Hailed by Low Season Traveller as the Thailand the travel world fell in love with 40 years ago, the north is adored for its friendly locals, mouth-watering food, and stunning mountain scenery. At the midst of it all sits the charming city of Chiang Mai, home of a hundred wats and lifeblood of this wonderful part of the world. Founded in 1296, the old centre retains ancient walls, moats, stupas and countless remnants of its days as the Lanna capital. Explore the magnificent temples of Wat Prathat Doi Suthep and Wat Chedi Luang before seeking out more of what makes this place like it is truly feels a million miles away from bustling Bangkok and the crowded islands of the south.
Although the steamy March to May period can be unbearably hot (and often accompanied by the eye stinging smoke from the burning fields of farmers), we very much recommend venturing here in the low season from June to October. This is when the rains bring welcome relief from the heat, jungles are lush and verdant, but visitor numbers remain low and you’ll get great deals on accommodation and touring experiences.
Don a poncho and get into the mountains where everything is wonderfully green, the rice terraces look stunning, and rivers and waterfalls are in full flow. An afternoon downpour creates lovely fresh conditions while cloud cover takes the edge off the blazing sun. Ducking into a hillside retreat for a mug of mountain coffee while a storm passes makes for one of the most memorable experiences of your entire trip. It’s possible to take trails to the villages of other ethnic groups such as the Karen, Hmong, Lawa, Lisu tribes. If you choose to do this, do your research and always travel responsibly. There are many treks close to the city but if you’re able to drive out, visit beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park, home of Thailand highest peak, or Chiang Dao with its caves, hot springs and bamboo forests.
Markets for fun and for food
There’s practically a market on every street corner, but hit the Friday morning market from 6am and witness Chiang Mai coming to life. This age old institution in Chang Moi district is where farmers gather to sell their produce. Local fruit and veg is piled high and you can’t get a better wake-up call than the heavenly scents of fresh lemongrass, coriander and galangal in the morning. Trinkets, jewellery, textiles and crafts are on sale too. Not far away the nightly bazaar, a huge affair, gets going about 5pm and continues until late. Saturday and Sunday night markets operate separately all offering a fun experience with stall after stall filled with souvenirs and culinary delights. Steaming pans of Pad Thai and fried chicken on sticks await you or try the slightly less appetising 100 year old egg or the array of delicious edible bugs – crickets, beetles and mealworms. Yum. If you really want to avoid tourists, head to Malin Market near the university where young artists hawk their work and prices are not inflated either.