One of the many questions Thais may ask a foreigner visiting Thailand is ‘Have you been to Chiang Mai yet?’, underscoring the feeling that Chiang Mai is a keystone of any journey to Thailand. Along with Sukhothai further south, it was the first Southeast Asian state to make the historic transition from domination by Mon and Khmer cultures to a new era ruled by Thais.Chiang Mai has always had many feathers to its bow with its cultural riches, relative peacefulness, fantastic handicraft shopping, delicious food and proximity to many natural treasures. Changes are afoot however, with the city becoming somewhere to watch in the style stakes. Chic, Thai-style boutique hotels are popping up everywhere, and one look at the trendsetters setting up shop (and bars and restaurants), particularly in the Th Nimmanhaemin area, shows that the city’s identity is changing. Yet, the northern capital still manages to retain the relaxed, temple-sprinkled, cultural capital atmosphere of yore, alongside these new hip happenings. With its many and varied attractions, the days of Chiang Mai just being a quick stop off point before heading to the hills are long gone.Located more than 700km northwest of Bangkok, Chiang Mai has in excess of 300 temples (121 within thethêtsàbaan or municipal limits) – almost as many as are in Bangkok – a circumstance that makes the old city centre visually striking. Thais idealise their beloved northern capital as a quaint, moated and walled city surrounded by mountains with legendary, mystical attributes. In reality, Chiang Mai is a dynamic and modern city, which has successfully managed to combine its rich history and traditions with its increasingly modern side. However, a result of this rapid development has been the rise in traffic and pollution. Environmentalists are also voicing concerns about development of the verdant and auspicious Doi Suthep mountain (1676m), located to the west of the city, and sometimes referred to as Chiang Mai’s lungs.