Chiang Mai was our final destination in Thailand. It’s the largest city in Northern Thailand, beautifully nestled in the mountains. It’s full of cultural and history and very relaxed. It was a nice change of pace from Bangkok. Like we did in Bangkok, we stayed in two different areas of Chiang Mai. Our first stay was in “Old City” Chiang Mai and our second stay was along the Ping River outside of Old City.
“Old City” refers to the original city of Chiang Mai, surrounded by the remains of a protective wall and moat. It is the cultural heart of the city, with hundreds or Buddhist temples, monuments, and museums. We enjoyed staying in this area and walking the old roads, wandering though allies, and visiting beautifully elaborate temples.
Our first full day in Chiang Mai happened to be Christmas. I wrote about our day here. This one day included some of the highlights from our time in Chiang Mai including our visit to Wat Chedi Luang and the Sunday Night Street Market.
Our hotel was located in an ally behind Wat Phra Singh which is also a monastery. I enjoyed being able to walk through multiple times and not only admire the beauty of the temples and monuments but also see the monks. Wat Phra Singh was always busy, and most days there was a little market set up selling everything from food to clothing to souvenirs.
One day we took a trip into the mountains to visit two amazing places: Bhubing Palace and Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. After arranging for a taxi, we took the ~50 minute drive up the twisty-turny roads in to the mountains.
Bhubing Palace is a grand estate that was built in the 1960’s to house the Royal Family during their trips to Chiang Mai. The property includes many buildings, beautiful gardens, and a water reservoir with walking paths connecting everything. All the gardens were very well kept and featured flowers both native to Thailand and not. The most famous garden is the Queen’s Rose Garden. It was so tranquil being there and much cooler (temperature wise) than the city.
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a temple in the mountains which over looks the city of Chiang Mai. It is a very sacred temple to the Thai people and its origin depends on which legend you’re told. Paraphrasing the story we were told: a monk found a magical bone believed to have been Guatama Buddah’s shoulder bone. It eventually broke in half. One of the halves was sent with a white elephant who was released into the jungle, hiked through the mountains, and then trumpeted three times and dropped dead. They King saw the event as an omen and built the temple on the spot the elephant had died.
We got to the temple and it was very busy, but I guess it always is. At the base of the stairway to the temple, there is a touristy market step up with merchandise and food stalls. We walked the 309 steps to the top and got our admission tickets and two bottles of water. We entered the gate and observed for a moment. We found the proper place to put our shoes and we entered the temple area. (We were amazed at how many people were leaving their shoes right in front of signs that said “Please do not leave shoes here”. But anyway..) It was really busy and crowded with people. We did a lap around the chedi and then went back out and walked around the temple grounds. We found the observation deck which overlooks the city. We were surprised how big the city was. We had just been tucked away in old city, not realizing the actual size of Chiang Mai. We looked over and saw another area that had a good view of the mountains and city that wasn’t as crowded and headed over there. Then, we walked around the grounds some more which was kind of like a museum. It also had many monuments, Buddah shrines, bells, gongs, and an orchid garden (of the cloth variety). We got an iced Thai tea and went back to our quiet observation balcony to enjoy it with the views. Eventually, we were ready to go so we hiked down the 309 steps to the taxi and drove back down the mountain to the city.
At some point during each day we would find ourselves at a cafe to take a break from the heat with an iced Thai tea. They were so amazing; I miss them.
The area outside of Old City, close to where we were staying the second time, totally transformed at night. The sidewalks would fill up with vendors and food carts. We stumbled through multiple night bazaars, walked through the markets, and did some shopping! We also did some successful food ranging which you can read about here!
I really enjoyed the laid back nature and rich culture of Chiang Mai. There is definitely a lot more to do and I can’t wait to get back!
Thanks for Keeping Up 😉