Nestled amongst forested foothills, Chiang Mai is much older than it first appears. During the city’s medieval heyday, almost everything was made of teak hauled by elephant from the surrounding rainforest, with the notable exception of its towering wát. The monasteries still remain, centred on ancient brick chedi (stupas) in a remarkable range of shapes and styles, but the gaps between them have been filled in with modern Thai houses and traveller hotels. Despite this, the historic centre of Chiang Mai still feels overwhelmingly residential, more like a sleepy country town than a bustling capital.
A sprawling modern city has grown up around ancient Chiang Mai, ringed by a tangle of superhighways, but if you drive in a straight line in any direction, you’ll soon find yourself in the lush green countryside of northern Thailand. A short ride by motorcycle or chartered rót daang (‘red truck’) will deliver you to pristine rainforest reserves, churning waterfalls, serene forest wát,bubbling hot springs and peaceful country villages – as well as a host of adventure camps, elephant sanctuaries and souvenir markets.
From Lonely Planet