Chiang Mai is one of the largest cities in Thailand and has most of Bangkok's amenities (despite being only a fraction of the size), 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 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) that can be toured.
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.
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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