Chiang Mai's compact centre can easily be navigated on foot, but if you want to venture further afield, it's best to rent a car. For a luxe ride, book through the Limousine Express Group, which offers both set tours and a day rate (www.limousinethailand.com).
Chiang Mai is served by dozens of regional airlines from cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Mandalay, Singapore, Hong Kong, Luang Prabang and Kunming. Thailand's northern capital is also a major hub for domestic flights.
The train trip from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is the most gorgeous rail journey in the country (www.railway.co.th). Six trains a day rattle along this route, which takes 10 to 12 hours. Daytime trains will give you a chance to absorb the changing landscape, but the sleeper services are excellent - private two-berth cabins in first class. The train food is poor, but many hotels in Bangkok and Chiang Mai will be happy to pack you a picnic.
The country code for Thailand is +66. The area code for Chiang Mai is 053. Drop the '0' when calling from overseas.
If you aren't familiar with the infamous story of Jim Thompson, the American businessman and founder of the eponymous, monolithic Thai silk business who strolled off into the jungles of Malaysia in 1967 and was never seen again, pick up William Warren's Jim Thompson: The Unsolved Mystery. SP Somtow's Jasmine Nights is a quirky read that follows a 12-year-old protagonist as he deals with life on an isolated Thai estate. Smoking Poppy by Graham Joyce is the tale of a father trying to spring his daughter, locked up on a drug smuggling charge, from a Thai prison.
Do go / Don't Go
The weather is nice and cool between December and February, or at least cool by Thai standards. March through May is unbearably hot. Also, while the mid-April Songkran water festival might be fun for some, for many it's just plain hazardous.
Northern Thai cuisine is very different from the food most travellers' experience in Bangkok - most noticeably in northerners' preference for 'sticky rice', which locals roll into small balls before eating. Curries, which can be deathly hot in Central Thailand, are also slightly milder here. Everyone goes gaga over the local pork sausages, called naem, eaten with raw cabbage and chilli sauce. Try these at Warorot Market (Corner of Changmoi and Witchayanon Roads). Probably the best known dish from the region is khao soi: yellow noodles served in a bowl of mild chicken curry.
There are few metered taxis in Chiang Mai. Three-wheeled tuk tuks are ubiquitous, but tend to charge foreigners ('farangs') double fares. There are also numerous songtaew (covered pick-ups with two bench rows in the back), which run specific routes (THB10-40) and can also be rented by the hour or for certain trips - negotiate a price beforehand.
A 10 per cent service charge is included in most bills although this rarely filters back to staff. Feel free to tip if you are pleased with the service.
Thai baht. £1 is approximately THB65.
Chiang Mai is cool and casual. Pack your favourite Birkenstock sandals, lots of sunscreen and your biggest pair of sunglasses. Gents might want trousers for the evening. When walking (or driving) around, bring along a lot of water.
Purists will enjoy spending several hours touring the well-appointed Chiang Mai National Museum (www.thailandmuseum.com/thaimuseum_eng/chiangmai), but we prefer goggling the gorgeous handmade art pieces in the city's galleries and shops. Be sure to visit Studio Kachama on Nimmanhaemin Road, (www.kachama.com). Run by Bangkok-born textile artist and designer Kachama K. Perez, the studio showcases delicate hand-woven textiles, incorporating silk, hemp, cotton, banana fibre and hilltribe fabrics. Perez's textiles are especially noteworthy because she has revived traditional Thai weaving techniques
Chiang Mai makes a big bleep on the retail radar. You'll need a car and driver to take you to your shortlisted shops. The best things to buy here are fabulously designed home accessories, furnishings and furniture - most of which is made locally. Nimmanhaemin Road is the place to start your shopping journey. The buying team for Armani Casa makes a beeline for Gerard Collection for smart coffee, dining and picnic tables crafted out of bamboo logs (+66 (0) 5322 0604; www.gerardcollection.com). Taiwanese-owned Paradise Stoneware (+66 (0) 5389 4292) sells decorative tiles covered in intricate white geometric designs. By keeping the shapes of their pieces clean and streamlined, and opting for all-gold or all-silver finishes, the designers at Gong Dee Gallery (+66 (0) 5322 5032 www.gongdeegallery.com) have created chic accessories with global appeal. On different streets but also worth a look are Living Space for prettily designed modern lacquerware and other accessories (+66 (0) 5321 5166; www.livingspacedesigns.com), and AKA (+66 (0) 5389 4413; www.aka-aka.com), an antique-meets-contemporary furniture shop set in a home just outside the city.
Join every other tourist in town and visit Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep (www.doisuthep.com). It's well worth the exodus: a mountaintop temple erected in 1383. At more than 3,000 feet above sea level and just half an hour outside the city, the views from up here are almost as amazing as the temple itself. Hale and hearty holidaymakers can take the grand Naga staircase (290 steps), others might be better off riding the electric tram. The temple is open daily from 6am to 7pm.
Chances are you won't want to buy any of the tat being peddled at Chiang Mai's inexplicably famous night bazaar. But it is worth spending an hour or two wandering this always busy and bright street market - just leave your wallet at home.
April Chiang Mai Songkran and Lannathai Festival. This is the place to celebrate the Thai New Year's orgy of water-throwing; join locals in getting everyone else as wet as possible. Chiang Mai International Arts and Culture Festival brings international performing arts groups to the city. May Visaka Bucha Day celebrates the life, enlightenment and death of Buddha, and is the holiest day of the year in the Buddhist calendar: watch the candlelit evening procession to Doi Suthep. November Loy Krathong harks from a 13th century Sukhothai tradition of giving thanks to the Goddess of water and of seeking forgiveness for past misdeeds, and is celebrated through the launching a small float of flowers and candles onto rivers and canals. December Chiang Mai Food Festival sees folk flock to the city to taste tempting traditional treats.