The city of Chaing Mai, capital of the ancient kingdom of Lan Na from 1296 and today capital of Chiang Mai Province, offers a range of activities for visitors.
The popular tourist city of Chiang Mai, which stands on the banks of the Ping River surrounded by verdant hills 700 km north of Bangkok, is an enjoyable place to visit when staying in northern Thailand.
Begin your visit to Chiang Mai with a short walk along the banks of the river Ping, then head off to see the city's numerous temples. Be sure not to miss the Wat Phra Singh, or Temple of the Lion Buddha. It is one of the most venerated temples in the city, which was once the religious center of the Kingdom of Lan Na. Created in 1345, the temple houses a statue of Phra Buddha Singh and is built in typical Lan Na style. My favorite temple, Wat Phan Tao, is particularly beautiful at night and during the Loy Krathong/ Yi Peng festival, a magical national celebration held over several days each year to coincide with the November full moon.
During the festival, the Thai people launch little floating baskets made from banana leaves and decorated with flowers, candles and incense from the banks of the Ping River and release paper lanterns into the sky. Firework displays, parades and lantern and krathong competitions also form part of the city's festival program. The spectacle is magical at the Wat Phan Tao temple, with magnificent colored lanterns hanging from the trees, hundreds of candles, and a release of lanterns carried out by the monks and their students. Thrills and excitement guaranteed.
And to relax again after all that excitement, how about taking one of the many cookery courses available in Chiang Mai? It's an ideal way to learn the secrets of Thai cooking and impress your friends when you get back. You'll be taught how to make the delicious Thai soups "Tom Yam" and "Tom Kha Khai", various curries (green, yellow, red and massaman) and authentic pad Thais.
Fan of hiking ? Chiang Mai acts as the departure point for numerous treks into the surrounding mountains, where you can meet people from the ethnic groups that inhabit these areas. There are some very beautiful walks to do, though you should be careful which agency you choose because some trails are these days used to excess by groups of tourists and the villages are losing all their traditional character and charm. I therefore advise you to do some research and find an agency that practices responsible tourism.
Another nice thing to visit in the area around Chiang Mai is the Wat Doi Suthep, an attractive temple whose location offers superb panoramic views over the city and the mountains. It can be reached by songtaew from Chiang Mai via a road that winds its way up the flanks of Mount Suthep.