Chiang Mai serves as the hub of Northern Thailand. With a population of over 170,000 downtown and more than 1 million in the surrounding area, Chiang Mai is by far the largest city in the North. A charming city surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, Chiang Mai is much greener and quieter than Bangkok, and is often called the "Rose of the North".
During medieval times, almost everything was made of teak hauled by elephants from the surrounding rainforest, with the exception of Chiang Mai's towering wat. The monasteries still remain intact, with ancient brick chedi stupas in a remarkable range of shapes and styles. The areas between these historic sites have been filled in with modern Thai guesthouses, shops, homes, and hotels.
You can spend your entire trip to Chiang Mai exploring the famous Night Bazaar and Thailand's weekend markets. Once you've haggled for cheap jewelry and filled yourself with mango sticky rice, there's still plenty left to explore. The National Museum and Botanic Garden are great places to soak up some local culture and to breathe in the delicate fragrance of Thai orchids.
In the city's center, the remains of the ancient wall surrounds over 30 temples. Adventurous travelers can also climb 300 stairs to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, an ornate Buddhist temple in the rural mountainside, just a short motorbike ride away.