The Cultural Heart: Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
Chiang Mai is the Thailand of incense-infused temples and orange-robed monks, ritual and tradition, hikes through rice paddies and sensory nights in lush jungle villages. Spend some time trekking to get to know the hill tribes and wildlife of northern Thailand, and ascend to Wat Phra Doi Suthep to see those fabulous views of cloud-haloed mountains framed by stupas and towers. The moated old town conceals so much of this old-world allure, with numerous temples like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Chiang Man, often strung together by monks collecting alms in the mornings. There’s a modern edge too, found in cafes, art museums and contemporary galleries, but if you find yourself craving more of northern Thailand’s charms, include a trip to Chiang Rai.
Chiang Rai’s core is a tangle of roads strewn with bars and restaurants, while temples like Wat Phra That Dpo Chom Thong and Wat Klang Wiang offer tradition over the frankly bizarre Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) that mixes Hindu and Buddhist architecture with modernist frescoes depicting, amongst others, Keanu Reeves as Neo. But Chiang Rai is at its best as a base for languorous treks along the mountainous Laos and Myanmar borders, visits to picturesque tea plantations and the sights of the Mekong and the Golden Triangle.