Chiang Mai’s spectacular natural attractions, amazing culture, rich history, year-round temperate weather, and exciting activities beckon!by Atthasith Khupratakul
Laden with unique cultural wealth and natural beauty, Chiang Mai continues to find fresh, stimulating activities to attract visitors. The city seems to be changing continuously, making it always a pleasure to explore. But many tourists do not mind retracing their steps, revisiting previous attractions they have already seen in Chiang Mai, not only because the attractions of this ancient capital not only seem to retain their exotic mystique, but also, they grow on you with each and every visit. And if you are anything like me, you will agree that a holiday in Chiang Mai will not be the same without visiting them — again. That’s what I did in my most recent visit.
Symbol of Chiang Mai
It was a Saturday, and Chinese tourists are all over. The Chinese have become one the kingdom’s biggest source markets since Chiang Mai became a backdrop for the hit movie, “Lost in Thailand,” and now they are everywhere. Being Buddhists themselves–albeit if the Mahayana strain– it wasn’t surprising to see the Chinese take easily to places like Wat Doi Suthep.
This centuries-old temple (“Wat Phra That Doi Suthep”) is just 15km away from the city proper. That is why so many people flock to the temple each day.
My favorite spot here is the viewpoint, which offers a panoramic view of the city, although often a thick blanket of smog covers the view. What the smog cannot cover though, is the temple’s long history and great beauty. If you love selfies, the golden chedi here is a perfect backdrop. But in fact, there are so many corners that offers great photo ops. Lovers of religious culture will love the place for sure.
Until the cable tram was built, visitors have to climb 309 steps to reach the top. A tram ride costs Bt20 for Thais, Bt50 for foreigners.
Glorious Royal Retreat
Located on Doi Buak Ha, just a few kilometers away from Doi Suthep, Bhubing Palace (officially called “Phra Tamnak Bhubing Rajanives”) is the winter residence of the ruling Thai Royal Family.
Since it was opened to the public a few years ago, the palace has been receiving at least 200 persons a day and as much as 500 persons a day during the high season. The 40-acre complex was built in 1961 beginning with the royal residence building and the royal guesthouse.
While the main palace is not accessible to the public, the grounds are. Tourists can roam around, marvel at the beautiful northern Thai style architecture (Reun Mu), and feast their eyes on beautiful flowers that dot the gardens.
Entrance fee is Bt20 for adults, Bt10 for children. Visitors are required to dress appropriately. Tel: 053 223-065
Temple of the Kings
No visit to Chiang Mai is the same without spending time in the ancient Walled Town, and stopping at two of its popular temples: Wat Pra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang.
Wat Phra Singh, at the intersection of Singharat and Ratchadamnoen roads, has a large chedi built in 1345 by King Pha Yoo to house the remains of his father King Kam Foo. It is a favorite stop of many Chiang Mai visitors too. Wat Chedi Luang, which also houses the City Pillar, marks the exact center of Chiang Mai.
By the way, Thais believe that nine is a lucky number and they often recommend that you visit nine temples in a one-day temple tour. There are more than 300 temples inside the old Chiang Mai city and nearby, and you can create your own “Buddhist Circuit” tour, if you’re up to it. Unfortunately, we are too pressed for time.
Lanna Arts & Crafts Galore
The world-famous Changklan Night Bazaar is the most famous night market in town if that’s too much for you (“too touristy,” some say), you can stop by the Wualai Night Bazaar, which opens only on Saturdays. Wualai is more in the old style night market than the Changklan Night Bazaar both in structure and prices. There’s also a walking street market near Thapae Gate, which opens every Sunday, and this one makes your Lanna shopping spree more exciting because you can haggle for bargains.
Sankamphaeng District or Hang Dong are the main places to go if you are thinking of buying wholesale, they being perfect showcases of Lanna arts and crafts. But you must also try heading to Nimmanhaeminda Road, the new shopping capital of the city. This one is for the more modern and contemporary shoppers, and some of the best emerging Thai designers have a shop here. Besides shopping, the road has become a popular hangout place and chic, trendy restaurants and bars have opened in the area in the last few years. Some locals call it the “Thonglor” of Chiang Mai.
Soft Adventure and More
Chiang Mai boasts many eco-tourism and soft adventure activities, and here are some you should not miss, especially you’re staying only for not longer than three days:
Treks can take you into mountainous areas, which are also home to the hilltribes. With lush hills and virgin forests as scenic backdrops, try to book a package that includes trekking on foot, bamboo rafting, whitewater rafting, oxcart or elephant ride, and overnight stay in a hill tribe village.
If you have time, go white water rafting in Mae Tang (an emerging eco-tourism area). You might also want to visit Chiang Mai Safari (33 Moo 12, Nhong Kwai, Hang Dong; Tel: 053 999 000), another popular tourist attraction.
Cruising the Mae Ping
To see Chiang Mai from a different perspective, take a leisurely boat trip along the Ping River. (Mae Ping River Cruise; Tel: 053 274-822) /Scorpion Tail boat: Tel: 053 260-299)
Sampling a Spa
There are more than 40 legitimate spas in Chiang Mai to choose from for your kind of pampering. (Contact: Thai Lanna Spa Association at 053 298-220; www.thailanaspa.org)
Again, three days in Chiang Mai are hardly enough to experience the range and breadth of attractions that the “Rose of the North” offers. Our advice: plan to stay longer, maybe at least a week!
IN A CAPSULE
Chiang Mai at 20,000sqkm is the largest city in northern Thailand. Situated at 300m above sea level in a large mountainous area, it was established in 1292 by King Mengrai. Two hundred years later, the city was subdued by the Burmese and became a vassal state in 1558. It was liberated by King Taksin and became part of Siam as the capital of Lanna (a million rice fields), an independent princedom tributary to Bangkok. Today, it is a bustling tourist destination: a center of learning, arts, antiques, and ancient Lanna tradition. The city is also noted for its food, and its native crafts such as silk, silver, saa paper products, handmade cotton, woodcarving, ceramics, and others. Chiang Mai can be reached from Bangkok by air, land, or rail.