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Ten Cool Things To Do in Chiang Mai.
Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai
Saturday, 9th June 2012
 
Chiang Mai, the cultural capital of northern Thailand, is a laid-back city famous for its history, glittering temples, traditional crafts, and among Thais for its irresistible local cuisine.

But Chiang Mai has even more secrets to reveal, and Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai brings travellers ten top insider tips.

1. History Lessons - Long before Thailand was known as Thailand, Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, also known as the "Land of a Million Rice Fields." Rice fields are still in abundance in the areas surrounding the city (and even form the heart of Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai), but there are plenty of other fascinating historical sites to see in and around the former capital. Aside from the must-see mountain temple of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep with its golden chedi and breathtaking views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas, most of the more well-known temples are in the Old Town, including the 600-year-old Wat Chedi Luang and the beautifully ornate Wat Phra Singh. However, there are also plenty more off-the-beaten-track temples that are well worth a visit. Discover Wat Intravas for teak architecture and intricate wood carvings in the traditional Lanna style, or closer to home, Watpha Darabhirom, the beautiful temple in Mae Rim village, just a 10-minute bicycle ride from Four Seasons, and very much off the tourist trail.

2. Cheers! Sampling the local tipple – Thai beers are well known the world over, but Thai wines less so, and local Thai spirits are practically unheard of. So why not indulge in an education by the pool at Ratree Bar at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai? Begin with a martini made with home-infused lemongrass, ginger or chili vodkas, or sample a Thai-inspired cocktail such as the deliciously sweet Mango Sticky Rice Daiquiri (inspired by every Thai's favourite dessert) or the punch-packing Rice Fields (inspired by the rice paddies that form the heart of the Resort, made with rice vodka and jasmine extract). Or how about settling back into that recliner with a glass of Monsoon Valley White Shiraz from vineyards in the Hua Hin hills that can be toured on elephant-back? But for the more adventurous, don't leave Chiang Mai without tasting the Mah Jai Dum, or "black-hearted dog," a local vodka made from coconut flowers, popular at local bars, and definitely not for the faint-hearted. An education to remember - unless you have one too many, that is.

3. Surrender to the hands of former prisoners – Visiting former prisoners is not usually at the top of everyone's holiday wish list. But in Chiang Mai it's definitely recommended, and the place to do it is at Lila Thai Massage Shop. Originally set up by the former director of the Chiang Mai Women's Prison, Mrs. Naowarat Thanasrisutharat, the first Lila Thai Massage Shop was established to support released female prisoners and offer them the opportunity to earn a legal living. Through the cooperation of Chiang Mai Women's Prison and the Institute of Skill Development, the therapists at Lila go through a 180-hour massage training program during their time in prison. Lila Thai Massage now has numerous branches throughout Chiang Mai offering Thai massage, foot massage and other treatments, and a visit is an opportunity to support these women in starting new lives free of crime and to give them a sense of pride from earning an honest living. One can do good while the ladies of Lila make tired muscles feel good.

4Hoteliers Image Library4. Food, Glorious Food – As any Thai will confirm, Chiang Mai cuisine is delicious, and very different from what is commonly known as "Thai food" overseas. From local street stalls to fine dining, Chiang Mai has so much to offer the foodie that even a weeklong visit might not suffice. It's not unusual to be told that "if you haven't eaten khao soi gai you haven't been to Chiang Mai," and a trip to the city really isn't complete without sampling this dish (egg noodles in a spicy chicken curry broth), a firm favourite of locals and visitors alike. Other must-tries are sai oua (spicy and sour northern Thai sausage) and gaeng hung lay (dry spicy pork curry with pickled pearl garlic), both of which can be tried at various local restaurants in town, or at Sala Mae Rim at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai. The climate in Chiang Mai is cooler than in Bangkok, and the region benefits from a range of seasonal products unknown further south. In particular, look out for Chiang Mai strawberries, available from November to March, and eaten with a chili, salt and sugar dip. Definitely a unique flavour experience.

5. Learn the Secrets of Thai Cuisine – For those for whom merely tasting the local flavours isn't enough, taking part in a cooking course could provided the answer. The Cooking School at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai offers classes six days a week with Chef Instructor Pirun Pumicome, who teaches students to cook four different dishes during each class in the spectacular surroundings of his teaching kitchen. The class begins with an early morning trip to the market with the Cooking School team where guests will learn about local ingredients, herbs and spices, and where they will actually buy the ingredients that they need for the day's lesson. Depending on the dishes they'll be preparing, the shopping list might feature exotic items such as Thai basil, galangal, or freshly-squeezed coconut milk. After completing their shopping spree (with time to sample a few local treats in the market), guests will then return to the school where cooking begins in earnest – after making an offering at the Resort's Spirit House to ask for successful cooking and no kitchen mishaps, that is. After teaching the guests how to cook each dish on the menu for the day's class, Chef Pirun will supervise the students as they put their own skills to the test. The class finishes with lunch (the students get to eat their own creations) and the presentation of certificates to the next generation of budding Thai chefs.

6. Join a "Monk Chat" Session – As a traveller, it's often easy to gaze at gorgeous temples, snap pics of exotic-looking monks in their saffron robes, and then carry on to the next sight. But, as one of the signs at a local temple in Chiang Mai implores, "don't just stand looking from afar and walk away" – and what good advice that is. Many temples in the city have introduced "Monk Chat" sessions to give novices and young monks an opportunity to practice their English (or any other languages they happen to have had the opportunity to study), and to give travellers the chance to ask about life in the temples. Depending on the temple, the session may be very casual (as easy as just dropping in to say sawasdee, or "hello" in Thai) or more formal, arranged at an allocated time on a particular day. The Concierge at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai can provide further details. So next time, don't just stand looking from afar and walk away; go and meet the monks and learn a little about daily life in a Thai Buddhist temple.

7. Country Roads – The scenery around Chiang Mai is some of the most spectacular in Thailand, with lush rice fields, golden temples glittering in the sunlight, and mountains reminiscent of scenes from the movie Avatar. Hire a car and driver for the day, and head out into the hills. One great place to visit that's not too far from Four Seasons is Mon Jam (in the northern Thai dialect "mon" means mountain and "jam" means clear), a beautiful hilltop site offering spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, flower gardens, and even, in the right season, strawberry picking. A good spot for a casual lunch, the menu at Mon Jam features fresh sustainable ingredients from the Royal Project, as well as local herbal teas.

4Hoteliers Image Library8. Experience Yi Peng, the festival of lights - Every year in November, northern Thais celebrate Yi Peng, a Buddhist festival that focuses on merit-making and is celebrated by the releasing of floating khom loy lanterns into the sky to carry wishes and dreams up towards the heavens. And the best place to witness - and take part in - these beautiful celebrations is Chiang Mai, where thousands of lanterns are released simultaneously, resulting in an unforgettable spectacle as the entire night sky is lit up. Join the large celebrations in the city, or enjoy a small, intimate celebration at Four Seasons where guests are able to release their very own khom loy on the edge of the lake.

9. Celebrating Thai New Year, Chiang Mai-style – Thai New Year, also known as songkran, is celebrated annually across the country in mid-April each year. Traditionally a festival during which scented water is poured over the hands of elders and monks as a sign of respect, in recent years songkran has taken a turn for the less sedate and the more exciting. And nowhere is Thai New Year celebrated with more enthusiasm and vigour than in Chiang Mai. The town dedicates itself to what is essentially one giant three-day water fight, with the areas of the old town close to the moats seeing most of the action. Visitors to the city during this time of year are as welcome to join in the festivities as the locals – in fact, visitors often make more enticing targets for a good dousing with a water pistol! The most important thing to remember when venturing out onto the streets at this time is to leave cameras and phones behind (or at least keep them in waterproof bags), accept the fact that one will get wet and, most importantly, join in the spirit of Thai New Year and have fun.

10. The gateway to the far North – In addition to being a fascinating destination in its own right, Chiang Mai is also the gateway to the far North of Thailand, a region of misty mountains, emerald rice fields, ancient temples, hill tribe villages, rich culture and elephants, and the border areas close to Laos and Myanmar (Burma). Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai provides the perfect base for excursions around the region, whether by mountain bike, bamboo raft or hot air balloon, and a four-hour drive will deliver guests to  Four Seasons Tented Camp Golden Triangle. Located on the banks of the Ruak River forming the border between Thailand and Myanmar, Four Seasons Tented Camp offers guests the opportunity to learn the ancient skills of the mahouts (the property is one of the founding members of the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation) while experiencing a level of luxury and comfort like no other. They say that elephants never forget, and it's definitely pretty hard to forget an addition like this to a northern Thai adventure. 
 
www.fourseasons.com/chiangmai
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