Chiang Mai has a striking mountain backdrop, over 300 temples and a quaint historical aura. It's also a modern, friendly, internationally-flavoured city with much to offer the visitor - food, accommodation and shopping are all top quality and cheap, and the nights are relatively cool.
Thailand's second-largest city and the gateway to the country's north was founded in 1296. You can still see the moat that encircled the original city. Doi Suthep, topped by one of Thailand's holiest wats, rises behind the city, providing a dramatic backdrop and fine views of the city.
Modern Chiang Mai is easily managed and very traveller-friendly. It's well known for its restaurants and also has heaps of good guesthouses (although the hotel 'safes' are notoriously not). Chiang Mai is a good base for mountain treks, and just about every guesthouse advertises treks to visit the hill tribes who live in the surrounding area. You may want to think twice about joining such an excursion if you have qualms about interrupting the traditional patterns of life in hill-tribe areas. This part of Thailand is considerably overtrekked and some hill-tribe villages have been turned into little more than human zoos.
Facts for the traveller
Off the beaten track