Friday, June 7, 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand  - Southeast Asia

The Northern Thailand Gateway City

By Mark Tartano

Chiang Mai is the former capitol of the Lanna Kingdom and is situated in the Northern part of Thailand nearly 700 km from Bangkok. It is the capital of Chiang Mai province and is rich in historical sites with many Wats (temples) being several hundred years old. The old city area, which is located inside the walled moat area has so many Wats that you literally cannot walk for more than a few minutes without passing one. The most famous are Wat Chedi Leung, Wat Phra Singh and the oldest, Wat Chiang Man, which is more than seven hundred years old.

There are many transport options in Chiang Mai with an International Airport for both Domestic and International flights. Domestic flights to destinations such as Bangkok and Phuket are around $60 one way making it an inexpensive way to travel quickly. The Airport is modern and easy to get to with taxi, songtaew and tuk-tuk’s readily available. Chiang Mai has a Train station with several daily trains between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. There are seated and sleeper coaches and a sleeper starts from $35. The Bus is also an inexpensive transportation option with Minibus, VIP and 1st Class buses available to most destinations from the main Arcade bus terminal located near the Superhighway. There are also other bus operators that can be booked from the many tour offices around the city. They are a favorite of the many backpackers because they pick the passengers up and take them to the bus pickup point and cost less than $20 to travel to Bangkok.

Tourism is a major industry in Chiang Mai and there has been a huge and ongoing development of accommodation. This has been good as the quality of accommodation has increased but particularly in the old city area, it has led to more expensive guest house and dorm rooms. There are still cheap accommodation options available with prices starting at only $4 or $5 a night. There are many better-appointed rooms from $10 to $20 and quality accommodations start above this price.

The food available in and around the city is outstanding. There are food stalls on many streets offering everything from noodles to barbequed meat stick and the spicy Chiang Mai sausage. A typical street food meal generally costs less
than a dollar. The city has an amazing array of restaurants catering to cuisines from all around the world. There are some inexpensive high quality Japanese, Korean, Northern Thai and Chinese restaurants all located within a few minutes of the city center. If you need a break from Asian food then there are German, English, Italian and American restaurants. Many establishments have a mixed general Thai and Western menus and have staff that can speak English.

The markets dotted around Chiang Mai also have a large variety of inexpensive food and some amazing snacks. There are normally fruit sellers that have packets of pre sliced fruit that you can buy for between 35c and 70c depending on size. These are all freshly cut and selected so that they are fully ripe. They are usually stored on ice so are a cool refreshing snack on a warm day. Thai’s like to snack and there are normally many types of ‘kanom’ available, which is Thai for dessert or cake. These can be Thai desserts and jellies, cakes, biscuits and many other things such as fried bananas. The food in Chiang Mai is inexpensive and plentiful and many although not all people can speak enough English to make purchases trouble free.

The one comment that so many tourists that visit Chiang Mai make is that they wish they knew about it before they planned their trip so they could spend more time here. There are just so many things to see and it is very inexpensive to travel to the surrounding areas. Chiang Mai is famous for its Wats and the close by Mountains of Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon. Doi Suthep is only a few kilometers from the city center and at the top of the mountain there is a large Wat that overlooks the city. On a Buddhist, holy day there can be tens of thousands of people that will visit this attractive temple. Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand and can be as much as twenty degrees centigrade cooler than the surrounding area. It is situated in the Doi Inthanon national park and has accommodation and camping areas.

Thailand is renowned for its beaches and hot weather. In Chiang Mai the weather is much more variable and is mostly cooler and less humid than the rest of Thailand. The best time to visit is from October to mid March as this is the coolest and driest part of the year. In December to February, the nighttime temperature can be quite cool falling to 15 degrees centigrade. The warm sunny days make it the perfect time to visit and this is the peak tourism season. Hot season from April to June has regular daytime temperatures in the high 30’s and nighttime temperatures rarely move below 25c. Wet season can vary from short afternoon tropical showers through to constant rain and runs from July to September.

There are many activities that are available in the area surrounding Chiang Mai. There are Treks that run from one to three days that visit the hill tribes and depending on your selection can involve visits to an elephant farm, white water rafting and canoeing. There are daily tours that visit the monkey show, snake farm and shooting ranges. There are tours with mountain bikes, off-road tours motorbike and buggies that are available. If you have the appropriate ability, there are scooters and motorbikes that can make getting around visiting the various attractions easier and less expensive.

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