Chiang Mai, Thailand's second-largest city, is the gateway to the country's north. Chiang Mai has grown rapidly into a large and dynamic city in recent years but it still retains a great deal of charm within its ancient walls and has much to offer visitors. Much more compact and easier to navigate than Bangkok, it is here that visitors come to immerse themselves in some of Thailand's extraordinary culture. Whether chatting with Buddhist monks, observing the skilled artisans, riding bicycles through the surrounding villages, flying in hot-air balloons or white water rafting, there is plenty to do and see in the north of Thailand.
What To See
The Grand Palace ✪
Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Grand Palace is one of the most famous attractions in all of Thailand. It's actually a large complex that includes many structures, including the Grand Palace itself, with its fantastic spires and ornamentation, and Wat Phra Kaew. Originally built for King Rama I in the late 1700s, the compound has evolved into a vast, golden city that's a top destination for this country's predominantly Buddhist population. The Grand Palace was the king's official residence until 1946. Wat Phra Kaew, the most important structure inside the walled compound, houses the ancient Emerald Buddha (carved from a single block of jade). Don't wait until your last day in town to see the Grand Palace—many people want to see it more than once.
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) ✪
This is one of the best-known and most photographed landmarks in Bangkok. The name means Temple of Dawn, and the structure consists of one elongated prang (Khmer-style tower) surrounded by four smaller ones. The main prang, 269 ft/82 m high, is decorated with mosaics made of porcelain that glisten in the sun. The porcelain arrived in Bangkok as ballast in Chinese trading vessels. Unlike many of Bangkok's other temples, this one looks better from a distance, especially when viewed from across the river. Despite its name, the best photographs are taken as the sun sets behind it.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) ✪
Next to the Grand Palace, this is one of Bangkok's oldest temples, and it's famous for its numerous ceramic-tiled stupasand its gold-plated reclining Buddha—it's one of the largest Buddhas in Thailand (152 ft/46 m long and 49 ft/15 m high). Walk its whole length—the mother-of-pearl inlay on the soles of his feet is sensational. As you explore the temple, you'll see much smaller images of Buddha everywhere. One of Thailand's most-respected teaching centers of traditional Thai massage, Wat Pho also offers massage and reflexology to tired tourists for a reasonable fee. Vistors can sign up for courses to learn the art of massage. The temple is also well-regarded for its fortune tellers and astrologers, as well, who will predict your future for a fee.
Wat Traimat (Temple of the Golden Buddha) ✪
This temple houses the famous 14th-century Golden Buddha. Made primarily of gold and weighing more than 10,000 lb/4,500 kg, it was discovered under an unremarkable concrete veneer in 1954, where it lay hidden for hundreds of years. It is believed that the statue was initially covered in plaster to protect it from Burmese invaders and was then forgotten. There is a museum on-site that traces the history of the statue.
Chao Mae Tubtim
Located behind the Swissotel Nai Lert Park, this famous Buddhist shrine was once a spirit house built by Nai Lert, the hotel's original owner, for Jao Mae Tubtim, a female spirit thought to live in a large ficus tree in the garden. The shrine is noted for the collection of wooden and stone phallic sculptures that surrounds it. Women seeking to conceive leave offerings of flowering jasmine and lotus blossoms.
Jim Thompson House & Museum ✪
This complex of six teak houses was built for Thailand's most famous farang (foreigner), the U.S. citizen credited with revitalizing Thailand's silk industry. The house is filled with Thompson's rare art and antiques collection. Since Thompson's puzzling disappearance in Malaysia in 1967, his former residence has become a popular tourist attraction. The James H.W. Thompson Foundation also opened a store and cafe next door. Be sure to visit the interesting art gallery above the gift shop.
The National Museum
In 1884, King Rama V turned these buildings into a museum to display his vast collection of art and artifacts from around the country (as well as items he picked up during his travels abroad). The collection has grown over the years, and it's now considered the largest in Southeast Asia. With artifacts ranging from Neolithic to modern times, the collection also includes everything from royal cremation chariots and weaponry to delicate textiles and ivory carvings to giant shadow puppets. Volunteers give free English-language tours on Wednesday and Thursday beginning at 9:30 am. No photography is permitted within the exhibits.
Vimanmek Teak Palace
This structure is the world's largest teak building. It was built by King Rama V in 1868 on the island of Koh Si Chang as a summer palace and moved to its current location in 1910. With 81 rooms and priceless antiques and paintings, it's a fine tribute to Thai architecture and art. You can't walk around on your own, but there are free guided tours in English every half-hour starting at 9:30 am. Free demonstrations of Thai dance in the foyer daily at 10:30 am and 2 pm.
Zoos & Wildlife
Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute Snake Farm
At this facility, which is run by the Thai Red Cross as a center for collecting venom (to make antitoxin), you can watch as handlers milk poison from cobras, black mambas and other fearsome snakes.
Boating & Sailing
Chao Phraya River and Canals ✪
A trip through the khlongs (canals) on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya offers a glimpse into the Bangkok of centuries past. On the banks of the big canals (Khlong Bangkok Noi, Khlong Mon and Khlong Ban Ya), you'll see old-style Thai wooden houses, temples and fruit orchards. Although you could just ride the public water taxis along the river, long-tail boats are available for hire independently, or you can book one through any reputable tour company. The piers (tha) close to the Royal Orchid Sheraton (Tha Sri Phaya) and the Shangri-La (Tha Sathorn), as well as Tha Tien and Tha Chang, are good places to hire them.
This old city served as the nation's capital from 1350 until the 1700s, when it was sacked by the Burmese. Ayutthaya remains an archaeological and historical treasure with an extensive collection of temples (some well-maintained), Buddhist relics, royal palaces and museums. It's about 55 mi/90 km from Bangkok via Highway 340. A number of operators run river cruises or combination boat and bus tours to Ayutthaya, although an overnight stay is warranted if time allows. Contact the tourist office for details.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market ✪
It's easy to visualize how residents of the ancient "Venice of the East" once lived, as a wealth of floating markets still exist in Thailand, and most aren't farther than a few hours from Bangkok. Damnoen Saduak is the best known, but hotels and travel agents around the city organize full- or half-day trips, often in combination with nearby attractions. Expect to see lots of other tourists. Check with your hotel or travel agent for options.
Where To Stay
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
Voted repeatedly as one of the best hotels in the world by reputed magazines including Institutional Investor and Conde Nast Traveler, The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok is ideally situated on the banks of the Chao-Phraya River and in close proximity to Silom’s shopping and business districts.Bangkok’s sky-train may be reached within 3 minutes by hotel shuttle-boat.Since opening its doors in 1876 The Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok has captured the hearts and minds of royalty and heads of state, industrialists, authors and artists, as well as famed travelers from far away places.
The Peninsula Bangkok
Developed as one of the finest hotel properties in Bangkok, its riverside location inspired the wave-shaped design, capitalising on the uninterrupted panoramic views from every room and adding a distinctive architectural statement to the Bangkok skyline.The Peninsula Bangkok brings together world renowned Thai hospitality and a gift of warm service with the Peninsula tradition.The hotel is situated on the west banks of the Chao Phraya River with a spectacular view of the Bangkok skyline, close to the Sathorn Bridge.
The Siam Bangkok
As the only riverside luxury resort to be located in the heart of Bangkok's palace and historic district, The Siam offers you the unique opportunity to explore the Kingdom's finest restaurants, markets, artists, galleries, shopping, temples, museums, palaces, historic sites, neighborhoods and architecture. Choose from the city’s most spacious suites, as well as 11 Pool Villas with private gardens, swimming pools and roof terraces. Master the art of Thai cuisine at the intimate cooking school, or simply savor meals at one of three restaurants. Enjoy the pampering of the Opium Spa, or spar in the world's first luxury Muay Thai boxing studio.
The St Regis Bangkok
Timeless traditions and impeccable service are the hallmarks of the St. Regis experience, now residing in the heart of Bangkok, one of the world’s most vibrant cities. Experience extraordinary pampering at the Elemis Spa. Unwind in an inviting outdoor pool and lounge area with panoramic views. If you are business traveler, enjoy the ease of having a 24-hour state-of-the art business center on site. Cocktails at the hotel's 12th floor Sky Lounge offer the perfect transition from day to evening and dining. Whatever your pleasure, signature St. Regis Butler service and one of the city's finest multilingual concierge teams are always at hand.
The Sukhothai Bangkok
The Sukhothai Bangkok, nestled in 6 acres of landscaped tropical gardens, has the unique advantage of being conveniently located in the heart of the city. It’s just minutes away from the entertainment and shopping districts, embassies and tourist attractions. Recapturing the serenity of Thailand’s golden age, the hotel takes its inspiration and its name from the renowned 13th century Sukhothai kingdom.