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At the heart of the northern uplands, Chiang Mai is both an attractive historic city and a vibrant cultural centre, with a strong tradition of arts, crafts and festivals. It does a burgeoning line in self-improvement courses – from ascetic meditation to the more earthly pleasures of Thai cookery classes – while the overriding enticement of the surrounding region is the prospect of trekking through villages inhabited by a richly mixed population of tribal peoples. Plenty of outdoor activities and courses, as well as hot springs and massages, can be enjoyed at Pai, a surprisingly cosmopolitan hill station for travellers, four hours northwest of Chiang Mai.
With Chiang Mai and the north so firmly planted on the independent tourist trail, the intervening central plains tend to get short shrift. Yet there is rewarding trekking around Umphang, near the Burmese border, and the elegant ruins of former capitals Ayutthaya and Sukhothai embody a glorious artistic heritage, displaying Thailand’s distinctive ability to absorb influences from quite different cultures.
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