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Chiang Mai Beckons to Travelers with Any Budget or Interest
Cindy Drukier and Jan Jekielek

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After the southern beaches, the northern jewel city of Chiang Mai is Thailandís most popular tourist destination. Getting around is simple, with many well-trodden tourist tracks to slip onto. Any guidebook or local tuk-tuk (a uniquely Thai three-wheeled taxi named for the rumbling sound of its engine) driver can direct you to them.

In the evening, a bustling night market awaits you. There, with a penchant for bargaining and crowds, you can find the ideal souvenir for anyone. If you prefer some elbowroom, arrive by 6:30 p.m.

At the west end of Chiang Mai, the glistening, gilded temple of Wat Doi Suthep overlooks the city from atop Suthep Mountain, offering great views on a clear day. Inside of Chiang Maiís old city, a perfect square demarcated by a mote and ruins of the old city walls, there are a plethora of historic temples (Wat in Thai), though they can start to blur together after visiting the first few. Chiang Mai is also the starting point for many treks where youíll encounter the unique northern cultures of ďhill-tribeĒ villages, ride elephants, or pole a bamboo raft down a river.

If you are not looking to join the throng of tourists, there are also many great alternatives.

For a genuine local market experience try braving Delat Warorot. Itís no less crowded than the night market, but offers a great slice of life where you can buy everything from flowers and fruit, to textiles, toiletries and bargain clothes. Located along the Ping River, it also has an exciting array of delicious street food, and is open all day.

For a tranquil oasis away from the hum of the city, Wat Umong forest temple is a particular treat. Its ambiance includes a cave shrine, pagoda, trees decked with Buddhist proverbs, a scattered collection of weathered Buddha statues and a small lake with turtles and catfish. It also offers meditation retreats and weekly Buddhist Q&A sessions in English. It is located down Soi Wat Umong off of Suthep Road, in the west end of the city.

For trekking choices that are more culturally and environmentally sensitive, contact Chiang Mai Green Tours and Trekking. They offer cycling trips, bird watching, nature walks, organic farm tours, and other options for communing with the natural beauty of Thailandís northern mountains: Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd, Ms. Tonkon +66-53-247-374, +66-18-832-108; Email:

By far the best way to travel between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is by second-class class sleeper train. Air-conditioned cars are highly recommended if traveling outside of the cool dry season months (November-February). Prices average US $18 each way. Make sure to book several days in advance. There are also other cheaper options, such as overnight buses.

For well-heeled travelers only, the Eastern & Oriental Express offers decadent 2-day/1-night excursions between Bangkok and Chiang Mai with prices from US $910-$1,650, and return trips as well. This luxury train only leaves eight times per year.

Culturally and Environmentally Sensitive Tourism
Chiang Mai Green Tours and Trekking
Cycling trips, bird watching, nature walks, organic farm tours, and other options for communing with the natural beauty of Thailandís northern mountains
Chiang Mai-Lamphun Rd, Ms. Tonkon +66-53-247-374, +66-18-832-108

Luxury Travel by Train
Eastern & Oriental Expressí decadent 2-day/1-night excursions between Bangkok and Chiang Mai
US $910-$1,650 one way, leaving only eight times per year

Bangkok to Chiang Mai on a Budget
Second-class class sleeper trains
US $18 one way

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