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Chiang Mai Thailand Activity, Sports, Recreation and Travel Guide

What To Do

Chiang Mai and the surrounding province offer a plethora of pleasures and pursuits catering for almost every taste. Even those with no interest in times past will be struck by the allure of ancient temples, built centuries ago by dedicated architects and craftsmen with no modern tools, only a natural sense of perfect proportion and aesthetic beauty. History buffs will revel in ancient relics and priceless exhibits in museums and private collections. Shoppers will discover absolute delights in what is one of the largest collections of cottage industries in the world - quite apart from all the other bargains on offer in markets and city shops. Sports fans will find everything from go-karts and golfing to ice hockey and hot air ballooning. Nature lovers will love the variety of flora and fauna, trekkers the fascination of hill tribes, mountain bikers will thrill to the countryside, gourmets can learn the secrets of Thai cuisine, holistic types will find dozens of alternative therapies, and would-be Buddhist meditators all the Dhamma instruction they need. Whether you take an organised tour, or explore by yourself, or a mixture of both, Chiang Mai, to allow us an appropriate clich?, has something for everyone. This web site can only highlight just a few of the possibilities.

Walking or Bicycling Within the City Walls

A convenient starting point is at Tha Phae Gate on the east flank of the moat, closest to the Ping River. The margins on both sides of the gate contain a host of tourism-friendly outlets, including restaurants, bakeries, pubs, entertainment places, vehicle hire (including bicycles) and the small market of Sompet. Tha Phae is also a focal point for performances and processions during major Thai festivals.

Close to the centre of the old city, Wat Chedi Luang is a recently renovated but impressive old temple dating back to 1441, which reputedly once held Bangkok's Emerald Buddha. It also houses the Lak Muang or city pillar. Inside the northern wall of the city, at Chang Phuak Gate close to the Thai Airways office is the oldest temple of Wat Chiang Man, which dates back to 1296, and was apparently where King Mengrai lived during the city's construction. It houses two small but precious Buddha images, the smallest "Crystal Buddha" just 10 cm high. Wat Pra Singh, close to the west Suan Dork Gate, is probably the most photographed temple, and dates to 1345. In addition to the main structures, its spacious sunlit grounds house an elegantly carved library, and a chapel containing a Buddha image thought to be 1500 years old, with origins in Sri Lanka.

Trekking & Hill Tribes

Exploring the forests and tribal settlements on foot with a local guide has become immensely popular over the last decade, particularly with Chiang Mai's influx of young travellers. Travel shops advertise a range of trekking options, from a basic overnight hike to arduous week-long safaris. The recipe is usually the same - basic accommodation in consenting hill tribe villages, mixed with varying degrees of soft adventure such as sectors on elephant back or exciting stretches of white water rafting. These itineraries vary from the memorable to the mundane, and some routes have suffered from tourism overkill, with a foreseeable negative effect on both authenticity and hospitality. There are still however a number of dedicated and eco-friendly operators who operate less-frequented routes, and a well-chosen trek can be a hugely rewarding experience.

Chiang Mai's tribal settlements are a separate fascinating study, with their origins in different parts of Asia, and correspondingly very different beliefs, languages, customs, laws, dress and traditions. Individual descriptions are well beyond the scope of this web site, but Chiang Mai's larger bookshops stock some excellent coffee-table publications with stunning photography enhancing the thoroughly absorbing text.

The Tribal Research Institute recognises ten hill tribes or Chao Khao (mountain people) most with origins in the Tibetan Plateau. Best known are the Karen, whose numbers are thought to exceed 300,000 in Thailand, (and several million in Burma) In addition to the Sgaw Karen and Pwo Karen there are several related subgroups including the oft-photographed Padaung, or "long-neck" Karen. The Akha are easily recognised by the women's distinctive "mini-skirts" and strikingly colourful headdresses of beads, old silver coins, and feathers. Other tribes include The Lahu who are specialised forest hunters, the turbaned Lisu skilled in silver jewellery, the Hmong (or Meo) with their love of embroidery and batik, and the Yao (or Mien), who brought their culture from far-off China. The Lawa (mentioned above) were known to have lived in Thailand before Lanna but some archaeologists postulate that they have ancestral roots in Micronesia, perhaps 2,000 years ago. Other lesser-known groups such as the H'tin, Khamu and Mlabri are thought to have origins closer to the Golden Triangle.

Sports and Leisure Activities

Active folks will find ample outlets for their energies in Chiang Mai. The Peak rock climbing center offers 20 climbing routes on the 4-storey "Mountain Wall" with professional instructors on hand to instruct and encourage. Bungy Jumping for brave leapers and admiring onlookers has the launch platform suspended over a pleasant pond. A superb way of viewing the city is by a 20 minute piloted Microlight aircraft which will greatly enhance your snapshot collection and boost your after after-dinner anecdotes. Horse Riding is available at the Thai Army Cavalry army base where the stables are open Saturday & Sunday evenings at 4.00 p.m. Elephant Riding, is available at the various elephant camps around the city, or on organised tours. Chiang Mai Go Kart Speedway has a 600 metre racing track and 4 kart models available according to age and experience, including two-up versions. Mountain Bike enthusiasts congregate early on Sunday mornings at Thapae Gate to set off on interesting local explorations. Enduro Motorcycle Tours take riders along scenic dirt roads either on one day sorties, or trips of 3 days or more. A recently introduced idyll that operates in the windless dawn of the November-February cool season is the free-floating hot air Oriental Balloon, which makes for a memorable experience. Chiang Mai boasts some excellent Golf Courses including the Royal Chiang Mai Golf Resort, the Green Valley Golf Club, Lanna Golf Club and the 100-year old Gymkhana Course. The city's well equipped "700 Year Stadium" which opened and hosted the South East Asian Games in 1995 has excellent public facilities for swimming, tennis, and field sports. Ice Skating is available in South East Asia's largest Ice Rink in Kad Suan Kaew, which also features a Bowling Centre. Lastly, cricket fans will be happy to note that the International Cricket 6's tournament is held in Chiang Mai every April.

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