Chiangmai far exeeded my expectations, it is an amazing city. The most striking characteristic is a moat and wall circumnavigating downtown, 1.3km to a side, containing a walkable, vibrant community that values coffee shops, rasta bars, live music, and cobblestone streets. Before coming, a friend dismissed Chiangmai as a European city in Thailand, which holds merit. The streets are littered with expats who are traveling through or have made a home here. Personally, I am happy to be around engaging, interesting Europeans as well as Thai, and am not turned off by the quanitity of white folk.
In many ways, Chiangmai takes Bangkok's positive aspects and squeezes them down into a managable space. Chiangmai has an extensive night market, the best sunday market I have experienced, and terrific nightlife. There is a large variety of venues including an Irish bar, sports bars, reggae joints, holes-in-the-wall, and fancy businessmen clubs. Afterhours, Club Spicy and the Caravan Bar (a caravan in a parkinglot) keep the parties going until sunrise.
During the daytime, a dramatic horizon line of mountains is a background for a skyline of four to five story buildings and numerous golden steeples. Trekking, tubing, and elephant riding in the country side supports a healthy eco-tourism industry.
My initial reaction was "Wow, I am quitting my job in Mae Sot tomorrow and moving here." After considering this romantic option, I decided to not burn bridges with committments that I have formed in Mae Sot, but rather make the best of living on the border while there, and try to line something up for Chiangmai for some future time.