Any Thailand vacation deserves a side trip to Chiang Mai, up in the north of the country. Though it's one of Thailand's largest cities, it's refreshingly free of the bright lights, pungent aromas and noisy, frenetic whirl of places like Bangkok. Though it has all the accoutrement of a proper city – an international airport, a lively night scene, big malls and luxury stores etc – Chiang Mai is more like a big spread-out hillside town and a popular retreat for Bangkokians.
The pace might be slower in Chiang Mai, but there’s plenty to do within city limits. Inside the old city walls and moat are an array of drinking and dining spots by the River Ping – many with delicious affordable Thai food and live bands. The night – and day – markets are must-visits, and there's the zoo, where the country's cutest four-legged celebrities reside (pandas Lim Ping and mum Lin Hue). Chiang Mai is also where you'll find wholesalers and manufacturers of Lanna style furniture and various cultural artefacts for much better prices than in Bangkok. Days could be lost visiting the wholesalers on the outskirts of town.