For visitors from the Middle East, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have much to offer. With a range of luxury accommodations, welcoming hospitality, shopping and culinary offerings, religious and historic sites, as well as a lush green landscape, rolling hills and verdant plains, the region is a feast for the eyes and senses.
Thailand’s second-largest city and the capital of the Northern Territory, Chiang Mai has a bustling urban feel with a distinctively hip and artsy underbelly. Old Chiang Mai is a city within a city and the heart of the historic offerings of the region. Highlights include the many Buddhist temples such as the famous Wat Chedi Luang. It can take up to two days to fully explore Old Chiang Mai’s more than 30 temples, museums, cultural and arts centres and parks.
Chiang Mai’s Night Market is a shopper’s paradise offering everything from stunning Thai silk to intricate wood carvings and other locally-crafted souvenirs. The night market gets underway each evening (except Sunday, when the Walking Market gets top billing) at dusk and in addition to shopping, there are food stalls, a food truck court where young people gather and small restaurants throughout the one kilometre shopping stretch.
For animal enthusiasts, the Maesa Elephant Camp, established in 1976, is the oldest elephant camp in Thailand with more than 70 elephants in residence. The camp offers elephant rides, a course on elephant training, as well as a popular elephant show where elephant trainers (mahouts) demonstrate the strength, agility and smarts of these beautiful beasts. At Flight of the Gibbon, adventure seekers can zipline through a five-km tree canopy course in an area where gibbon apes make their home. The zipline trail includes an 800-m zipline, the longest in Asia.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai recently upgraded 64 of its Lanna-style pavilions with custom-crafted furniture, new fabrics and artwork. The Dhara Dhevi Chiang Mai is investing more than Dh313 million ($85 million) on a property expansion project to include an additional hotel wing with 80 rooms, as well as four condominium towers for a total of 200 units. Luxury boutique hotelier X2 is scheduled to open the 30-suite X2 Chiang Mai Riverside Hotel along the Ping River in 2017.
In Chiang Rai, located 200 kilometres from Chiang Mai, visitors can take in views of The Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. A boat cruise on the Mekong River offers great vistas of all three countries. Chiang Rai is also known for its many Lanna-style temples, but perhaps the most-photographed in the region is the Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), designed and constructed by Thai National artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Opened in 1997, the unconventional temple explores themes of politics and war, encouraging global peace to those who pass through its doors.
The 63-room Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort sits on a hilltop overlooking the Mekong River with views of Myanmar and Laos as well as elephants grazing on the resort’s grounds. The property is renowned for its interactive elephant activities as well as its charity (Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation) which helps elephants incapable of earning a living in a safe and sustainable manner.
Elephant activities at the property include mahout training, elephant education and elephant rides. Recently, the resort launched its Walking With Giants activity, where guests join elephants in residence on their daily walk. During the programme, guests walk alongside the elephants on the property’s reserve area and stop to watch as the gentle giants enjoy snacks of bamboo shoots, play in the mud, and enjoy a bath. Guests are joined by the elephant’s mahouts (trainers) as well as one of Anantara’s on-site veterinarians, who provide insights and answer questions about the elephants, their life inside and outside the camp, and ongoing conservation activities in the region.
Currently, there are 184 flights per week from the Middle East to Thailand. Chiang Mai International Airport is currently served by 27 scheduled airlines which served more than eight million passengers in fiscal year 2015, up nearly 30 per cent over 2014. Chiang Mai International Airport is working on a development project that will increase its capacity from 8 million to 15 million passengers per annum by 2022.
Qatar Airways will inaugurate three flight per week from Doha to Chiang Mai in December this year. Emirates and Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding to utilise the airline’s global network to boost inbound tourist arrivals to Thailand with the possibility of launching a new air route from Dubai to Chiang Mai. TAT signed similar agreements with Mahan Air earlier this year, and Etihad Airlines in 2015.
By Christine Hinz
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