The Lanna Kingdom is our favourite place in Thailand. It’s what I would describe a Thai version of Ubud + Luang Prabang – an artisan temple town, set on a hilly terrain with much to see and do as you stroll around an old town and within a serene atmosphere. As is always the case when we take these short Asean getaways, we never really get to stay long so I didn’t get to try everything but these are some snippets of what we did do..
The Wat walks in the Old City
We found the design of the temples in Chiang Mai somehow more beautiful than the ones sighted in Bangkok. The ones in Chiang Mi were less gold and gilded but more earthy. And even the gilded ones were not too extravagant but still quite subtle. If you are there for a weekend, it would be a good idea to spend a day strolling in the Old Town to have a look at the different temple architecture and accents. Here are some of our visual take-aways…
Having been mainly in the working districts of Bangkok and the occasional beach destinations of Thailand, Chiang Mai was intriguing in its focus on the internal life and how the life of monks weaved in seamlessly with the banality of every days. We enjoyed watching the simplicity of their orange robes and their communal movements and activities.
Elephants play a significant role in both Buddhism (symbolises Queen Maya, Buddha’s mother) and Hinduism (Ganesh, God of Good Fortune). Somehow it seems more pronounced in Chiang Mai as there was so many artistic manifestations of this beautiful mammal. Here’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Though I will share with you some photos of this day, I would like to strongly discourage everyone from going to the Maetang Elephant Park as we felt guilty the whole time of animal exploitation. I was initially intent on going to one elephant sanctuary, the only one sponsored by the Royal patron in Chiang Mai but was unfortunately not able to make this clear enough to the driver we chanced upon the previous day at the Old City. Owing to poor research and understanding of the elephant industry in Thailand, I naively assumed that we would be able to just have a look at the great animals or pay a minimum day pass of the sanctuary. Upon arrival we were told either pay up 2k thb (45usd?) per person to see the Karen tribes, the elephant show, river rafting, ox ride and lunch or go home. As we had driven for 1 1/2 hours to see the elephants, I made the wrong choice to succumb to this ultimatum and paid up. I didnt see the elephants beaten but there was a wooden stick with metal edge by each mahout always. It was sweet to see them painting but sad to see these beauties subjugated for human entertainment. Apart from lunch and river rafting which was serene and beautiful, I do not believe or support this company in any way. Please look for the real sanctuary, and click here – this is a Royal Patronage institution and the reviews indicate that they are an ethically driven endeavour.
Chiang Mai Local Shopping
Thailand is a shopping heaven and Chiang Man is definitely one of her finest shopping tourist destinations. Whether it’s the Night Market (cover the whole strip of road next to Le Meridien Hotel) for local (and even some foreign) goodies like Thai silk encased notebooks, home fabrics, elephant trousers, or Baan Celadon (the actual warehouse!) if you are as in love with celadonia plates, bowls, lamps, jugs and other sorts of dinnerware as I am, Koch if you love contemporary but somehow still ethnic beauties, or just rustic, folksy village/ historical wall pieces such as hand paintings and ancient maps. These were some of our finds (not the fabric is technically not Thai but rather a Jaipury tapestry).
We dropped by here to eat in the old city after a long morning of strolling around. Its a sweet garden dining spot, dark teak furniture, pretty flowers and frangipani tree so we get a rustic local ambience. Food was decent and sufficient after a whole day of temple sight seeing but given that Thailand is a culinary delight, we probably can’t say this was anything extraordinary. We had seabass steamed with lime, mushroom stir fry and mango juice at 650thb so neither expensive or cheap. I wouldn’t come here for a romantic special dining experience at Chiang Mai but rather a place to feul up before continuing with a hectic day.
Where we stayed
We decided to base ourselves at the Le Meridien because of its locality and in our pursuit to collect more Starwood points. Le Meridien sits rights next to the Night Market with its abundant food, massage spas and unlimited shopping and is also a short taxi ride away to the Old Town, which is also a place you can spend one or two days just strolling through. Property itself is the customary fare for its genre, well furnished, pool, spa, gym et al, souvenir shop and dining area. We were upgraded to a club room which had a beautiful view of the mountains and the bed was so deeply comfortable, I had wonderful sleep for three nights. Service again was as expected for this kind of establishment, very professional and smooth. We also had the chance to get complimentary coffee downstairs with a coupon.
Again, there is more to see and do in Chiang Mai and in my first few travel posts I am mainly sharing from a slowly fading memory especially for trips taken a few years ago. Chiang Mai also had so much artistic edges on every corner that I took painstaking photographs of (motifs of a fence, patterns on a wall, ceilings in a temple etc) and I will eventually post those in the Aesthetics section. I would include however, that if you have never come to Thailand before then Chiang Mai is a must-see, even more so than the beaches. It’s definitely in our Top 5 of Asean!