The rose of the north. That’s what locals call Chiang Mai. It’s a more than appropriate moniker because the city is Thailand’s sanctuary. Far removed from the edge and attitude of Bangkok and the luxury of the beaches of the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand coast, it is charming, carefree, and laid back. In the historic square mile centre, there are a multitude of stupas, spas, sacred spaces, meditation courses, spiritual centres, and massage parlours.
It’s a modern metropolis, too: traffic congestion can be fierce and the city’s urban sprawl can easily awaken you from your meditative repose. Away from this less-than-peaceful clamour, the city is a gateway to dozens of northern hill tribes, elephant camps, and primeval villages. These are places where you can hike into the cloud belts of the lush Doi Suthep and Doi Pui mountains, bamboo raft down steamy jungle rivers in the Mae Sa valley, or come face-to-face with the kind of multi-coloured, smiling Thai personalities that most visitors only see on a postcard. Escape to any of that and you’ll easily feel at peace once more.