Chiang Mai has a different feel than any of the Thai cities I have visited in the past. Bangkok is modern, frenetic and has a few too many older men roaming certain sections of town looking for a girlfriend experience. Pattaya is simply sleazy. Phuket can be a luxury beach resort, a family friendly location or a brothel depending on which section of the island you are visiting. I have loved the small towns I have cycled through but the visits were too brief to form an opinion. Chiang Mai exudes an inclusive, hip vibe that welcomes everyone. It is Steve McQueen cool.
As you walk around town you hear American and British English from across the old Commonwealth, French, German, Chinese, Russian and a multitude of other languages. The travelers include young solo backpackers, couples of all ages, and families. They are here to go trekking, hiking, cycling, for the history, or as a jumping off-point to visit the Golden Triangle and hill tribe villages. They could even be some of the new permanent residents to a city that welcomes retirees, digital nomads and gays.
Chiang Mai, like all of Thailand has great food and the prices are even better. If you are a beer drinker then skip the imported beers and enjoy some of the great Thai beers.
It boasts a strong coffee culture. Love Starbucks? It’s here. Hate Starbucks? You have many other choices so be nice and drink your coffee. Everyone is welcome in Chiang Mai.
With more than 800 years of history, it does not lack for sights to see. The moat and walls once protected Northern Thailand from Burma. The wats are incredible.
If you have no time for a visit to a wat then you can visit a shrine on almost any street.
The Night Market and the Night Bazaar will satisfy all your shopping needs. Chiang Mai is an emerging art center with both traditional Thai artists and a growing number of modern artists taking up residence in the city. It is a cycling center with professional cyclists making it a home and training base in much the same way that Girona is for American and European cyclists. Cycling is what brought me here and I am about to start riding to Bangkok but I will be back to explore all the things I missed on this trip.