. It looked as though we were driving up a mountain in Australia.
5. It’s a gateway to many destinations
Thanks to growing air and land connectivity within the Greater Mekong Subregion, Chiang Mai is a gateway to key cities in Cambodia, Lao PDR., Myanmar, Vietnam. As well as being an ideal entry and exit point to neighbouring countries, Chiang Mai is also a doorway to Northern Thailand’s lesser-know cities, such as Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Nakhorn Sawan.