As with our travel motto from the start we’ve never made plans for where to go next on this journey, we’re still continuing to find new places on the advices from the people we meet on the road. This way of travelling has liberated us from all the pre-planning stress including arranging accommodation/bus/train tickets etc. We just turn up at a bus/train station on the day of travelling and book the next available seats to our next destination. Sure, sometimes this attitude has lead us to not so great transportation/accommodation options due to high season or demand but we have managed OK so far and end up having the most amazing memories regardless. So, the latest of these journeys was our last minute purchase of the train tickets from Bangkok to Chiang Mai which put us on a slow sleeper train that took 18hrs to arrive (instead of 16!). It was a long, exhausting train journey but later we agreed it was well worth the journey for what we experienced in Chiang Mai after our three weeks there…
There are so many things that made our stay so special and here are the highlights…
Even though it’s very touristy, Chiang Mai doesn’t feel overcrowded and the crowd we encountered here so far are certainly different than the “drink till you fall” types we met in Bangkok. And the locals are wonderful people. Thailand is called “Land of Smiles” for a reason. The constant big smiles on Thais are infectious.
Chiang Mai is overflowing with some ancient Buddisht Temples (Wats). It is said that there are more than 200 temples in and around Chiang Mai. We have been visiting as many of them as we can as we are fascinated by them and the fact that they still form a big part in the lives of Thai people so locals showing their gratitude, making offerings, lighting candles are a common yet beautiful sight. It’s difficult but I narrowed it down to five of our favourite Wats in the following;
Wat Pha Lat
This is our absolute favourite Wat, nestled out of sight, tucked away in the heart of the jungle, only a few kms away from the famous Doi Suthep. The entrance is not sign posted, hence not jam packed with tourists which makes it even more perfect. We were the only ones visiting on our way back from Doi Suthep so spent the whole afternoon experiencing the tranquillity and calmness of the surroundings.
Wat Prha That (Doi Suthep)
Also known as the holiest shrine in the Northern Thailand, Wat Prha That is situated near the top of Mount Suthep and a 15km trip up on a picturesque windy road outside the city.
According to the myth, a magical relic multiplied itself just before it was enshrined at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai. A suitable place therefore had to be found to shelter the new relic.
Unable to decide on the site, the king placed the relic in a portal shrine on the back of a white elephant and waited to see where the animal would take it. Eventually, the elephant walked up to the top of Doi Suthep mountain, trumpeted three times, turned around three times, knelt down, and died. The temple was immediately built on the miraculously-chosen site.
The architecture, statues and murals are simply breathtaking… Although it’s very crowded with tourists, it shouldn’t put you off visiting this beautiful temple.
Wat Chedi Luang
King Saen Muang Ma (r.1385-1401) began construction on Wat Chedi Luang in 1391 to hold the ashes of his father, Ku Na.
It was then given the great honour of housing the Emerald Buddha, the holiest religious object in Thailand (now kept in Wat Phra Kaew, Bangkok). At this time,the Chedi (or Stupa – the holy tower that sits behind each temple) of Wat Chedi Luang rose to a height of 84m (280 ft.). In 1545, a massive earthquake destroyed much of the Chedi after which about 60 meters remained.
The Chedi has four sides containing large staircases guarded by stone Nagas (mythical serpents). Elephants stand guard midway up the platform. At the top of the stairs are niches where Buddha images are enshrined.
Wat Phra Sing
This beautiful temple is located within the ancient walls of the city. One of the most interesting part of our visit was the life size statues (and very realistic!) of the highly respected monks. It’s also known to be one of the best examples of Lanna Style architecture and one of the Royal temples in Thailand.
Wat Sri Suphan
We heard about this place from an expat we met while having lunch at a small restaurant near our guest house. He suggested that we’d go and check it out as it’s almost completely made out of silver. It’s a shame though as women are still not allowed to go in!
There are great selection of markets in Chiang Mai scattered all over the city.
Sunday Walking Street Market
It starts from late afternoon around 4pm till midnight. It’s our favourite market with its colourful stalls and displays of the best Thai arts and crafts. It’s also very popular with locals. It gets really busy later in the evening but still doesn’t feel chaotic, more like a carnival feeling. We went there twice and if we had stayed longer I’m sure I would have returned. What’s interesting is that at 6pm, as the sun sets, everyone stands up silently then proceeds to sing the national anthem!
Being the most famous of all, Nigh Bazaar stretches along Chang Klan Road just outside the old part of the city. This quiet road during day time turns in to a big shopping attraction every night of the year. It’s possible to find anything ranging from brand name designer goods, real or fake, clothes, jewellery and local Thai goods. There are plenty of food stalls to try some delicious Thai food too.
What makes Chiang Mai even more attractive is that if you want to get away from the city and enjoy the surrounding landscapes, you can do so without going too far. The Samoeng Loop is one the best routes to visit a variety of natural beauty the area has to offer. It’s a 100 km loop around the Doi Suthep Mountian and can easily be done on a day trip on a motorbike.
Mae Sa Waterfalls
The 26th km along the Samoeng loop is a great stop to enjoy the magnificent Mae Sa Waterfalls. We spent a few hours admiring the 9 beautiful levels of waterfalls in all shapes and sizes.
Huay Tung Tao Lake
Only 20 mins away from Chiang Mai, Huay Tung Tao Lake is a wonderful place to relax, enjoy a drink or lunch sitting in one of the beautifully lined up lake-side bungalows with great views. While we were there, there were only Thai families enjoying their afternoon so it felt great to be away from the tourist crowd for a while.
Chiang Mai University
Yes, I really put this under landscapes and here is why. We were on a motorbike one late afternoon chasing a good spot to watch a sunset but realized that it was too late to get anywhere in time due to the traffic just as we were passing Chiang Mai University, we thought why not go in and have a look and get away from the traffic for a while. Well, I am so glad we did what we did as we were amazed by the greenery surrounding the campus. We caught the last bit of the sunset sitting and chatting next to a few students. A great evening.
The last but not the least in this series is the fact that Chiang Mai is a real gem when it comes to variety of vegetarian food options. I got so spoilt during our stay that I don’t want to admit but I think I gained a few extra kgs during our stay!
We had an absolutely amazing time in Chiang Mai and we now know why so many people rave about it. This is somewhere that we quickly got attached to and felt like we could easily spend a few months and we might just do that very soon as I have some exciting projects I will be involved in the near future. I will share it with you all once everything comes together but for now we will say good bye to Chiang Mai and make our way in to Laos in the next couple days…