City Highlight: Chiang Mai, Thailand

This post marks the beginning of a series of posts highlighting popular study abroad, internship, and service destinations for students. In these posts we will describe many cities throughout the world and highlight what it is that makes them so appealing to students.

1052px-Thailand_Chiang_Mai_locator_map.svgWe begin in the enchanting city of Chiang Mai also known as the “Rose of the North”. Located in northern Thailand, near the Himalayan Mountains, this picturesque city is known for its vibrant culture, history, aromatic cuisine. As the second largest city in Thailand it boasts a large walled city center that can trace its history for more than 700 years. In that time, this former capital of the Lan Na Kingdom, has grown to become a regional powerhouse.

Why study here?

For many students, Thailand serves as a good introduction to Asia due to its modernity, relative development, and approachability. Thai people are known for being extremely friendly and welcoming which eases a lot of the anxiety that many travelers can feel when they visit a country with a different cultural tradition and language than their own. Chiang Mai in particular is perfect for students because its laid back pace is not as intimidating as that of a large city such as Bangkok. Students can easily avoid the hustle and bustle of markets and busy streets by walking on the many backstreets that encompass the city. It is in these streets that students can truly appreciate the beauty of Chiang Mai and observe the complexity of Thai culture.

As with many other countries in the area, the cost of living in Chiang Mai is very low when compared to the U.S. Cheap accommodations, transportation, and eating expenses can offset the expense incurred on the airfare to get to Thailand. Once you are there, travel within different countries is easy, cheap, and offers a lot of variety. Students can take weekend trips to big metropolitan cities, such as Bangkok,  or they can easily hop on an airplane and visit nearby Vietnam or Cambodia

Chiang Mai University, the first public university in northern Thailand is located just outside the city center. Due to the student population there, the city has a definite college feel that may also appeal to visiting students.  The array of programs available to students in Thailand grows by the second. Students can work with NGOs on programs related to social justice and women’s rights or they can study Thai culture and cuisine just to mane a few. A quick search will reveal a wide array of programs that can accommodate most majors or interests.

What is there to see?

Walls surrounding the old city in Chiang Mai

Walls surrounding the old city

The historical city center– The core and heart of the city, this is where the city comes to life especially in the evenings. This walled ares of the city encloses the government offices as well as an array of ancient temples intertwined with modern markets. It is a must see where travelers and students can spend days exploring and never see all there is to see.

Phra-Singh Temple Chiang Mai

Phra-Singh Temple Chiang Mai

Temples- There are over 700 temples in Chiang Mai region alone! Walking down any street in the city you are bound to run into a few dozen temples that are open to all. Walk in and enjoy their beauty. Just remember to be respectful, cover your shoulders, and keep your voice down.

The night market– This nightly market presents everyone with a great opportunity to buy anything imaginable and taste the many typical dishes of northern Thailand. Located on  the east side of the walled city, this kilometer long market opens year round and is a must for those looking for anything from designer items to traditional Thai artwork.

Night Market Chiang Mai

Night Market Chiang Mai

Food- one the many highlights of Thailand, is readily available and very inexpensive. There is nowhere better to experience the many tastes, colors, and textures of Thai food than the night market. Students can also take cooking classes that will introduce them to the wide variety of food and crops used in Thai cuisine as well as cooking techniques.

The countryside– a visit to Thailand is not complete without taking a visit to the countryside. Rice is the main crop of the country and rice patties decorate the landscape as far as the eye can see. There are also many national parks within a 50 mile radius of the city that are worth exploring if you have free time.

Rice fields

Rice fields surrounding Chiang Mai

For the more adventurous– Elephant sanctuaries nearby allow visitors to get up close to these magestic animals while supporting their cause. Students can also volunteer to work at some of these sanctuaries on their spare time. There are also many more daring activities for those seeing a thrill such as white-water rafting and zip lining. Trips can easily be arranged with agencies in Chiang Mai.

Regardless of what you want to do or study, Chiang Mai is an excellent place to explore the complexity of Thai culture while not being overwhelmed by the crowds of bigger cities.


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