people and cultures – inspiring journeys
sharing meaningful discoveries in Asia
Read below for:
– Introduction to Chiang Mai and Lanna
– Temples, Galleries, Akha Ama Coffee, Chat with Monks, Textiles and Yoga
Click on Links below for:
– Vipassana Meditation Centers: click here for: Retreats Page.
A bit of Chiang Mai History:
Formerly an independent Kingdom of Lanna, (Lan Na meaning One Million Rice Fields) this rich agricultural region of what is now Northern Thailand, was once ruled by a succession of Kings from 13-18th centuries before becoming integrated into Siam following a period of 200 years occupation by the Burmese.
Beginning in sixth century, various ethnic Tai, and later followed by other hill-tribe groups, began migrations from southern China into the highlands of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. These migrations have created a unique multi-cultural identity to the region. Ethnic groups which settled around Chiang Mai include the Akha, Hmong, Lahu, Lisu and Karen. Lanna also formerly extended to a large part of present day Shan State of Myanmar. A large population of Tai Yai (Shan) people reside in northern Thailand today.
The founder of Lanna, King Mengrai, was a descendant of Tai Lue rulers in Chiang Saen along the Mekong (originally from Sipsongpanna in present-day Yunnan of China.) King Mengrai first founded Chiang Rai as his capital in 1263, and later moved to occupy a sophisticated Mon-Buddhist Kingdom of Haripunchai in Lamphun.
Chiang Mai (New City) was established soon after in 1296. Situated along the Ping River, access to trade was possible to the south into Siam and Lanna enjoyed a golden age until 1525. The Burmese occupation followed in 1558 until 1775 when the Siamese helped push the Burmese out. Lanna was formerly integrated into Siam in 1892. The legacy and heritage of Lanna survives today in the many beautiful temples or wats all around the town.
Chiang Mai has been a base for intrepid travellers wishing to explore the surrounding mountains and up into the Golden Triangle area, where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. Formerly home to opium, and preferably better to be known today for its coffee, northern Thailand is full of natural and cultural treasures. Accomodations range from simple guesthouses to new luxury resorts. The more relaxed pace of life continues to draw repeat and long-term visitors- especially to enjoy the delightful climate from November-February.
Exploring Chiang Mai
Best get a copy of Nancy Chandlers Map – easily found in shops or see: www.nancychandler.net
Nancy Chandler also a great map of Bangkok!
A great guidebook book to get is:
Exploring Chiang Mai: City, Valley and Mountains by Oliver Hargreave.
Three areas of focus to explore Chiang Mai:
Within the Moat:
The old town surrounded by ancient walls is home to many of Chiang Mai’s precious temples or wats. This is the best place to begin your exploration- easy on foot or on bicycle.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh dates back to 14th century and houses Chiang Mai’s most revered Buddha image, the Phra Singh in the precious little viharn in the back of the main ordination hall as you enter the complex. Beautiful mural paintings depict traditional Lanna life.
According to a legend, the Phra Singh Buddha is based on the Lion of Shakya image which was once housed at the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya. It is thought the Phra Singh travelled to Chiang Mai via Sri Lanka, Nakhon Sri Tammarat and Ayuthaya. Each Songkran– the Thai New Year in mid April, the Phra Singh is brought out in procession.
This is a time when locals come out to cleanse sacred Buddha images, pay respects to elders, and to also receive blessings of water. The more contemporary tradition of Songkran these days is a 5-day water throwing party which begins around the 15th of April.
The old town of Chiang Mai is filled with wats built by a succession of Lanna Kings who left their own mark on the city. These precious temples built out of devotion by local artisans remain an important focus of community life in Chiang Mai.
Wat Chedi Luang (Temple of the Great Stupa)
Wat Chedi Luang is the Heart Center of Chiang Mai.
Partially destroyed in an earthquake in 16th Century, the great chedi is surrounded by smaller temples,
a reclining Buddha image and a Buddhist University.
The Emerald Buddha was housed in the chedi from 1468-1553. It is a wonderful space to walk around and relax in off the traffic and on clear days, you can enjoy a nice view of Doi Suthep Mountain.
There is a Monk Chat corner where you can have conversation with the student monks.
Among other important wats to explore within the old town:
Wat Pan Tao is a beautiful teak temple next to Wat Chedi Luang. During Buddhist festivals, the monks light hundreds of butterlamps in this beautiful compound.
The Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre at the Three Kings Monument is a great introduction to Lanna and Chiang Mai history. The statues of the three kings depict: King Mengrai, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao who joined together to unify Lanna.
Opposite is the new Folk Life Museum and directly behind the Cultural Center, is the Chiang Mai Historical Museum with a library and green space to relax. Both very worthwhile to visit.
It’s very quiet at night within the moat, but on Sundays the main Rachadamnoern Road within the moat from Tha Pae Gate becomes a Walking Street craft market attracting lots of locals and visitors. You will also find plenty of food stalls, foot massage places to soothe the walking, and often cultural events are held at the Three Kings Monument.
Saturday Walking Street takes place along Wualai Road just outside the moat opposite Chiang Mai Gate. This area is also home to traditional Tai Yai silversmiths -be sure to see the Silver Temple at Wat Srisuphan.
You simply cannot go hungry in Thailand with great street food everywhere. Have a walk through Sompet Market or Chiang Mai Gate market within the old town to learn more about local foods.
Akha Ama Coffee:
Chiang Mai is full of coffee shops and for coffee lovers, learn about Lee- a young Akha man who has brought the coffee from his village to the world.
A convenient branch is on Rachadamnoern Road just down from Wat Phra Singh. The original coffee shop with a cozy feel is located in Santitham on Hussadhisawee Soi 3- closed on Wednesdays.
You can also join a Coffee Journey back to Lee’s village in Chiang Rai:
More on: www.akhaama.com
To the East of the Moat:
This is where you find the Night Bazaar area. Close by is also the Day Market (Talaad Wororot, or Kad Luang) along the Ping River. The Flower Market along the river at the Day Market remains open all evening. Crossing over the Ping River by bridge brings you to an area of upscale galleries in former Chinese shop houses and the beautiful temple of Wat Gate which is dedicated to those born in the Chinese Zodiac Year of the Dog.
Here are a few lovely places to check out:
Vieng Joom Om Tea House – over 100 different teas served on the riverfront: www.vjoteahouse.com
Meeting Room Art Cafe: a cozy place with a great library of books to enjoy coffee or snacks. Exhibits of local artists. Facebook: https://th-th.facebook.com/pages/The-Meeting-Room-Art-Cafe
The Gallery Restaurant: lovely dinner space by the river.
Suvannabhumi Art Gallery: supporting Burmese artists: www.suvannabhumiartgallery.com
Sop Moei Arts: beautiful handwoven craft by Karen weavers: www.sopmoeiarts.com
137 Pillars House located behind Wat Gate is a beautiful deluxe hotel with the restored Plantation home where Louis Leonowens, the actual son of Anna from Anna and the King, had once lived.
A lovely place for tea or dinner: http://www.slh.com/hotels/137-pillars-house
To the West of the Moat:
Doi Suthep is Chiang Mai’s sacred mountain with its beautiful temple, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep which offers a great view of the city. It is said if you have not been to Doi Suthep, you have not been to Chiang Mai, so of course this is a popular place to visit.
Dating back to 14th century, a legend tells of a white elephant carrying a sacred relic found its final resting spot where the temple was the built. The actual road leading up the mountain was built in 1935 through the efforts and supervision of Khru Ba Srivichai, Chiang Mai’s most revered monk. Driving to Doi Suthep you will also pass by Chiang Mai University and the Chiang Mai Zoo. At the foot of the mountain, a shrine is dedicated to the Khru Ba where locals stop to pay respects.
A naga staircase with 309 gentle steps lead up to the temple from the car park and a market place filled with shops and food stalls. There is also a tram available.
Chiang Mai University is a beautiful campus to explore.
At the back of the campus is the Ang Kaew reservoir overlooking Doi Suthep mountain and where you do not feel like you are in a city.
Nimmanhaemin Road ( referred to as Nimman ) is the trendy area lined with new boutiques, eateries, coffee shops and nightlife along the side sois.
Chiang Mai University Art Museum located at the corner of Nimman and Suthep Road often has interesting exhibits and events.
Wat Palaad: a peaceful little temple and oasis half way up Doi Suthep Mountain.
This place was one of three resting stops for the white elephant that once brought a sacred relic up the mountain and to where Doi Suthep Temple was later built.
There is a gentle nature trail to Wat Palaad leading up from behind Chiang Mai University. Go to the end of Suthep Road and see the sign for the Nature Trail. Turn Right and follow the road uphill behind Wat Fay Hin.
The road to the start of the trail is the steepest part of the journey, but transport is possible. Then set off on the walk about 40 min. through the forest. For serious walkers, from Wat Palaad, it is possible to continue on foot all the way up to Doi Suthep Temple.
Wat Umong is a peaceful forest meditation temple. Dating back to 14th century, Wat Umong was deserted in 1487 and re-established as a monastery again in 1948 by Buddhadhasa Bhikkhu, founder of Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand.
Getting to Wat Umong: go towards the mountain on Suthep Road along Chiang Mai University Campus, turn left onto Soi Wat Umong. Continue about 1km up to the wat.
Little Wat Umong (Noi) is within the Old Town is where the hermit monk of Wat Umong stayed when in town. Located behind the Tamarind Village Hotel .
Wat Suan Dok and the Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist University:
Located outside of the moat going west on Suthep Road towards the mountain. Wat Suan Dok means Temple of the Flower Gardens. The graceful white stupas house ashes of former Lanna royal family members.
Monk Chat is held here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 5-7pm. Visitors can chat with the monks, ask them questions about their life and learn about Buddhism while the monks have the opportunity to practice their English.
Introductory meditation retreats are held each week at a beautiful, peaceful centre outside of town. www.monkchat.net
Pun Pun Organic Veggie Food at Wat Suan Dok – tucked around the corner from Monk Chat Building.
Wat Chedi Luang within the old moat also hosts a Monk Chat daily under the trees next to the Main Vihara.
The traditional weaving arts is a very important part of local culture.
Patricia Cheesman Naenna Studio:
Beautiful handwoven textiles and clothing produced with natural dyes. Located in Chang Khian towards Doi Suthep and Chiang Mai University- you’ll need a driver to get out here. Look on Nancy Chandler’s map.
A branch shop called Adorn is on Nimmanhaemin Road Soi 1
More information on exhibits and workshops and learn more with
Patricia’s book on Lao Tai Textiles:
Yoga in Chiang Mai:
Green Papaya Sangha: meets every Thursday at 7:30pm at The Yoga Tree
in tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and often invites guest speakers from different traditions.
More on: www.greenpapayasangha.org
Click on Links below for:
– Vipassana Meditation Centers: click here for: Retreats Page.