Often referred to as the ‘Rose of the North’, Chiang Mai is the economic and cultural centre of Northern Thailand and the focus of tourism within the region. Located about 700 kilometres from Bangkok, it is one of Thailand’s better known and most visited provinces. Originally the capital of the Lanna Thai kingdom created by King Mengrai in 1296, the province has a played a major part in the development of the country. Situated on the Mae Ping River and around 310 metres above sea level, Chiang Mai is one of the kingdom’s most beautiful provinces, featuring mountain ranges and hills amidst lush greenery and jungle. Climate conditions in the area can create swirls of mist and fog in winter – an unusual sight in a tropical country. The province’s numerous national parks are extremely fertile, have an abundance of flowers, and support a broad range of wildlife (the area is particularly associated with elephants). The province is also famed as being a home to numerous tribal peoples and visits to tribal villages are a key component of the area’s tourism. Some of the main attractions in the area include Wat Phra That Doi Suthep and Doi Intanon – Thailand’s biggest mountain.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, or Kad Luang (Royal Market) as it is known by locals, is one of Chiang Mai’s biggest draws. Located right in the centre of the city on Ping River, it is easily accessible and if you are in Chiang Mai a visit is almost obligatory.
The market attracts huge crowds every evening and it is a great place to pick up trinkets and gifts. Given the market’s close proximity to the companies that manufacture them, the price of local handicrafts is attractively cheap here.
The market has huge arcades which hold a multitude of shops and stalls. The place is so packed that stalls actually spill over onto the footpaths around the market. It’s a big place to wander around, and you should put away at least a couple of hours to do it.
Aside from local handicrafts, you can buy virtually anything you can think of at the market – watches, silk, jewelry and more high-tech items like TVs and DVD plays and CDs. As with many markets, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar also offers some of the best street food you are likely to come across.
Catering for the large number of foreigners visiting, the bazaar also offers camera shops, travel agents and Internet cafes. Be prepared to bargain – to get the best price you will have to. One service the bazaar offers that seems eternally popular is portrait paintings from photos. Alternatively, have your portrait painted in Thai costume!
Doi Pui Peak has a cold weather all the year. Bird watching is an activity here where more than 300 species of birds live. There’s an area for tent camping that can accommodate up to 250 visitors.
4 Km from the National Park office, there is a Phu Ping Palace (Bhubing Palace), a winter palace for the royal family. The palace features flower gardens, beautiful landscape and buildings. It opens daily from 08:30 a.m. to 04:30 p.m. for visitors but will be closed during the royal visit: January – March. The admission fee is 50 Baht.
Within Doi Pui area, there’s the Hmong Tribal Village. The village is about 4 kilometers away from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. It offers an insight into how Thailand’s tribes live. The villagers wear traditional Hmong clothes, sell traditional Hmong handicrafts, and live in traditional Hmongstyle homes. A visit to the Tribal Village is often combined with a visit to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and some of the waterfalls in the area, as well as a jaunt to the Hilltribes Museum.
Chiang Mai Walking Street
Organized since 2006, Chiang Mai Walking Street is a Sunday evening walking street at the Three Kings Monument Courtyard. This thriving Sunday evening market covers nearly the whole of Rachadamnoen road (the main road of the old city), many of its side streets and the square in front of Tha Phae Gate.
It is famed for the locally made handicrafts that are made from a wide variety of materials such as silk, fabric, ceramic, metal, glass, wood and etc. In addition, Chiang Mai also organizes a Saturday Evening Walking Street on Wua Lai road which runs from Chiang Mai gate, on the south side of the old city, towards the airport. Both Thai and foreign tourists are enjoy walking and shopping here.
Wiang Kum Kam
Wiang Kum Kam is a recently discovered ancient lost city in Chiang Mai. It was flooded and abandoned more than 200 years ago. This ancient city was built in the reign of King Mengrai in 1296.
From the discoveries, there are 20 ancient remains in and around Wiang Kum Kam including buildings and temples of Wat Chedi Liam (originally: Wat Ku Kham), Wat Chang Kham, Wat Noi, Wat Pu Pia, Wat Ku Koa, Wat E Kang, Wat Hua Nong, and Wat Pu Song. The remains are dating from 21-22 Buddhist centuries.
The whole site of Wiang Kum Kam is too large to explore on foot. The best way to get around is to hire a local guide with a pony carriage, openair tram or bicycle. Visiting Wiang Kum Kam Information Center first is recommended. At the information center, you will see the importance and history of Wiang Kum Kam, details of the discoveries and exhibitions.
Chiang Mai Night Safari
Chiang Mai Night Safari offers the adventurous the opportunity to head off into the animal kingdom while keeping a safe distance from urban creature comforts and a nice hotel.
Only the third night safari in the world (Singapore and Guangxi, China also have them), Chiang Mai Night Safari has proven an immediate hit with visitors and locals alike.
The Safari offers a series of trails over three main zones. The Jaguar Trail offers visitors a walk of around 1,200 meters and is open during the day and at night. The Savanna Safari and Predator Prowl areas use rail cars to move visitors around. This is the ideal opportunity to observe wildlife at night.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is a Theravada wat in Chiang Mai Province, Thailand. The temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep” although this is actually the name of the mountain where it’s located. It is a sacred site to many Thai people. The temple is 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from the city of Chiang Mai. From the temple, impressive views of Chiang Mai can be seen.
The original founding of the temple remains a legend and there are a few varied versions. The temple is said to have been founded in 1383 when the first stupa was built.Over time, the temple has expanded, and been made to look more extravagant with many more holy shrines added. A road to the temple was first built in 1935.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep can be reached by road from Chiang Mai. From the car park at the temple’s base visitors can climb 309 steps to reach the pagodas or take a tram.
Once inside the temple grounds visitors must must be appropriately dressed and must remove footwear. The original copper plated chedi is the most holy area of the temple grounds. Within the site are pagodas, statues, bells, a museum, and shrines. Aspects of the wat draw from both Buddhism and Hinduism. There is a model of the Emerald Buddha and a statue of the Hindu God Ganesh. Views of Chiang Mai can be seen on the far side of the temple.
Wat Chedi Luang
The construction of the temple started in the 14th century, when King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there. After 10 years of building time it was left unfinished, later to be continued after the death of the king by his widow. Probably due to stability problems it took until the mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of king Tilokaraj. It was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna. In 1468, the Emerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche. In 1545, the upper 30 m of the structure collapsed after an earthquake, and shortly thereafter, in 1551, the Emerald Buddha was moved to Luang Prabang.
In the early 1990s the chedi was reconstructed, financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. However the result is somewhat controversial, as some claim the new elements are in Central Thai style, not Lanna style. For the 600th anniversary of the chedi in 1995, a copy of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade was placed in the reconstructed eastern niche. The icon is named official Phra Phut Chaloem Sirirat, but is commonly known as Phra Yok. Also on the temple grounds is the city pillar (Lak Mueang) of Chiang Mai, named Sao Inthakin. It was moved to this location in 1800 by King Chao Kawila; it was originally located in Wat Sadeu Muang. He also planted three dipterocarp tree there, which are supposed to assist the city pillar to protect the town. A festival in honor of the city pillar is held every year in May and lasts 6–8 days.
In a wihan near the entrance to the temple is the Buddha statue named Phra Chao Attarot (Eighteen-cubit Buddha), which was cast in the late 14th century. On the other side of the chedi is another pavilion housing a reclining Buddha statue.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh is a Buddhist temple (Thai language: Wat) in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), the older brother of the present King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX), bestowed it the status of Royal temple of the first grade in 1935.
Wat Phra Singh is located in the western part of the old city centre of Chiang Mai, which is contained within the city walls and moat. The main entrance, which is guarded by Singhs (lions), is situated at the end of the main street (Rachadamnoen road) of Chiang Mai. The road runs east from the temple, via Tapae Gate, to the Ping River.
The temple houses an important Buddha statue: the Phra Buddha Sihing which gives the temple its name. The origins of this statue are unknown but, according to legend, it was based on the lion of Shakya, a statue since lost which used to be housed in the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya (India). The Phra Buddha Sihing statue is supposed to have been brought, via Ceylon (present day Sri Lanka), to Ligor (present day Nakhon Si Thammarat and from there, via Ayutthaya, to Chiang Mai.
There are two more Buddha statues in Thailand which are claimed to be the Phra Buddha Sihing: one is housed in Wat Phra Mahathat in the city of Nakhon Si Thammarat and another in the Bangkok National Museum. It is alleged that the head of the statue had been stolen in 1922. The possibility remains that the present statue (or maybe only the head) is a copy. Every year, during the Songkran festival, the statue is taken from wihan Lai Kham and carried through the streets of Chiang Mai in a religious procession during which the spectators honour the statue by sprinkling water over it.
Construction on Wat Phra Singh began in 1345 when King Phayu, the fifth king of the Mangrai dynasty, had a chedi built to house the ashes of his father King Kham Fu. A wihan and several other buildings were added a few years later and the resulting complex was named Wat Lichiang Phra. When, in 1367, the statue of Phra Buddha Singh was brought to the temple, the temple complex received its present name. During restoration works in 1925, three funerary urns were discovered inside a small chedi. It was assumed that these contained royal ashes. The urns have since been lost. From 1578 to 1774 the Burmese ruled Lanna and in this period the temple was abandoned and came under serious disrepair.
It was only when King Kawila assumed the throne as King of Chiang Mai in 1782, that the temple was restored. King Kawila had the ubosot built and the chedi enlarged. Later successors restored the Wihan Lai Kham and the elegant Ho Trai (temple library).
The whole temple complex underwent extensive renovations under the famous monk Khru Ba Srivichai during the 1920s. Many of the buildings were again restored in 2002.
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok is a Buddhist temple (Wat) in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. It is a Royal Temple of the Third Class. The temple is on Suthep Road, approximately one kilometre west of Suan Dok gate at the west side of the moat. The Chiang Mai campus of the Buddhist Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya University is housed within the temple compound.
Wat Suan Dok was founded by King Kue Na of Lanna for the monk Sumana Thera in the year 1370 CE. The temple was built in the centre of Wiang Suan Dok , a walled settlement of the Lawa people older than Chiang Mai itself. The outlines of the fortifications can clearly be traced on satellite images, and remains of some of the earthen walls can still be seen north of Suthep road. King Kue Na’s flower garden ,which was located here, lent the temple its original name: Wat Buppharam Dok Mai , or Wat Suan Dok Mai for short.
According to legend, Maha Sumana Thera, a monk from the Sukhothai Kingdom, after having had a vision discovered a relic of the Buddha which, also according to the same vision, was to be housed in Chiang Mai. Sumana Thera stayed two rainy seasons at Wat Phra Yuen just outside Lamphun at the invitation of King Kue Na while the latter had Wat Buppharam Dok Mai built. When the moment arrived for the relic to be housed in the newly built temple, it miraculously duplicated itself. One of the relics was housed, as intended, in a shrine inside Wat Buppharam Dok Mai, while the other relic was placed on the back of a white elephant which then climbed up Doi Suthep, the mountain directly west of Chiang Mai, where it trumpeted three times and died. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep was built on that spot to house the second relic.
Saturday Walking Street Market
Although Chiang Mai’s Saturday Walking Street Market started up around the same period as the Sunday one, for some reason it’s never really caught on in the same way. The Sunday one down Ratchadamnoen Rd is laid out right through the centre of the old town, within spitting distance of most hotels and guesthouses and connecting two of the town’s focal points, Wat Pra Sing and Tha Pae Gate. But the Saturday one’s not too far either: Starting at the southern moat opposite the old town, the market stretches the length of Wualai Rd — the market is more often known to locals as Wualai Market). It meets up with Thipanet Rd, so it’s just a 10-minute walk from Tha Pae.
Wualai is certainly considerably smaller than the Sunday Market, but a lot less busy as well and with a much more chilled out feel to it. You’ll find pretty much the same stuff for sale — most vendors do both markets – except only one or two stalls sell hilltribe bags, for instance rather than 22 like at Ratchadamnoen. Because fewer visitors are browser, you may also be able to pick up items a bit cheaper too.
Wualai Rd is a lot less built up than Ratchadamnoen, but there are still a few cafes to take breaks at and you’ll even see some nice old teak buildings that aren’t done up as coffee shops or boutique guesthouses. (Wualai Rd is the old silver-making district of Chiang Mai and you’ll still see a few traditional silver workshops around.) As per the Sunday version you’ll find plenty of tasty street food but Wualai even has a little night/food market set up around the Soi 3 section, which is a very welcome addition.
Worawot (Chiang Mai’s “Chinatown”)
Worarot refers to a entire downtown district of the city, spreading out on both sides of Chang Moi Road and covering an area roughly between Ratchawong, Tha Pae Road and the River. Worarot (or Warorot) market itself is known in the local dialect as Kat Luang, or big market, but the area is actually a complex of covered and street markets. This area is also traditionally Chiang Mai’s Chinatown. To the north of Chang Moi Road is a labyrinth of narrow lanes housing wholesale shops and vendors, with not too much of particular interest for casual visitors but with a strong Chinese feel to them. Between Chang Moi Tat Mai and Kuang Mane roads, is a Hmong and hill-tribe market, while facing the River Ping is the photogenic flower market backing on to the Lam Yai covered market. Kind of in the middle of all this — and surrounding streets are also full of stalls and ambulant vendors of all description as well — is the Worarot covered market itself.
The two covered markets, Worarot and Lam Yai, are similar three-storey buildings situated on either side of Wichayanon and linked by a footbridge. The contents are fairly similar too, being mostly foodstuffs — fresh and dried produce — on the ground floors and clothes and household goods on the upper two floors. The centre is open so you can look down on the ground floor from either of the two upper-storey walkways or mezzanines, which provides some good photo opps.
Foodstuffs cover everything from fruit and veg to the obligatory fried insects and dried produce from every part of the kingdom, as well as neighbouring countries such as Burma and China. There are also plenty of noodle and rice stalls so it’s an interesting place to grab a snack too.
The two covered markets are open from around 06:00 to 18:00 but there’s almost 24-hour action in the adjacent streets, plus a popular local night market around Chang Moi too.
Chiang Mai Zoo
Chiang Mai Zoo is situated at the foot of Doi Suthep, just behind Chiang Mai University, and covers a large area of secondary forest, foothills and stream valleys backing on to the national park itself. The natural forest setting certainly helps to elevate the zoo above regular city zoos such as Bangkok’s Dusit Zoo or Regent’s Park but yes, it is a zoo and not a safari park. (We are not including the notoriously badly run Chiang Mai “night safari”.)
As zoos go, this is a pretty good one and it’s definitely the best the kingdom has to offer. Most animals appear well looked after in spacious cages or fenced off areas and though some enclosures, such as that for the monkeys, still leave a lot to be desired, the zoo is always upgrading and improving its facilities. Other than the aviary and aquarium a wide cross section of native fauna live at the zoo: elephants, tigers, crocodiles, bears and gibbons for starters, plus imported species such as koalas, giraffes, zebras and penguins.
The zoo’s star animals are undoubtedly the pandas, which are on a 10-year loan from China, and for which you have to pay extra to see. That’s partly because they have to live in an air-con enclosure, which rumour has it even has occasional artificial snowstorms… which brings us on to the “snow dome”, another popular attraction for Thais who’ve never seen snow before, and which also charges a separate entrance fee. The snow dome, of moderate interest to Westerners, is a kind of overgrown deep-freeze with a toboggan slope and igloo among its attractions.
Other non-animal viewing attractions in the zoo include go-carting, elephant rides, inflated plastic balls on the lake, a trained bird show and an “adventure railway” ride. The latter is so kitsch it’s good, and involves a brief ride around a deer and goat enclosure with added plastic dinosaurs that move their heads when you pass and a giant King Kong that roars and flashes his red eyes. Even odder are the model Akha and Mabri exhibits. The zoo is large and you’ve got three options for getting around: foot, monorail or bus. Most of the main sites can be included in a walking itinerary but be warned: it’s a fair old walk and there are plenty of hills. Much of it is however in the shade and cafes and snack bars are liberally sprinkled around the site. Allow two to three hours to do a loop around the central area on foot.
The Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre
The Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre is located in an old building of elegant architectural design built in 1927.Standing on the location of a former royal hall, the building was used as the central administrative office of the Monthol Phayap administrative unit of Siam, and later as the Provincial Hall of Chiang Mai.
The site is on the former “naval of the city”, which was the original location of the Inthakhin city pillar before it was moved to Wat Chedi Luang. The site was an inheritance from Chao Kawilorot Suriyawong to Chao Thep Kraison, his daughter. She married Chao Intha-wichayanon, the seventh ruler of Chiang Mai.
The site was used for a royal hall from where the ruler administered Chiang Mai. When Inthawichayanon passed away it went into the possession of his daughter, Chao Dararatsmi, who granted the site to be used for a ‘government hall’ when the monthon was established. When the old building remained empty. At the end of 1997, the municipality requested permission to renovate the building in order to turn it into the Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre. The renovation received an award in 1999 for preservation of a public building from the Royal Society of Siamese Architects (Society of Siamese Architects under Royal Patronage).
This part of town’s probably best known as the “Three Kings area” after the famous statue of King Mengrai and his two buddies, King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao who supposedly helped him to establish his new city of Chiang Mai back in the 13th century. The statue is located right in front of the former Provincial Hall which has now been converted to the Chiang Mai City Arts and Culture Centre, one of the museums we mentioned earlier.
Behind the Arts and Culture Centre is the brand new Chiang Mai Historical Museum, housed in a tasteful, purpose-built home, while opposite across Prapokklao Road is the Lanna Heritage Museum.
This is another splendid old building, this time the former city courthouse and a brand new museum opened only at the beginning of 2013.The three museums are within a minute’s walk of each other while a fourth we found within the same circumference was an odd little museum in the car park of Wat Inthakin Saduemuang on adjacent Intawararot Road. The wat, named after the city pillar which was originally thought to be located here, is a pretty little temple oddly located in the middle of the road.