Chiang Mai in northern Thailand has been nominated by Lonely Planet as one of the best cities in the world to visit for 2011. The list of ‘hot cities’ has Chiang Mai rated at number 10 with New York (USA) topping the list. Other cities making the list include Wellington (New Zealand) and Valencia (Spain). There are a few surprise inclusions including Newcastle (Australia) which demonstrates that a list of great destinations to visit is always going to be subjective. Here is what Lonely Planet had to say about Chiang Mai:
“If Chiang Mai were a person, it would be Bob Dylan. With a history dating back further than anyone can remember, its influence remains enormous. And despite its great age, there’s still a bohemian chic that makes it as relevant and hip as ever. Culture capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai was once the heart of the Lanna kingdom. Today those wanting to flee the bustle of Bangkok visit to lounge in coffee shops and drink in the city’s artisanal atmosphere. With a friendly, cosmopolitan feel, this is one easy, safe and pleasant place to explore. There are dozens of well-preserved temples here, too. Many new ecotours and adventure trips are appearing, and with a choice of river rafting, elephant rides, trekking and off-road cycling, even the biggest adrenaline junkie will be sated.”
I am based in Chiang Mai and I admit that I am unashamedly biased towards a city which I love and which I regard as home. In my opinion, it is a wonderful place to visit for a host of reasons, some of which are outlined in the Lonely Planet assessment above. The old city is a delightful area to wander around and explore the hidden sois and temples. Find a roadside restaurant, order a bowl of khao soi and watch the world go by and you will soon discover that Chiang Mai is a modern city, but one that hasn’t forgotten its past. From the ancient temples of the old town district to the chic shopping area and café culture of Nimmanhaemin Road, Chiang Mai is a city where ancient and modern happily co-exist and is one of the best locations in Thailand to experience Thai festivals such as Songkran and Loy Krathong.
Of course, no city is perfect. The traffic outside of the old city can be hectic at times and I’ve even heard a few visitors comment that Chiang Mai is boring in the evenings. It’s true that the city lacks the nightlife of Bangkok or Pattaya, but that is seen as a positive thing by most locals and residents. Chiang Mai is a big city with small-town charm. It’s a university city with a thriving art and music scene, but it’s also a city that is proud of its history and its unique cultural identity. Situated in a valley, Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains and lush countryside and a number of people from Bangkok have second homes here. The Thai Royal Family also chose the cool mountain air of Chiang Mai as the site for their winter palace at Bhuping which is located just beyond one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
If you haven’t yet visited Chiang Mai, please come and enjoy the city and all it has to offer. If possible try and spend more than a few days here because, as many regular visitors will testify, the longer you spend in the ‘Rose of the North’, the more it grows on you. I don’t always agree with what I see written about Thailand in Lonely Planet, but I did smile and nod approvingly when I read the summing up of Chiang Mai.
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