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    In the mystical north-west of Thailand, the visually striking city of Chiang Mai has all of the cultural advantages of Bangkok without the disadvantages of traffic jams and air pollution. With over 300 temples to explore, a number of elephant sanctuaries to visit, awe inspiring scenery and mouth-watering cuisine on every corner of every street, this city is an extremely popular choice for tourists wishing to experience the rich culture on offer here.

     

    Combining a stay in Chiang Mai with Bangkok or one of the many beach resorts in Thailand is a very easy and effective way of experiencing the city, the culture and those glorious beaches all in one holiday. Reached either by an overnight bus (which can be quite inexpensive but not the most comfortable) or a short regular flight from Bangkok, Chiang Mai is very accessible.    

     

    A visit to this city would not be complete without experiencing at least one or two of the magnificent temple complexes here, either independently or as part of an organized tour – the latter whilst sometimes having its down points, is often the best way of learning about the importance of these majestic structures.  Alongside the famous night market, endless tuk-tuk tours of the city and delectable cuisine, visitors also take up the chance to trek the mountainous area around Mae Taeng. Here the villages of Lahu, Karen and Hmong can be found and there is the chance to try a rafting experience along the beautiful Mae Taeng River. Close to here you will also find Elephant Training Centres, some which have dubious tourist shows and elephant-back riding, others that focus more on the ethical way to promote tourism where elephants have the freedom to move around all day and are only exposed to small groups of visitors. How long you choose to stay here is up to you, but one thing is for sure, you will never get bored!

     

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    The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

     

     

    The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

    Acting as a retirement home for elephants, many of whom have worked in the logging or tourist industry, this ethical sanctuary allows the careful interaction between visitors and these magnificent creatures. You won’t find any elephants kicking footballs here and elephant back rides are not permitted either. The sanctuary does a great job of promoting responsible tourism by allowing tourists to get up close and personal without exploiting the animals and interfering too much with their natural behaviours.

    Wat Doi Suthep

     

    Wat Doi Suthep

    There are so many temples (Wats) and complexes to explore, from the visually impressive Wat Phra Singh, the huge seated Buddha at Wat Phra That Doi Kham to the most frequently visited Wat Doi Suthep; you simply can’t stay in Chiang Mai without visiting at least one of these impressive structures. If you only manage one, then it’s got to be Wat Doi Suthep. Reached by a winding mountain road followed by a 309-step walk to reach the top, it is not for the faint hearted. But the experience at the top, from the commanding views of the city below to the 600-year old golden Chedi is worth every bit of effort.

     
    The Night Market

     

    The Night Market

    Extending along the The Chang Khlan and open every night of the year, come rain or shine, is the impressive and famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. On offer is a huge variety of Thai goods as well as designer goods (both fake and licensed… look carefully for spelling mistakes!), at very low prices. If you’re after a few souvenirs here is the place to get them but remember to barter in order to get the best prices!

     
    The Hill Tribe Villages

     

     

    The Hill Tribe Villages

    The scenery in northern Thailand is truly mesmerizing and one of the best ways to experience this is to take a trek to the mountainous areas that are inhabited by the local hill tribes. These ethnic minority tribes often have their own language, customs, mode of dress and spiritual beliefs. However, it’s important to pick a reputable tour company for this, to ensure not only you have an authentic experience, but also that the local people and their culture is not put any unnecessary threats from the western way of life.

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