Nestled in the verdant jungles and tranquil foothills of south-east Asia’s ‘Golden Triangle’, the towns of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are perfect for a culture fix in northern Thailand.
Colourful temples and night markets abound in Chiang Mai, with its picturesque setting and laid back vibe. This northern city welcomes visitors to be as active or relaxed as they wish.
A little further on, the town of Chiang Rai is another option for a ‘Golden Triangle’ gateway, so get ready to explore this culturally-rich northern area of south-east Asia.
Nature and culture combine in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai was a significant capital city back in the 13th century and you can still see fragments of the old city walls, as well as many graceful Buddhist pagodas dotted across the green urban landscape. Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chedi Luang are just two of the many lovely examples. Chiang Mai is very flat so spend a few days walking or cycling around
Chiang Mai holidays offer a diverse array of fun activities in a friendly atmosphere that will make you wish you had more time to spend. After a day of temple-hopping, head out to the night markets to slurp khao soi noodles and pick up local handicrafts as souvenirs.
Follow an action-packed day of whitewater rafting or ziplining with a Thai cooking course. Add a rewarding jungle trek to visit traditional hill-tribe villages to your list of things to do in Chiang Mai.
Thailand is famous for its festivals and when planning a trip to the ‘land of smiles’ it is worth aligning your visit with one of these. As well as the exuberant water fights of the Songkran new year festival, the Loi Krathong floating basket festival is a beautiful sight as illuminated, decorative baskets are set to float on the Mae Ping River in Chiang Mai.
Flights to Chiang Mai are a short hop from the capital, or catch the overnight train and wake up in the north. Once you’ve explored Chiang Mai and nearby Chiang Rai, catch a flight from Chiang Mai airport to one of Thailand’s many famous beach resorts to recharge and relax.
Discover the Golden Triangle from Chiang Rai
The laid-back charm of Chiang Rai makes it the perfect introduction to the beauty and diversity of Thailand’s north. The stunning natural setting of jungle-covered hills offers satisfying trekking routes for outdoorsy types and culture lovers will be wowed by the temples, villages and markets of this region.
The relaxed vibe of Chiang Rai is a reflection of its small size and unspoilt charm, which draws travellers in search of a more authentic Thailand experience. Explore the small town centre on a bicycle ride, visit the botanic gardens and Chiang Rai Beach, before spending the evening snacking your way through the night bazaar.
With a number of lovely national parks in the region, such as Doi Luang, Chiang Rai is known for its scenic surroundings. A multitude of trekking routes guide hikers to tumbling waterfalls and stalactite-fringed caves. The lush scenery of the nearby hills and forest parks is also home to colourful hill tribes and many travellers find visiting and meeting these people extremely interesting and rewarding.
Chiang Rai may not have the biggest night markets in Thailand but the food available from stallholders is fantastic. Tour by tuk-tuk or trishaw or just wander on foot and enjoy the diversity and flavour of this authentic night bazaar. A popular meal with locals is cooking your own fresh food in a ‘hotpot’ over a brazier at your table.
Highlights of northern Thailand
- Make the most of the colourful Chiang Mai nightlife at what many say is the best night market in Thailand.
- Take a boat trip along Mae Ping River – climb aboard a longtail boat and observe local life on the riverbank.
- Visit the exquisite and atmospheric Doi Suthep Temple, a holy Buddhist site with golden stupas and saffron-robed monks.
- Probably the most iconic sights in the Chiang Rai area, the White Temple and the Blue Temple are absolute must-sees.
- A culturally-sensitive visit to hill tribes living in isolated villages offers a fascinating glimpse into the diversity of this region.
- a northern Thailand tour is ideal for travellers who like the great outdoors, with many hiking routes to stunning waterfalls.
It takes less than four hours to drive from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai and you could also extend your Thailand tour with a few nights in Bangkok, a visit to Kanchanaburi, and a beach break at one of the many paradise islands such as Koh Samui. If you have time for more, experience more of the Far East with a visit to Singapore or Indonesia.