Nestled deep in the heart of Northern Thailand is Chiang Mai, a popular yet lesser known travel destination in the world’s 20th most populated country. Although smaller than its neighbor to the south, Bangkok, Chiang Mai is not exempt from plenty of cultural activities to enjoy. A vibrant city surrounded by the peace and quiet of nature, the former seat of the Lanna Kingdom is a place where many travelers find they can relax and enjoy the laid-back atmosphere.
Dr. Dan Brook, a sociology professor at San Jose State University, has been taking groups of students on service learning trips to Chiang Mai with his program Hands on Thailand for 3 years.
“Chiang Mai is a truly amazing city that welcomes the new, while preserving the old, incorporating the West, while cherishing the East,” Dr. Brook said. “My students go with open minds and open hearts, hoping to serve the Thai people in some capacity, yet quickly realizing that they are the ones who gain the most.”
Whether your trip to Chiang Mai is temporary or you plan to stay awhile, here are four reasons you will quickly want to call the city known as “the Rose of the North” home.
One of the main things that draws so many to Chiang Mai is its rich historical significance. Chiang Mai was once the capital of the ancient Lanna Kingdom. The historical center was once surrounded by a wall and gates that are still visible in some places along the Old City’s borders.
While in Chiang Mai you’ll also enjoy more than 300 magnificent Buddhist temples, including Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a golden temple on Mount Doi Suthep that is a sacred site to many Thai people. It is a popular tourist destination as well, both for the glorious architecture and the incredible views of Thailand that can be seen from the temple.
East Meets West
The unique blend of eastern and western culture along with low cost of living is why many expats, travelers, and students are attracted to Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai has often been regarded as a popular destination for digital nomads, or individuals who use technology to travel and live nomadic lifestyles while working remotely.
While the mountainous city is friendly towards Western travelers, there are also many elements of Eastern culture, which creates a quality of life that is hard to find elsewhere.
“It’s the perfect combination of low costs of living, stable Wi-Fi, friendly people and community,” says Johnny Jen, who left his corporate job in California to move to Chiang Mai.
If you’re looking for a more natural experience in Northern Thailand, you won’t have to go far from the Chiang Mai city center. Within the province are seven national parks that provide opportunities for hiking, camping, stargazing, mountain climbing, and more. A quick ride outside of the city will deliver you to rainforest reserves, hot springs, waterfalls, caves, elephant sanctuaries, and quiet country villages.
The ancient culture and natural scenery make Chiang Mai the travel hub of Northern Thailand, but don’t expect it to boast about its popularity. Although there is more than enough to do, Chaing Mai remains a big city with a small town feel, a detail that many residents and travelers appreciate.
According to Lonely Planet, “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.”