Despite being the second largest city in Thailand, Chiang Mai is a world away from the brightly lit sprawling concrete metropolis that is Bangkok. Known among many as the true spiritual capital of Thailand, the city commands a special place in the heart of those who’ve visited with very good reason.
Once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom between the 13th and 18th centuries, it tends to attract a slightly different type of person, one more interested in the spiritual history of the country. But while it is very much a spiritual centre, it possesses an energy irresistible to those who’ve been before and intriguing to those considering a trip to the north.
Once you arrive in this small but equally as bustling city, you’ll likely be taken by surprise by how laid back the area is. And if you’re coming from Bangkok, it should be a pleasant surprise. Chiang Mai is more or less a place to recharge your batteries while discovering something you won’t get from other parts of the country.
Wat Chedi Luang is easily one of the most visited temple compounds in the city and was one of the largest until the top of the Chedi was destroyed by either an earthquake or cannon fire in the late 16th century. Built in 1441, the compound was basically ruins until a restoration was launched by UNESCO.
After you’ve finished visiting Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra That Doi is one of Thailand’s most sacred temples and overlooks Chiang Mai from its mountain position. Do note that to reach this 14th century monastery is a 360-stair climb so you’ll definitely work up a sweat, however it is definitely worth it.
Wat Phra Singh is Chiang Mai’s most revered temple and the compound is dominated by enormous, mosaic-inlaid wí·hăhn (sanctuary). Built in 1367, it was adorned with golden gifts from Sri Lanka and remains a place that pilgrims flock to from across the world.
Your next stop should be Talat Warorot which is Chiang Mai’s oldest market located near the Ping River. Alongside souvenir vendors you’ll find parades of stalls selling must-have items for ordinary Thai households: woks, toys, fishermen’s nets, pickled tea leaves, wigs, sticky-rice steamers, Thai-style sausages, kâab mŏo (pork rinds), live catfish and tiny statues for spirit houses.
After visiting Talat Warorot, make sure you enroll in a cooking class and embark on a culinary journey which will give you insight into the more modern day Thailand.