Travel guide and things to do: Nine highlights of Chiang Mai and surrounds, Northern Thailand


Chiang Mai, Thailand's unofficial northern and cultural capital, is an ancient Asian city, as evidenced by the ubiquity of its grand Buddhist temples, such as Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. Other striking physical and temple-fatigue beating features are the remnants of Chiang Mai's six-kilometre city wall, gates and ramparts dating to the 13th century when King Mengrai established the kingdom of Lanna (meaning "a million rice fields"). Sections of the wall are surrounded by pretty water and fountain-filled moats beside well-maintained, tree-lined footpaths. See


A tribute, of sorts, to Thailand's rich agricultural tradition fostered by the beloved late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the lavish, 99-room Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is a fantasy farm-cum-botanic garden, complete with idyllic rice paddies and in-house buffalo. Each day at 5pm there's a not-to-be-missed parade of farmers (the resort's team of gardeners). Khao (meaning "rice') is the resort's Michelin Guide-rated in-house restaurant overlooking the estate and serves as the perfect setting for sundowners. Be sure to try the local sai aua baan id (Chiang Mai sausage) with sticky rice and a northern chilli dip. See


One of Chiang Mai's best contemporary Northern Thai cuisine-based restaurants, Kiti Panit, is housed inside one of its most atmospheric antique buildings. The late 19th-century two-storey mansion-cum-general store, once the property of the owners' grandparents, has been transformed into this Michelin Guide-listed restaurant, decorated with artefacts direct from the building's past lives. The delicious dishes, spiced to your liking, are modern interpretations of Chiang Mai's traditional Lanna cuisine. See


Coffee-obsessed Chiang Mai (yes, it's true) may be a long way from a caffeine-addicted Melbourne but you'll find the brew spirit of the Victorian capital alive and well at Ristr8to Lab with its two outlets in the trendy and cafe-filled Nimmanhaemin neighbourhood. Arnon Thitiprasert, the Thai owner, spent some seminal time as a barista in Melbourne, going on to represent his native land in the World Latte Art Championships (yes, there is such a thing). Ristr8to Lab's bevvy menu is themed on coffee genres from around the globe with the Australian entry packing one mean impersonation of a superior Melbourne flat white. No website


It makes for quite the full day but with an early start it's possible to take a memorable day-trip from Chiang Mai to the Golden Triangle, a name coined by the CIA due to the region's notorious poppy-producing reputation. This loosely-defined area is where borders of three countries, Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak Rivers. Book a small group tour or, even better, splurge on a private guide and driver. See;


The brainchild of local Japanese expats, Chiang Mai's White Market is one flea market that won't make you want to flee. It's a classy, well-presented affair, spread along a street outside the upmarket One Nimman shopping centre, a dominant feature of the Nimmanhaemin hood. Here you'll find quality local clothing and accessories at affordable prices. Inside the shopping centre itself, built inside an old-style European building, you'll find a range of interesting boutiques, restaurants and cafes. No website


This part of northern Thailand is pachyderm country with Chiang Mai and surrounds home to well-regarded and sustainable elephant sanctuaries. Further afield, near Chiang Rai four hours or so away, is a true animal conservation bucket list destination. At the 16-room Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle, a companion resort to Four Seasons Chiang Mai, not only can you walk with resident elephants rescued from the Bangkok streets and Thai circuses, you can hand feed them a breakfast of locally-grown organic bananas. See


Kitsch or otherwise (you decide) but the truth is it's difficult to ignore Wat Rong Khun, better known as the White Temple. Resembling an over-decorated wedding cake, it is built in the style of a Buddhist temple and is owned and designed by Chalermchai Kositpipat, a noted Thai visual artist. Wat Rong Khun, about three hours' drive by the fastest route northeast of Chiang Mai, can be visited as part of a day tour from the city or as part of an overnight stay in Chiang Rai. See


A true home to ethical fashions and eco-textiles, Studio Naenna, with Australian connections, is in the backstreets of Chiang Mai's Old Town. It champions the traditional women silk and cotton weavers from various ethnic groups of the region, including tribes from Laos and Myanmar as well as Northern Thailand itself. Check to see if your visit coincides with one of several expert tie-dye and weaving workshops. See



Northern Thailand, including Chiang Mai, tends to be overlooked by Australians in favour of the less subtle allure of Bangkok and the resorts to the south. But its proximity to rich southeast Asian cultures, including its own, and its mountainous setting, make for a distinctive and enriching destination.

The writer visited as a guest of Four Seasons Chiang Mai and Four Seasons Golden Triangle, Chiang Rai. See