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Magic in the Mountains

The perfect antidote to busy Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a charming blend of old and new with a food scene to die for.

Nestled in the foothills of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is replete with hundreds of sacred temples. These holy relics, the city’s quaint moated old quarter, its location amidst prime visual splendor, and its unique culinary attributes, make the city a special place to be and is a perfect base from which to strike out into the surrounding countryside.

Food Glorious Food

Chiang Mai’s culinary scene can still mix it with the best of what Thailand has to offer. Start by seeking out a bowl of the northern specialty khao soi. The favorite — chicken or beef in a coconut milk curry soup with deep-fried crispy egg noodles, boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, and topped off with a dash of lime juice — can be sampled at venues around the city. A choice spot to visit is Khao Soi Khun Yai, situated in an atmospheric courtyard next to the city moat. Another prime place for street eats is the night market at Chang Puak (North) Gate, where everything from deep-fried nibbles to delicious curries can be found. For a more elevated level of dining try Ruen Come In House and Paak Dang, which both serve first-class northern cuisine. High-end gastronomy, meanwhile, can be sampled at Blackitch Artisanal Kitchen: Phanuphol “Black” Bulsuwan’s bijou 12-seater restaurant in Chiang Mai’s hip Nimmanheimen neighborhood. The succession of vegan creations showcases Black’s flair for presenting seasonal produce in fresh, bold flavor combinations.

Temples and Traditions

The reason that Chiang Mai feels like such a spiritual place is because it is. On quiet mornings before rush hour starts, the beatific chime of temple bells blend with the call of birdsong as monks clad in saffron robes collect their daily alms. There are several temples to choose from, including some of Thailand’s most revered places of pilgrimage. We particularly love Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a monastery dating back to 1383 that offers outstanding views over Chiang Mai from its perch high on Doi Suthep mountain. In the city, Wat Phra Singh is probably the top pick for most visitors due to its beautiful mosaic-inlaid sanctuary. The temple is also notable for its famous Buddha image, known as Phra Singh. For more earthly (and earthy) traditions, we recommend a visit to Talat Warorot, Chiang Mai’s oldest public market where you’ll find everything from live catfish to tiny statues for spirit houses.

Get out of Town

Chiang Mai is the gateway to some of Thailand’s most enthralling scenery, an excellent jumping-off point for a range of highlights. Ban Don Luang Handicraft Center in Lamphun — Chiang Mai’s diminutive neighbor — is a fascinating stop for lovers of traditional handicrafts. Here, a community of Yong ethnic people has established themselves as perhaps Thailand’s most skilled cotton weavers. It’s the perfect place to pick up a fashionable keepsake with a keen sense of place. We love Elephant Nature Park, which is by far the most ethical place in Thailand to get up close and personal with elephants. Guests spend their day wandering with the majestic beasts, helping to feed and wash them. For more active thrills, Remote Lands will arrange for you to try ziplining over a network of nearly three miles of wire and staging platforms strung up in the forest canopy. To cap off your trip, consider scaling Doi Inthanon – the highest mountain in Thailand at 8400 feet.