Located more than 400 miles north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai presents visitors with the relaxed feel of a city that is better known for its lovely temples than its bustle and energy. Among travelers, Chiang Mai enjoys a dual reputation for both its relaxed atmosphere and as a base for pursuing adventure sports in the highland forests of northern Thailand.
Entry and Transportation
Americans automatically receive a 30-day tourist stamp upon arrival. Chiang Mai International Airport receives both international and domestic traffic. Visitors already in Thailand can travel to Chiang Mai from Bangkok on either an all-day or overnight bus or on a train. Those using the bus should take the extra trouble to go to Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal and book their own tickets on one of Thailand’s high-quality major bus lines. The quality of the tourist buses provided through Thailand’s many travel agencies is very hit or miss, with many featuring hard seats, barely working toilets and broken air conditioning.
The highland jungles of northern Thailand provide the setting for myriad mountain biking, hiking, ATV and motorcycling trips. A variety of tours for all four of these activities are available, but it also is possible to strike out independently on a bicycle or rented motorcycle with enough planning. Many of these trips focus on both the jungle and the villages of the area’s hill tribes, such as the Karen and the Hmong. The region also is riddled with caves and cliffs, with the 200-foot monolith of Crazy Horse Buttress offering a particularly tempting challenge to rock climbers.
Chiang Mai is surrounded by elephant sanctuaries, such as the Elephant Nature Park, Baanchang Elephant Park and Maesa Elephant Camp. While most tourists limit their visits to these elephant centers to a single day, the more adventurous might be interested in a longer stay. The more eco-oriented elephant centers offer overnight stays, while centers like the Elephant Nature Park have volunteer programs allowing visitors to stay for up to a month and learn all about elephant training and care.