Exploring Chiang Mai



Exploring Chiang Mai

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Often called the “rose of the North,” Chiang Mai is shedding its sleepy backpacker-haven reputation and carving out a new identity for itself. The town has expanded rapidly and boutique hotels and trendy restaurants are springing up everywhere, bringing new style and sophistication. Chiang Mai boasts an exquisite location, circled by mountains. Its stunning wats, notably Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Sing; historic sites; bustling markets; and lively nightlife make it an exciting destination. The town thrives on its crafts trade (see pp212–13), as seen in the wide range sold at Warorot Market and the Night Bazaar, and along Tha Phae Road.

Wat Phra Sing

Construction of this temple, the largest in Chiang Mai, began in 1345, though the bot dates from 1600. The Wihan Lai Kham (“gilded hall”), decorated with murals of everyday life, houses the revered golden Phra Buddha Sing. Like its namesakes in Bangkok (see p92) and Nakhon Si Thammarat (see p383), the image is said to have originated in Sri Lanka.

Wat Chedi Luang

Within the compound of this temple is the spot where King Mengrai was killed by lightning in 1317. The revered Emerald Buddha image was briefly housed in the wat in the 15th century – a previous attempt to bring it to Chiang Mai failed. The chedi, once 295 ft (90 m) high, was damaged by an earthquake in 1465.

Wat Chiang Man

King Mengrai dedicated this residence as a wat, the city’s oldest, while his new capital was being built. It features Lanna teak pillars and a chedi surrounded by stone elephant heads. The wihan houses the Phra Kaeo Kao, thought to have been carved in Northern India in the 6th century BC.

Tha Phae Gate

Tha Phae Gate marks the beginning of Tha Phae Road, the commercial hub of Chiang Mai. Located here are bookstores, department stores, and handicraft shops. Farther east, the road becomes Highway 106, along which are shops and factories selling silk, celadon, lacquerware, and other crafts.

Suan Dok Gate

This is the city’s western gate, marking the start of Suthep Road, along which three important temples are situated.

Night Bazaar

With its wide range of goods at competitive prices, this easily rivals Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market. Inside are endless stalls selling hill-tribe crafts, leather goods, and clothing. The top floor specializes in antiques. Beware of fakes, especially at the stalls outside the market. This is also a good place to try Chiang Mai’s Myanmar-influenced cuisine. Shops on Wualai Road, south of Chiang Mai Gate, sell the best silverware and textiles.

Warorot Market

During the day, this covered market sells local food, clothing and hill-tribe crafts, often at lower prices than the Night Bazaar. Fruits, spices, and tasty dishes are all available. By night, it is the site of a colorful flower market


There are many sights outside the city center that are worth a visit. Most can be reached by local transport. For longer excursions, most hotels and guesthouses offer treks to hilltribe villages. There are also many tour operators on Tha Phae Road. Two-hour river cruises on the Ping River leave from Wat Chaimongkol on Charoen Prathet Road, taking in a variety of opulent homes and humble riverside villages.

To the north of the city is the Chiang Mai National Museum. Its collection ranges from Haripunchai terracottas to Lanna heads of the Buddha.

On the grounds of Chiang Mai University is the Tribal Research Institute. Its small museum details the history of the area’s ethnic minorities. Treks to hill-tribe villages can be arranged here.

On Kaew Narawat Road, to the northeast of the city, is McCormick Hospital. This working hospital is typical of Chiang Mai’s 19th- and 20thcentury architecture, much of which was built by missionaries and officials of the British teak logging companies who came here from Myanmar (Burma).

Just west of Suan Dok Gate, on Suthep Road, is Wat Suan Dok. The temple was built in 1383 to house relics of the Buddha, while the open-sided wihan was restored in the 1930s. The small chedis contain ashes of members of Chiang Mai’s former royal family. Farther along Suthep Road is the 14th-century Wat U Mong. Some of the original tunnels leading to the monks’ cells can still be explored. Also of note is a dis turbing image of a fasting Buddha. This temple and nearby Wat Ram Poeng offer meditation courses. The latter’s library keeps versions of the Theravada Buddhist canon in various languages.

Wat Chet Yot, distinctive for its seven-spired chedi, is set in spacious grounds. Its stuccoed design is based on the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodhgaya in India, where the Buddha is said to have achieved Enlightenment.

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