A Visit to the "Rose of the
North Thailand"--Chiang Mai
A Bird's eye view on Chiang Mai City, North Thailand.
1. About Chiang Mai City
As From 18th -23th December,2013, we went to Chiang Mai for holidays. Chiang Mai is the second largest city of Thailand, situated in the notorious Golden Triangles , Northern part of Thailand and adjacent to Myanmar(Burma) and China borders. We joined ASA Free and Easy Tour from Singapore , taking a chartered flight by FireFly Airline from Johor Baru. It took about two and half hours to reach Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai has a very nice climate. It is an ideal place for holidays. The former well-known Chinese Mandarin singer Teresa Teng(邒丽君) liked the place very much. She used to go to Chiang Mai for holidays and died there also while on a holiday trip.
Owing to the good weather, the flowers there are very beautiful especially for “Rose and Orchid”.Chiang Mai is therefore dubbed as “ Rose of the North Thailand”.
Thai people there are believers of Buddhism. Therefore the city is full of temples. There are about 500 temples in Chiang Mai and its outskirts, with a dozen standouts of historical or architectural significance within the walking distance of each other. Most of these temples are in a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan, Mon and Lanna Thai architectural styles that reflects the varied heritage of
The Handicraft Shop
However my wife and I only visited the following temples: Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Phan Tao, Wat Chiang Man, Wat U Mong and above all, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. The latter, which is mostly visited by the tourists, located at the hillside about 14 km in the outskirt of the city. It takes about half an hour to go there. On the top of the hillside , visitors can see the entire city of Chaing Mai and its international airport..
The history of Chiang Mai can date back to 1296. It was built by King Mengrai (1238-1317) of Lanna Kingdom as a capital succeeding Chiang Rai. It was so-named as “New City”. In recent years, Chiang Mai has been attracting 5 million visitors each year, of which 2 million are foreign visitors.
The population of Chiang Mai is 164,000(estimated more than one million in the metropolitan area). It is the hub of Northern Thailand, 700 hundred kilometer from Bangkok. The famous Night Bazaar which we visited on the eve of departure is located at Chang Klan Road whereas Loi Kroh Road is the centre of the city’s night life.
The locals say “ you have not experienced Chiang Mai until you have seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of Kao Soi, and purchased an umbrella from Bo Sang”. Of course this is touristic nonsense, but the Kao Soi, Bo Sang umbrella and Doi Suthep are really important cultural icons for Chiang Mai residents. My Tour Guide also insisted that we should have a try. We therefore ate Kao Soi and visited the Umbrella-Making Village . We also had a bird’s eye view of the city from Doi Suthep.
Chiang Mai National Museum(1)
2. Chiang Mai National Museum
On the second day of our Chiang Mai trip, we hired a Tuk-Tuk car for a whole day tour to some historical and cultural places in the Old City. We visited 5 famous temples, including Chiang Mai National Museum and Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre. Undoubtedly, Chiang Mai as a city with more than 800 years of history encompassing Lanna culture, there is plenty to see within the Old City. It deserves one day extensive tour.
The National Museum near Wat Jet Yod temple , is located in the centre of the old walled part of Chaing Mai. It was built in the style of an old Lana building. I was told that the house was originally the Town Hall. This was really a very small museum. We only spent about one hour there. There was not much to see except the succinct outline the history of Chiang Mai from prehistoric times until the 21st century and some archeological items, old photos, the Thai peoples’ way of life, their battles, etc. However, there were some interesting artefacts with the description panels in Thai and English language. Admission is free.
Chiang Mai National Museum(2)
As far as I can see, the major focus of the Museum is on the history, culture and life-style of the old Lanna Kingdom, providing visitors a wealth of information about the history of Chiang Mai and displaying a rare collection of artefacts such as Buddhist icons and pottery. My wife and I went there because we wanted to know more about the history of Lanna Kingdom. In this respect, it was very informative. Interesting exhibitions include:
Topic 1: The natural and cultural background of the Lanna Kingdom including the geology, ecology, geography and prehistoric settlement of the north.
Topic 2: The history of the Lanna Kingdom from the establishment of Chiang Mai city to its peak and decline under Burmese control from 1558 to 1769.
Topic 3: The city of Chiang Mai under the Kingdom of Siam, from the time Chiang Mai regained its freedom from Burma, to the re-establishment of Chiang Mai city in 1782.
Topic 4: Trade and economy of the Lanna Kingdom from 1782 to 1939.
Topic 5: The modern way of life and social development: agriculture and industry, banking, international relations, education and public health.
Topic 6: The development of the Lanna Art Style, and the history of art in Thailand from the Dvaravati period to the present day.
Operated by the Fine Arts Department and established in 1973, the Chiang Mai National Museum functions as the primary caretaker of Lanna artefacts and as the curator of northern Thailand's history. This museum is a nice complement to the municipally run Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre because visitors will find more art and artefacts here and the scope of the exhibits reaches beyond the city limits. The best curated section of the museum is the Lanna Art Section, which displays a selection of Buddha images in all styles, and explains the different periods and influences. Apart from this upstairs exhibit, the museum is a bit lacklustre, although worth a visit to orient your historical perspective of the Northern Thailand.
Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre
3. Chiang Mai City Arts
and Cultural Centre
After visiting the National Museum, we went to the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cutural Centre. It is located in the heart of the old downtown, just behind the 3 Kings' Monument. The said monument is to honor the three 13th century kings has become an icon of the city today. According to the lengend, the 3 Kings who chose this particular place as the location for the “New city” named “ Chiangmai”..
Upon arrival, I saw there was a well- preserved colonial type of building in front of me. It was under renovation. The Tour Guide told us that the Centre was highly praised by the Royal Society of Siamese Architects for its presevaion efforts.The building, built in 1924, was originally used as the central administrative offices for Siam, and later as the Provincial Hall of Chiang Mai before transforming into an Art and Cultural Centre.The front part of the building has been dedicated to permanent exhibits on the history and culture of Chiang Mai while the rear is used for temporary exhibits and cultural events.
The Centre provides good historial information on the country,particularly on its people,its agricultural history, its hill tribes, and its variety of cultures.. After visiting the National Museum,I found them a bit boring and overlapping. So, I skipped the videos show and only read some description panels on the display items. It was a quick visit lasting about one hour only.
Chiang Mai Night Market(1)
4. Chiang Mai Night Markets
Chiang Mai is a shoppers' paradise. There are 3 Night Markets in Chiang Mai, Namely: (1) Daily Night Bazzar;(2) Saturday Night Market; (3) Sunday Night Market.
Daily Night Bazzar is located in the heart of the city, about 1 km long on Chang Khlan Road, within the walking distance of most hotels. It is open every day of the year regardless of the weather from dusk till midnight. In the daytime, it is just an ordinary street full of shops, hotels and restaurants.
This Night Bazzar is famous for its Thai handicrafts and portrait paintings. Besides, there are also jewellery, gems, antiques, accessories, silverwares,toys, T-shirts,clothing, belts, shoes, sunglasses,watches, DVD, luggage, interior decor, wood carved products and travel convenience goods …. etc.. The market is one of the top tourist attractions in Chiang Mai. You can find a great variety of famous Brand Name Designer goods (Real and fake ). Shopping in the Night Market, you have to bargain for your purchase. Even though the prices appear cheap by your normal standard you should also bargain to get for another 20-30% off the asking price. Without bargaining, you may not be able to get cheap price.
Chiang Mai Night Market(2)
Apart from the above, there are two smaller markets, Kalare Night Market and Asunam Markets, both are offshoots from the main Daily Night Bazzar.
The Night Bazzar is full of restaurants and pubs. It is an ideal place to take dinner or for people who like to enjoy sit -down meals. We seldom buy things, just going there to take our dinner. Anyway, we found out that even taking a stroll up and down the Night Bazzar was an amazing experience. But, it was also quite tiring for the people of our age. Like most of the night market, the place is brightly coloured by lights, music and sound, noisy bargaining for goods and the aromatic smells from the hot food stall vendors.
Saturday Night Market and Sunday Night Markets are two huge walking Street Markets. They open around 4 pm every evening and begin to close down at 11pm.The former is along Wualai Street whereas the latter is located along Ratchadamonoen Road. We only went for Sunday Night market on the eve of departure .
One popular activity in the night market is to have the portrait done , customers dressed up in traditional Thai costume. A big crowd of tourists gathered there every night for this sort of activity.
There is an international selection of food in an open-seated area with entertainment provided by traditional Thai dancers and music - though the food here is mediocre at best!
Wandering along the crowded pavements, admiring the beautifully-made handicrafts and seeking out bargains on more contemporary consumer goods, is the best way to enjoy the Chiangmai Night Markets and its night life. Take your time and be patient but, most of all, learn how to bargain.
5. Phubing Palace
We hired a van to visit Phubing Palace in Chiang Mai. In actual fact, the Palace is a Royal Residence with many beautiful flowers, plants and trees. Its official name is Phra Tamnak Phu Phing and also known as Bhubing Palace . It is located at Doi Buak Ha, about 4 km behind Doi Suthep (22 km from the center of Chiang Mai city), so it is very close to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, one of North Thailand's most important buddhist temples.
On arrival, I saw the Palace was full of visitors .The view was a bit misty but the air was very fresh. Due to its height, I felt quite cold. It was around 16C. My wife likes orchids so we spent most of the time to see orchids. Unfortunately, visitors were not allowed to enter the Palace premises.
Orchids and Rose are the two main attractions. The rose garden named “Suan Suwaree”, is very huge whereas orchids have a wide collection of different species. Besides, there are some spread out gardens with a great varieties of flowers and plants such as several different species of camellia, ferns and bamboos..etc
The Palace was built in 1961 mainly to accommodate the royal family during the State visit to the northern part of the country. The construction work started initially with only the royal residential building and the guesthouse. The other buildings were added on the later dates.
The Palace was built in central Thai architectural style called “Ruean Mu” (Group of Houses). The building sits on stilts. The upper floor is the royal residential area while the ground floor houses the royal entourage.
The Palace is also the royal guesthouse for prominent State visitors from abroad. In the past , Their Majesties welcomed or granted royal audience to State visitors only in the capital of Bangkok. According to the Tour Guide, the first royal visitors to stay at the Phubing Palace were King Frederick IX and Queen Ingrid of Denmark on their royal visit to Thailand in January 1962.
The Palace is open to the public, except when the royal family is in residence (usually January to March). Admission Fee is 50 Baht per person.
I would say that these are very well maintained gardens. Apart from visiting temples of historical values, the Palace is also worth for a visit where visitors can see different kinds of flowers bloom in each season. During the monsoon season, the whole garden will be covered with clouds which is regarded the best time to see the orchids.
Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Garden(1)
6. Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Garden
On the last day of my visit to Chiang Mai, I took part a 1-day tour with a small group of Singaporeans to visit Chiang Mai University , Bhubing Palace and the Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Garden. The latter, as far as I know, is the largest Botanical Garden in South East Asia. The admission fee is 100 Baht.
On arrival, I was amazed by the plenty of flowers in the garden. It was indeed a huge Floral Garden , It was almost impossible for a man like my age to take a long walk on such a big garden, My wife and I therefore paid 20 Baht for a tram car ride and it took only around 20 minutes to cover the entire garden. We saw 30 feature gardens reflecting nations such as Japan, South Korea, Belgium, Netherlands, South Africa, and Canada. In these gardens, we also saw the plants and different architectural style and arts of the participating countries. One of the rare plant was the Tulip from Holland. This reminded me in the year of 1999, my wife and I went for the World Flowers Expo in Kunming , Yunan Province, China.
According to our Tour Guide, the garden was built by the former Prime Minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, for the celebration of the King Bhumibol’ s birthday . The place is indeed very huge and beautiful. In the middle of the garden, there is a pavilion which features the traditional architect of the Northern Thailand.
Royal Flora Ratchaphruek Garden(2)
The Tour Guides told us that the site was originally a Floral Expo Garden in 2006. Coincidentally, the year 2006 also marked the 60th anniversary of the succession to the throne , the world’s longest reigning monarch. As part of those official celebrations (which continued in 2007 for the king’s 80th birthday), a grand flower festival was held under the name “Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2006” with almost 4 million visitors attending such a 3-month long expo.
Apart from this, I noticed that the place was held for more royal occasions, such as Royal Flora Ratchaphruek 2011 which was held to honour the 84th birthday of His Majesty the King and the 80th birthday of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and the 60th birthday of HRH Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Following the conclusion of Royal Flora 2006, the 80-hectare (200 acreas) gardens were re-opened to visitors . I would say , it is a gorgeous place and certainly worth for visiting.
We even took our lunch in the Garden. My wife and I enjoyed a very spicy chicken rice there.
The place is good for bicycle ride as I saw quite a handful of youngsters riding bicycles there. Overall the place is good for a three to four hours excursion (longer if you want to see everything), it is a very pleasant, relaxing and a change from the bustling city.
Wat Chedi Luang(1)
7. Wat Chedi Luang
Shortly after arrival, we were taken for city tour to visit Wat Chedi Luang, one of the most impressive ruined -temple in Chiang Mai. Its name in Thai language means “Royal Pagoda” and was built 600 years ago (Around 1391 during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma, 8th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty.). This temple is located in the ancient walled part of the city. It is one of the most- visited temple like Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai by the tourists all over the world.
In fact,this is a dilapidated temple as most of its Chedi (Pagoda or Stupa) were destroyed in 17-18 century due to earthquake or Burmese wars. To me, it was quite similar to those temples in Angor Wat. I visited Angor Wat in 2004 and spent most of the time wandering around the ruins of the temples there. At Wat Chedi Luang, visitors can walk around the temple outside and take pictures from every angle.
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 mid-15th century to be finished during the reign of king Tilokaraj. It was then 84 m(280 ft.) high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of Lanna Kingdom.
Wat Chedi Luang(2)
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 Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok. The said Buddha , the holiest religious object in Thailand, is also a very important culture treasure in Thailand.
All four sides contain large staircases flanked by guardian mythical Naga creatures. At the top of the stairs are niches, where Buddha images are enshrined. Just below the top of the stairs is a platform containing Sinhalese style stone elephants on one side emerging from the chedi.
Despite its ruined state, the chedi still has several Buddha shrines and remains an active place of worship frequented by saffron-robed monks.
I really enjoyed this Wat.To me it was very special. Old, visually exciting and surrounded by beautiful smaller wats. Take a stroll through the grounds and wander around for a while for photo-taking.
8. Wat Umong
This is one of Chiang Mai’s most unusual and interesting temple. It is a unique 14 century tunnel temple. It is built at the foothills of Suthep mountain and is constructed of a series of tunnels. Built 700 hundred years ago, Wat Umong’s resident monks live in a very natural life. There are tunnels with Buddhist images. To me, it looks like those Buddhist grottoes with Buddha statues in China. Visitors also can feed the fish, ducks ,birds, pigeons and turtles in a small lake.
Wat Umong is unique in many respects. For one, it's built in the foothills of Suthep mountain and is still heavily forested. But the most unique feature of the temple is the tunnels which give the Wat its name (Umong is the Thai word for "tunnel").
On arrival, I saw the temple was on a level of open space, a large artificial mound was built and then criss-crossed with tunnels. The legend is that the temple was built like this for a highly respected monk who was nonetheless a little crazy. The somewhat maze-like tunnels kept the mad monk from wandering off.
The tunnel Buddhas are the main attraction here and I want to read more about their unique history. The main purpose of this Wat is to practice meditation without distractions. It offers teaching and induction into basic Buddhist principles.
From the legend , we know that it was built by the King Mengrai and he invited an important monk from Sri Lanka to stay here. In 1910 , King Kue Na renovated this temple and built a tunnel in the area. This tunnel was mainly for meditation and monk chat. I found a lot of Buddhist objects on the ground such as head of Buddha images ,Naga heads … etc.
In conclusion, I would say that this is a “Forest Temple”. It is different from the regular lanna-style temple I have seen in Chiang Mai. It is atmospheric, though a bit eerie. People who like quiet meditative places would like it very much.
However, I particularly like the “Talking Trees” where Buddhist wisdom is noted on the trunks. "Talking Trees" have words of wisdom in Thai and English. The Wat is famous for its ancient tunnels and large stupa. It is well worth a trip to explore it.
Last but not the least, this is one of my favorite temples. It is located in a cooler area, with trees all around. It is serene and peaceful. There is a sense of simplicity in it. It is unlike other temples I have visited , which merely boasts intricateness and luxury decorations in order to show its uniqueness.
Wat Chiang Man(1)
9. Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and its history goes back all the way to the founding of the city in 1296. Wat Chiang Man was built in 1297. When King Mengrai decided to build a new city and made it the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom, he built the Wat Chiang Man as the first temple of the new city on the site he used to supervise on the construction of Chiang Mai. The temple holds several very old and important Buddha images.
Like most of the Chiang Mai temples, the oldest structure is the Chedi (Pagoda or Stupa). The Chedi named Chang Lom Chedi or Elephant Chedi , sits on a square base supporting a second level of grey stone that is surrounded by 15 elephants that seem to emerge from it.
On top sits the gilded upper part of the Chedi, which contains a relic chamber. The Chedi is a mixture of Lanna and Singhalese styles.The larger of the two Viharns(Assembly Hall) is an impressive building with a three tiered roof. The front of the Lanna style Viharn is decorated with wood carvings in gold and ochre colors.
The building was renovated in the 1920's by the famous monk Khru Ba Srivichai. This Viharn houses the oldest Buddha image in Chiang Mai. The image is a standing Buddha holding an alms bowl, the inscription on its base dates it to 1465.
The stairs to the Viharns entrance are guarded by Naga's(Snake), a mythical snake like creature.
Wat Chiang Man(2)
Opposite the entrance behind the large central Buddha image is a ku, a throne like structure where the two highly revered images are kept.The Phra Sila Buddha image is a bas relief stele, sculpted from stone depicting a standing Buddha. The image was most likely made in Sri Lanka more than a thousand years ago.
The highly revered image is believed to hold the power of bringing rain and therefore plays an important role during Songkran Festival(Thai New Year) held in April at the end of the dry season.
A stone stele in front of the ubosot dated 1581 mentions the exact date the city of Chiang Mai was founded, namely April 12th, 1296. The walls of the Wat feature red stenciled murals, depicting scenes from the life of Chiang Mai's founder, Phaya Mengrai.
The smaller Viharn to the north contains two small but very famous Buddha images. The Phra Sila image is a bas-relief that probably came from Ceylon in about the eighth century. The other is image enshrined in Wat Chiang Man a tiny crystal Buddha called Pra Seh-Taang Kamaneeee and is also the focus of a festival at the temple held in April each year.
The temple is famous for its Lanna-Style Chedi supported by rows of elephant-shaped buttresses. The beautiful Lanna-style ordination hall enshrines an ancient Buddha image named Phra Kaeo Khao, revered by Chiang Mai locals.
I have visited many temples in Chiang Mai, including the two well-known Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Doi Suthep and I would say that I enjoy Wat Chiang Man the most by far. It is a very quiet and peaceful place. The elephant stupa is amazing and the grounds are beautifully serene for such attraction.
Wat Phra Singh(1)
10. Wat Phra Singh
We visited 5 temples with historical value on the second day in Chiang Mai. As far as we know that there are more than 360 temples in Chiang Mai and several magnificent and very old temples within the old city, with Wat Phra Singh being one of the most attractive. There are 700 hundreds monks and novices living here. The Wat Phra Singh houses a number of highly revered and very old Buddha images.
The history of Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century when Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom, and is one of the finest examples of classic Lanna style temple architecture in Northern Thailand. Until today, it is the most visited temple in Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra Sing is located inside the old city wall and its main entrance is guarded by Singhs (Snake). The temple’s signature Lanna-Style roofs and glittering Viharn (Assembly Hall) invite visitors.
Wat Phra Singh is perhaps the second most venerated temple in Chiang Mai after Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It houses three main structures, the main attraction being the elegantly decorated Lai Kam assembly hall and its restored murals depicting the lives of locals hundreds of years ago. It has a fine collection of classic Lanna art and architecture. The temple compound is busy with visitors and worshippers all year round and is usually packed during the Thai New Year in mid-April.
Wat Phra Singh(2)
One of the best examples of Lanna style architecture is the Viharn Lai Kham. This Viharn or Assembly Hall was built at the end of the 14th century to house a very highly revered Buddha image named Phra Singh Buddha.The temple complex was originally named Wat Li Chiang Phra, until 1367 when the Phra Singh Buddha image was brought here and the name was changed to Wat Phra Singh, named after the image. The origin of the Phra Singh Buddha image is not known with certainty, according to local belief the image originates from Sri Lanka.
The largest building in the Wat is the Viharn Luang. The original Viharn was built towards the end of the 14th century, but was replaced by the current building in 1925. This impressive Viharn houses a very highly revered Buddha image named Phra Chao Thong Tip. This gold and copper image of a seated Buddha was cast in 1477. I was told that this is the most venerated Buddha statue in the Northern Thailand.
Wat Phra Sing was built in the 14th century by King Pha Yu of the Mengrai Dynasty to enshrine the ashes of his father, King Kham Fu. According to the Tour Guide,Wat Phra Sing may be the first monastery to house the Emerald Buddha. a cultural treasure that now resides at the royal place in Bangkok.
Wat Phra Singh is a gorgeous and elegant temple with a great Buddha image and lively atmosphere around it with various shops. Definitely worth a quick visit in Chiang Mai!
Wat Phan Tao(1)
11. Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is one of Chiang Mai's most renowned temple. It was likely built towards the end of the 14 century. On the 2nd day after arrival, I hired a Tuk-Tuk car to explore the historical and cultural relics in the old city including 5 famous temples.
Wat Phan Tao is located on Phra Pok Klao Road ,very close to 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 the king. There are around 360 temples in this area alone.
In Wat Phan Tao, visitors can see the teak wood carvings in the Viharn.Originally it was used as a palace.The roof, pediment and lintels are all richly decorated with remarkable gilded carvings in pure Lanna style.
The name Wat Phan Tao means “Monastery of a thousand Kilns”. According to the noted scholar Michael Freeman, this is probably due to the fact that the site was used for the casting of Buddha images intended for Wat Chedi Luang, which is adjacent to the monastery. The building was originally constructed not as a monastery, but as a Royal Palace building (Ho Kham) for the ruler of Chiang Mai, Chao Mahawong, who used the structure from 1846 to 1854. It originally stood on stilts, but these were removed when the building was refurbished as a monastery in 1876.
Wat Phan Tao(2)
Some traces of Chao Mahawong's habitation can still be seen; for example, the front gable end is decorated with the image of a peacock standing over a sleeping dog. The dog is the zodiac symbol of Chao Mahawong's birth year, making this temple a necessary pilgrimage site for those born in the year of the dog.The peacock is a remarkable hundred years old antique and absolutely beautiful. The temple is subtle yet silent elegancy.
Inside the Viharn large red painted teak pillars support the building. Long woven banners hang from the ceiling. Opposite the entrance is a large golden sitting Buddha, the Wat Phan Tao's principal Buddha image. The interior of the Viharn contains several interesting items. Among them are a number of old wooden boxes decorated with gold leaf containing old Dhamma texts. These are the Buddhist scriptures written on palm leaves. On the left hand side is an ornately carved wooden Ku, a Buddha throne used to enshrine important Buddha images. There is a nice little pond in the back with a Buddha statue under a tree.
Unlike most of the Wats in Chiang Mai, the temple building is unpainted wood. The wood panels are beautifully carved and the difference in material from most Wats makes it a must see in the Old City of Chiang Mai. I personally think it is quite different from other temples I have seen in Chiang Mai because it is made of teak (wood).It is nice and simple with small grounds on one side. It can be easily approached while on a walking tour through old ciy of Chiang Mai.
The Golden Pagoda at Doi Suthep
12. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Chiang Mai, for either Thai people or foreigners, is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or simply referred to as Doi Suthep by most people. The Wat was founded in 1386 under miraculous circumstances. It is a magnificent Buddhist temple located at the top of Suthep mountain. According to the Tour Guide, the peak named after the hermit Sudeva, who lived on the mountain’s slopes for many years.
It takes about 30 minutes to get there from the Chiang Mai old city. Originally it took 5 hours climbing up the mountain to get to the Temple but thanks to 1,000 volunteers who built the current road ,the journey now only takes about 30 minutes. The modern paved road was a joint effort of communities throughout the Chiang Mai region, each of whom contributed 1,300-foot sections.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep(1)
306 Daunting Steps
There are 306 daunting steps leading to the Wat. These steps were built in 1557 and are guarded by giant Snakes or Nagas. Two huge snakes run the entire length of the steps and are truly one of the highlights of the the visit. After climbing the steps, visitors can see a wonderful view of Chiang Mai City as well as the golden pagoda containing a relic of the Lord Buddha in the temple.
Visitors also have the option of riding a little tram car that runs on rails from the parking lot to the Wat grounds. Every year many Thai people from all over the country make pilgrimages to this temple.
About 4 km beyond Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is Phra Tamnak Phu Phing, a winter palace for the Thai Royal Family with palace gardens. It closes during the royal family ‘s visit.
The golden spire of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep glitters near the summit of Doi Suthep, a 1,676 meter (5,500 foot) mountain outside Chiang Mai. The Wat was established in 1383, and is one of northern Thailand's most sacred temples. Gold and copper catch the sunlight, including a five-tiered gold umbrella that's one of the holiest sites in Thailand. There are informal discussion, chanting and meditation held by the International Buddhist Centre inside the Wat.
This was the most breathtaking and humbling temple of all that I went to in Thailand. Locals say you haven't truly arrived in Chiang Mai until you've been to Doi Suthep Temple.
Outside this central enclave area visitors can find the shrine to the White Elephant and the story of how the temple on Doi Suthep was founded.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep(2)
White Elephant Lengend
According to legend, a monk named Sumanathera from Sukhothai had a dream; in this vision he was told to go to Pang Cha and look for a relic. Sumanathera ventured to Pang Cha and is said to have found a bone, which many claim was Buddha's shoulder bone. The relic displayed magical powers; it glowed, it was able to vanish, it could move itself and replicate itself. Sumanathera took the relic to King Dharmmaraja who ruled the Sukhothai.
The eager Dharmmaraja made offerings and hosted a ceremony when Sumanathera arrived. However, the relic displayed no abnormal characteristics, and the king, doubtful of the relic's authenticity, told Sumanathera to keep it.
However, King Nu Naone of the Lanna Kingdom heard of the relic and offered the monk to take it to him instead. In 1368 with Dharmmaraja's permission, Sumanathera took the relic to what is now Lamphun, in Northern Thailand. The relic apparently split in two, one piece was the same size, the other was smaller than the original. The smaller piece of the relic was enshrined at a temple in Suandok. The other piece was placed by the King on the back of a white elephant which was released in the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, at the time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down, and died. The temple was immediately built on the miraculously-chosen site.
Chiang Mai University
13. Chiang Mai University
We only took a car ride inside the University campus. It took about 10 minutes. Chiang Mai University(CMU) was founded in 1964 with a strong emphasis on engineering, science, agriculture, and medicine ..etc. CMU was the first institue of higher learning in Northern Thailand, and the first provincial university in Thailand. It has four campuses, three of them in Chiang Mai and one in Lamphun.The one visited by us is the main campus which lies between Chiang Mai downtown and Doi Suthep.
14. White Temple, Chiang Ra
On our way to the Golden Triangle, we stopped over at the outskirts of Chiang Rai to see the well-known White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). It is dubbed as a Contemporary Buddhist Temple. This is indeed an unusual temple, the whole building is in white , only its toilet is in gold colour. Therefore people called it “ Golden Toilet”. The White Temple has become a “Must-See” destination for the tourists from all over the world especially for those who are heading to the Golden Triangle.
On arrival at the gate of the temple, I saw a breathtaking view of an immense structure sparkling in the sunshine , as its name states, all in white colour with merely some tiny reflective mirrors ornately decorating it. There is no admission fee for the thousands of visitors who flock here daily.
The white temple was built in 1997. It's a unique white temple created by an artist. Every scene has its own story and visitors can also visit its gallery to see paintings. As this was done by an artist, there are several interesting items to note such as the hands reaching as if from hell towards the heaven while visitors passing through a bridge, the dragons and other statues.
Unlike most of the Chiang Mai temples, I would say that this is a modern temple. However, some people say that the temple lacks of its traditional composure, but I think the design and decorations surround it have shown its main purpose. Like most of the Buddhist temple, it represents the battle between the good and evil. Inside the White Temple, the walls are completed with a mural telling a story of the transition, from a world of sin to a place of enlightenment. The back wall represents ‘hell’.
In short,it is a completely white fairy tale looking temple. Anyway, it is very different from any Buddhist temple I have seen before. It reminds me of the fairy tales where castles are made of snow and ice.
One thing I can't understand why there are murals of Hollywood blockbuster movies in a Thai temple , after talking with the Tour Guide and local people ,I was told that it's not really a temple, but more a showcase for a talented artist who will never finish and has run out of inspiration.
Certainly this is the most beautiful temple of Thailand. It is inspiring, awesome, beautiful and thought-provoking. It is a stunning place that worth to visit.
15. One Day Golden Triangle Tour
The Golden Triangle is one of Asia's two main opium-producing areas. It is an area of around 367,000 square miles that overlaps the mountains of three countries of Southeast Asia: Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Along with Afghanistan in the Golden Crescent, it has been one of the most extensive opium-producing areas of Asia and of the world since the 1920s. Most of the world's heroin came from the Golden Triangle until the early 21st century when Afghanistan became the world's largest producer.
The Golden Triangle designates the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong River, where you can see land of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), and Laos all together from a boat.. The history of opium trade there made that place sounds fascinating, full of curiosity from the visitors.
The Golden Triangle is in Chiang Rai Province, in the Northern part of Thailand. This was originally the opium-growing region of Northern Thailand, eastern Myanmar (Burma) and western Laos, but is now mainly a tourist attraction. Undoubtedly, the majority of visitors to Chiang Mai would join a local tour to visit the notorious Golden Triangle. We are no exception. My wife and I joined a 1-Day tour arranged by the Hotel Travel Manager. A total of 12 persons, mostly Western tourists, joining the tour. We were the only Asian couple. A brand new 12-seater van carrying us to the Golden Triangle area. The whole journey was over 300 km and took more than 4 houurs to reach there, plenty of stops for toilet breaks and refreshments. On the way to Chiang Rai, we also visited the well-known White Temple which was unique and charming. Stunning from very start to finish. On the way back,it was a non-stop trip. We all felt the sense of numb bum!
Upon arrival, I saw the area was in fact divided by rivers. These rivers form a natural boundary between the three countries. The name of the river is Ruak River (Mekong River). We paid 300 Baht for the Boat Cruise along the Mekong River and landed the Donxio Island belonging to Laos to purchase souvenirs. No Visa was required by Laos authority. This is a special arrangement of the country in order to promote tourism. Unfortunely, we did not have time to visit the Opium Museum .
There are tasty restaurants on the riverbank, offering a wide-range menu of all the usual Thai and Western Dishes. Noodle and rice dishes start from 40 baht. 100 baht.
According to the Tour Guide,the surrender of drug warlord Khun Sa's (坤沙) Mong Tai Army in January 1996 was hailed by Yangon authority as a major counter-narcotics success, but the lack of government will and agility to take on major narcotrafficking groups and the lack of serious commitment against money laundering continues to hinder the overall anti-drug effort.
We absolutely loved the Golden Triangle Tour we did. It also included a stop over visit to the Long Neck Karen tribe which was awesome!
Long Neck Village(1)
16. A Visit to the “Human Zoo”
---Long Neck Village
The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand were traditionally nomadic peoples, living by slash and burn agriculture and by keeping some domestic animals, such as pigs, chickens and buffalos. When the natural resources of an area were exhausted they would move on.The major Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand are Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Hmong, Akha, Lawa, Yao and Paduang. Some of these Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand are split into separate and distinct groups.
The most numerous of the tribes are the Karen numbering over 250,000, and are thought to have originated in Tibet. Thais refers to the Karen as Galiang. They live at between 800 and 1800 metres up in the mountainous, densely-forested region of Mae Hong Son , west of Chiangmai ,Lamphun and can also be found in Phrae, Chiang Rai and Lampang.
Nowadays, tourism has become an important part of the hill tribe’s economy, particularly to the Paduang (Long Necked Karen), whose young women are famous for the many brass rings adorning their necks.
Most the hill tribe people are pleased to show hospitality to visitors, and it is the responsibility of visitors to show respect in their returns, such as giving tips after photo-taking or buying some village-made handicrafts from them. My wife was given brass rings to wear on for photo-taking.
Due to the time factor, we were only able to pay a short visit to the village.This tribal village, dubbed as home to the long neck tribe, is actually a village for tourists. In other words, it is a “Human Zoo”.The Karen women are accommodated in this village by the Thai authorities and they earn money by selling handicrafts and trinklets to visitors and receiving tips for photo-taking.
Long Neck Village(2)
Here I saw all the women put on brass rings around their necks, arms and legs commencing from the age of 5 years old. The brass rings are worn throughout the day and night. The purpose of wearing these brass rings is defined as “a beauty enhancement “ and is also to protect their necks from being bitten by wild animal predators like lions and tigers. The relevant story goes that a long time ago when they were still many tigers alive, they ate people. Men were given guns and woman were given neck rings so the tiger doesn't have such an easy time biting their head off.
They will increase their rings every year or whenever they can afford it. The average weight of rings on an adult woman's neck is about 3 - 5 kg. The only time when the rings are taken off is during pregnancy or when they are sick. Many people believe that the neck is stretched, when in fact the neck is not actually lengthened. In fact the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck.
After about 2 years of wearing these rings, the girl’s neck muscles become too weak to support their heads so they are unable to remove the rings. Today, with the promotion of Tourism, the wearing of these brass neck rings is a commercial advantage
The Karen tribe lives in atap houses built on stilts, with their domestic animals living under the house. The women are also skilled weavers , They can make beautiful clothes. Apart from this, they also have possessed skills in the distilling of alcohol and making handicrafts.
Long Neck Village(3)
The Karen Padaung is a sub group of the Karen Hill Tribe people, its total population is approximately 50,000. They live near the Thai- Burma border area. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many Karen tribes fled to the Thailand due to conflict with the military regime in Burma. The Thai government granted them refugee status, but they can only be allowed to live in certain areas. Since then they have become a tourist attraction, with villages offering tours to come and view the Long Neck Women. There are three of these Karen villages in Mae Hong Son Province ,Thailand.
Long Neck Village(4)
Long Neck Village
The entrance fee to the Long Neck Village was quite expensive , about 200 baht per head, which , I think, is included in our tour package. After I entered the village, I found a long stretch of stalls selling some handicrafts, scarves and bags . Each stall got a Long Neck Woman or a Long Neck Girl welcoming the visiting tourists but I could not find any male Karen people in the village. Where are they? The Tour Guide told us that the men here are very lazy because they have some assistance and support from the government. Generally speaking, they don’t do anything in the village. This reminds me about “the Men’s Paradise of Bali” where men do not need to do any work. Most of the workloads are done by women. What is a sad thing!
The handicrafts sold here can also be found in other markets in Chiang Mai like Saturday and Sunday Night Markets. The real attraction is the women and their long neck rings. During my short visit, I noticed how peaceful they looked. They Just sat on their stalls quietly, smiled to the tourists and engaged you in a little talk with their basic English when you showed interest to buy their handicrafts.
Long Neck Village(5)
In Thailand, these kinds of villages are playing a vital part in local economy. Tourists are charged approximately 200 Baht per person in order to gain entry into these"Human Zoos".
We were told by our Tour Guide that we were allowed to take as many photos as we like but in return we should respect their culture as they were. Basically I think this village was built by some Thai proprietors and they try to find some Long Neck and Big Ear hill tribe peoples to live in it. Then in return, they are required to sell the handicrafts which bring profits to themselves and also to the proprietors.
Most of the Long Neck people are like refugees with no citizenship status. They might be born in Thailand, but the government does not grant them citizenship status. Thus they have nowhere else to go. The only place they can go is living in the village established by the Thai proprietors.
I had a bit of mixed feelings about the place. On the one hand, I thought it was quite unique and interesting but on the other hand, I felt sad for these Long Neck people, not being allowed to go outside the village and mix with the Thais. Tourist visitors paying entrance fees just like the way they pay for entry into a Zoo. They came here to gawk at them only. It is indeed a sad way of life, exactly like an animal in the Zoo.
One little girl was able to speak a little bit English and told me that the rings around her neck made her very hot. I felt HOT also without the rings on my neck having seen these people on display to the world . Maybe the adult females have a choice in wearing the rings, but the children certainly don’t have, they are far too young to give an informed consent. I am surprised that the authorities concerned don’t step in and stop this child cruelty.
Long Neck Village(6)
I believe that, as a visitor, we should not participate in the exploitation of these innocent people. Frankly speaking, by paying a fee to see them, we are indirectly taking part in their exploitation. In fact, the Long Neck Women receive very little amount of profits by selling the handicrafts whereas ,Thai tour operators and the proprietors , are enjoying the lion’s share. By paying fees to visit these “Human Zoos”, we are encouraging such an inhuman way of exploitation. The problem is if tourists don't visit them anymore, they would be forced to remove the necklace and to stop with that mutilation. But what would happen to the tribe? How do they make their living?
I was so sorry to see such human tragedy. I really sympathize them very much. They are humans. All men are born equal. They have the every right to live in a normal life.