In The Saddle....
thoughts from the folks at pedalers

The Ancient Walled City of Chiang Mai

 
Before the 1920s, it used to take an arduous river journey or a rugged elephant trek through the jungle to reach the beautiful temples of Chiang Mai. Fortunately, this northern gem is now much more accessible. However, its decades of isolation has had the benefit of preserving Chiang Mai’s traditional charm, and the city is a wonderful place to get some insight on the history of the Thai lifestyle.

The largest city in Northern Thailand, and known to locals as the cultural capital, Chiang Mai is located on the Ping River which was an important historical thoroughfare for trade routes. To this day it is still a major center for beautiful handcrafted goods, umbrellas, silver jewelery and woodcarving. There are many opportunities for shopping in the local markets, including the bustling Sunday Walking Street Market where you can find beautiful local fashions and handmade art pieces.

Surrounded by dramatic mountains and lush countryside, Chiang Mai is a greener and quieter version of the capital city Bangkok, with a cosmopolitan flair. Although Chiang Mai translates as “New City”, this city is far from new. In fact, it’s rich and multi-layered history dates back to 1296 AD. At one time it was the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom, and it contains temple after temple dating back to these early foundations, in impressive Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai designs.

A Peaceful Oasis of Culture

Chiang Mai is one of the few cities in the world which still has a traditional moat around the city. The moat, lined with trees, grassy banks, beautiful fountains and historic ramparts is ideal for exploring by bicycle. The moat creates a different atmosphere at night time as it is lit up with brilliant colors.

With its quiet and relaxed vibe, this historic city appeals more to the sophisticated traveler than the young backpacker chaos of Bangkok. It has an increasing number of high-class hotels, giving visitors the option to stay here in style and comfort. Chiang Mai has attracted a large percentage of expats and retirees who have chosen this affordable, unspoilt, and more traditional city to call home.

A Whole New World of Tastes

One of the highlights of your experience in Chiang Mai is sure to be the food. Thai cuisine is famously fragrant and flavorful, and rich curries, spicy soups, and savory noodle dishes. In the North specifically, the cuisine features the frequent use of hot chili dips known as “naam prik”. Why not try some yam woon sen noodles with curry powder and turmeric?

The traditional Northern Thai meal is known as Khan Toke, which is served on a small round table and consists of several small dishes to share such as beef and chicken curry, crispy fried pork skin, and naam prik served with sticky rice. An authentic Khan Toke dining experience will be part of your cycling tour, providing a great opportunity to converse with your new friends. If you have adventurous tastes, and love exotic and spicy flavors, you will be in heaven with the amount of new culinary sensations available for you to sample here in Chiang Mai.

The Cycling Experience of a Lifetime

Chiang Mai is ideally suited to exploring on a bicycle. The roads are excellent here, with some of the most well-maintained road cover in Southeast Asia due to the fact that the Royal Thai Government has made the condition of the roads a priority. During the dry season, the climate is pleasant and cool, making the perfect conditions for a long bike ride through the surrounding green hills, lakes, flower fields and tranquil forests. In order to preserve the sacred mountains, the roads are not blasted through the mountain passes but gently woven around them, making for fantastic twists and spectacular views. Within the city of Chiang Mai, bicycles and motorbikes are a common means of transportation for locals. Chiang Mai doesn’t have the traffic of Bangkok, which makes it a more laid back experience to cycle through the old lanes and streets of this ancient city.

Experiencing Chiang Mai first hand by bicycle is the best way to truly soak in the sights and sounds of the city. Weave through the narrow lanes and alleyways and admire the traditional wooden houses and wide array of quirky shops. The spicy scent of simmering noodles, the ringing of prayer bells, and the bright rainbow of traditional Thai dress: Cycling lets you immerse yourself completely in the colorful excitement of Chiang Mai.

Choose Your Own Adventure

We offer three distinct tours which visit Chiang Mai, each with a different theme and pace to them.

The Experiences Chiang Mai tour is based in a boutique lodge within the heart of the old city in Chiang Mai and takes you on many day trips by bike, canoe, raft, foot around the city and surrounding countryside, also includes an option to learn a little Thai cooking as well. The Experiences Chiang Mai tour is suitable for casual travelers who want a relaxing yet experiential time.

The Northern Highlights tour is a week long adventure that takes you from Chiang Mai up into remote mountain resorts, lush isolated forests, and breathtaking temple caves. On this journey, selected by National Geographic Traveler as one of the 50 Tours of a Lifetime, you will never be far from excitement.

The Ancient Kingdoms tour is two weeks long, and takes you all the way from central Thailand into the beautiful north, exploring fascinating ruins along the way. If you want to learn more about the rich history of this area, see an elephant training camp, and discover how the ethnic tribes of Thailand live, this adventure is for you!