Chiang Mai is Thailand's second-largest city and has most of Bangkok's amenities, including excellent food and accommodations. Chiang Mai is also increasingly making a name for itself in the arts. Refreshingly cooler than Bangkok, it has a slower pace of life despite the increasing number of tourists . However, big-city problems are on the rise, including extremely bad air pollution and congested roads.
Chiang Mai is an ancient city, once the capital of an independent kingdom called Lanna, "the land of a million rice fields," and the moat around the original town remains intact. There are several old and interesting wats (temples), including Wat Phra Singh.
Located 500 mi/800 km north of Bangkok, Chiang Mai is worth exploring for several days, but most people use the town as a jumping-off point for seeing the region. Several hill tribes live in the area, and trekkers can visit those villages. Always check whether visitors are welcome by hiring an experienced guide or by asking around. Chiang Mai is a must-see during the Loy Krathong Festival on the full moon in November, when the night sky is filled with flying paper lanterns.
If you aren't trekking or taking more than a day trip, two nights in Chiang Mai should be about right, but allow for travel time.
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