24 Hours In: Chiang Mai

Get pampered in prison, snap up Thai designer fashions, and appreciate some art before heading for the hills
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The Independent Travel

Start the day with rice soup

09.00: Begin the day with a sumptuous spread at one of central Chiang Mai's newest hotels - the D2 (00 66 53 99 9999; d2hotels.com). You can choose from Thai, Western and Chinese breakfast. The locals like thick rice soup with pork, a high-energy dish that will help you through a packed itinerary. The D2 is run by the Thai-owned Dusit Thani chain and attempts to create Chiang Mai's first contemporary design hotel. It's a great location and the rooms are cute, minimalist cubes. Doubles start at Thai baht 4,940 (£70) room only.

Say a little prayer

10.00: With more than 300 Buddhist temples it can be tricky deciding which one of Chiang Mai's places of worship is suitable for morning devotion. Situated at the end of Ratchadamnoen Road, Wat Phra Singh, with its relaxed atmosphere and leafy charm, is many people's favourite. Established in 1345, this beautiful Lanna-style temple houses the gorgeous Phra Singh Buddha image, which supposedly originates from Sri Lanka though it's more likely it came from Sukhothai, 200 miles down the road. Look out for the signs at the back of the temple imploring good behaviour - don't say you haven't be warned.

They do a lock-in at this spa

11.00: Why not be pampered and satisfy your conscience at the same time? In an unusual rehabilitation initiative, Chiang Mai's women's jail in the middle of the old city on Ratchawithi Road has opened a spa (00 66 1 706 1041) staffed entirely by female prisoners. The money goes directly to the masseuse, helping them to save some money for after their release.

Lunch on the waterfront

12.30: The Chedi, Chiang Mai (00 66 53 253 333, ghmhotels.com), is one of the few luxury hotels in the city centre. The calm, contemporary Asian design creates a soothing haven, though its riverside location makes it prone to flooding. Pitfalls aside, its location makes The Chedi a great lunch spot and the authentic northern Thai food is excellent.

It's hip to wear Thai

14.00: Hip Thais avoid Chiang Mai's trashy night market beloved of most tourists and head instead for leafy Nimmanahaeminda Road just west of the old city. Take a trip down Sois 1, 4 and 7 (a soi is a side street) where you'll find a collection of sleek shops. A good example of modern Thai design can be found at Kasama (00 66 53 400 422; kasama-kasama.com).

Beetle on down to the museum

15.00: Want to find out all about those nasty creepy crawlies that inhabit the tropics? Then visit the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders (00 66 53 21 1891). This is run from the family home of he Rattanarithikuls, a husband-and-wife team of scientists. Manop is known as Mr Mosquito as he has discovered 18 new species.

Go abstract at the art gallery

16.30: La Luna (00 66 53 306 678; lalunagallery.com) on Charoenrajd Road is one of a growing number of contemporary art galleries opening in Chiang Mai. This airy, open-plan space houses abstract works and photography from all over South-east Asia.

Step out for a mountain climb

18.00: Travel the 10 miles out of the city to scale to the top of the 5,100ft Doi Suthep mountain. This overlooks Chiang Mai and is where you can soak up wonderful views and a glorious tropical sunset. Further down the mountain you'll find the 700-year-old Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. You'll need to climb 300 steps to reach this venerated site, but it's worth the exertion.

Relax, you've earned a drink

20.00: On your way back down from Doi Suthep stop off for cocktails at the Palaad Tawanron Restaurant (00 66 53 217 073; palaadtawanron.com). It's set on the lower parts of the mountain near a large waterfall and amid thick forest. Book a terrace table at the back and you'll secure an awesome view.Palaad also offers some of the best Thai food in Chiang Mai.

Have a nightcap at the market

22.00: To sample some blue-collar Thai-style nightlife - a mix of cheap whisky, loud music and fantastic food - head to the Anusan night market at Soi Anusan, just off Chang Khlang Road. Snack on everything from Chinese-inspired seafood through to chilli-covered strawberries and dishes prepared by the local Muslim community: delicious banana rotis, served warm and smothered in condensed milk, are a highlight of Chiang Mai's street food. There are dozens of masseurs offering foot massages, reams of gaudy decorations and blaring Thai pop music.