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What to see and do in Chiang Mai – a guide to notable attractions

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Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand is the second largest province in the country. The mainly Buddhist city is home to more than 300 temples. After the 300 year reign of King Meng Rai, it then became part of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and was heavily influenced by neighboring county Burma. Today, much of the Burmese architectural influence can still be seen. Chiang Mai’s wet tropical climate makes it an idea place for jungle treks along with its mountain ranges, valleys, flora and fauna.

Andy Flynn

My Destination local expert on

Chiang Mai

Wat Luang Temple


Situated in the historic centre of the Old Town is the orange stone colored Wat Luang Temple. This characterful 14th century temple, with a portion of the top missing, was originally built for King Saen Muang Ma to bury his father’s ashes, however the King died before its completion and it wasn’t finished until the mid-15th century. Don’t miss the Emerald Buddha – actually made from black jade – in the eastern niche.


Wat Phra That Doi Suthep


Wat Phra Buddhist temple is located at the top of Doi Suthep Mountain. It is a Theravada temple, which is the oldest surviving branch of Buddhism that directly derived from the Sanskrit scriptures. Climb the linear steps, decorated either side with large colorful dragons for impressive views over the rest of Chiang Mai. The temple is also known for its white elephant shrine which holds specific religious meaning. The original temple dating around the 14th century has been added to and extended over time and now appears far more extravagant.


Chiang Mai Zoo


If you want to get up close and personal with some of the locals in the animal world, then head to Chiang Mai Zoo. Located next to Huai Kaeo Arboretum, the zoo occupies over 200 acres of the lush forested slope of Doi Suthep Mountain. Here you’ll find a comprehensive assortment of over 200 well treated varieties of Asian and African mammals and birds; look out for the pandas. There is also an aquarium including a viewing tunnel over 100 meters long, replicating the water environment of Thailand.


Chiang Mai Night Safari


If you want even more animal action then try the Chiang Mai Night Safari. At the world’s third largest nocturnal zoo you can jump on a tram for a two hour tour in English. The area is divided into three zones; the savannah safari zone with wildebeest, giraffes, zebras and the infamous rare white rhinoceroses which roam around right next to the cart. The second is the predator prowl zone which has lions, tigers and crocodiles. In the jaguar trial zone you walk around the Swan Lake in search of the big cats like white tigers, jaguars and clouded leopards.


Trekking in Chiang Mai


Many people head to Chiang Mai specifically for trekking in the lush green jungle hills. Treks range from a single night to over five day long treks. There are some eco-friendly tours that are really conscious about their impact on the environment too. Whilst trekking, explore villages, rice fields, hills and rivers away from the city with local guides and really get to know rural Thailand. If that’s not enough, try mountain biking, kayaking, rafting and zip lining through the canopy.