A world away from those famous beaches is a city of sacred places, bejewelled Buddhas and jungle clad hills. Discover Thailand’s cultural epicentre on holidays to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai

Dawn breaks and a sea of monks swathed in orange and saffron robes make the journey to the bottom of Mount Suthep to collect their alms. Scooters whizz past gilded wats (temples), the smell of fresh laundry and burning incense wafts from back street houses and stall holders start stacking up dried spices, fresh green peppercorns and oversized melons. Outside the city, Chiang Mai holidays take you where the air is mountain fresh and the climate joyfully cooler, tracing a route of waterfalls, jungle, hill tribe villages and temples.

We’ve travelled to northern Thailand and can tell you the most amazing spots for a refreshing dip under a secluded waterfall, the finest holy temples to visit for a one-on-one chat with Buddhist monks and the quirkiest cafes if you’ve ever fancied jumping in a ball pit while sipping on a candy cotton coffee. Holidays to Chiang Mai are a captivating blend of Lanna and Burmese influences, of digital nomads building a burgeoning creative scene and of spiritual harmony in an ancient riverside city that prizes meditation, massage and complementary medicine.

There’s the much revered Thai cookery schools where you can whip up pad thai and coconut soup like a professional, legendary night markets selling handcrafted gifts and those lychee and lemongrass cocktails under a roof of white lanterns and chromatic paper parasols. You’ll find terraced rice fields in the tiny hamlets of mountains, a colourful spectacle of handmade umbrellas in the artisan village of Bor Sang and extraordinary settlements of Tibetan and Chinese hill tribes who welcome you into villages to learn about their culture.

  • An exotic colourful region of jungle clad hills, mighty rivers, magnificent temples and fascinating hilltribe villages
  • This region has some of the best shopping in Thailand and is renowned for its skilled craftsmen
  • Chiang Mai's famous night market in particular has plenty of good shopping
  • Sitting as it does at the heart of the cultural north, it offers a markedly contrasting - but complementing - experience to a typical beach experience in the south
  • Cooking lessons are popular in Chiang Mai - typically they will involve a trip to the market to buy fresh produce with a local cook, who will then teach the group some easy to remember Thai cooking techniques

Top hotels in Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai

Shangri-La Chiang Mai

from £1,362

Good to know

Time difference:

GMT +7 hours



Flying time to destination:

11½ hours

More facts

When to visit

Jan 28°c
Feb 31°c
Mar 34°c
Apr 36°c
May 33°c
Jun 32°c
Jul 31°c
Aug 31°c
Sep 31°c
Oct 31°c
Nov 29°c
Dec 27°c
Further climate information

Recommended Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai Hotels

Kantary Hills, Chiang Mai


7 nights, Room & Breakfast, 08 Oct '19

from £960

Shangri-La Chiang Mai


7 nights, Room & Breakfast, 08 Oct '19

from £1,362

The Legend Chiang Rai Resort & Spa


7 nights, Room & Breakfast, 03 Sep '19

from £1,546

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Suggested Chiang Mai & Chiang Rai Tours

Thailand Explorer

9 nights, 28 Sep '19

from £2,632

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Kuoni Insider

Exploring Chiang Mai, I ventured down the back alleys and discovered Thai boxing, which was great fun to watch and very cheap. I also visited the food markets, where stalls sell fresh tempura, curry soups, noodles, etc. You just buy some food vouchers for a small fee, choose what you want to eat and tuck into a plate of delicious food.

Jemma Purvis