FOR THE MIND – As Thailand’s cultural capital, Chiang Mai is considered the centre of Thai art, with artists from around the country – and indeed the world – converging on the city. Chiang Mai's classical art can be found in temples, or a number of galleries throughout the city, but the new MAIIAM is an altogether different experience.
An initiative of the Bunnag-Beurdeley family, MAIIAM is located a short tuk tuk ride outside of the old town in an impressive mirrored building (which recalls a giant, rectangular disco ball). Alongside its permanent works, which focus on giants of modern Thai art such as former Chiang Mai resident, Montien Boonma, MAIIAM hosts excellent temporary exhibitions like ‘Mon Art du Style’ (which fuses fashion and art) and other special events.
As avant guard as any museum I've seen, MAIIAM's collection of artworks open a window into the soul of the Thai people, while the Museum itself is a testament to the commitment to contemporary art within Chiang Mai.
FOR THE BODY - No tour of Thailand is truly complete without a Thai massage, and none do it better than RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort, where two hours of bliss will only set you back around $100. From its welcome pandan tea and guava scrub foot rub through a whole-body massage to the ginger tea, sticky rice and mango farewell, this experience is Thai service at its best.
If you can handle it, get the deep massage (which at one point involves the masseurs actually standing on your back). And if you can’t, the highly trained staff will be only too happy to pare it back for you (without bruising your ego). Alternatively, you can just nourish your body through Chiang Mai’s endless dining options – or even learn to cook up your own Thai feast at one of its countless cooking schools.
FOR THE SOUL - You won’t be able to visit most of Chiang Mai’s temples – there are literally hundreds of them. But there are a few you simply must see. My local guide, Jack, says that if you haven’t been to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, you haven’t been to Chiang Mai – and though it’s not the most exquisite temple in the city, it’s still stunning and offers views over Chiang Mai that are impossible to beat.
Arrive just before dusk, and you’ll likely witness the chanting Buddhist monks, and feel halfway to nirvana. Elsewhere, Wat Phra Singh is considered by many the most beautiful temple in northern Thailand, while the less elaborate but equally alluring Wat Chedi Luang is also well worth visiting.
JUST FOR FUN … Cheap, surprisingly efficient, and downright fun, a rickshaw ride can take you around Chiang Mai’s small old town as well as nearby areas like Chinatown and sights such as the wet market, which is famed for its flowers and fresh foods (like the king and queen of fruits, durian and mangosteen). Despite their advanced age, the riders are amazingly fit and even happy to pose for a photo or two along the way. If you’re going to tip anyone, make it these guys.