Chiang Mai Province straddles the most important historical crossroads of northern Southeast Asia, a fertile region of mountains, valleys and rivers where peoples from China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma and Thailand have long traded goods and ideas in a fusion of cultures. This blend has been further enlivened by the presence of tribal societies – such as the Hmong-Mien – whose ethnic heritage knows no fixed political boundaries.
In past centuries Chiang Mai served as an entrepôt for a flourishing caravan trade in opium, silks and timber. Today it is Thailand’s second-largest city and the north’s principal hub for tourism, transport, education and cross-border commerce. In a period of rapid development, Chiang Mai – crowned to the west by Doi Suthep mountain and its sacred temple, and centred on a moated old town – has managed to retain its charm and laid-back feel. Find ancient chedi (stupas) side by side with modern architecture, a delicious and distinctive cuisine, accommodation ranging from back-packing digs to boutique hotels, as well as great shopping, pampering spas and a myriad of courses to try out.
Outside of the provincial capital, Chiang Mai Province boasts more natural forest cover than any other province in the north. In addition, two of Thailand’s highest mountain peaks are in Chiang Mai Province: Doi Inthanon (2565m) and Doi Chiang Dao (2195m). Cycling, hiking, elephant trekking, bird-watching and river rafting attract those interested in Chiang Mai Province’s natural surrounds, while visitors keen on learning more about the region’s fascinating ethnic minorities can visit semi-remote villages on mountain slopes.