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City displays many points of historical architecture including city walls, gates & moat, amongst the several hundred large and small temples. They are some of the few attractions which are free, almost all the others having a two-tier pricing structure - pennies for locals, pounds for foreigners. That situation sums up the attitude of locals towards rich foreign visitors - everyone attempts overcharging unless you can speak some Thai to them.
There are over 400 guest houses and hotels scattered throughout the city offering overr 17,000 bedrooms, with prices ranging from below 2 UK pounds per night to around 100 in the highest class out-of-town resorts. There are about a dozen 3 and 4 star hotels inside the city with more scheduled. The budget to mid-range accomodation is mainly clustered around the East Moat and Thapae Road which joins the old city to the river.
To find a large list of accomodation, pick up one of the several free advertising magazines that are distributed through restaurants, tour guides and hotels. They're also good as guides for where to eat or shop, as well as for entertainment
and activities. Forget the official tourist authority which is essentially useless for western travellers and little better for Eastern foreigners.
Dining is one of Chiangmai's main attractions with almost 100 nationalities cuisines represented in various quality levels. Thai food in the city reflects strong Burmese and Chinese influence compared to central and southern Thailand. Seafood is plentiful and some of the real delights come from eating at street vendors stalls - not just price wise, but also in the atmosphere and taste. Potable water is only available in bottles - the Singha brand being the most reliably free from anything that will upset your stomach. There's no need to carry a bottle with you inside the city - apart from identifying you as a tourist and thus a target for dual pricing, bottled water is available in every shop, bar or restaurant. It's extremely bad form to enter a bar or restaurant and ask only for a bottle of water - try the freshly pressed fruit juices or shakes instead.
Shopping, especially handicrafts, is a famed activity here. The Night Bazaar is expensive compared to getting into the Thai areas and out of the tourist zone. The several huge modern Malls have bargains, but only in manufactured style western goods. For craft bargains - travel just outside the metropolitan area (hire a motorbike or tuktuk - 3 wheel taxi, but YOU tell the driver where to take you or you could get ripped off by commission scams). The main guide books describe the best craft villages adequately. Baan Tawai to the south , is the best for woodenware and carvings. The west side of the moat hosts occassional day markets that are excellent for cheap clothes shopping, and the Hang Dong Road (before the Mahidol Road) has good shoe stalls.
The main guide books and the free magazines tell all you need to know about trekking and hill tribes, elephant camps, white water rafting and a host of other activities.
Coming soon will be a Night Safari Park and several other major investment attractions, but the best bargain right now for sightseeing has to be the medieval ruins of Wieng Kum Kam only 5km out of town and a great day out on foot or bicycle, with elephant riding and other activities cheaply available. Also on a history note, Wieng Kum Kam has a new museum and visitors centre and two others have recently opened in the very heart of the city near the Three Kings Monument - the Lan Na Cultural and Arts Centre with excellent audio visual displays, and the Lan Na history centre adjacent to it with beautiful miniature reconstructions of how the old cities looked.
Getting there - flights hourly from Bangkok during daylight, 6 trains daily and numerous buses from VIP to boneshaker arriving every 20 minutes or so, also all from Bangkok. Two main bus stations act as distribution points for most of Thailand, the rail station is convenient for the city centre, as is the airport which is only 3km outside the main centre. All but the airport have copious taxis. The airport has banned local taxis from collecting passengers there - apparently in an effort to promote the limousine hire service, though the new aircon Mercedes bus service collects from the airport on its circular route into town - best to get off near Thapae Gate (the driver will tell you when)..
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