Chiang Mai and Environs: Places to Explore

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Chiang Mai

The compact Old City can be explored easily on foot or by bicycle. The system of one-way streets can be confusing for newcomers, but the plan keeps traffic moving quite effectively around the moat, which is crossed by bridges at regular intervals. The moated "one square mile" of the Old City contains 38 of Chiang Mai's temples, including its oldest and most historic, so there's enough here to keep the most dedicated student of Buddhist architecture and culture occupied. The so-called Lanna style of architecture—stepped eaves, dark teak, and gleaming white stucco construction—has been adopted by the owners of the increasing number of "boutique" hotels arising throughout the Old City, where high-rise buildings are banned.

The Old City

Covering roughly 2½ square km (1 square mile), the patchwork of winding lanes that make up Chiang Mai's Old City is bounded by remains of the original city wall and a wide, water-filled moat. Start any tour of the Old City at the Thapae Gate, which leads through the ancient city walls into the oldest part of Chiang Mai. Heading west on Ratchadamnoen Road and turning north on Ratchaphakhinai Road brings you to the first of the area's major sights, Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. Backtracking down Ratchaphakhinai Road and heading west on Ratchadamnoen Road brings you to Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. Several other worthwhile temples are outside the city walls. To the east is the serene Wat Chaimongkol. It's an easy walk from the Tha Pae Gate if the sun isn't too strong. You'll want to take a tuk-tuk to Wat Suan Dok, one of the largest temples in the region. A bit farther away are the verdant grounds of Wat Umong.

Beyond the Old City

Outside the borders of the Old City, Chiang Mai expands into urban sprawl; although there are several worthy sights and a handful of identifiable areas, which have preserved or developed some individual style. Shopaholics have to venture outside the enclosing moat and make for the famous Night Market or Nimmanhemin Road, the preserve of Chiang Mai's "tuppies" (Thai Upwardly Mobile Professional People) both a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride away from the city center. Chiang Mai's best and liveliest nighttime scene is to be found on the other side of the city in the Riverside quarter bordering the Ping River.

Greater Chiang Mai

Beyond the highway that surrounds Chiang Mai you will find plenty to hold your attention. The most famous sight is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the mountaintop temple that overlooks the city. The mountain road that skirts Doi Suthep, winding through the thickly forested Mae Sa Valley, is lined with tourist attractions for much of its way, from bungee-jumping towers to orchid farms. Several operators have created a network of zip lines through the forest, enabling more adventurous visitors to swing Tarzan-style for more than a mile through the jungle at tree-top level.

Chiang Mai at a Glance

Experience Chiang Mai

Elsewhere in Chiang Mai and Environs

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