(Lonelyplanet)-The laid-back city of Chiang Mai is an endearing mix of old and new: the moated, walled old quarter shelters ancient temples, while a traveller-friendly scene caters to everybody from culture vultures to the party set.
Many visitors decide to call the city home for as long as possible during their trip, but if you’ve only got one day, here’s how to make the most of it.
Ruins at Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai
Ruins at Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai. Image by Austin Bush / Lonely Planet
Jump start your day with a cup of coffee brewed with local, direct-trade beans at Akha Ama, one of the Chiang Mai’s best cafes.
As you’re already inside Chiang Mai’s ancient walled city, you’re only a short walk from some of the city’s highlights such as the exquisite 19th-century wall paintings at Wat Phra Singh, the graceful wooden temple at Wat Phan Tao and the impressive ruins at Wat Chedi Luang.
The 19th century Buddhist murals at Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai. Image by Austin Bush / Lonely Planet
From here, take one of Chiang Mai’s emblematic and ubiquitous rot daang (red pickups that also function as taxis) to Talat Warorot, the city’s central market, where in addition to food you’ll also find the type of workday Thai items (read: quirky souvenirs) that have long disappeared from the country’s malls and department stores. Alternatively, if it’s a Friday, consider visiting the open-air Ban Haw Friday Market, which unfolds in the eponymous neighbourhood, uniting Muslim, Shan and hilltribe vendors selling unique produce from the area’s hills.
Talat Warorot, Chiang Mai’s central market. Image by Austin Bush
Talat Warorot, Chiang Mai’s central market. Image by Austin Bush / Lonely Planet
Come midday, it’s time for lunch, which in Chiang Mai, should mean at least one bowl of kôw soy, a legendary local dish of wheat noodles in a rich curry broth. We recommend going straight to the source, Chiang Mai’s predominately Muslim Ban Haw neighbourhood, from where kôw soy allegedly originated, and where you’ll find longstanding restaurants Khao-Soi Islam and Khao Soy Fueng Fah.
Post-lunch, you can choose one of two routes. The active option is to hire a motorycle and drive the windy, mountainous 15km to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, the mountaintop Buddhist temple that is arguably Chiang Mai’s most significant – and impressive – religious pilgrimage. Alternatively, for those who prefer to pursue a more passive route, consider a Thai-style massage at the Vocational Training Center of the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution.