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Thailand: Beyond Bangkok.

Veteran travellers to Thailand will have paid a visit to Chiang Mai, the country’s ‘rose of the north’ that was once the centrepiece of the ancient Kingdom of Lanna. 700years on, this one-time princely citadel now appears to be making a different kind of comeback, as an increasingly popular urban tourist destination, reports the Independent.

700 kilometers north of the beleaguered capital Bangkok, in the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, this culturally rich city is a laid back haven. Chiang Mai is cooler, less polluted, less stressful and has a lot less traffic than the capital and offers a great mix of old and new.

Visit some of the oldest continually used Buddhist temples in Thailand in the Old City, especially the 13th-century Wat Chiang Man, the beautiful 14th century Wat Phra Singh and the 400-year-old Burmese Shan Wat Pa Pao. A trip to the hilltop Doi Suthep temple is de rigueur and if you continue your ascent you can visit a tiny, authentic Hmong village in the crook of Doi Pui mountain.

In contrast, a genuine metropolitan sophistication is slowly developing. The Nimman area is filled with contemporary bars, cafés, local designer shops, and restaurants, and offers a smart hotel/apartment complex, the Kantary Hills, with all mod-cons. Chiang Mai is also home to one of the nation's leading art galleries, La Luna, with a wide selection of South-east Asian contemporary art.

Add tasty local cuisine, fascinating day and night markets and dramatic mountain scenery to the cultural attractions and it’s easy to see why Chiang Mai is becoming a must-visit destination. With a climate between November and February akin to a perfect summer's day, now is the time to go. And as the country recovers from recent political upheaval, some bargain packages are on offer.

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