CHIANG MAI (700 kilometers north of Bangkok) is Thailand's second largest city. Located on the Ping River with mountains rising up in the distance, it is colorful, exotic and rich in history and has traditionally been the gateway to Northern Thailand, a starting point for hill tribe treks and or northern Thailand adventures. It it used to a hippie mecca, similar to Kathmandu in Nepal or Cuzco in Peru, and a smuggling center for jade, rubies and sapphires from Burmese mines and opium, heroin and marijuana from the Golden Triangle. In recent years it has become more highbrow and now upmarket crowd with its posh resorts.
In 2010 Chiang Mai was named the No.2 city in the world in Travel and Leisure's World's Best Awards. The ranking was up three spots from the 2009 awards. In the mid 2000s it consistently was ranked the No. 5 city in the world and the No.3 in Asia. Surprisingly, however, it slipped out of the top ten 2011 and 2012. But, hey, how much can things change in a couple of years. The large community of ex pats that live here say it many of the good points of Bangkok without the bad.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has lost some of its appeal to overdevelopment. Monastery compounds are used as parking lots, wats have been swallowed up by concrete office buildings, the once quiet streets are becoming ensnared in traffic, and teak houses have been muscled out by Internet cafes, bars, restaurants, massage parlors, convenience stores and guesthouses that cater to backpackers waiting for or returning from treks. But what city has not endured similar changes and pressures. Chiang Mai boast more than 300 wats, several more than 500 years old. The green campus of Chiang Mai University takes up a large part of western Chiang Mai. The city has a laid-back population of only 250,000 people (although the metropolitan area that covers several neighboring districts has a population of about 1 million) and the level of development and traffic is just a fraction of that in Bangkok.
Chiang Mai can be reached from Bangkok on a pleasant $30, 13-hour train ride, a night train ride or a one-hour flight. It one of the few places in Thailand—if not the world—where historical and modern co-exist so exquisitely: where a Seven-Eleven can look so at home next to a 400-year-old pagoda. This dichotomy is best appreciated within the moat-encircled old city, which retains much of the fortified wall and four main gates that today have all matter of vehicles and types of people streaming out of them. For many years Chiang Mai was seen as a jumping off point for treks, rafting trips and elephant shows. Only in recent years have more people come to appreciate Chiang Mai for itself.
Peter Jon Lindberg wrote in Travel and Leisure: “Guidebooks have long described Chiang Mai as Thailand's cultural capital, an outsized village where old-time street life, craftmaking, and folk rituals are on vivid display. As such, it has traditionally attracted a more respectful and curious traveler. That's changed as Chiang Mai has grown into a minor metropolis, with the attendant go-go bars and party crowds. But it is still culture—or the promise of it—that keeps visitors coming... Foreign airlines are adding direct flights to Chiang Mai, bypassing Bangkok. The demographic of visitors has changed, as well, since the 1995 opening of the Regent resort (now the Four Seasons).... The Regent exposed Chiang Mai to a new, well-heeled audience. Now luxury properties are opening all over.” The Chedi, an Aman offshoot, arrived in in 2005, A Shangri-La arrived the next year followed by a Banyan Tree resort. “ ith the luxe lodgings has come a wave of shops, restaurants, and bars catering to the upmarket visitor. [Source: Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel and Leisure, April 2005]
But now it seems like politics and development are beginning to threaten Chiang Mai’s charm. Controversial former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who hails from Chiang Mai province, spent millions to boost tourism, improve transportation, and lure industry to the region. When Thaksin was in power in the early 2000s Chiang Mai was a boomtown filled with cranes, highway projects and developments going up at a Bangkokian pace. Thai expert Joe Cummings told Travel and Leisure: Thaksin gave “the city a blank check for development. Unfortunately, the kind of infrastructure Chiang Mai needs most—like real mass transit—is being ignored. There are no zoning laws, no statutes to preserve disappearing landmarks, no control on vehicle access to the historic center."
History of Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 by the founder of the Lanna Kingdom. King Mengrai. He chose the city because of its location on the Ping Rver and its access to other rivers in area but established the first Lanna capital in Chiang Rai. King Meng Rai the Great founded the city as the capital of the Lanna around the same time as the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom. He even conferred with his friends, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao before choosing the site where the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Chiang Mai not only was the capital and cultural core of the Lanna Kingdom, it was also a major center of Buddhism in northern Thailand. King Meng Rai himself was a very religious leader who founded many of the city’s temples that remain important to this day.
Chiang Mai literally means “new city” and has retained the name despite celebrating its 700th anniversary in 1996. In the 14th and 15th centuries Chiang Mai was capital of Lanna. In 1477 its prestige was such that it hosted the 18th world synod of Theravada Buddhism. In 1556 it was captured by the Burmese and retaken by the Thais in 1775. Until the 19th century Chiang Mai remained the center of a region that paid tribute to the main Siamese kingdom but was largely independent thanks to wealth it earned by controlling the caravan routes between Southeast Asia and China and Burma. Northern Thailand kingdoms were not always enlightened. Heavy taxes were levied on farmers and slavery was practiced well into the 19th century. The kingdoms left behind more than 50 major temples.
Tourist Information in Chiang Mai: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Chiang Mai Office (Temporary), 164/94-95 Chang Khlan Road, Tambon Chang Khlan, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50000, Tel. +66 5327 6140-2, Fax. +66 5327 6143-4 E-mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org, Website: http://www.tourismthailand.org/chiangmai . The main tourist office is located near the Nawarat Bridge at 105/1 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road,Tambon Wat Ket, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50000. Tel. 0 (5) 324 8604, 0 (5) 324 8607, 0 (5) 324 8605.
Orientation: Despite have a nice, neat, squared and walled old city in the middle of town many places of interest and necessity are scattered around. The main temple is on a hill outside the main city. The main train station is some distance away. There are several bus stations. And the most interesting shopping area is six kilometers away. However the airport is close: only three kilometers from the city; a number of beautiful wats are in the old city; and the night market is a short walk away. Recommended maps include Nancy Chandler’s Map of Chiang Mai , which is chock full of interesting information about the city and is updated annually.
Tips and Warnings: 1) Many elephant camps do not engage in Elephant-friendly practices. Avoid patronizing camps that exploit Thailand’s elephants. 2) Patronizing the Royal Folk Arts and Crafts Training Center in Mae Hong Son benefits both villagers and the authenticity of native arts. 3) The admission fee for the Chiang Mai Zoo does not include the fee to visit the Pandas. You have to pay extra for that. 4) If you plan on arriving in Chiang Mai during the Songkran festival (April 13-15) make sure you pack everything in plastic prior to placing it in your luggage.
NORTHERN THAILAND is a region of green mountains, misty jungles, fertile valleys, spectacular ruins, colorful hill tribes, and temperatures that are cooler than the rest of country. The people that live here call themselves the khon muang . Their customs, language and clothing differ from those of southern Thailand. They are regarded as more easy-going than southerners ad their dialect is slower than the other three mani dialects. Some of the people that live in northern Thailand belong to ethnic minorities—often called hill tribes because they have traditionally lived in the hills and mountains of the region—such as the Karens, Akha, Lisu, Lao, Meo, Yao and Lahu. The Lua and Lawa are believed to be have originated from this area. The others are originally from Myanmar, Laos and China, where many members of their tribes still live. Roughly eight percent of Thailand’s population is made of hill tribes. The Karen are the largest group.
The northern part of Northern Thailand occupies a section of the Golden Triangle, once one of the world's major opium growing areas. In recent years, the ethnic minorities tribes that have traditionally grown opium as a cash crop here have been convinced to switch to crops like coffee in return for schools and electricity. For those that want to see the Golden Triangle in all its opium-blooming glory will have to look for it in Myanmar and Laos.
Seasons period: 1) Summer – March to April; 2) Rainy – May to October; 3) Winter – November to February; During the winter months, in the mountainous North the temperature is cool enough for the cultivation of fruits such as lychees and strawberries.
The North is mostly mountainous, making the region the origin of streams and rivers in Thailand, including the Chao Phraya River, formed at the convergence of four rivers: the Ping, Wang, Yom, and Nan. With its natural features of high mountains, steep river valleys, and upland areas, summer storms occur quite often. Thes north’s mountains are incised by steep river valleys and upland areas that border the central plain. Traditionally, these natural features made possible several different types of agriculture, including wet-rice farming in the valleys and shifting cultivation in the uplands. The forested mountains also promoted a spirit of regional independence. Forests, including stands of teak and other economically useful hardwoods that once dominated the North and parts of the Northeast, had diminished by the 1980s to 13 million hectares. In 1961 they covered 56 percent of the country, but by the mid-1980s forestland had been reduced to less than 30 percent of Thailand's total area.
The North commands an area covering 169,600 sq km, comprising 17 provinces: Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Kamphaeng Phet, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nakhon Sawan, Nan, Phayao, Phetchabun, Phichit, Phitsanulok, Phrae, Sukhothai, Tak, Uthai Thani, and Uttaradit. The Upper North, from Nakhon Sawan up to the boundaries shared with the Union of Myanmar and the Lao PDR, has Chiang Mai as the center, while the Lower North, from Nakhon Sawan down to Sukhothai, has Phitsanulok as the center.
Culture and History of Northern Thailand: Once known as the Lanna Kingdom, northern Thailand was unified into federation of small Thai principalities by King Mengari in the middle of the 13th century. The first Lanna capital was established in Chiang Rai, the second was in Chiang Mai. The kingdom endured until the 16th century. Around the same time Lanna was established, another kingdom was established in Sukhothai in the southern part of northern Thailand when two Thai chief united to overthrow a Khmer overlord, establishing the first truly independent Thai kingdom. Though it lasted less than two centuries, Sukhotai produced extraordinary Buddhist art and architecture, and is credited with creating a unique Thai culture. Lanna means “one million rice fields,” a reference to to the kingdom’s wealth. The Thai government likes to push the idea that Lanna and Sukhothai—the precursor of all Thai civilizations—were closely related but recent historical research suggests that Lanna was linked to Sukhothai about as much as Sweden was to France in the Middle Ages in Mongolia Europe. Other early Thai cultures such as Nan and Chiang Saen—also originate in northern Thailand.
Northerners express their identity by placing distinctive clay water jars in front of their homes, using hill-tribe-style shoulder bags and displaying carved wooden X motifs on the gables of their buildings. Peter Jon Lindberg wrote in Travel and Leisure magazine: “Northern Thailand has long defined itself against the dominant culture of Bangkok and the south. During the 20th century, as Thailand modernized, northern customs, dress, language, and art fell by the wayside. But over the past decade, Chiang Mai has witnessed a resurgence of state-endorsed regional pride. The northern dialect has made a pronounced return. Men, women, and children often dress in traditional clothes on Fridays (Culture Day). Classical dances and folk songs are performed in schools. Architects and interior designers are using northern motifs in new buildings. [Source: Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel and Leisure, April 2005]
So energized is this reclamation of northern culture that observers now speak of a "Lanna revival." The reference is to the Lanna kingdom, which in its heyday...encompassed all of northern Thailand and parts of present-day Laos and Burma (Myanmar). Lanna was really an amalgam of disparate cultures, its ethnic base ranging from Chinese to Indian to tribal Burmese, with spiritual roots in Theravada Buddhism, animism, and Islam. The Lanna alphabet differs from that of modern Thai, just as Lanna cuisine, with its sticky rice and pork sausages, remains distinct from southern Thai cooking. The Chiang Mai staple khao sawy, a blend of Indian-style curry broth and crisp Chinese noodles, testifies to Lanna's hybrid origins.
The finest and most famous festival of the North is the Yi Peng Festival, a celebration of Loy Krathong in Lan Na style, during which large lanterns, like hot-air balloons, are sent tranquilly soaring into the clear full-moon sky, with the belief that the released lanterns take away all troubles in life. The lanterns themselves also display the artistic skills of the residents.
North Thai Art and Architecture: “Yet it was in art and architecture—particularly temple design—that Lanna made its greatest mark,” Lindberg wrote. “Temples in the north are more modest than those in Bangkok, though many boast intricately carved fretwork, mirror-glass mosaics, and gold leaf. Wood is the dominant material; gold is less common here than in the wealthier south. A hallmark of Lanna construction is the cho fa, the V-shaped finial that crowns the apex of a temple's pitched roof. Builders often left ceiling beams exposed to highlight the temple's "honest architecture." Many of the buildings at Dhara Dheviare representative of Lanna style, as are incidental details such as the terra-cotta pots of "drinking water" placed as an offering outside villa gates.
NORTHERN THAI FOOD AND EATING CUSTOMS
Food in Northern Thailand includes both dishes handed down over the generations from the Lanna kingdom and those influenced by its neighbors, especially Myanmar (Burma), and various minority groups that have been living in the area for many years: Tai Yai, Haw Chinese and Tai Lue. The ingredients are found primarily in the local areas, and the varieties depend on the season. One popular meat is pork, because it is easy to find and inexpensive; others are beef, chicken, and duck. Seafood is not popular because of its high price, since the area is far from the sea.
Northerners serve their meals on a raised vessel called "tok." Parties and functions are called "khan tok,” where several small dishes of food are placed on a round, low tray with legs, surrounded by diners who share the food while conversing among themselves. There are various kinds of food on a tok, which come in three different sizes: "khan tok luang" (large tok) is used in northern royal palaces and principal temples; "khan tok ham" (medium-sized tok) is used by large families, and "khan tok noi" (small tok) by small families. Lannastyle khan tok parties have become a very popular tour program that educates tourists about one of the most enjoyable cultural features of the North. A khan tok dinner is a distinctive way to offer a warm welcome to guests, and it is popular at functions to preserve local culture, with participants dressed in local style, as well as demonstrations of local food cooking, and folk entertainment for guests.
Most dishes are eaten with glutinous rice. The flavors are neutral, so none is strongly distinctive but they have a hint of salty, spicy hot, tangy, and sweet notes. They do not use coconut cream or sugar. The dishes are cooked until well done, and fresh vegetables are boiled until tender. Fried dishes are saturated with cooking oil and the most popular condiment used for adding flavor is field crab juice. The spicy curries of Lan Na are made without coconut milk, similar to those in India and Myanmar. If coconut milk is added they call it kaeng kathi (coconut milk soup), which is different from the curry from the central region. The one without coconut milk is called kaeng phet (spicy hot soup).
Food in the northern region is also under the influence of the weather. On chilly days, people warm up with oily dishes like kaeng ong, kaeng hang-le, and fried spicy sausage, sai ua. Ingredients are mostly herbal plants from the valleys and the forests, making up famous dishes like kaeng khae or kaeng yuak, utilizing the inner part of a banana trunk as the main ingredient, or khanom chin nam ngiao, with dried flowers of Bombax ceiba L., or the red silk cotton tree, as the main ingredient. Also famous among northern food is naem, sour preserved pork, a forerunner of food preservation techniques developed from local wisdom.
NORTHERN THAI DISHES
Chiang Mai specialties include spicy sausage and khan toke, an entire dinner comprised of several small dishes, such as curries, crispy fried pork skin, and northern style chili sauces, served with sticky rice on a small round table. Northern Thai dishes often feature nam phrik (a pungent paste with a strong smell made from fermented shrimp paste). Among the some of the popular northern dishes are khao soy (noodles with milky curry sauce, turmeric and nam phrik), khanom jeen (fresh vegetables minced with spices and chilies) and curries such as namya Kati , namya pa , and nam ngiao .
Khao soy resembles fettuccine alfredo. It is made of milky curry sauce, turmeric, and egg noodles, and nam phrik, a pungent mix of fermented shrimp paste and vegetables, was consumed by spreading it onto boiled vegetables. Some visitors detest the dish, which emits a strong, fishy odor. Khan khanoon (spicy jackfruit curry) is served with sticky rice and sai ooa (spicy pork sausages).
Dishes arranged on a tok usually include glutinous rice, spicy dips, like green pepper dip, red pepper dip, and spicy tomato and minced pork dip, and curries, such as Burmese-style bacon curry, mixed vegetable curry, and curry made from kasalong or peep. Other local dishes include fermented pork, northern-style sausages, steamed beef, deep-fried pork rinds, and sauteed pork and vegetables. The cool northern weather is the rationale behind fatty dishes, for they provide plenty of energy to keep people warm; some favorites are spicy tomato and minced pork dip, Burmese-style bacon curry, and northern-style sausages. Vitamins and minerals are obtained from pork sauteed with many types of vegetables.
The Northerners consume sticky rice with various kinds of dips and fresh vegetables. Their spicy soups – not as spicy as those of the Northeast and the South – are made up primarily of local herbs, easily found in the mountainous terrain of the North. A well-known one-dish meal of the North is khao soi, made of yellow noodles, in spicy coconut milk soup, with preserved lettuce and red onion as condiments, yielding a piquant but harmonious taste. [Source: Tourist Authority of Thailand]
Desserts of the North are normally made of sticky rice, both white and red. In festivals, they make khao taen, a delicacy composed of sticky rice mixed with watermelon juice and then fried, laced with cane syrup. Other desserts include khao tom hua ngok, made of sticky rice steamed with banana and seasoned with shredded coconut cake and sugar, and khanom pat, from rice flour mixed with cane syrup over a fire, and laced with shredded and salted coconut cake. Dried banana is also a famous dessert of the region, due to the abundance of banana plants.
TREKKING IN NORTHERN THAILAND
See Separate Article NORTHERN THAILAND AND THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE
ACCOMMODATION IN THE CHIANG MAI AREA
Chiang Mai features an amazing array of accommodation choices, including dozens of mom-and-pop guesthouses, mid-range hotels, and some of the finest luxury resorts in Thailand and . The Regent Chiang Mai Resoort & Spa, Lanna has ranked high in Travel and Leisure magazine hotel surveys. Among the top ranked hotels Travel and Leisure’s top hotels in Thailand in 2013 were: the Four Seasons Resort, Chiang Mai (No. 3 with a score of 92.68); Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai (No. 4, 92.38); and Le Méridien, Chiang Mai (87.69).
Many of the nicest places a resorts outside the city. Cameron McLauchlan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “There's plenty of accommodation in the city for those on a shoestring budget, but for a traveler looking to indulge themselves, the Veranda Chiang Mai hotel is an oasis of luxury 15 kilometers from the airport. The hotel's expansive reception lobby sits beyond a courtyard complete with a pond, and has huge cane chairs with cushions for several people and cylindrical light shades hanging down like giant fat stalactites. The rooms are a short walk away (or you can get a ride on one of the electric carts) and offer a breathtaking view of the nearby hills. Although concrete is prominent, the huge slabs have a contemporary design and barely detract from the sensation of being surrounded by nature. [Source: Cameron McLauchlan, Daily Yomiuri, November 28, 2010]
The hotel has a gym, health spa treatments, a conference room and an "infinity swimming pool" that seems to extend out to the hills and sky beyond. The rooms have a crisp, sophisticated design and are laid out to maximize the views (even from the open-style bathroom). An inviting day bed tempted me to curl up with a book for a while, but with only 36 hours in Chiang Mai, it seemed a shame not to see what the city had to offer.
Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is one of the plushest and most imaginative resorts in northern Thailand. Among the features of this $80 million, 60-acre facility is 33,000-square-foot spa and a 5,000-volume library. It formally opened in December 2005 after five years in the making with 40 guest rooms and 124 villas and suites. Peter Jon Lindberg wrote in Travel and Leisure: “The Mandarin Oriental name assures Dhara Dhevi plenty of attention, but that's not the reason hotel junkies have been buzzing. This is simply one of the most ambitious resorts Asia has ever seen: a teakwood fantasia modeled on a northern Thai village, with vegetable gardens, lotus ponds, moats and fortified walls, towering palaces, a marketplace, a town green, even a temple, all of it occupied by a veritable army of merchants, servants, farmers, weavers, cooks, woodcarvers, and massage therapists. The scale is roughly on par with Colonial Williamsburg, or a Las Vegas mega-resort; the effect is a mix of both. Guests are taken to their villas in glittering horse-drawn carriages or antique samlors, saluted en route by uniformed, heel-clicking guards. From the infinity pool you can gaze upon farmers harvesting rice and imagine you're a 15th-century nobleman in his own private fiefdom. [Source: Peter Jon Lindberg, Travel and Leisure, April 2005]
Suchet Suwanmongkol owns several Ferraris but turns up for meetings in sandals and a windbreaker. He's been on the premises almost every day since the groundbreaking, supervising construction from a golf cart adorned with a Rolls-Royce grille. Dhara Dhevi's staff refer to Suchet as "the owner" (in fact, his daughter is the primary shareholder), and say little else. There's something Howard Hughesian about the man, not least his unbridled vision. When Suchet conceived of Dhara Dhevi...it was on a much smaller scale. He began it, by most accounts, as a vanity project, until the realities of running a hotel set in. In 2004 a management deal was struck with Mandarin Oriental. But Dhara Dhevi remains Suchet's obsession, and he's spared no expense. Witness the gems embedded in the most unassuming bas-reliefs, and the 3,600 trees—some 80 feet tall—that were transplanted to the property intact. Officials put the current price tag at $80 million, though the final tally is rumored to be twice that—either way, an astronomical cost for an Asian resort.
The architecture at Dhara Dhevi is literally all over the map. Strolling the grounds, you pass continually from era to era, region to region—from colonial Burma to rural Laos to medieval Chiang Mai. The pathway itself morphs from brick to flagstones to tiles and back. Along one side might run a primitive mud wall, opposite might be a fence of polished teak. Some villas are sided with clapboards, others with red brick, still others with primrose plaster. Interiors are equally eclectic. My villa, No. 11, is spare and rustic, with varnished plank floors and dark walls; other rooms fairly glitter with rococo touches. The Colonial Suites, opening later this year, are to be outfitted with plush divans and sumptuous fabrics that will recall Raffles in Singapore.
The resorts architect Rachen Intawong “defends this mishmash of styles by explaining that the resort is essentially a small city—and a city is, by nature, composed of varying, even clashing, aesthetics. To his credit, this is precisely what sets Dhara Dhevi apart: it is the furthest thing from anodyne. Most Asian resorts seem blandly familiar once you've seen a few; their design is intended to soothe the eye, not provoke it. Dhara Dhevi is a whole different animal, as challenging and dynamic as an actual city. Some guests will love it straightaway, some will require a few days to process it, and some may just feel a bit dizzy.
If the property has a focal point, it must be the Dheva Spa, a magnificent re-creation of a 19th-century Burmese palace, fashioned entirely from burnished teak and capped by a 64-foot, seven-tier roof. The spa unfolds over 33,000 square feet, with no fewer than 35 treatment rooms. Developers plan to construct a separate "ayurvedic village" in a far corner of the property, where guests will be encouraged to stay for several weeks.
Edification, not mere indulgence, is Dhara Dhevi's mission. Suchet hopes to provide guests with a full-scale cultural immersion. "Any hotel can put you in a good mood, but it lasts only as long as the trip," he says. "We want to give an education." Guests will have access to a 5,000-volume library, lectures from visiting academics, and a 250-seat amphitheater for dramatic, musical, and dance performances. In-depth, guided excursions to temples, historic sites, and artisans'villages will be on offer. But since not all guests are inclined to leave the premises, Dhara Dhevi also brings the countryside to them. Three weather-beaten stilt houses were carted in and resurrected near the tennis courts; they now function as a working crafts center, where wizened ladies from nearby villages are invited to drop by and practice basketry, weaving, and woodcarving in public view.
Instructional programs abound. Honeymooners can plant rice alongside farmers in the field, executives on corporate retreats can prepare duck curry at the cooking school, and kids can learn to play takraw (the Thai version of volleyball). Suchet says he envisions "a billionaire weaving a key chain for his Bentley or making his own letterhead from mulberry leaves. Yes! I think he'll do it, just so he can say, 'I made this.’
SHOPPING IN CHIANG MAI
Shopping in Chiang Mai is a premier activity there. Nearly every souvenir item found elsewhere in Thailand is available for sale here. The advantage of shopping in Chiang Mai is that visitors can learn about handicrafts production by watching artisans making the stuff. Both in the city itself and in several outlying villages, particularly along the Bo Sang-San Kamphaeng road, there are establishments where visitors can purchase handicrafts and works of art directly from the people who produced them. Chiang Mai is famous for parasols, silk and cotton textiles, jewelry, woodcarvings, silverware, celadon, and lacquerware. The Chiang Mai night market features numerous street stalls and shops. The Sunday Market offers more unique, independently created souvenirs and products, and the indoor, air conditioned Central department store shopping complex on Huay Kaeo Road sells international brand name products.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar attracts hundred of tourist and features tables and stalls with handmade dolls, hill tribe textiles, hand-embroidered clothes, silver opium pipes, bongs, T-shirts, wrap-around sunglasses, belts, jewelry, hats, watches, knickknacks, DVDs, copies of European designer clothes and cheap items from Burma and China. There are also lots of food stalls. The Galare Food Center, opposite the market, has free traditional dance performance every night from 9:00pm to 10:30pm.
Every evening, stalls are set up on the sidewalks on both sides of the road and along a maze of side street. Few items have price tags. The vendors will give you a price when you ask or show an interest in an item, but that tends to be a feeler put out to test the waters--you can make some good deals if you want to haggle, but the prices are usually fairly cheap to begin with. In fact they are so good that some importers make deals here. The bazaar is often busy with tourists until late into the evening. Plenty of tuk-tuk taxis are on hand to take you wherever else you might want to go next.
Arts and Crafts Places in Chiang Mai include: Baan Tawai, a village of wood-carving handicraftsmen and a the major cultural attraction of Chiangmai for Thai and foreign tourists; Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center (Prapokklao Rd., Tambon Sriphum), housed in an old building of elegant architectural design built in 1924; Kad Suan Kaeo Art & Cultural Centre (in Kad Suan Kaeo Shopping Mall), a centre of art and cultural performances; Lanna Woodcarving Art Museum; and an Roi An Phan Yang Museum, an exhibition center of antiques and woodcarving masterpieces located at Chiang Mai-Sanpatong Road,
Bo Sang (six miles from Chiang Mai) is known for its hand- painted paper umbrellas and fans. Artists also adorn handbags, blue jeans or camera cases with beautiful hand painted designs. Cameron McLauchlan wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Bo Sang craftsmen make “umbrellas, including the paper used for the canopy, by hand. Visitors can watch artisans in every step of the process, from pounding mulberry pulp with a mallet to make the canopy, to carving the handles on a lathe, to making the bamboo frame, to affixing the canopy. You can even try your hand at painting your own umbrella, and some of the resident artists will give you a few tips for whipping up your own masterpiece.
And if the sign hanging behind the women deftly cutting bamboo strips into umbrella ribs is anything to go by--"Save the planet, use bamboo umbrella"--these products are more than just a useful item for a rainy day. The store also sells a rainbow of umbrellas in various shapes and sizes, as well as traditional reed musical instruments, carvings and exquisite envelopes made from the same paper used on the umbrellas. [Source: Cameron McLauchlan, Daily Yomiuri, November 28, 2010]
San Kamphaeng (a couple of miles down the road from Bo Sang) is where you can see how silk, teak furniture, celadon pottery, cotton and silk fabrics, hammered silverware, brass utensils, painted fans and umbrellas, lacquerware and wood carvings are made.
On Highway 1006 between Chiang Mai and San Kampang there are numerous shops selling silk, lacquerware, wood carvings, pottery, lather, antiques, silver jewelry and precious gems. Nearby there is a town a devoted soley to papermaking, another to lacquerwate and others to cotton, silk, woodcraving and silver.
TRANSPORTATION IN CHIANG MAI
Getting to Chiang Mai: As the transportation hub for the north, Chiang Mai can be reached via car, bus, train, or plane. By Train: Express and rapid trains operated by the State Railways of Thailand leave for Chiang Mai from Bangkok’s Hua Lumphong Station six times a day from 8.00am to 10.00pm The trip takes about 11-12 hours on an express train. For more information, contact tel. 1690, or 02 223 7010, 02 223 7020. Chiang Mai Railway Station, tel. (053) 24 2094, 244 795, .247 462 245 363-4
By Car: Driving from Bangkok takes approximately 8 hours and is best by one of the following routes: Route 1: Drive on Highway No.1 (Phahonyothin Road) and turn left to Highway No.32 (Asian Highway) which passes Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya, Ang Thong, and Nakhon Sawan; then take Highway No. 117 to Phitsanulok and Highway No. 11 through Lampang and Lamphun to Chiang Mai. The total distance is 695 kilometers. Route 2: Follow route 1 to Nakhon Sawan and then take Highway No. 1 through Kamphaeng Phet, Tak, and Lampang until you arrive in Chiang Mai. The total distance is 696 kilometers.
By Bus: From Bangkok there are ordinary, 2nd class, and 1st class air-conditioned buses leaving throughout the day from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) for Chiang Mai (8.00am to 9:00ampm) Call 02 936 3600, 02 936 2852, and 02 937 8055 for an updated bus timetable. Private buses, which can be conveniently booked in tourist centers in Bangkok, are also available. However, the public buses from the Northern Bus Terminal are generally more reliable. The journey takes approximately 10-12 hours, depending on traffic. From other provinces, including Mae Sai, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Nan, Phayao, Phrae, Lampang, Lamphun, Phitsanulok, Sukhothai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sot, Mae Sariang, Khon Kaen, Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), and Udon Thani, there are direct buses that service the Chiang Mai Arcade Bus Station. Contact tel: 0 5324 2664 for an updated bus timetable.
By Air: Domestic airlines, including Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Thai AirAsia, and Nok Air, operate several flights daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Depending on where you are flying from, one of these airlines can also fly you directly to Chiang Mai from Mae Hong Son, Pai, Chiang Rai, and Koh Samui. From international destinations, visitors can fly directly to Chiang Mai on a number of domestic and international air carriers. While these routes are subject to their economic viability for individual airlines, it is usually possible to fly directly to Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur, Luang Prabang, Singapore, Vientiane, and Yangon. International airlines servicing Chiang Mai from those destinations include Silk Air, Lao Airlines, and Mandalay Air.
To/From the Airport: There is a licensed airport taxi service available at the taxi kiosk outside the baggage-claim area. Purchase a ticket and present it to the drivers waiting by the arrivals exit area (on your left as you leave baggage claim). The trip will cost approximately 100 baht for a sedan car that seats 4-5 people (with luggage). From the airport, train station and bus terminal, you can easily get a ride in share songtaew (red mini-bus). To charter a minibus or car, please check the correct fare at the TAT counter first. Normally, first-class hotels provide complimentary transportation between the airport, railway station, or bus terminals and the hotel for guests who have made advance reservations.
Getting Around in Chiang Mai: By Samlor or Tuk-Tuk: For relative short distances you can take a samlor or tuk-tuk, three-wheel cabs that are respectively pedal or motor powered. Fares must be bargained in advance. Short rides within the city cost between 20 and 30 baht. Longer rides may cost as much as 50 baht. By Taxi: Meter taxis, nearly identical to those running around Bangkok, are now available in Chiang Mai, where fares likewise begin at 35 baht.
By Songtaew: Songtaews (red pickup trucks with benches in the covered flatbed portion of the truck) are the most common means of transportation in Chiang Mai. Passengers can hop in and out as they wish. Simply tell the driver the destination and negotiate the price before boarding. Fares range from 10-20 baht depending on the distance, considerably more for long rides up to Doi Suthep, where the songtaew will wait for you to explore and then return you to town, stopping at various sights, such as the zoo, along the way if you wish. By Bicycle: Some travelers prefer to ride bicycles around the city as most of the roads and alleys are accessible by bicycle. Bicycles can be rented from bicycle shops and certain guesthouses.
Getting Around in Chiang Mai Province: By Bus: If you travel to any districts in Chiang Mai, use the Chang Phuak Bus Terminal located on Chotana Road, tel. 053 211 586. Destinations include those located along the northern route (Highway No. 107) which passes through Mae Rim, Mae Taeng, Chiang Dao, Chaiprakan, Fang and Mae Ai. Some buses continue to Tha Ton, the northern-most district of Chiang Mai.
By Rental Car: All major international car rental companies, such as AVIS, Budget, and Hertz, as well as Thai car rental companies, have various vehicles for rent and are ready to provide suggestions on travel itineraries. The easiest way to locate a car rental company is to ask at the airport or a major hotel, as those are the places where most rental agency offices are located. While most Chiang Mai roads are in good condition with signs posted in English, be aware that only Commercial First Class Insurance provides full coverage on rental cars (as opposed to limited personal or third party only insurance). Most international car rental agencies will offer this insurance (some only for those with a valid international driver’s license) while local companies may or may not. You may wish to request a copy of their insurance policy and ensure that it states "For Commercial Use". Regardless, inspect rental vehicles prior to rental and drive with caution, particularly as traffic in Thailand can be quite confusing, especially the habit of Thai motorcycles drivers to drive on the wrong side of the road.
By Motorbike: For anywhere from 150 to 1,000 baht per day you can hire your own motorbike, which will typically require you to leave your passport as a deposit. Be sure to inspect bikes prior to rental and drive with extreme caution as rental motorbikes are not normally insured and accidents are frequent. Helmets are required by Thai law and foreign visitors unfamiliar with either driving motorbikes or driving in Thailand should drive carefully and obey all local traffic rules (there are numerous one way streets in Chiang Mai city).
SIGHTS IN CHIANG MAI
More than 300 temples dot Chiang Mai. Perhaps the most famous is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which is perched on a hill northwest of the city. Dating back several hundred years, the temple affords excellent views of the city on clear days--getting to the temple, however, involves either a cable car or a lung-busting climb up more than 300 steps. Wat Chedi Sao features several glimmering white pagodas and a colorful collection of painted stone oxen, tigers and mythical lions.
Wat Chiang Man (off of Ratchapakhinai Road inside the old city walls on the northern side) is the oldest wat in Chiang Mai. Built in 1296 by King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai. The temple is famous for its Lanna-style chedi supported by rows of elephant-shaped buttresses and an ancient and invaluable Buddha image named Phra Kaeo Khao. The main temple has massive teak columns and a stenciled wooden ceiling. The small chapel to the right is decorated with painting describing Buddha's past lives and a 30-centimeter-high bas-relief that was reportedly produced in Sri Lanka or India 2,500 years ago (a very unlikely claim). A much venerated 10-centimeter-high figure, known as the Crystal Buddha, in the small chapel is said to be 1,800 years. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm
Wat Phra Sing (on Sam Lan Road) is one of Chiang Mai's most important religious sanctuaries. Founded in 1325 to house the remains of King Kham Fu, and restored in the Lanna style in 1806, it is a beautiful building and contains the famous Phra Buddha Sihing of Chiangsaen and murals dating back to the forth reign of the ancient Thai kings. The revered Phra Phutthasihing Buddha image, cast in Subduing Mara, is now enshrined in Viharn Lai Kham. During the Songkran festival, each April 13-15, the Buddha is carried around Chiang Mai town in a traditional procession and given a ritual bath. The oldest chedi at the temple was built by King Pa Yu, the fifth king of Mengrai Dynasty, to house his father’s ashes. The temple compound includes the lovely Viharn Lai Kham featuring exquisite woodcarvings, northern-style murals paintings, a magnificent scriptural repository, striking bas relief, and a circular, bells-shaped, Sri-Lankan-style stupa. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm
Wat Prasat (on Inthawarorot Road near Wat Phra Sing) contains a traditional Lanna architecture chapel. The chapel roof is decorated with pieces of colourful glass and carved wooden lions. It houses a rare Lanna-style Buddha image. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (15 kilometers from Chiang Mai) is located on a 3,051-foot mountain that overlooks western Chiang Mai. Originally built in 1371 and expanded and restored by various Chiang Mai rulers, it is home to a gold-covered chedi with many sacred Buddhist relics inside. The main stupa has four ceremonal umbrellas, at each corner that symbolize kingship. The view of Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountains is spectacular. The temple can be reached by an inexpensive funicular or a 300 step staircase with a stylized snake banister. The temple’s pagoda contains holy Buddha relics, and attracts Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world throughout the year. The temple compound offers an exhilarating view of Chiang Mai city and surrounding countryside. Open everyday from 6.00am to 5:00pm
Wat Chedi Luang (right in the middle of Chiang Mai) contains the largest ruined chedi in Chiang Mai. Built in 1401 during the reign of King Saen Mueang Mak, the seventh king of Mengrai Dynasty, and partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1545, it contains 10-foot-high stone elephants and a tall tree which is considered the pillar of Chiang Mai. The 98-meter tall and 54-meter wide chedi was built in the reign of King Tilokkarat. The construction was completed in 1481. The chapel in the front was built by Chao Khun Uba Lee Poramacharn (Sirichantathera) and Chao Kaeo Navarat in 1928. The magnificent methodological serpents ramble from the entrance of the chapel to its door on both sides. It is believed that they are the most beautiful man-made serpents in the northern Thailand. Open everyday from 8:00 to 5:00pm
Wat Phan Tao (on Phra Pok Klao Road beside Wat Chedi Luang) . The temple was a throne hall for King Mahotara Prateth, thus the peacock shaped doors were built. It is believed that peacock is a symbol of king. Open everyday from 8:00am -5:00pm
Wiang Kum Kam (southeast of Chiang Mai, between kms. 3 and 4 along the Chiang Mai-Lamphun route) is an ancient, ruined city built in the 11th century by the Mon well before the reign of King Mengrai mostly in the 13th century. The city was surrounded by moats fed by by reservoirs. There are 20 ancient remains in and around Wiang Kum Kam, including buildings and temples such as Wat Chedi Liam, Wat Chang Kham, Wat Noi, Wat Pu Pia, Wat Ku Khao, Wat E Kang, Wat Hua Nong, and Wat Pu Song. To get to Wiang Kum Kam take take the Chiang Mai-Lamphun route to Tambon Wang Tan in Saraphi district. Take the road at Nong Hoi Polce box to the Ko Klang Pa Kluai intersection and en route to Chedi Liam Police box. Wiang Kum Kam Information Center Tel: 0 5327 7322
Wat Chedi Liam and Chedi Ku Kham were built in 1288 in the reign of King Mengrai to honor the appointment his minister Aey Fah in to Lamphun. King Mengrai established a town in the northeast of Chiang Mai for five years and then resettled a town near the Mae Ping River in 1277 and renamed it “Wiang Kum Kam”. In 1287, the stupa of Wat Jamthewi, Lamphun was rebuilt in Wiang Kum Kam for the locals to worship. After that for hundreds years, the temple was left abandoned. In 1908, a Burmese tycoon renovated it in Burmese rather than Khmer architectural style. Only some parts were rebuilt in the Khmer style. Tourists can purchase bamboo sticks at Wat Phra kep Don Tao, which they can use strike the dozens of hanging bells around the perimeter of the Wat. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Wat Chet Yot (near the National Museum on the Chiang Mai-Lampang Super Highway, four kilometers from Chiang Mai town.) contains a unique chedi that is composed of seven spires, inspired the Indian temple of Bodgaya. Also known as Wat Photaram Mahaviharn, the temple was built by King Tilokaraja in 1455, when Chiang Mai hosted the Eighth Buddhist World Council. Wat Chedi Chet Yot was recently renovated and also goes by the name Wat Photaram Mahaviharn. The interesting attraction of this temple is the seven tapering finial stupa, which is supported by lovely divine sculptures at its base. The stupa was built in the Phuttakaya style of India. It contains ashes of King Tilokkarat. Open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Other Wats in Chiang Mai: Wat Suan was originally built in the 14th century pleasure garden of a Lanna king. Several white chedis contain the ashes of members of Chiang Mai’s former royal family. Wat Ku Tao (near Chiang Mai stadium) features a unique watermelon-shaped chedi. Wat U-Mong is a meditation temple with a ovely setting.
MUSEUMS AND ZOOS IN CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai Zoo (next to Huai Kaeo Arboretum) is a well-managed large zoo, which occupies the lower forested slopes of Doi Suthep Mountain. The zoo contains more than 200 types of Asian and African mammals and birds. The most popular star here is a couple of pandas. Withi n the zoo is a two-kilometer-long mono-rail service. A twilight zoo is open from 6.00pm to 9.00pm. The new aquarium houses the longest underwater tunnel with a moving walkway in Asia. It is 133 meters long and takes visitors past both fish and other forms of life from both the sea and freshwater sources. In the zoo there are fish and animals from various areas such as the upper mountain ranges of Northern Region, Khong River Basin, the Amazon River Basin and of mangroves. The Nakhon Ping Bird Aviary covers an area of 6 rai and is the largest one of its kind in Thailand. It contains 132 local and international species of bird in the midst of a natural environment with a waterfall. Hours, Fees, and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8.00am to 7.00pm The admission fee for adult is 100 baht, and children the fee is 20 baht. There is a separate admission fee for the pandas. Restaurants and a camping site are available. For more details or advance booking contact Tel: 0 5322 1179, 0 5322 2283 www.chiangmaizoo.com
Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center is a pleasant place where people can sample traditional northern Thai stir-fry noodle dishes and watch performances of traditional Thai dances and hill tribe folk dances. Also check out the Hill Tribe Education Center (620-25 Thaalai Road), Hill Tribes Products Promotion Center (21-17 Sutheo Road).
Old Chiang Mai Medical Hospital is Thailand’s most respected massage school. Massage by students begin at around $4. Twelve-day intensive courses are available for around $100. There are also dozens of street-side massage centers and other massage schools in Chiang Mai.
Mae Sae Valley (10 kilometers north of Chiang Mai) features elephant camps, orchid and butterfly farms, snake farms and northern-style stilt houses. See Elephants Below.
Chiang Mai National Museum (on the Chiang Mai-Lampang Super Highway near Wat Chet Yot) opened un 1973 and was built according to traditional northern architecture, with a Lanna Thai rooftop. Interesting exhibitions include: 1) The natural and cultural background of the Lan Na Kingdom including the geology, ecology, geography and prehistoric settlement of the north. 2) Topic 2: The history of the Lan Na Kingdom from the establishment of Chiang Mai city to its peak and decline under Burmese control from 1558 to 1769. 3) The city of Chiang Mai under the Kingdom of Siam, from the time Chiang Mai regained its freedom from Burma, to the reestablishment of Chiang Mai city in 1782. 4) Trade and economy of the Lan Na Kingdom from 1782 to 1939. 5) The modern way of life and social development: agriculture and industry, banking, international relations, education and public health. 6) The development of the Lan Na Art Style, and the history of art in Thailand from the Dvaravati period to the present day. Closed Monday and Tuesday, Open from 9:00am to 5:00pm. Contact: Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50300, Tel. 0 5322 1308.
Tribal Museum (not far away from the Chiang Mai National Museum in King Rama IX Lanna Garden on Chotana Road) is an ethnology museum featuring the indigenous culture of nine hill tribes: Karen (Kariang), Hmong (Meo), Mien (Yao), Lisu (Liso), Akha (Iko), Lahu (Musoe), Lau, Thin, Khamu and Malabri. Each tribe possesses unique identity and culture. The museum exhibits ways of life, culture, beliefs, and local wisdom of these tribes. The museum contains artifacts, handicrafts, musical instruments, farming implements, ritual items. There are also cultural descriptions, photographs, histories, slide and video shows, account of the Thai Royal family with hill tribes and library with one of the world’s best collection of information on hill tribes. The museum is closed Monday and Tuesday and national holidays. Other days it is open from 9:00am to 4:00pm. Tel. 0 5321 0872. The admission fee is 30 baht.
Ban Kham Un Museum (right side of km. 4, opposite Mae Sa Snake Farm in Amphoe Mae Rim) is a private museum of Thai art is owned by an accomplished artist-cum collector family. Inthakhin Archaeological Site and Pottery Museum (at Ban San Pa Tong, Tambon Inthakhin, Amphoe Mae Taeng) is an archaeological dig site which uncovered ancient Inthakhin kilns of the Mueang Kaen area of Thailand. SBUN-NGA Textile Museum (Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center) is the largest textile museum in Thailand. See over a thousand ancient and rare textiles revealing the elaborate weaving skills of both royal and ordinary people.
Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders was founded in 1999 by Dr. Rampa Rattanarithikul, a medical entomologist who discovered over two dozen mosquito species and helped identify 420 more. In the museum are cat-size mosquito models and some of the hundreds of thousands of mosquito specimens that Dr. Rattanarithikul collected. Rattanarithikul, began work as a lab technician in 1959 at a mosquito project in Bangkok whose goal was to protect U.S. troops from diseases like malaria. Even though she had little former education she learned Japanese and earned a doctorate in medical entomology from Kobe University in Japan when she was in her 50s. She is regarded as the world’s foremost expert on mosquitos in Southeast Asia and her skills is unmatched in determining disease-carrying mosquito species from run-of-mill, non-disease-carrying varieties. Her life’s work is the six-volume Illustrated Keys to the Mosquitos of Thailand.
ELEPHANT CAMPS AND OTHER SIGHTS NEAR CHIANG MAI
Lamphun (26 kilometers from Chiang Mai) was the capital of a1,300-year-old kingdom and is reportedly home of the most beautiful women in Thailand. Situated Chiang Mai and Lampang, Lamphun was founded as the city of Haripunjaya, a Mon kingdom-city, Thought to be part of the Dvaravati civilization, it was established in the 9th (perhaps 7th) century by former Buddhist monks from Lopburi. Haripunjaya was first ruled by Queen Camadevi, daughter of the king of Lopburi, who established a legacy for the province’s reputation for beautiful women. The kingdom she ruled over thrived for several centuries, exerting wide influence across the region, before King Meng Rai conquered it in late 12th century and integrated it into the Lan Na Kingdom.
Remnants of the city’s fortifications are visible. In the lush countryside are various hill tribe communities. Natural attractions including as Doi Khun Than National Park. Worth checking out are: 1) thousand-year-old Wat Phra That Haripunchai, which contains a 150-foot-high copper-covered Lanna-style chedi, a late Dvaravati-style stepped-pyramid-style chedi and the world's largest bronze gong; 2) some ancient archeological sites; 2) and the Lamphun National Museum, which has a collection of northern Thai artifacts and objects, including terra-cotta and stucco pieces with Dvaravati influences.
Wat Phra That Si Chom Tong (in Chom Thong on Chiang Mai-Hot Road between Chiang Mai and Doi Inthanon) is gilded Burmese-style chedi that some say is one of the most beautiful temples in northern Thailand. The viharn has a cross-shaped floor plan and adorned with gilded wood carvings on the side gables, cornices and portals. The ornamentation on the teak columns and beams inside is of outstanding artistic quality. The viharn also contains a richly- decorated Burmese-style altar with ornate tusks and various statues of Buddha. The seated bronze Buddha is highly revered. The altar is said to contain a piece of the right side of the Buddha’s skull. Behind the altar is a glass case Thai weapons.
Thai Elephant Conversation Center (over an hour from Chiang Mai by car, 18 miles from Lampang on the road to Chiang Mai) is home to 49 elephants that paint pictures, make music with harmonicas and xylophones, conduct logging training sessions for young elephants and perform in two daily shows. The facility is funded by the government and located in an attractive jungle setting. The center is well known for treating the elephants humanely.
The Thai Elephant Conservation Center was set up to treat poorly treated and unhealthy elephants. Among those brought in were an elephant with an amphetamine addiction and one that had been reduced to a skeleton through overwork and lack of food. Costs at the hospital are high and most of the money comes from private donations.Many of the patients have been maltreated by illegal loggers, who pierced them with spears, gashed them with swords and fed them amphetamine-spiked bananas to keep them working in Cambodia and Myanmar. Some have also been poorly treated by fly-by-night trekking operations and elephant shows.
The Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) was opened in 1992 by the state-run Forest Industry Organization (FIO). Its goal is to help preserve knowledge about elephants accumulated over many lifetimes and make sure it's passed on to the new generation of mahouts. For a modest fee, the center offers abbreviated courses in elephant training for the public. Beyond being an exciting tourist experience, the TECC is also known for its pioneering work in conservation and science. The TECC also proudly houses six of HM King Bhumibol's ten white elephants in the Royal Elephant Stables.
Hours and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:30am -4:30pm. Contact: km. 28-29 Lampang-Chiang Mai Highway Hang Chat, Lampang 52190, Thailand, Tel. +66 5424 7871, +66 5424 7979, +66 5422 8108, To get to the Thai Elephant Conservation Center is quite easy from Lampang town or Chiang Mai as it is located along Highway No.11 between the two cities. For detailed information from either location visit the FAQ page at the TECC: http://www.changthai.com/knowledge/article/how-to-get-to-thai-elephant-conservation-center
Elephant Centers in the Chiang Mai Area: The Chiang Mai area is filled with elephant amusement areas, partly because many of the elephants lost their job when a logging ban was imposed in 1989. Many elephant camps do not engage in Elephant-friendly practices. Avoid patronizing camps that exploit Thailand’s elephants.
Mae Sae Elephant Camp (10 kilometers north of Chiang Mai) features shows in which elephants move logs, get bathed and make paintings. Elephant rides are available. The camp has a health care and received Guiness Bool of World Records recognition for a painting made by eight elephants. The Elephant Camp (Pong Yaeng) features elephants bathing, moving logs, giving rides and dancing to Thai disco music.
This camp much closer than the one in Lampang. One posting on Fodor.com read: We went to the elephant camp north of Chiang Mai last year....It's touristy (a bit of a circus feel). That being said, we enjoyed ourselves more than we thought we would. The elephants are well treated, and their "show" was really fun to watch. If the camp in Lampang is too far out of the way, at least go to this one.
Chiang Dao Elephant Training Center (1½ hours north of Chiang Mai) is home to 32 elephants. Their show features elephant drill teams moving logs and performing various maneuvers in perfect unison, and spraying each other with water. Visitors can also go on three-hour elephant treks to hill tribe villages and take bamboo raft rides on the Ping River. Most visitors arrive by tour bus or minivan as part of outings arranged in Chiang Mai.
Elephants at Work (60 kilometers from Chiang Mai on the road to Fang), with a small arena, where visitors sit on bleachers and watch elephants move teak logs as they used to do in the forest before Northern Thailand teak forests were logged out.
Elephant Nature Park (60 kilometres from Chiang Mai) is a 800-hectare (2,000-acre) sanctuary and rescue centre for elephants in the Northern Thailand. Founded in the 1990s, the project's aim is to provide sanctuary for distressed elephants from all over Thailand. Set in a natural valley, bordered by a river, and surrounded by forested mountains the sanctuary and surrounding area offers a glimpse of rural life. It offers short elephant treks through a picturesque valley.
NATIONAL PARKS AND NATURE SPOTS NEAR CHIANG MAI
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park (five kilometers from Chiang Mai) covers an area of 262 square kilometers and embraces verdant forests and mountain ranges. Major mountains include Doi Suthep, Doi Buak Ha, and Doi Pui. These mountains are the main sources of tributaries and streams in Chiang Mai. Sacred places, religious attractions and historical sites are located in the park complex. Attractions in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park include 10-meter-high Huai Kaeo Waterfall, six kilometers from Chiang Mai town. Khru Ba Siwichai Monument is situated at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountain. The monument honours the devoted Buddhist monk whose followers built the first 10 kilometer road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in 1935.
Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:00am to 6:00pm. Contact: Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park, Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Tel. +66 5329 5117-8, +66 5321 0244 To get to the park office, drive from Chiang Mai town for 5 kilometers on the Huai Kaeo-Chiang Mai University-Chiang Mai Zoo route to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep en route. At a turn off on the right, the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park road sign will be seen.
Chiang Mai Night Safari (10 kilometers from Chiang Mai in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park) is an open landscape zoo that is open during the day but comes aive at night. Visitors can see various kinds of animals such as elephants, giraffes, zebras, lions, Asiatic black bears, tigers, hyenas, crocodiles from an open-air tram. There is also a trekking route to see the wild animals among trees and by a lake.
Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday. Contact: Chiang Mai Night Safari, Tambon Mae Hia and Tambon Suthep, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, Tel. 0 5399 9050, 0 5399 9000. Open on Monday to Friday between 1.00pm-4.00pm and Saturday and Sunday between 10.00am and 4.00pm. The night safaris are held daily between 6.00pm and 11.30pm. Tickets for adults are 500 baht and 300 baht for children. For more information on and accommodation, contact Tel: 0 5399 9050, 0 5399 9000 or check www.chiangmainightsafari.com. To get there: Go along Huai Kaeo Road, turn left into Highway No. 121 toward Amphoe Hang Dong for around 10 kilometers, then turn right and continue for 2 kilometers.
Doi Khun Than National Park (accessible from the train to Chiang Mai) embraces the Khun Than mountain range. The park forms a natural boundary between Lamphun and Lampang provinces. The northern rail line to Chiang Mai runs through the longest rail tunnel in the country, which is 1,352 meters long and takes five minutes to traverse. The mountain has both virgin jungle and pine forests. Many tourists choose to walk from the Khun Than Station up the mountain, a distance of about 7 kilometers. There are four rest areas on the way. Visitors may also camp overnight but must provide for their own food. The best time to take the trip is between November and February when the weather is fine and cool. Open everyday from 6.00am - 6:00pm To reserve the accommodation can contact Tel. 0 2562 0760, 0 5351 8901, 0 5351 8762, 08 1032 6341 www.dnp.go.th . How to get there: By Car: Follow Highway 11 and take a turn between kilometers 46 and 47 to follow an asphalt road toward the Khun Tan National Park for about 10 km. then, 8 km. on an unpaved road. Since some parts of the road are very steep, a vehicle in good condition is suggested, not a bus. By Train: This is the most convenient mode of transport. Take the northbound train to get off at the Khun Tan Railway Station, and walk further to the Doi Khun Tan National Park for 1.3 km.
Ratchaphruek Garden (10 kilometers southwest of Chiang Mai, in Mae Hia sub-district) is nestled in a lush mountain landscape and covers 400 rai (240,000 square meters) of land. It is indeed a picturesque setting — not only the garden itself with its many plant and flower species — but also its unique and delicate artwork and architecture. The area was the site for the Royal Flora Expo 2006.
Ho Kham Royal Pavilion is the symbol of the garden. It features traditional architecture in the style of Lanna, Northern Thailand. The Pavilion has high ceilings and steep multi-tiered roofs, exquisitely guilded in ancient technique. Visitors will be amazed by the uplifting beauty of Lanna wisdom and craftmanship. On the insides are paintings of King Bhumibol by various artists and the gorgeous Tree of the Ten Kingly Virtues. The latter is comprised of layered orbs of gold Bhodi leaves, and symbolizes the fact that the King provides a garden of spiritual shade for his people.
The Corporate Gardens showcases sustainability and eco-friendly agricultural techniques. The International Gardens features s horticultural highlights from 33 countries around the world, such as Japan, India, Bhutan, and South Africa. The indoor exhibit consists of hydroponics, a tissue culture nursery, as well as a dome for tropical plants and buildings for desert and temporate plants. In the Outdoor Gardens are water plants, a lotus garden, plants from each province in Thailand, plants which are believed to be auspicious, plants from Buddhist history, and plants painstakingly trained into incredibly beautiful shapes. There is also a building which exhibits information on the history of Thai horticulture. The enormous Outdoor Garden showcases the diversity of tropical horticulture.
Ratchaphruek Garden displays rare plants including the 'Royal Palm' and the 'Double Coconut', which stand at the garden entrance, and species of pine trees that are 250 million year old. The royal palm has a smooth gray trunk, which is swollen at the base when it is young and at the middle when it is mature, producing an hourglass shape. Its can reach up to 20 meters in height and has deep-green leaves. The 'Double Coconut' or 'Coco de Mer' is a native of the Seychelle Islands in the Indian Ocean,. This palm is mostly grown for ornamntal reasons. The fruit resembles a double coconut and contains the largest seeds in the plant kingdom. They grow up to 30 centimeters in diameter and 45 centimeters in length and can weigh up to 14 kilograms. In years past, the nuts were believed to have aphrodisiac qualities, probably owing to their similarity in appearance to the female pelvis region. In the 1700, the fruits were sold in parts of Europe for a very high price. The tree was also once thought to be the Tree of Good and Evil in the biblical Garden of Eden. Hours, Fees, Transport and Contact Info: Closed Monday, Open from 10.00 - 6:00pm. Contact: Ratchaphruek Garden Ratchaphruek Garden, Tambon Mae Hea, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai, Tel. 0 5311 4110-5. Trams are available around Rattanakosin Isle. They cost 20 baht for adults, 10 baht for children. At present the garden is open only to groups and must be booked in advance. Knowledgeable guides conduct all tours. The garden is free of charge. For further information call 0 5311 4110-5 fax. 0 5311 4116.
Doi Ang Khang (45 kilometers from Chiang Mai, off Highway No. 107, the Chiang Mai-Fang Road) features a number of attractions, including the Ang Khang Royal Agricultural Station, a demonstration site for planting and researching flowering plants, temperate fruit trees, vegetables and other crop under the patronage King Bhumibol. A bonsai garden is located in front of the station. The garden comprises temperate and winter plants of Thailand and overseas, all of which are decorated, cut and planted in bonsai style. Nearby are herbal gardens. The best time to visit is from November to January. Mu Ban Khum is a village located near the Royal Agricultural Station. It is a small community with members of the Burmese, Hwa, and Thai Yai ethnic groups. They and run souvenir shops and restaurants.
Mu Ban No Lae is on the Thai-Burmese border. The people of No Lae migrated from Myanmar about 15 years ago. They speak their own language and are Buddhists. On every Buddhist day, they stay home to practice the Buddhist precepts. No Lae village offers a magnificent view of natural scenery of the Thai-Burmese border. Mu Ban Khop Dong is home to Musoes. The tribe believe in ghosts and spirits and still hold on to simple ways of life. The Royal Project has supported this village in promoting agriculture and handicrafts. The Young Local Guide project is underway to guide visitors on the local lifestyle and beliefs, as well as to create a non-migration awareness in local youths. Mu Ban Luang comprises of Yunnan Chinese who migrated here during World War II. They earn a living from agriculture.
Among the activities offered at Doi Ang Khang and Ang Khang Natural Resort are natural study treks to small but beautiful waterfalls and rhododendron forests, mountain biking, birdwatching, mule riding (best done by sitting side saddle because the wide saddle will not allow a horseback-riding style). Booking must be done at least one day in advance with the resort as mules are normally used to carry agricultural produces.
Hours, Transport and Contact Info: Open everyday from 8:00am -5:00pm. Contact: Ang Khang Royal Project Ang Khang Royal Project, Amphoe Fang, Chiang Mai, Tel. 0 5345 0107-9. Turn left at an intersection around km. 137 (at Mae Kha Market) and proceed to Doi Ang Khang for a further distance of 25 kilometers. It is a steep zigzagging asphalt road. Therefore, only vehicles in good condition and experienced drivers can make the trip. The local truck (Songthaew) from Mae Kha Market offers chartered service to the splendid mountain. The area has a cool climate all year round, particularly from December to January, when much of the area is frosty. During that period, visitors should be prepared to cope with cold weather. Accommodation is available. For more information, visit www.angkhangstation.com
Doi Inthanon National Park (100 kilometers from Chaing Mai) is the home of Thailand's highest mountain. A steep, windy road leads to the summit where there is a temple and garden with wonderful views of the Chiang Mai area in the dry season (in the rainy season it is often shrouded in clouds). Three scenic waterfalls—Mae Klamg, Wachirathan and Siriphum—are near the road that leads to the summit. Also along the road are hill tribe villages, beautiful rice terraces and rain forests trees covered by mosses and epiphytes. Among the animals found in the park are gibbons, covets, giant flying squirrel and rare Asaese macaques and Phayre’s leaf monkey.
Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s highest mountain. It is 2,599 meters (8,514 feet ) above sea level. Some Thais say is marks the end of the Himalayas, a claim many take issue with. In an any case the mountain receives a lot of rain and has dense summit forest. Visiting Doi Inthanon is possible throughout the year. The best period for viewing waterfalls is May through November. The best period for viewing wild flowers is December through February. The best period for birdwatchers is November through March.
Doi Inthanon Peak has a cool climate all year round. The An Force Radar Station and King Inthawichayanon’s stupa is located on the mountaintop. King Inthawichayanon, the last king of Chiang Mai, was concerned about the importance of forests and wanted to preserve the forests for future generations. He loved Doi Inthanon so much some of his ashes be kept there. The Tourist Information Centre, near the top of Doi Inthanon, has exhibits on geography, biology, forests, and animals.
The Tourist Centre at km. 9 has exhibits on nature and animals that inhabit the area. Doi Inthanon Royal Project is in Khun Klang village close to the park headquarters. The project was initiated in 1979 to help the hill tribes to cultivate cash crops other than opium and train them on modern agricultural practices. The center embraces flower plantations, a plant breeding research lab and flower plantations of hill tribes (Hmong) are open to visitors.
Attractions in Doi Inthanon National Park: 1) Namtok Mae Ya is one of the most beautiful cascades in the Chiang Mai area. Water flows from a 280-meter steep cliff onto rock outcrops and into pools below. The well-managed waterfall is one kilometer from Highway No. 1009 junction. Turn left for 14 kilometers and then take a 200-meter walk. 2) Namtok Mae Klang is a 100-meter one-level waterfall located eight kilometers from Highway No. 1009. 3) Tham Bori Chinda is a large cave located near Namtok Mae Klang at km. 8.5 of Highway No. 1009. The road sign to Tham Bori Chinda will be seen at the junction on the right. The deep cave has stalactite and stalagmite formations, Buddha images and a rocky stream. Sunlight in the cave allows visitors to see the entire cave.
4) Namtok Wachirathan is a large waterfall which plummets over the edge of a high cliff into a deep pool below that is a good swimming spot. A slippery bridge that leads to the waterfall. To get there, turn right off Highway No.1009 at km. 21, then follow the signpost to the waterfall a further 350 meters on foot. At km.20 a new road has been built to reduce the walk to the waterfall. 5) Namtok Siriphum is a splendid waterfall that falls from a steep cliff in two lines and can be seen en route to Doi Inthanon. The attractive waterfall is located at km. 31 of Highway No. 1009, take a right turn a go for two kilometers. The base of the waterfall is reached bya foot trail.
6) Namtok Mae Pan is the longest waterfall in Chiang Mai, It flowss from a 100-meter cliff. From km. 38 of Highway No. 1009, drive along the Doi Inthanon-Mae Chaem road (Highway No. 1192) for 6 kilometers and a sign to the waterfall will be seen, then drive on an unpaved road for 9 kilometers. The lovely waterfall can be reached by a ten-minute walk from a parking lot. In the rainy season, the road to Namtok Mae Phan is in a poor condition; only a four-wheel vehicle could make the journey. 7) Namtok Huai Sai Lueang is beyond Namtok Mae Pan, about 21 kilometers from Doi Inthanon-Mae Chaem Road. Turn left to an unpaved road where only a four-wheel vehicle could make a trip in the rainy season. The medium-size cascade has water all year round and flows from a cliff to each level.
Natural Study trek on Doi Inthanon Kiu Mae Pan starts from km. 42. This short trail, which winds through pristine forest for about 2.5 kilometers, takers trekkers to a patch of Rhododendrons, commonly found in the Himalayas, that are in full bloom during December-February. Trekkers on this route should seek permission from the park headquarters at km. 31 for safety reasons. A group of not more than 15 people is recommended. Food consumption is not allowed while trekking. This nature trail is closed for reforestation from June 1 to October 30 annually.
Ang Ka Luang Nature Trail was surveyed and designed by Mr. Michael MacMillan Walls, a Canadian volunteer biologist who died from a heart attack on this mountain. This trail is 360 meters long, passing through wet and cold areas in a lush valley. Forest above 2,000 meters have lichens and wild orchids. Indigenous plants that needs a high level of nutrition, organic deposits, and rare species of birds are seen along the trail. There are more nature trails on Doi Inthanon, each providing different views of the diversity of plants, reforestation, the importance of tributaries. Walking trails range from 1 to 8 kilometers. Each trip needs approval from the Chief of the National Park and a trekking leader is needed. The service is obtained at the Park Office at km. 31.
Inthanon Bird Watching Information Centre (Uncle Daeng’s Shop) is located at km. 31. This is a bird information exchange centre among bird watchers, nature students and the general public. The information details the habitat and food of birds and animals living on Doi Inthanon. The aim is to pass on this knowledge to the next generation. It also provides the Doi Inthanon Bird watching Diary, bird sketches by various bird watching experts, bird watching trails, bird pictures, and slides. Winter is the best time for bird watching when indigenous and migrant birds are found including Eurasian woodcock, white wagtail, grey wagtail, yellow wagtail, citrine wagtail, forest wagtail, chestnut thrush, scarlet finch, little bunting, and crested bunting.
Hours, Fees, Contact, Accommodation and Transport Info: Open everyday from 6.00am to 6:00pm. Contact: Doi Inthanon National Park Doi Inthanon National Park, Amphoe Chom Thong, Chiang Mai. Accommodation, restaurants, and camping sites are available at the park headquarters at kilometer 31. Tel: 0 5335 5728, 0 5326 8550 Bangkok Tel: 0 2562 0760 or www.dnp.go.th . Getting There: Travel 58 kilometers west of Chiang Mai via Highway No. 107 to Chom Thong, then turn right into Highway No. 1009 and continue a further distance of 48 kilometers along Highway No. 1009 to the summit. A good asphalt road takes visitors up but is rather steep, thus the vehicle must be in a good condition. Visitors could pay for the entrance fee at kilometer 8. Doi Inthanon can be reached by a local truck (Songthaew) from Phra That Chom Thong or Mae Klang Waterfall. The Songthaew runs to Doi Inthanon National Park Office ( kilometer 31) and neighbouring villages. The fare costs 20 baht each. A chartered Songthaew costing around 800 baht can make stops at other attractions around the area.
LAMPANG (1½ hours by car from Chiang Mai) is the home of Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao, a temple that housed the Emerald Buddha in the 15th century. Nearby is a 170-foot white-and-gold chedi with an interesting, ornately-decorated, Burmese-style prasat.
Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao is located on Phra Kaeo Road. It once housed the Emerald Buddha, is now enshrined in Bangkok.. Interesting structures include the large Chedi containing the hair of the Lord Buddha, a Burmese-style Mondop, an ancient Vihan housing a reclining Buddha and a museum exhibiting ancient relics of the Lanna era. The wat is open everyday from 8:00am to 5:00pm
Many tourist tour Lampang in horse carriages. The symbol of the city is a white chicken. A short distance from Lampang, set amid farms and rice fields, is Wat Chedi Sao. The name literally means "the Temple of Twenty Chedis" and one look at the 20 stupas in the temple courtyard makes it easy to understand the orgin of the name. The origin of the temple itself is less clear. A legend recounted at the temple says that two monks from India came to the area about 2,000 years ago to spread the teachings of Buddha. A local prince was much impressed and asked each of the monks for ten hairs. He then built the temple, placing one hair in each chedi. The way is open everyday from 8:00am -4:30pm.
Tourist Office and Website: 105/1 Chiang Mai-Lamphun Road,Tambon Wat Ket, Amphoe Mueang, Chiang Mai 50000, 0 5324 8604, 0 5324 8607. Accommodation: Lampang has a variety of accommodation options, including a number of charming guesthouses and small boutique hotels. Getting to Lampang: Lampang is best reached via private car or public bus; it is located at the intersection of Highways No. 1 and 11, both major thoroughfares leading to northern Thailand. By Train: Regular trains depart from Bangkok's Hua Lumphong Railway Station to Lampang daily. Call 1690 or visit www.railway.co.th for more information.From Chiang Mai, all trains heading south stop in Lampang, a 2 to 2 ½ hour ride depending on the class of train. By Car: From Bangkok, take Highway No. 1 and Highway No. 32 to Nakhon Sawan via Sing Buri and Chai Nat, and then turn into Highway No. 1 again to go to Lampang via Kamphaeng Phet and Tak, a total distance of 599 kilometers. From Chiang Mai, Lampang is a short drive, about 1 ½ hours southeast along Highway No. 11. By Bus: The Transport Co. Ltd. operates both air-conditioned and non air-conditioned buses to Lampang. Buses leave Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2) daily.Several private buses also provide bus service, including Wiriya Tour, Tel: 0 2936 2827 and New Wiriya Tour Tel: 0 2936 2205-6. By Air: - Bangkok Airway has flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport to Lampang. For schedule or bookings contact 0 2270 6699 www.bangkokair.com - Solar Air contact 02-535-2455-6 www.solarair.co.th .
Wat Lampang Luang (12 miles outside of Lampang) is famous for its classic Lanna-style decorations, European-castle-style walls and a massive copper-covered chedi with Buddhist relics inside. It is regarded by some as the most interesting piece of architecture in northern Thailand. According to Asian Historical Architecture: Wat Phra That Lampang Luang is a remarkable example of a fortress monastery, or wiang. When approaching the site, the first impression the visitor has are of the tall, imposing walls that surround the site. Apart from the chedi and the main viharn, there are a half dozen other principal structures of note. Among these is Viharn Nam Tam, which is thought to be the oldest surviving wooden religious building in Thailand. The fame of the site, and its preservation throughout the centuries, is largely due to the belief that the historical Buddha visited here about 2,500 years ago and donated a lock of his hair, which is now enshrined in the chedi.
The wat actually saw battle in the early 18th century as a result of an incident between Burmese troops and a local Man of Merit who was killed near here. After the incident, the Burmese troops took up residence in the fortified monastery. A local fighter named Thippachak rose in arms against the Burmese here with 300 men, gaining access to the monastery via a water channel in the rear. The site where he killed the Burmese commander, Tao Maha Yot, can still be seen as the bullet holes remain in the railings.
Thung Kwian Forest Market (a few kilometers down the Chiang Mai - Lampang Highway from the Elephant Conservation Centre) market sells a huge variety of forest products (both flora and fauna) including live water beetles, field rats, snakes, crispy larvae, eviscerated lizards, mushrooms, medicinal herbs, an extensive fungi selection, and cow placentas. Endangered animals such pangolins sued be sold but authorities cracked down on that. Apart from the weird foot section the market is considered fairly touristy. Normal eats grilled chicken, sticky rice and curry are also available.
Chae Son National Park (75 kilometers from Lampang) is situated in a lush forested and mountainous region with a 73-Celsius hot spring and misty mountains that are particularly picturesque in the morning. There are bathing facilities. One kilometer from the entrance is a clear, cool brook where tourists can take a dip in water fed by six -level Chae Son waterfall, There are accommodations and camping areas for visitors. The park is open everyday from 8:00am - 6:00pm. Admission Fee: Adult 200 Baht Child 100 Baht. For more details, visit website www.dnp.go.th . How to get there: By Car: From the provincial stadium in Lampang, follow the Lampang-Hang Chat Road (old route) and turn right at the Ban Nam Thong T-junction to go along Highway 1147 (Lampang-Huai Peng-Mueang Pan route) for around 55 kilometer. Then, turn right to Highway 1287 (Mueang Pan-Chae Hom route) and go for around two kilometers and turn left to Highway 1252 (Khuang Kom-Pang Faen) and go for another 11 kilometers. Finally, turn left at Ro Pho Cho Road and go for another three kilometer before reaching the park’s headquarters. By Bus: The bus service on the Lampang-Chae Son Line is available on Talat Kao Road, during from 8.00am-6.00pm A charter bus service is available.
Text Sources: Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014