Tourism in Chiang Mai was pioneered by intrepid backpackers who used it as a base to venture into the remote northwest mountains of the once-notorious Golden Triangle to see the colourful hill tribe communities.
While many still go trekking, tourism has become more mainstream, with attractions that satisfy more universal travel needs.
In parts of the city, there is a chic edge with lots of cool designer outlets to match Chiang Mai's cool mountain air.
The famous Night Bazaar still lures eager shoppers but urban hipsters now venture out of the city centre to Nimmanhaemin Road.
Smart new designer hotels satisfy the cravings for those seeking life's little indulgences.
Exciting shopping, delicious food and direct flights are additional reasons to head to northern Thailand.
Lanna culture meets urban chic
Chiang Mai was once the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom.
Old Lanna-style temples dot the city with Doi Suthep the setting of Chiang Mai's most spectacular temple. Wat Phra That Doi, located on the 1,700m mountain summit, is the city's most visible landmark.
The city has always had a vibrant art community and several surrounding villages specialise in craft industries such as silk weaving, umbrella making, silver jewellery and wood carving.
While the villages are still popular with many tourists, the hottest local designers can be found along Nimmanhaemin Road and the side streets (soi) from numbers 1 to 17.
Young local designers sell items at affordable prices with most boutiques, galleries and cafes being located down the side streets.
Seek out fashion, household items and art at Mesimu, Garden Yard, Gong Dee Gallery, Fai Ngam, DesignOne and Ayodhya. The Booksmith on the main road has a fascinating collection of design books and gifts.
In the evening, trendsetters descend on the same area for the restaurants and bars.
The action starts late with one of the most popular bars being HOBS on the main road.
Belgium beer lures drinkers and a young, trendy crowd. Beer drinkers also head to Beer Republic, while cocktails are the reason many are attracted to bars such as the Doggy Monster Bar (try the lychee mojitos) and Bar Fry (cocktails and French fries).
In other parts of the city, "walking street markets" are another Chiang Mai initiative. They are staged in the open air every Saturday and Sunday night, but in different locations.
On Saturday, the market extends along Wua Lai Road (near the Chiang Mai Gate) while on Sunday, a larger markets extends 1km along Ratchadamnoen Road (starting from Tha Phae Gate).
They start in the late afternoon. Both are very atmospheric but they become crowded as the evening progresses.
Some treats to seek out include fresh local strawberries, passionfruit, locally grown coffee, macadamia nuts and mulberry wine.
The city is considered Thailand's cultural heartland with food an important element in the region's tourism equation.
Sticky rice is the staple, while two of the most famous dishes are naem sausages and khao soi (egg noodles served with a spicy curry broth).
The Ping River flows through the city and many hotels and restaurants are situated along its riverbanks to take advantage of the views and cool breezes.
One of the city's favourite restaurants here is The Riverview. The best time to arrive is at sunset to enjoy a sundowner in the garden before dinner.
A band entertains drinkers in the bar while diners seek out the veranda and gardens.
Thais have taken to the cafe society like most other Asian cultures, with innovative local concepts like Black Canyon, Doi Tung and Wawee as popular as international brands.
Check out Dolcetto in the hipsterville precinct of Nimmanhaemin Street, Soi 7. Dolcetto uses Costa Rican coffee and serves the most delicious lava cake and waffles to accompany the fresh brews.
Vieng Joom On (53 Charoenraj Road) is a fine tearoom within a tranquil riverside garden.
Global teas are served and a stylish shop is perfect to stock up on exquisitely packaged gifts.
Eating Thai food is not enough for some visitors and several cooking schools such as those in the MGallery Veranda and Anantara Chiang Mai resorts cater to foodies wanting to extend their culinary repertoire.
Wellness and spa treatments are also affordable and range from luxurious treatments in the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa or in numerous street-front locations with amazingly low prices.
San-Sabai just off Nimmanhaemin Road is one such bargain-priced day spa.
This article was first published on April 14, 2015.
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