The legendary Chiang Mai, northern Thailand's largest city (and indeed the capital of the state) is known for its many tourist attractions, including temples, of course, as well as its many lively little side streets and extraordinary night market. Nicknamed the 'Rose of the North', Chiang Mai has a unique tribal cultural identity and its inhabitants still speak their own dialect and wear age-old traditional dress. The rich decoration of its temples and the diversity of its traditional handicrafts, which include fine silver, wooden and ceramic decorative items, are fascinating.
The historical significance of Chiang Mai stems from its geographic location on a former trade route. Beyond the boundaries of the city, the fertile valley of the Ping is home to some breathtaking scenery, from forest-covered mountains (including Thailand's highest peak) to jungles and rivers. This is also where you'll find traditional tribes still living in the various villages dotted around the valley, far removed from the modern world, and choosing instead to live by their own traditions.
If all this sounds a little strenuous, perhaps you'd prefer a visit to the Elephant Nature Park, where you can watch the elephants playing football and even painting! Of course, a trek on the back of an elephant is highly recommended, but if you really don't fancy that, why not try your hand at river-rafting or take a safari though the jungle or the valley of the Ping.
Temples, temples and more temples - Chiang Mai is, as you might have guessed, bursting with no fewer than 300 of these golden-topped elegant monuments. For a truly unique experience, head off in search of the mountain tribes still living in the area, though be warned, this can sometimes involve crossing mountains and woods on foot or on elephant-back. If you're not afraid of heights, head to Doi Inthanon, Thailand's highest mountain, located at the heart of the national park of the same name.
Surface area : 198195.0 km2
Population : 63525062 inhabitants
Depending on how long you are staying for, it is worth considering the 4 hour journey to Chiang Rai, undeniably a more traditional city. This is located near the Golden Triangle, a spot which is, it must be said, more symbolic than enthralling.
Women are not allowed to touch the monks, who consider this an insult. Neither do they take kindly to being photographed whilst praying. It is important to observe the dress code when entering temples, and you are required to remove your shoes and wear a long-sleeved T-shirt at the very least.
Thai cuisine, with its expert combination of flavours and aromas, is a real treat for the palate. The traditional Tom Yam chicken and coconut milk-based soups are particularly recommended.
The Chiang Mai night market is a kingdom of counterfeit goods, from wooden statuettes to clothes and watches. However the law is very strict on this and one misdemeanour could cost you dearly! Do take a look at the magnificent, brightly coloured fabrics, tablecloths and bedspreads though, knowing that purchasing these won't land you in a Thai prison or with a hefty fine!