These days, Chiang Mai is easier to reach than it once was – until the 1920’s it was accessible only by river or elephant trek – but it maintains it’s quiet yet captivating feel. Set in the country’s mountainous north and surrounded by lush valleys, there’s both an abundance of markets and temples to explore inside the City and an abundance of unspoilt natural scenery to explore outside the City.
Although Chiang Mai has grown into a large modern city, the historic walled centre still retains its traditional atmosphere and it is well worth wondering the streets, picking off a couple of temples and ending with a visit to one of the many superb night markets that contribute to Chiang Mai's thriving food scene. Leave the City behind though, and it isn't far before you are surrounded by verdant green valleys, mountainous backdrops, paddy fields and traditional Thai villages.
The city lies in the foothills of the Himalayas at an altitude of over 300 metres, which means that it has quite a temperate climate in comparison to other Thai cities. The hot season runs from mid-February to mid-June, with the ‘burning season’ taking place from February to April or May. During the ‘burning season’, forest vegetation is felled and then burned, with the ash forming a fertile base on which to grow new crops. Air pollution is at its highest levels while this takes place.