I mentioned earlier that Chiang Mai seems to have something for everyone. Had I had unlimited time to explore northern Thailand, I’d have stayed much longer than the four days I allowed myself. As it was, I preferred using my time to explore the beautiful Mae Hong Son Province in the far Northwest of the country with its winding, hilly roads and atmospheric villages. But the charm of the city, and the cuisine, would make it easy to linger.
There are several types of activities which many find a worthy excuse for doing just that. First, there are the history and culture – I had my crash course with several days of temple prowling. There are several museums: Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center in the Old City is convenient to most accommodations. Chiang Mai National Museum and the Tribal Museum are located north of the Old City.
I had hoped to see the Sbun-Nga Textile Museum which was said to have had an excellent collection of textiles from hilltribes throughout Thailand. Unfortunately, the contract for the space in the Thai Cultural Center had run out and there has been no plan to find a new location for the collection.
Shopping options, apart from the major markets, offer hilltribe crafts and textiles, jewelry, home decor and fine art.
Special schools and courses: A great many well regarded cooking, language and massage schools are located in Chiang Mai. There are also notable Buddhist meditation courses and retreats. Some visitors squeeze a day or two of such activities into their plans, while others come to Chiang Mai specifically for these programs, staying several to many weeks.
Trekking and Nature: the surrounding areas feature national park lands with trekking, mountain biking and birding trails. There are many options for visiting elephant camps and for hilltribe village treks. White water rafting features from July to March on the Mae Taeng River in Doi Inthanon and Huai Nam Dang National Parks.
There are many options for side trips – these are just a couple:
Mae Sa Valley-Samoeng Loop (Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden, Maesa Elephant Camp)
Chiang Dao (Doi Chiang Dao nature trails; Chiang Dao Cave; Wat Tham Pha; hilltribe treks to Lahu, Lisu and Akha villages)
With such a variety of diversions and educational opportunities, and with such a brilliant variety of cuisine and affordable accommodations, it is easy to understand why Chiang Mai finds favor with such a variety of visitors, and easy to understand why so many return.