Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai

Dec 11, Thur.  Our one hour flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai took us to a higher altitude, cooler climate and our first look at the hills of Thailand.  Sam, our guide, met us at the airport with a full itinerary for our day.  Chiang Mai, known as the Rose of the North, has an "Old City" inner core that is surrounded by a moat and rock wall reminiscent of its prior leadership as the capital of an independent kingdom (1292).  We drove right into town and turned down a very narrow bamboo-lined driveway to our accommodation (Tamarind Village) which was situated within walking distance of most everything in the city including the famous Night Market.

After checking in we headed toward the northwest part of town past the Chiang Mai University campus and up Doi Suthep Mountain overlooking the city. Lunch was at Galae a terraced outdoor restaurant overlooking a large trout pond.

Further up the mountain is the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.  The story of the temple originates with an elephant laden with religious relics being sent out from Chiang Mai. The elephant stubbornly climbed the mountain, created a series of circles which were given symbolic significance and came to rest on the top.  Honoring the site a temple was constructed, quite an engineering feat since there was nothing but jungle until 1935 when the village communities volunteered to construct a road to the existing temple.

The Golden Chedi pictured above is the center of the temple compound. The buildings represent the Lanna style of Thai design and craftsmanship including a teak vihara (chapel, assembly hall).  Four golden umbrellas stand at the corners of the Chedi with the walls of the cloister surrounding the square containing recesses of sculptures and decorated with murals of the life of the Buddha.  Below is an artisan working on restoration of one of the many statutes by re-applying gold leaf.

The Museum of the Temple below houses the sacred scriptures of the Temple.  The terrace affords a view of the valley overlooking Chiang Mai.

Visitors ring the bells along the temple terrace for good luck. Access to the temple is either by a cable car or a 306 steep stairway lined by the serpent naga symbolizing enlightenment. Demons and creatures guard the temple complex.

We had a brief stop at the Chiang Mai Tribal Museum. The displays focus on crafts, costumes, farming tools, weapons, and musical instruments of the many different local tribes of Thailand.

In the evening we went to a local dinner theater serving northern Thai-style dishes and offering performances of traditional music and dance as the umbrella, fire and peacock dances.  The crowd's favorite was the ox that prances around flapping its jaw for a hand-out of money.

Dec. 12, Fri.  We were picked up early for a bike ride in the countryside. Pawn, our host, and the tour operator's wife outfitted us with great bikes and plenty of snacks for our morning ride.  We set off down suburban roads along the Ping River and passed one of the Queen's royal country homes.  Turning off the main roads we entered a compound, McKean Rehabilitation Center, established in 1908 by a Christian missionary for the care and home of those with leprosy.  In cooperation, the Thai king donated the land, hospital, halls, administration buildings and cottages for housing.  Although treatable today, many of the elderly people continue to reside on the grounds and earn money from their craftsmanship.

We stopped at a local temple that was just being completed. Much of the work is done by hand including the dragon creatures lining the entry.  Here we spent time talking with the local monks and checking out the CAD drawings for the new complex.


We rode through orchards of lunkan  (lycee-like fruit) and banana trees along side of vegetable gardens. The homes are built above ground for coolness and to avoid flooding. Many families use the space under their homes for their businesses.  One such family makes a type of rice and raison pudding steamed in bamboo sections.  Once cooked the treat can be transported "as is" anywhere until such time as the bamboo is peeled away leaving a sweet rice treat ready for eating. 

Along the way, we passed the Wat Chedi Liem, a temple built originally in 8C and restored in the 19C.   We also visited the Wian Kum Kam, the ancient moated town built before the existing Chiang Mai.  The extensive ruins have just recently been excavated out of the thick groves which previously hid their existence.


Racks of pork skins were drying on lines along the road and then put in banana leaves and steamed for eating.  Another family (below) grows and sells hot peppers. Although they looked like poblano chilies to us, they were definitely much hotter. We had them multiple times in a type of Thai salsa that is a northern style condiment. They also raise frogs and fighting cocks for other means of income. We ended our ride at the Riverside restaurant where we relaxed along the river and enjoyed pork red curry with hot peppers. 

Our afternoon we spent walking around the town of Chiang Mai, visiting the local temples (Wat Phra Sing Luang, Wat Chedi Luang), practicing our English on the young monks and enjoying the mild warm afternoon. Dinner was at a house filled with antiques from Thailand. We grabbed a tuk tuk back to the Night Market and spent several hours wandering among the stalls before heading back to the inn.

Dec 13, Sat.   This morning we departed on a two hour drive to the Doi Inthanon National Park. Prior to driving up the mountain, we visited one of the few remaining hillside tribes (Karen) allowed to remain living in the reserve. Most have been removed from the Ping water basin in order to reduce erosion and deforestation (poppy growing). A royal project has introduced the tribesmen to terraced cultivation of marigolds, strawberries, asparagus, broccoli and rice. The women are encouraged to weave articles for sale to tourists. The houses are made of thatched leaves and wood.

The Karen young girls are shy but they show us how they play checkers with bottle caps as markers.

Thailand's highest mountain (8,464 ft) presides over the park. We are told that there are great views of the valley from this vantage point; however, most of the time the top is coated in mist which was the case when we were there.  A radar station built by the US and now maintained by the Thai Navy.

The remains of Chiang Mai's last ruler are contained in the stupa (below), a project initiated by his favorite consort. This is a popular pilgrimage spot.  The reserve is covered in hiking trails lined with thick pine forests, oaks, and red and white rhododendron.

We drove down the mountain to the Royal Chedis which were build recently by the Royal Air Force for the King and Queen.


We stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe serving roasted chicken, a delicacy enjoyed by the patrons as well as all the dogs. After lunch we visited a Hmong tribe village, another Royal project site.  The housing ranging from flimsy lean-tos to more substantial block buildings built with poppy money from the past.  Story has it that the Hmong saved money in bamboo sections and when a certain number of sections were filled then a person was able to pay cash for a house, car, animals, etc.


A number of waterfalls are located in the park.  We took advantage of this cool spot for a short rest and picture.

On our return trip, we visited the PA-DA Cotton Textile Museum. Its founder specialized in dying cotton naturally and weaving delicate cotton cloths.  Our final stop of the day was the Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong, a 15C style Lanna architecture temple with elaborate northern gables.  The alter area has elephant tusks in front of a wooden gilded statutes of Buddha.

We completed our visit to Chiang Mai at the same restaurant in which we launched our stay, Galae.

From Chiang Mai we flew to Phuket and Koh Yao Island

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