Rare is the tourist who travels to Thailand and does not visit Chiang Mai on a getaway from Bangkok. Founded by King Mangrai in the 13th century, it is strategically located at the crossroads of trade routes, something that is reflected in its overwhelmingly varied production of handicrafts and which was reflected in its successive conquest by Burmese and Thais. This, despite its relative natural isolation from the rest of the country, which made it necessary to arrive by river or by elephant in several journey days.
Something that the railway began to alleviate after its construction in 1920. Even more so when airplanes began to transport tourists -among them the wealthy class of Bangkok-, although many prefer to save money and gain the curious experience of doing it by train or bus; that yes, assuming that the times multiply and that you have to spend fifteen or nine hours respectively.
Chiang Mai is not only the starting point for a multitude of excursions to the surrounding jungle, but also allows you to climb mountains, navigate rivers on a bamboo raft, ride an elephant, ride a buffalo cart, meet different indigenous ethnic groups and enjoy of the charms of the city itself, of which it is abundant both in the monumental level and in the cultural and popular one.
It is advisable to visit several of the local temples. Perhaps the most prominent is that of Wat Prathat, located on a hill on the outskirts. Built in 1383 where, legend has it, an elephant decided, it is reached by a staircase of hundreds of steps and its most attractive element is a pagoda almost thirty meters high.
Wat Chiang Mai is the oldest, built by the aforementioned King Mangrai as a temporary residence while he was building his capital; Inside, a rare two-thousand-year-old crystal Buddha is venerated. And we must not forget Wat Prasingh, a fine example of northern Thai architecture that houses another 1,500-year-old Buddha. However, the list of temples is longer and there is plenty to choose from, as is the case with museums (art, ethnological…).
But, as I said before, the jungle and mountainous environment gives rise to many excursions during which you will meet local tribes, you will spend the night in a national park where Doi Inthanon rises (the highest peak in Thailand) or you will visit a reserve in which about thirty elephants collected in poor conditions are recovered.
One last recommendation in Chiang Mai is its night markets, which offer complementary sensations to those perceived during the day in Tapae and Walai streets, dedicated to the sale of handicrafts, silverware, lacquerware, and paper or cotton umbrellas. You can even find some Burmese antiques at a good price. All that remains is to round off your stay with the splendid gastronomy and some traditional massage (it is done with your feet!) and remember that the best time to go is between November and February, when it is not so hot (although at night you have to dress warmly) and the rains do not swamp everything.
The ideal for a trip to Thailand that includes Chiang Mai is at the beginning of February, since the Flower Festival takes place the first weekend, an event that attracts thousands of people, nationals and foreigners, whose cameras will end up casting smoke not only with the festivities but with the splendid multicolored landscape that hatches that month.
Because houses and streets, shop windows and bridges, gardens and, finally, the countryside itself, are dyed in all imaginable polychrome tones, providing the perfect atmosphere for the fun that is to take place over three days. There is no shortage of folk music, the misses contests that Thais are so fond of, or flower arrangement competitions, whose winners are displayed in the Nong Buak Hat park, increasing the floral decoration of the place if possible.
Now, the climax comes with a very long procession of floats decorated, of course, with flowers of a thousand colors that, starting at 8 in the morning, run along the Charoen Muang Road, from the Nawarat bridge to the train station. . Millions of natural petals are used to form or cover the mythological, historical or religious figures they carry, as each vehicle is dedicated to a different theme.