Things You Should Do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city, lies 700km (440 miles) north of crowded Bangkok. Chiang Mai is considered a world away from the bustling cosmopolitan capital to some extent. Set in a fertile valley encircled by rolling green hills, teak forests and work elephants are more commonplace in Northern Thailand than five star hotels. Travelers are drawn to this ancient Northen Capital for its beautiful countryside which lends itself to trekking holidays, its unique culture and dress, arts and handicrafts and its well-preserved temples, called ‘Wats’.
Visit the Chiang Mai Wats
Within the square-moated old city of Chiang Mai there are 36 wats, and many more in the surrounding area. Each wat has its own history, buddhas and treasures and its own fabulous architecture. The temples typically have pagoda-style roofs, some gilded with gold leaf to gleam in the sun. Other wats have many white-washed chedi, rounded forms which often contain ashes of the dead. Carvings and ornate decoration abounds. The buddhas come in all colors and sizes and were often carved from semi-precious stones such as emerald. Others are covered in gold. The saffron-robed monks still attend their duties and maintain their simple lifestyle within the wats today.
While Bangkok is the place for air-conditioned shopping malls and night markets, shopping here is on a simpler level. Handicrafts are the big attraction. Embroidery, weaving and silver jewelry are made by the semi-nomadic tribespeople who live in the jungle-covered hills surrounding Chiang Mai. Other cottage industries which sustain these people include woodcarving, pottery, silk weaving, lacquerware and paper parasols which make great souvenir gifts.
Excursions from Chiang Mai
Hiking is popular in this beautiful area and there are some interesting places to explore. The imposing mountain of Doi Suthep is just 15 km (10 miles) west of Chiang Mai and is a popular trip. Wat Phrathat is perched close to the summit and can be reached by climbing 290 steps, but most are glad to use the funicular in the steamy heat! Erected in the 14th century, the gilded chedi, two sanctuaries and cloisters still remain. It is hard not to be distracted from the lavish decoration by the magnificent panoramic views from this wonderful perspective. Just beyond Doi Suthep is the Phuping Palace, a royal residence whose gardens are open to the public from Friday through Sunday. A couple of miles further on is the Hmaong hilltribe village, an authentic if somewhat commercialized community which is a great place to pick up handmade crafts.
Another pleasant excursion from Chiang Mai is to Lamphun, 26km(16 miles) south of the city. The road is lined with huge trees showing how dense the forest once was. The highlight of this town, which is on the site of Haripunchai, the first century capital of the Mon dynasty, is the Wat Phra That Haripunchai. Built in 1044AD, this compound has stunning architecture in its various buildings, dominated by a 50m (164ft) high chedi. There is also a small local museum.
The author is an Asia based frequent traveler and runs a number of travel and Thailand related websites including Thailand Hotel Reservations. A self-confessed hotel freak, he plans on staying in and reviewing as many Chiang Mai hotels as possible.
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