Chiang Mai's historic quarter is tightly bound by old ways with a semi-gloss of modernity. The two-lane roads are now traversed by cars and motorcycles instead of bicycles and horse-drawn carriages, but the slow-moving pace of non-motorised travel still sets the communal clock. The buildings are human-scaled and reserve the highest elevation for the temple stupas that peak out over the rooftops. These temples were built with teak money and reflect the aesthetics of an ancient trade dependent on the forest: subdued colours of red earth artfully festooned v.'ilh gold leaf. Small bells decorating the caves tinkle in the morning wind before the motorcycle engines awake. With its many temples, it is easier to save your mortal soul than to accomplish more earthly errands like buying toiletries.
The narrow footpaths see a regular flow of temple-spotters as well as orange-robed monks (sidewalk space should be ceded to the boys and men of the cloth and women should step into the street to avoid an accidental brush), and off the main roads are meandering lanes through residential neighbourhoods filled with gardens and fragrant flowers.
All roads eventually lead to the old city wall, in some parts preserved or rebuilt and in other parts so worn and rounded by time that it looks more like a sunbathing lizard. The one-way roads that circumnavigate the moat are a jolt of big-city energy packed with speeding machines belching blue smoke.
WAT PHRA SINGH
Chiang Mai's most visited temple, Wat Phra Singh : owes its fame to the fact that it houses the city's most revered Buddha image, Phra Singh (Lion Buddha), and it has a fine collection of classic Lanna art and architecture.
Despite Phra Singh's exalted status, very little is actually known about the image. Legend says that it originally came from Sri Lanka, but it is not particularly Sinhalese in style. It is, in fact, considered one of the most beautiful examples of Lanna religious art thanks to its thick human-like features and lotus-shaped topknot. It does, however, have the usual travel itinerary of a famous Buddha, having been moved from Sukhothai, Ayuthaya, Chiang Rai and Luang Prabang either to elude looters or as a prized piece of booty. Because there are two nearly identical images in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Bangkok, no one knows if this is the real one, nor can anyone document its place of origin. Regardless, this Phra Singh image came to reside here in around the 1360s and today is a fixture in the religious ceremonies of the Songkran festival.
Phra Singh is housed in Wihan Lai Kham, a small chapel to the rear of the temple grounds next to the chedi. The exterior chapel displays the Lanna characteristics of a three-tiered roofline and carved gables. Inside, the temple features sumptuous lai-krahm (gold pattern) stencilling on its interior back wall. Ori the north wall, a worn mural depicts the Thai fairy tale 'Sangthong', about an exiled prince who was hidden by his mother in a conch shell A small figure above one of the windows is thought to be a self-portrait of the artist, an ethnic Chinese painter. The scene on the south wall depicts the popular northern Thai story ol a divine golden swan, Suwannahong.
Wat Phra Singh's main chedi displays classic Lanna style with its octagonal base. It was built by King Pa Yo in 1345 in honour of his father. Closer to the entrance is the main wi-hihn, which houses a bigger but less important Bucldha known as Thong Thip. This temple has royal associations, indicated by the garuda (the royal symbol) displayed on the front of the main wi-hahn.
Near the entrance is a small scripture li brary sitting atop a raised platform beautifully ornamented with Lanna-style features, including glass mosaics decorating the gables, ornate woodcarving details and sonorous bells attached to the eaves.
WAT CHEDI LUANG
Another venerable stop on the temple trail, Wat Chedi Luang : is built around a partially ruined Lanna-style chedi dating from 1441 that was believed to be one of the tallest structures in ancient Chiang Mai. Stories say it was damaged by either a 16th-century earthquake or by the cannon fire of King TaKsin in 1775 during the recapture ot Chiang Mai from the Burmese. The famed Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha), now held in Bangkok's Wat Phra Kaew, sat in the eastern niche here in 1475. Today there is a jade replica sitting in its place, financed by the Thai king and carved in 1995 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the chedi (according to some reckonings), and the 700th anniversary of the city.
A restoration of the chedi was financed by Unesco and the Japanese government. Despite their good intentions, the restoration work is easily spotted: new porticoes and naga (mythical serpent) guardians and new Buddha images in three of the four directional niches. On the southern side of the monument, five elephant sculptures in the pediment can be seen. Four arc cement restorations; only the one on the tar right - without ears and trunk is original brick and stucco. The restoration ' efforts also stopped short of creating a new spire, since no one knows for sure how the original superstructure looked.
Wat Chedi Luang's other prominent attraction is the lak meu-ang (city pillar, believed to house the city's guardian deity) enshrined in a small building to the left of the compound's main entrance. In May the building is opened to the public for merit-making. It is believed that Chiang Mai's liberator, Chao Kawila, brought the city pillar here in the hopes of future protection (mainly from the Burmese). The nearby trees were considered good luck symbols tor the safety of the city as long as they were never cut down.
In the main wi-hahn is the standing Buddha, known as Phra Chao Attarot, flanked by two disciples both renowned for meditation and mysticism.
In the far rear of the grounds are two new chapels, built within the last decade in neo Lanna style with pretty gold stencilling and thick wooden columns. Such new displays of wealth are unusual in historic temples like this. The first chapel contains a wax statue of Ajahn Mun Bhooretado, a former abbot of Wat Chedi Luang and one of the founders of the Thai forest tradition of meditation. The chapel next door is made of rosewood and teak and contains glass-enclosed relics as well as a wax figure of l.uanci Ta Maha Bua, who collected donations to buy gold reserves for the national bank during the Asian currency crisis of 1997 and was a disciple of Ajahn Mun Bhooretado.
Have a chat to the monks while you are here .
WAT PHAN TAO
Near Wat Chedi Luang, Wat PhanTao : contains a beautiful old teak wi-hahn that was once a royal residence and is today one of the unsung treasures of Chiang Mai. Constructed entirely of moulded teak panels fitted together and supported by 28 gargantuan teak pillars, the wi-hahn features naga bargeboards inset with coloured mirror mosaic. On display inside are old-temple bells, some ceramics, a few old northern-style gilded wooden Buddhas, and antique cabinets stacked with old palm-leaf manuscripts. The front panel ot the building displays a mirrored mosaic of a peacock standing over a dog, representing the astrological year of the former royal resident's birth, making this temple a necessary pilgrimage site . for those born in the year of the dog.
WAT CHIANG MAN
Considered to be the oldest wat in the city, Wat Chiang Man, is believed to have been established by the city's founder, Phaya Mengrai. The wat features typical northern Thai temple architecture.
Two important Buddha images are kept in a glass cabinet inside the smaller sanctuary to the right of the main chapel. Phra Sila is a marble bas-relief Buddha that stands about 30cm high and reportedly came from Sri Lanka or India 2500 years ago, but since no Buddha images were produced anywhere before around 2000 years ago, it must have arrived later. The well-known Phra Sae Tang Khamani, a crystal seated-Buddha image, was shuttled back and forth between Thailand and Laos like the Emerald Buddha. It's thought to have come from Lavo (Lopburi) igoO years ago and stands just 10cm high. The chapel housing the venerated images is open between 9am and 5pm.
Inside the larger chapel are red-and-gold stencilled murals completed in 1996 to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the founding of the city. The murals depict scenes from the life of Chiang Mai's founding father, Phaya Mengrai. doing clockwise from the front door, the scenes depict Mengrai's birth, his rule of Chiang Rai and its winding river and his expansion into the walled city of l.amphun. Another panel shows him hunting on Uoi Suthep and being directed by the gods to build his new city. The final panel shows his death from a lightning bolt in front of the boht (ordination hall), a stone slab, engraved in 1581, bears the earliest known reference to the city's 1296 founding,
CHIANG MAI CITY ARTS & CULTURAL CENTRE
The Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre : offers a fine primer on Chiang Mai history. The 1st floor is comfortably air-conditioned and has engaging displays on religious and cultural elements of northern Thailand, The 2nd floor is not air-conditioned but the rooms have been con-verted into historic settings: there's an early Lanna village, a temple and a train display. From the 2nd floor you can see more of the beauty of this post-colonial building, Chiang Mai's former Provincial Hall, originally built in 1924. It was awarded a Royal Society of Siamese Architects award in 1999 for its faithful architectural restoration. ANUSAWARI SAM KASAT
Proudly wearing 14th-century royal garb, the bronze Three Kings Monument forged between the three northern Thai-Lao kings (Phaya Ngam Meuang of Phayao, Phaya Mengrai of Chiang Mai and Phaya Khun Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai) in the founding of Chiang Mai. The statues mark one of the city's spiritual centres and have become a shrine to local residents, who regularly leave offerings of flowers, incense and candles at the bronze feet in return for blessings from the powerful spirits of the three kings.
WAT PHUAK HONG
This neighbourhood wat), located behind Suan Buak Hat (Buak Hat Park), contains 'stacked spheres' style seen only here and at Wat Ku Tao, and most likely influenced by Thai Lii chedi in China's Xishuangbanna (also spelled Sipsongpanna) district, Yunnan.
SUNDAY WALKING STREET
A unique shopping experience, the Sunday Walking Street offers better-than-average products and a good dose of provincial culture. It is also a reminder of an itinerant merchant tradition ot the ancient Chinese caravans. Arrive early when Th Ratchadamnoen is first blocked off to vehicle traffic to watch the vendors unpack their swollen packs and neatly arrange their product displays. The first sale of the night might be followed by a small ritual or prayer in hopes that more business will follow a few blocks down both sides of Th Phra Pokklao. Many of the products are handmade in and around Chiang Mai, including the cotton scarves, leather sandals and wood carvings. Chiang Mai lets down its hippie hair at this market with lots of ethnic chic accessories, undyed cotton T-shirts and 'save the planet' canvas tote bags.
The temples along the way host food stalls selling northern Thai cuisine and other shopping-stamina boosts. Near the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang on Th Phra Pokklao, look for earthenware bowls containing rich concoctions of kown soy.
We prefer the less crowded time that precedes the playing of the national anthem at 6pm, but after dark has its attractions as well: buskers stake out small spots of the pedestrian path to serenade the crowd with old-fashioned favourites of shopping, grap a massage chair where customers are stretched and pulled into angular lumps of dough.
If you are not in town on Sunday, check out the Saturday Walking Street on the Wualai.
A community of Chinese traders and Western missionaries populated the east-ern riverbank directly across from Talat Warorot. Today the neighbourhood is called Wat Ket, the nickname of the nearby temple, Wat Ketkaram. The temple was built in the 15th century and houses an eclectic museum of attic-like treasures. Th Charoenrat is still lined with relics from those early days, like the missionary hospitals and the old Chinese shophouses that now support restaurants and antique stores. If Th Charoenrat had footpaths, this area would rival the old city for its ancient ambience and tourist appeal.
But speeding traffic claims the narrow space between buildings. Instead, dive deeper into the neighbourhood along one of the little lanes off Th Charoenrat and behind the temple.
Further south is Talat San Pakoy, a low-key municipal market that offers all manner of goods and sees few tourists. San Pakoy opens around 4am and does a brisk trade until around 10am. Nearby is a little soi completely canopied by towering trees; the residents have built their ramshackle houses around the thick tree trunks because they don't own the land, instead renting it from the government, sometimes for as low as 900B a year.
WIANG KUM KAM
These excavated ruins ( K 8am-5pm) offer an easy trip into the country. Climb aboard one of the horse-drawn carriages (200B) and relax into the mellow pace of an old-fashioned conveyance. The driver typically passes pleasantries with the locals who live among the old ruins, which are mainly half-buried brick foundations spread out over 3 sq km. The actual ruins are of more historical importance tfian spectacle but it is the peaceful surrounding village that completes the attraction.
Wiang Kum Kam was the earliest historical settlement in the Chiang Mai area and was established by the Mon as a satellite town for the Hariphunchai kingdom. It was occupied by Phaya Mengrai in 1286 and used as the Lanna capital for 10 years before the construction of Chiang Mai. The city was abandoned in the 16th century due to massive flooding when the Mae Ping changed its course. Only the four-sided Mon-style chedi of Wat Chedi Si Liam and the layered brick pediments of Wat Kan Thorn (its Mon name; in Thai the temple was known as Wat Chang Kham) are left. Chedi Si Liam is said to have been inspired by the similar chedi at Wat Kukut in Lamphun.
Over 1300 inscribed stone slabs, bricks, bells and chedi have been excavated at the site. The most important archaeological discovery has been a four-piece inscribed stone slab, now on display in the Chiang Mai National Museum. The early 11th-century inscriptions on this slab indicate that the Thai script predates King Ramkhamhaeng's famous Sukhothai inscription (introduced in 1293) by 100 or more years.
Another way to reach Wiang Kum Kam is to hire a bicycle; follow Th Chiang Mai-Lamphun southeast for approximately 3km and look for a sign to the ruins on the right. From this junction it's another 2km. You could also hire a tuk-tuk or red for around 100B (one way). If you've got your own transport, Wiang Kum Kam is on the way to Lamphun to complete a thematic day of sightseeing.
South of the Old City
The southern part of the city is a mix of quaint antique districts and impersonal modern spaces. In olden times, the settle-ments outside of the city walls were usu-ally the domain of foreigners. Some came willingly, like the Chinese merchants and the Western missionaries who settled on the eastern bank of the river, while others were forced from their homelands to help rebuild the destroyed city after the end of the Burmese occupation. Roughly 200 years ago the Tai Khoen people from what is known today as Kengtung in the Shan state of Myanmar were captured by the Siamese-Lanna army and resettled in this area. The Tai Khoen, who were silver- and blacksmiths, stonemasons and other skilled craftspeople, provided technical artistry to the great reconstruction efforts.
Today Th Wualai is renowned for its silver shops and is often filled with the tapping 'sound of a decorative pattern being imprinted on to a plate of silver (or, more often, aluminium). One of the best ways to observe Th Wualai is to come at the start of the Saturday Walking Street when traffic is blocked off for pedestrians.
SATURDAY WALKING STREET
The Saturday WalkingStreet(pp284-5;ThWualai;K4pm-midnight Sat) is developing a reputation of having more authentic handicrafts and being less commercial than the Sunday Walking Street. This might be a bit of an exaggeration as most vendors work both markets without exclusion. But the atmospheric old neighbourhood with its silver shops and old Indies wrapped up in Thai silk does impart a time-warp feeling.
This Wat : was founded in 1 502, but little remains of the original structures except for some teak pillars and roof beams in the wihahn. The murals inside show an interesting mix of Taoist, Zen and Theravada Buddhist elements. The ubosoht next door was undergoing a renovation at the time of writing, and is allegedly the only silver ordination hall in Thailand (although technically they were using a mix of aluminium, compounded silver and pure silver). The temple hosts a monk chat and meditation instruction. Wat Sisuphan is one of the few wats in Chiang Mai where you can see the Poy Luang (also known as Poy Sang Long) Festival, a Shan-style group ordination of young boys as Buddhist novices, in late March.
SBUN-NGA TEXTILE MUSEUM
A surprisingly wonderful museum, Sbun-Nga Textile Museum : displays northern Thai textiles along with ethno-cultural information about the different tribes that are categorised as Lanna; Tai Lue, Tai Kaun, Tai Yai and Tai Yuan. The different patterns and colours used by each group is an evocative way to tell the story of the people who populated Chiang Mai and northern Thailand. There are also some displays of Tai Lao fabrics.
Textiles range from everyday sarongs to opulent royal garments, including the Lanna-and-Burmese-patterned dress of Princess Dararasmi (consort of King Rama V) and the bejewelled coronation costume of a Tai Yai prince. There is recorded English audio information as well as well-signed descriptions. The collection is a result of 20 years of work by the owner Akarat Nakkabunlung.
West of the Old City
Th Huay Kaew is the main thoroughfare to the western reaches of the city and it becomes more interesting as it enters the gravitational pull of Chiang Mai University (referred to in Thai by its initials 'Mor Chor'). Indie students crowd into cute boutique cafes, scoot around on vintage Vespas and waste all their book money on weekend carousing. Th Nimmanhaemin is the city's most stylish avenue, a cross between Bangkok's Siam Square and Banglamphu. It is a busy multi-lane road with a number of small residential lane offshoots, where 1970s garden houses have been converted into style-conscious commercial concerns, mainly nightlife. But true to Chiang Mai's low-key personality, rarely is an establishment so over-designed as to achieve exclusivity.
WAT SUAN DDK
Built on a former flower garden in 1373, this temple : is not as architecturally interesting as the temples in the old city hut it does have a very powerful photographic attribute: the temple's collection of whitewashed chcdi sit in the foreground while the blue peaks of Doi Suthep and Doi Pui loom in the background. Photographers often arrive in the early morn-ing to capture the juxtaposition when the mountains are still wrapped in mist.
Wat Suan Dok is also spiritually united with the temple that sits upon Doi Suthep thanks to an auspicious relic brought to Chiang Mai by Phra Sumana Thera, a visiting monk from Sukhothai. (In fact this temple was built for his visit by Phaya Keu Na, the sixth Lanna king). According to legend, the relic mi-raculously duplicated itself: one piece was enshrined in the temple's large central chcdi (recently wrapped in gold sheet), while the other was used as a 'guide' for the founding of Wat Doi Suthep. This main chedi is a textbook example of the Lanna period that began to he influenced by Sukhothai. The other chedi on the grounds contain the ashes of various members of the Lanna royaJ family.
The large, open-sided preaching hall was rebuilt in 1932 by Khruba Siwichai, a prominent Lanna monk responsible for the con-struction of the road to Wat Doi Suthep and other improvements. The hall is often filled with Thai meditators.
Further into the property is a small bbht that contains a 500-year-old bronze Buddha image, known as Phra C.'hao Kao Tu, which was originally intended for Wat Phra Singh but was too heavy to be moved. There are also vivid jataka (Buddha's past-life stories) murals.
Today Wat Suan Dok is home to a large population of resident mortks and novices, many of them students at the monastery's Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University. Foreigners often come to Wat Suan Dok for the popular monk chat and the English-language meditation retreats.
CHIANG MAI UNIVERSITY (CMU)
The city's principal public university : was established in 1964, making it the first Thai university to be set up outside of Bangkok. Today the university-is considered the most well-respected centre for higher education in the north and boasts 107 departments, 26,800 students and 2165 lecturers. Scholastically CMU doesn't compare overall to such notable Bangkok universities as Silpakorn, Chulalongkorn or Thammasat, but it has earned special respect for its faculties of engineering and medical technology; the education was good enough for one-term Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayothin, one of the university's notable graduates.
The main campus occupies a 2.9 sq km wedge of land about 2km west of the city centre that has preserved much of its original forest character. Architecturally the campus buildings are soot-stained boxes, but the verdant environment achieves a distinctively Thai version of an idyllic collegiate setting. There are two main entrances into the campus on Th Suthep and Th Huay Kaew. When giving directions, Thais often refer to the university area on Th Suthep as 'ling mor (behind the university) and on Th Huay Kaew as 'nan mor' (in front of the university). Near both entrances are small night bazaars selling cheap food and clothes for cash-strapped students. One way to savour the academic atmosphere is at Chiang Mai University Art Museum, near the intersection of Th Suthep and Th KTorng Chonprathan. The museum displays temporary exhibitions of contemporary Thai and international art. There's no permanent collection and the visiting shows can be of uneven quality. If you need a pit stop after the museum, check out Din Dee Teahouse, a little earthen hut on the museum grounds known for its herbal brews.
CHIANG MAI ZOO
At the foot of Doi Suthep, the Chiang Mai Zoo : occupies a lush park setting that is often crowded with Thai families and school groups. The zoo boasts a fairly comprehensive assortment of animals plus two special attractions (pandas and an aquarium) that require separate admission fees.
The panda exhibit (admission adult/child 100/50B) features adorable Chuang-Chuang and Lin-Hui, who live in a specially designed air-conditioned building and are relative stars among Chiang Mai school children. Hoping to Boost tourism to the 7.00, the new 600 million baht aquarium (adult/child 450/350B) reportedly has Asia's longest viewing tunnel (measuring 113m) and replicates the water environments of Thailand, from the northern rivers to the mangrove swamps and coastal oceans, as well as (he Amazon basin.
If you get here early enough, it is an easy walk to visit most of the interesting exhibits lions, giraffes, tigers and birds - near the entrance. Except for the elephant and orangutan, most of the animals seem better off than their counterparts in other Third World zoos. You can also walk to see the pandas, but the aquarium is a little too far to go on foot. Open-sided buses (adult/child 20/10B) and an elevated tram (adult/child 100/50B) ' are available to take you around the zoo, but there is a lot of waiting for the next car to arrive. The bus or tram ticket is good for your entire visit but hold on to the ticket in case you're asked for proof of purchase. If you're visiting with small children, it is a good idea to bring a stroller.
The zoo also has a parking garage that costs 10B for motorcycles and bicycles and SOB for cars or trucks.
WAT U MONG
If you've never visited a fortst wit, you should make the trek to this temple. Not only does it offer a secluded sylvan setting, considered an important component for meditation in the forest wat tradition, it is also famous for its intercon-necting tunnels built underneath the main chedi terrace.
The temple was first used during Phaya Mengrai's rule in the 14th century. The brick-lined tunnels were allegedly fashioned around 1380 for the clairvoyant monk Thera Ian. The monastery was abandoned at a later date and wasn't reactivated until a local Thai prince sponsored a restoration in the late 1940s. The since-deceased Ajan Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, a well-known monk and teacher at southern Thailand's Wat Suanmok, sent a number of monks to re-establish a monastic community at U Mong in the 1960s.
A marvellously grisly image of the fasting Buddha - ribs, veins and all - can be seen in the grounds on top of the tunnel hill, along with a very large and highly venerated chedi. Also on the grounds is a small artificial lake, surrounded by gu-di (monastic cottages).
Resident foreign monks give dhamma talks in English on Sunday afternoon at 3pm by the lake.
Wat U Mong is accessible from a series of small lanes off Th Suthep near Chiang Mai University. Once you reach the university, keep an eye out for signs pointing the way. Note that there is another temple named Wat U Mong in Chiang Mai. To make sure a sorng-taa or tuk-tiik driver understands you want this one ask for 'Wat U Mong Thera Jan'.
CHIANG MAI NIGHT SAFARI
The slick Night Safari : was one of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's mega-projects, intended to upgrade Chiang Mai's image to appeal to the business-class tourist.
The attraction is open during the day but the real action happens' at night during the 'Predator Prowl and 'Savannah Safari' (admission adult/child 500/300B), when an open-sided bus transports visitors through the parkland. The English-language tram leaves at 7.45pm and 9.30pm and the tour takes about two hours. The night safari differs from the Chiang Mai Zoo in that some animals - like wildebeests, giraffes, white rhinoceroses and zebras - are allowed to roam and often come right up to the bus. In the 'Predator Prowl' section, the tigers, lions, Asiatic black bears and crocodiles are kept at a safe distance by deep trenches.
During the day you can visit the Jaguar Trail (admission adult/child 100/50B) that encircles Swan lake, a 1.2km walk where over 50 species (ranging from rabbits to cranes) are generally not in cages; except of course the trail's namesake animal.
The Night Safari is about 12km from central Chiang Mai and a sorng-tăa-ou should cost about 100B. You can also book this through a tour agency that handles hotel transfer. When it was built, it caused much controversy because of its primary location on 1.3 million sq km of Doi Suthep National Park land, and the consequential (and as yet unassessed) environmental impact it may have.
North of the Old City
Sights north of the old city through Pratu Chang Pheuak (the 'white elephant-gate', a reference to the elephant who carried the sacred relic to Doi Suthep) are less of a tourist draw, which is a draw in itself for some. These sights tend to be too far spread out to visit on foot; it is advisable to hire your own transport.
WAT CHIANG YEUN
Another unique local temple is 16th-century Wat Chiang Yeun (Map pp284-5; Th Mani Nopharat), just northeast of Pratu Chang Pheuak. Besides the large northern-style chedi here, the main attraction is an old Burmese colonial-style gate and pavilion on the eastern side of the school grounds attached to the wat. This area of Chiang Mai was historically settled by Shan people and the shops still maintain that ethnic identity, catering to Shan and Burmese temple-goers with such products as pickled tea leaves (mSe-ang in Thai) and Shan-style noodles.
WAT KU TAO
North of the moat, Wat Ku Tao : dates from 1613 and has a unique chedi that looks like a pile of diminishing spheres, a Tai Lii design common in Yunnan, China. The chedi is said to contain the ashes of Tharawadi Min, a son of the Burmese king Bayinnaung, ruler of Lanna from 1578to 1607.
WAT JET YOT
Dedicated temple-spotters are the prime candidates for Wat Jet Yot. It was built to host the eighth World Buddhist Council in 1477, a momentous occasion for the Lanna capital. To the back of the temple compound are the ruins of the old wi-hahri, which was supposed to be a replica of the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya, India, but the proportions don't match up. Some scholars assume that the blueprint for the temple must have come from A small votive tablet depicting the Mahabodhi in distorted perspective.
Although much of the decorative stucco work is gone, you can still count the jet yort (seven spires) that represent the seven weeks Buddha was supposed to have spent in Bodhgaya after his enlightenment. Of the original stucco relief, a few intact Bodhisattva (Buddhist saints, usually associated with Mahayana Buddhism) depictions remain on the outer walls.
There's an adjacent chedi of undetermined age and a very glossy wi-hahn near the entrance that contains fairly modern murals depicting ordinary life in the age of automobiles.
CHIANG MAI NATIONAL MUSEUM
Operated by the Fine Arts Department and established in 1973, the Chiang Mai National
Museum : functions as the primary caretaker of Lanna artefacts and as the curator of northern Thailand's history. This museum is a nice complement to the municipally run Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre because you'll find more art and artefacts here and the scope of the exhibits reaches beyond the city limits. Other national museums that display important artefacts from the north are located in Lamphun, Chiang Saen and Nan - all operate under the auspices of the Chiang Mai National Museum.
The best ctirated section of the museum is the Lanna art section, which displays a selection of Buddha images in all styles, and explains the different periods and influences.
Overlooking a lake in Suan Ratchamangkhala on the northern outskirts of the city, this octagonal museum houses a collection of handicrafts, costumes, jewellery, ornaments, household utensils, agricultural1 tools, musical instruments and ceremonial paraphernalia. There are also informative displays showing the cultural features and background of each of the major hill tribes in Thailand; an exhibition on activities carried out by the Thai royal family on behalf of the hill tribes; and various bits of research and development sponsored by governmental and non-governmental agencies. Video shows run from 10am to 2pm (20B to 5OB). The museum is closed on public holidays.
HUAY TEUNG THAO RESERVOIR
Thais love lounging by the water and this sizeable reservoir, at the northwestern foot of Doi Suthep Pui park, has become more than just a piece of infrastructure. The banks are dotted with floating bamboo huts ( 10B per person) where Thais come to snack on fried bugs (another reservoir pastime), share a bottle of whisky and perfect the art of relaxation. Should the day get hot, you can have a dip from your personal dock. Fishing is permitted if you'd like to try your luck at hooking lunch.
There are a couple of small restaurants nearby that prepare the local speciality of gung den (dancing shrimp), freshwater shrimp served live in a piquant sauce of lime juice and prik lahp (a northern Thai blend of spicy herbs and chillies).
The reservoir is about 12km northwest of the city. Travelling by car or motorcycle you can reach Huay Teung Thao by driving 10km north on Rte 107 (follow signs towards Mae Rim), then west 2km past an army camp to the reservoir. Cyclists would do best to pedal to the reservoir via Th Klorng Chonprathan (also known as the klorng road), which has a dirt frontage road. From the northwestern corner of the moat, the bicycle ride takes about an hour.
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Chiang Mai's sacred peaks, Doi Suthep (1676m) and Doi Pui (1685m) loom over the city like guardian spirits and were used by the city's founders as a divine compass in locating an auspicious position. Suthep was named after the hermit Sudeva, who lived on the mountain's slopes for many years, and is the site of Chiang Mai's holy temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
Portions of the mountains form a 265 sq km national park : that contains a mix of wilderness, hill-tribe villages and tourist attractions, including Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Despite human encroachment, the park is still an excellent forest playground for city dwellers. Most people stick to the main road, visiting the temple, the winter palace and one of the touristy Hmong villages, altogether bypassing the forested interior.
The eastern side of the mountain stays green and cool almost year-round. The mountain ascends from the humid lowlands into the cool (and sometimes even cold) cloud belt with moss growing on the curbs and mist wafting across the road. Thriving in the diverse climate are more than 300 bird species and nearly 2000 species of ferns and flowering plants. During the rainy season, butterflies bloom as abundantly as the flowers.
There are hiking and mountain-biking trails as well as camping, birdwatching and waterfall spotting. One of the most scenic waterfalls is Nam Tok Monthathon (the park admission fee is collected here), 2.5km off the paved road to Doi Suthep. Pools beneath the falls hold water year-round, although swimming is best during or just after the annual monsoon. Close to the base of the mountain, Nam Tok Wang Bua Bahn is free, and full of frolicking locals, although it is more of a series of rapids than a falls.
You can hike through the park independently, but the lack of transport and trail information can be an impediment. For off-road mountain biking, the park has technical single-track trails that were old hunting and transport routes used by hill-tribe villagers. The routes are never crowded and provide hours of downhill. Because the trails aren't well-marked it is advisable to join a guided mountain-biking tour.
The park fee is collected at some of the park's waterfalls. There is no park fee charged to visit the attractions along the main road, though the attractions have their own admission prices.
Accommodation in the national park includes smart bungalows, about 1km north of the temple by the park headquarters and the Doi Pui campground, near the mountain summit.
The park is about 16km northwest of central Chiang Mai and is accessible via shared smng-taa-ou that leave from the main entrance of Chiang Mai University on Th Huay Kaew. One-way fares start at 40B and increase from there depending on the destination within the park and the number of passengers. You can also charter a sorng-tăa-ou also for about 600B or rent a motorcycle for much less. Sorng-tăa-ou also depart from Pratu Chang Pheuak and the Chiang Mai Zoo. Cyclists can also make the 13km ascent to the temple - preferably either early in the morning or in the late evening when traffic is diminished.
WAT PHRA THAT DOI SUTHEP
One of the north's most sacred temples, Wat Suthep (admission SOB) sits majestically atop Doi Suthep's summit. Thai pilgrims flock here to make merit to the Buddhist relic enshrined in the picturesque golden chedi. The temple also offers an interesting collection of Lanna art and architecture, and has fine city views if the clouds cooperate.
The temple was first established in 1383 under King Keu Naone and enjoys a fantas-tically mystical birth story. A visiting monk from Sukhothai instructed the Lanna king to take the twin of a miraculous relic (enshrined at Wat Suan Dok) to the mountain and establish a temple. The relic was mounted on the back of a white elephant, which was allowed to wander until it 'chose' a site on which a wat could be built to enshrine it. The elephant stopped and died at a spot on Doi Suthep, 1 3km west of Chiang Mai, where the temple was built in the Year of the Goat.
At the main road, near the tram entrance is a shrine to Kruba Siwichai, a highly venerated Lanna monk from the early 20th century. He is often recognised as something akin to a patron saint for northern Thais and worked to reconstruct and revitalise many dilapidated temples in the region. He also raised funds in order to build a road from Chiang Mai city to Wat Suthep.
The temple is reached by a strenuous naga-balustrade staircase of 306 steps, a feature that incorporates aspects of meditation with a cardio workout. (For the less. fit, there's a tram for 20B). You'll first reach an open-air terrace filled with important statues and shrines documenting the history of the temple. Near a; signed jackfruit tree is a shrine to Sudeva the hermit who lived on the mountain, andinearby is a statue of the white elephaat Ayho carried the relic up the mountain slopre. Follow the walkway around in the clockwise direction to reach a viewpoint and a small sanctuary dedicated to the king who established the temple. The buiding is guarded by two month, my thical figures with the characteristic of a lion chamelcon and fish.
A second set of stairs leads to the main cloister and the temple’s famously photo gold-plated chedi, lopped by a five-tiered umbrella erected in honour of the city's independence from Burma and its union with Thailand. In the case of Wat Suthep, it is the chedi (and the sacred Buddha relic enshrined inside) not a resident Buddha image that at-tracts the majority of worshippers. The chedi has many Lanna-style characteristics, including the gate around its base, the redented square pedestal and the octagonally shaped bell tower. Flanking the chedi are several wi-hahn containing Lanna-style Buddhas with their distinctive fat facial and body features, two upturned footpads, shortened chest bands and lotus-shaped topknot.
Within the monastery compound, the International Buddhism Center con-ducts, variety of religious outreach pro-grams for visitors.
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