Monks at the Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai. Photo: AFP
Enjoy your complimentary breakfast at charming, centrally located Baan Orapin (baanorapin.com; from $55), a family teak residence with immaculate guestrooms. Join a half-day tour by bike (chiangmaibikerides.com; $34) to see the highlights of Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, which include several colourful temples, before filling up on fish curry and rice at shabby-chic The Gallery (thegallery-restaurant.com; $10). After lunch, the religious university attached to Wat Suan Dok (monkchat.net; by donation) provides the opportunity to talk to local English-speaking monks about Buddhist culture and monastery life. Dine on health-conscious Thai and Indian dishes at tranquil Whole Earth (wholeearthrestaurant.com; $7 for mains) before plundering the nearby Night Market along Chang Klan Road, where you can also enjoy a cold beer ($2) and buy knock-off watches and souvenirs.
EASY DOES IT
Chiang Mai's main attractions are its lovely but scattered temples, best reached by tuk-tuk (about $10 for four rides). Admire the superb wooden architecture of Wat Phra Singh, the 2000-year-old Buddha statues at Wat Chiang Man, and the wonderful chedis of Wat Jet Yot. Have lunch near Wat Chedi Luang at Huen Phen (112 Rachamankha Road; $10), which offers excellent northern Thai cuisine with a spicy kick. In the afternoon, local companies offer half-day tours ($20) to glittering, golden Wat Doi Suthep (fivethousandyears.org) beyond town, where temple spires combine with rice paddies and country scenery. Dine at the fun Riverside Restaurant (theriversidechiangmai.com; $20) with live jazz and an extensive menu of Thai and Western dishes. Retire to minimalist D2 Hotel (dusit.com/dusit-d2; from $150), which isn't only conveniently located but has spacious rooms, good service and a hipster vibe.
Book an airconditioned car with driver ($70 a day) and get about the sights in comfort. As well as temples, check out shopping streets such as Wua Lai Road for silver, Sankampaeng Road for artisan workshops and Charoenrat Road for silk and paintings. Lunch at glamorous Ginger Kafe (thehousethailand.com; $30) on tapas and delicious salads, or a more substantial Thai meal. In the afternoon, head out of town to the lush Mae Song Valley, whose attractions include an orchid farm, botanic gardens (qsbg.org; $4) and an elephant camp (maesaelephantcamp.com; $7). If you need a respite from curry, dine at Le Coq D'Or (lecoqdorchiangmai.com; $70) on fine French fare such as truffle soup, duck breast and Maine lobster. Stay at luxe riverside resort The Chedi (ghmhotels.com; from $445), where colonial style and sleek modernity combine, and the spa is wonderful.