Visiting Chiang Mai
In my last submission, I wrote about my trip to the Chiang Mai flower show in December 2006. This time I will describe some of the other places I visited while there.
I really like Chiang Mai. It is not as big or as busy as Bangkok, and the people are really friendly. On my previous visit, I spent my time around the city centre, but this time I got out and about a lot more. I really like the old city walls built around a square moat as a defensive measure in the 19th century, although some of them are rapidly crumbling, perhaps due to the pollution and volume of traffic. As elsewhere in Thailand, the women are beautiful, the children delightful and you get to see things unexpected.
There are also some great attractions just outside Chiang Mai, on the mountain known as Doi Suthep. Foremost is the Wat Prathap Doi Suthep temple. Rising 1,676 metres above the city, Doi Suthep is one of the most revered religious destinations in Thailand. Entry to the temple was via the 300 steps to the temple gate along the longest Naga staircase in Thailand. A beautiful temple with views of Chiang Mai far below and unfortunately obscured by haze and smog. As I went to the temple on a Sunday, it was very busy. There was a huge bell which was interesting for its sheer size, as well as many other bells that the faithful were ringing. Entry is free for Thais but farangs have to pay. I did not know this, and in the crush no-one accosted me for payment. I only noticed the prominent signs when leaving. It was a great feeling knowing that I had outwitted the system, albeit unknowingly.
Past the temple is the Phu Ping Palace, the winter residence of the royal family. The gardens are magnificent. A photographer’s delight. I took many photos but in later transferring my memory card to my portable hard drive, something happened with that particular memory card and its contents were presumably overwritten by other files. The joys and perils of digital photography!
Further along the mountain one comes to a Meo Village (Doi Pui). A pale imitation of a real village, it primarily exists to serve the tourist trade. The village looks tired and the wares on offer are nothing flash but my Thai companions, who live in the south, bought up big and really enjoyed themselves buying jewellery made of silver and precious stones as well as other curios traditionally made in the north and not readily available down south. The traditional costumes worn by the women are very pretty.
Chiang Mai is reputed to have over 300 wats or temples, so no visit to the city would be complete without visiting at least some of them.
Wat Muen Ngern Gong is located on San Larn Road. This temple was first constructed in the time of King Mengrai in local Lanna style. Many rich families in Chiang Mai sponsor this temple hance its name – Muen Ngern Gong – which my Guidebook informs me means millionaire or riches. It is beautiful and because it is hidden from the main road it was only by chance that I found it. Certainly the style is very different to those further south and I was surprised to find a Chinese Buddha.
Wat Montein is an immaculately maintained temple opposite the city walls. Calm and peaceful and pristine, so very different to so many of the old crumbling temples found elsewhere in the kingdom.
Wat Chedi Luang is a massive temple in the historic heart of Chiang Mai. Construction of the temple started in the 14th century and was completed in the mid-15th century. It was 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna. In 1545, the upper 30 m of the structure collapsed after an earthquake. In the early 1990s the chedi was reconstructed. Also on the temple grounds is the city pillar (Lak Mueang) of Chiang Mai It was moved to this location in 1800 by King Chao Kawila who also planted three huge diptocarp trees there, to assist the city pillar protect the town. Many beautiful Buddha and also elephants as well as monks. Such a contrast to Wat Montein. They couldn’t be more different. Several other temples I visited all had their own unique styles and characteristics.
Chiang Mai has some wonderful markets. I really enjoy wandering around the food sections, savouring the smells and eyeing the colours and noting the textures and the presentation.
On our way out of Chiang Mai, we visited the Bor Sang Umbrella Village, where they produce and sell hand-made and hand-painted traditional umbrellas. A riot of colour. And then we were on to our next destination…
I like Chiang Mai, BUT, I never felt it was GREAT…ok for a few quiet days, but that is about it. Frankly, I find the north the least interesting part of Thailand, but that is just personal opinion of course…