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Chiang Mai city guide: Where to stay, eat drink and shop in Thailand’s northern creative hub

Chiang Mai city guide: Where to stay, eat drink and shop in Thailand’s northern creative hub

Chiang Mai, lovingly known as Thailand’s “second city”, is a place where contemporary culture meets ancient tradition; a low-rise, wide spanning metropolis full of medieval architecture, hip live music venues and a deeply Buddhist population.

Founded in 1296, the city sits between mountains, jungle, river and rice fields, so is in close proximity to nature on all sides – with views of the mountains framing most west facing streets. The medieval moat and walls mark out the perfectly squared old city, known for its exceptional food, beautiful temples and lovely inhabitants.

It’s a vibrant university town, plus a hub for yoga practitioners and remote workers, so the nightlife is vibrant and diverse; you’re just as likely find yourself at an EDM festival as at a Tibetan sound bath.

What to do

Temple hop

Chiang Mai is famous for its terracotta brick temples – there are over 200 of them in the city, bringing in domestic and international visitors alike. (Thais from across the country come here to make merit, Buddhist energy gathered by doing good deeds.) The oldest is Wat Chiang Man, in the heart of the old city – its elephant-lined stupa has sat in situ for over 700 years. Almost as old and just as enthralling are Wat Umong, whose labyrinthine passageways were designed for walking meditation, and Wat Jed Yot, which stands out for its unusual, Indian-style design. Other favourites are Wat Pha Lat, set in the forest halfway up Doi Suthep mountain; and Wat Suan Dok, home to the graves of the Lanna kings who ruled the region for centuries before it was incorporated into Siam (later renamed as Thailand). If you want the stories behind the stupas, take a tour with North, the extremely knowledgeable local guide at North’s Chiangmai.

The forests and hills around the city hide temples such as Wat Pha Lat

(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Graze on street food

This is a culinary paradise, with some of the best street eats in the country on offer. Vendors sell bowls of spicy noodle soup or skewered meats on just about every main junction in the old city. To make sense of it all, join Noot and her team at Chiang Mai Foodie Tours; they lead a fantastic four-hour loop for £32 and donate the profits to a local children’s charity. Or level up your own gourmet skills with a cooking class at family run Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School (£28 for…

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