people and cultures – inspiring journeys
sharing meaningful discoveries in Asia
– Introduction to Chiang Mai and Lanna
– Temples, Chat with Monks, Textiles, Galleries, Yoga, Green Papaya Sangha
– Akha Ama Coffee
– Accomodations in and around Chiang Mai
– Chiang Dao – a sacred mountain and cave north of Chiang Mai
– Mae Hong Son
– Mae Win
– Vipassana Meditation Centers: more on Retreats Page.
– Getting to Chiang Mai and When to Visit
– Bangkok: Airport info and City Accomodations – see more below
– Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai
– Journey to Chiang Rai and Laos down the Mekong…
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 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) is the Heart Center of Chiang Mai.
Partially destroyed in an earthquake in 16th Century, the great stupa is surrounded by smaller temples, a reclining Buddha image and a Buddhist University. The Emerald Buddha was housed in the stupa 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. Chiang Mai’s City Pillar is located in the grounds of the wat and each year, usually sometime in May, a celebration is held to honor the foundation of the city.
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, as well as some cultural events 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!
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. Legend tells of a white elephant carrying a sacred relic found its final resting spot where the temple was the built. Driving to Doi Suthep you will also pass by Chiang Mai Zoo.
On the way is the Chiang Mai University which 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. Din Dee is a nice little place for lunch in a cozy mud-house.
Wat Palaad is a peaceful little temple and oasis half way up Doi Suthep Mountain. Wat Palaad was one of three resting stops for the white elephant that once brought a sacred relic up to Doi Suthep. 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 U-mong – 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) 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.
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
Always fun to visit and pay respects to Elephants!
Many of the elephants you visit in the various elephant camps today were formerly working logging elephants. Sadly with the lack of natural habitat today, not many elephants are able to roam freely. So visitors are able to support elephants by visiting the camps where you can also enjoy a ride in the forest.
The Mae Sa Elephant Camp is closer to town in the lovely Mae Sa valley–stop by to see some beautiful orchid gardens nearby the Four Seasons Resort on the way back. Have fun visiting the Baby Elephant Nursery! www.maesaelephantcamp.com
Patara Elephant Farm
dedicated to conservation and the healthy breeding of elephants www.pataraelephantfarm.com
Elephant Conservation Centre and Hospital in Lampang
south of Chiang Mai. www.changthai.com
Design and Paint your own Elephant!
Elephant Parade is a social enterprise running the world’s largest exhibition of decorated elephant statues. Each one a unique art piece exhibited around the world to raise awareness for the need of elephant conservation. Elephant Parade believes in the power of a global movement to make a happier world.
These wonderful art pieces create millions of smiles!
Learn more about their workshops in Chiang Mai:
Accomodations in Chiang Mai:
New boutique hotels keep opening each month it seems these days!
Within the old moat:
Boutique Hotels and Guesthouses:
The quiet lane directly opposite the entrance to Wat Chedi Luang offers some very nice new accomodations:
Look for 3 Sis Lodge www.the3sis.com directly opposite Wat Chedi Luang- walking down the soi will bring you to:
Budget guesthouses down this same soi:
La Pillow offers pleasant rooms with 3rd floor view of Wat Chedi Luang.
Email: Lapillow.email@example.com or look on Booking.com
Baan Montien: BaanMontien@gmail.com or on Booking.com
Upscale within the moat:
Baan Klang Wiang: tucked down a quiet soi close to Chiang Mai Gate Market: www.baanklangwiang.com
NinetyNine Heritage & Gallery Hotel– opposite Wat Phra Singh: www.99thegalleryhotel.com
Tamarind Village: www.tamarindvillage.com
Rachamankha for higher end luxury: www.rachamankha.com
Ping River area:
Siripanna: lovely resort property short ride to the Ping River www.siripanna.com
Anantara ( fomer Chedi Hotel) on the river – easy walk to Night Bazaar:
137 Pillars House: old world elegance with modern luxuries- Located just behind the beautiful Wat Gate off the Ping River. The dining area and lounge are in the beautifully restored former plantation home of Louis Leonowens, son of the real Anna of Anna and the King. www.137pillarshouse.com
Tha Pae Road area:
deChai: boutique hotel just off Tha Pae Road on quiet Soi 4.
Easy walk to Night Bazaar or to Tha Pae gate and into the moat. www.dechaihotel.com
Banthai Village: www.banthaivillage.com
Chiang Dao: approx 1.5 hours north of Chiang Mai
where a million stars seem to twinkle above the mountain!
Explore more of this beautiful area of caves, hot springs and the meditation temple Wat Tham Paplong.
For simple nature lovers, enjoy the serene accomodations of Yangtone Farm Stay run by a loving family:
Getting to Chiang Mai:
Direct international flights include:
Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur
Dragon Air /Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong
Korean Air from Seoul
Silk Air from Singapore
Lao Airlines flies to/from Luang Prabang and Vientiane
Bangkok Air direct flights to Yangon and Mandalay
Air China and China Eastern from mainland China cities
Thai Airways has several daily flights from Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport www.thaiairways.com
Bangkok Airways check out web fares from Suvarnabhumi airport and enjoy their boutique lounges: www.bangkokair.com
When to Visit:
Most pleasant times are from mid October – mid February when days are usually cooler.
December and January can become quite cool in the mountains. This is also the peak season for travel.
By MARCH- the burning of the dry-season comes with the smog setting into the whole region of northern Thailand, northern Laos and Myanmar- so this is the time to AVOID.
April and May are the HOTTEST months. Songkran and Thai New Year water throwing party (the days around 15th April) is a time to join in to cool off if you are into that sort of fun.
June and July with refreshing rains brings back the clearer skies and there are fewer crowds.
August and September are traditionally the months of heaviest rainfall.
November Full Moon is the Loi Krathong festival when the skies fill with fire lanterns. This has become a very popular and also very crowded event within the city.
The first weekend of February is the beautiful Chiang Mai Flower Festival with flower floats in procession through the city.
Mae Hong Son:
the hidden province of northwest Thailand blessed with natural beauty and home to many ethnic groups including the Shan, Karen and Padaung.
Sang Tong Huts: www.sangtonghuts.org
a wonderful long-time established place in harmony with nature. Simply from the Heart.
If need air-conditioning- especially in hot season, check out: Fern Resort www.fernresort.info
Getting to Mae Hong Son: approx 6-hour scenic curvy drive or 30-minute daily flight from Chiang Mai on: www.kanairlines.com
For more info on Wat Tham Wua Meditation Center in Mae Hong Son, see: Retreats Page.
Arriving Thailand in Bangkok:
Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotels:
Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport: directly opposite the terminal. Beautiful but pricey. Check their website for any lower Hot Deal Rates:
If staying within the transit area of the airport, there are also lots of spas open 24 hours as well as a CIP Lounge which also offers private rooms and showers.
Bangkok Accomodations in Town:
Silom Road area:
Silom Serene: www.silom-serene.com
Boutique Hotel on Soi Pipat close to Soi Convent and Sala Daeng. Lots of great food around and walking distance to Sala Daeng Skytrain station.
Park Saladaeng: a delightful inn on a quiet soi and short walk to Lumpini Park.
No breakfast available but lots of eateries nearby: http://www.parksaladaeng.com/
On the Chao Phraya River overlooking Wat Arun:
Arun Residence: www.arunresidence.com
great location if wish to be close to Wat Po and The Grand Palace and for taking river boats during the day to connect to the commercial centre. Fabulous view of Wat Arun at night, but otherwise a little isolated as pubic river boats do not operate at night, so will need a taxi.
Ariyasom Villa: an oasis in a beautiful villa built in the 1940s: www.ariyasom.com
Located on Sukhumvit Soi 1 – almost around the corner from famous Bumrungrad International Hospital. Ariyasom Villa also serves wonderful vegetarian food and often hosts the Little Bang Sangha for Dharma talks in English: www.littlebang.org
Budget option also just around the corner from Bumrungrad:
Oasis Inn: www.oasisbangkok.com
Newer upscale hotel next door: www.adlibbangkok.com
Sukhothai and Sri Satchanalai:
Home of the most beautiful period of Thai Buddhist art. Blissfully quiet sites to explore especially around Sri Satchanalai – 1 hour north of Sukhothai which most visitors do not know about.
exploring Sri Satchanalai above on quiet paths by bicycle.
Sukhothai is not on the train route, but comfortable buses depart frequently from Mor Chit bus station in Bangkok- about 6 hour drive. Then continue by bus to Chiang Mai another 6 hours.
Bangkok Airways flies between Bangkok and Sukhothai with a lovely boutique airport.
Sukhothai Heritage Resort opposite the airport www.sukhothaiheritage.com
In Sukhothai New Town:
Budget accomodations: www.sukhothaiguesthouse.com
Journey to Chiang Rai, the Golden Triangle and into Laos…
Chiang Rai is a comfortable three hour drive from Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra Keow in town is another precious temple to visit. The Emerald Buddha was discovered here hidden in a chedi before being brought to Chiang Mai and to Laos for over 200 years.
Close by is the Hilltribe Museum and a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms which is part of a Thai NGO supporting HIV/Aids awareness.
Accomodations in Chiang Rai:
The River House is lovely just a few minutes drive from the centre: www.riverhouse-chiangrai.com
The Golden Triangle is where Thailand, Burma and Laos meet along the Mekong-
-about an hour and half north of Chiang Rai town.
Enroute you can visit Mae Fah Luang on Doi Tung Mountain, the villa and gorgeous gardens of the late and beloved Princess Mother of His Majesty the King.
Luxury at the Triangle:
Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation at Anantara Golden Triangle Resort and Four Seasons Tented Camp: www.helpingelephants.org
Border crossing into Myanmar at Mae Sai:
Day visits into Tachilek on the Myanmar side is possible for a fee and obtaining a pass.
If you wish to do more extensive travel into Myanmar, you will need to secure a Myanmar Visa in advance from Myanma Embassy. The new E-Visa is not valid for entry at land border crossings.
Crossing into Laos:
Chiang Khong is border town where you cross to Laos from Thailand.
If coming directly from Chiang Rai town to Chiang Khong, it’s a 2- hour drive.
Coming from the Golden Triangle- approx 1.5 hours drive south along the Mekong.
There is also a direct comfortable GREEN BUS from Chiang Mai ARCADE Station directly to Chiang Khong if you do not wish to stopover in Chiang Rai city.
Accomodations in Chiang Khong:
Lanjia Eco Lodge: supporting traditional Hmong and Lahu villagers on a hill with a splendid view: www.asian-oasis.com/product/lanjia-lodge-hilltribe-discovery
Nam Khong Riverside Resort is a nice, clean, simpler place right on the Mekong in town: www.namkhongriverside.net
Border Crossing into Laos is now via the new bridge at Chiang Khong.
Lao Visas are available upon arrival for USD 35 and a passport photo. The visa cost may vary slightly according to nationality. Shuttle transport is available from the bridge into Houixay– the border town on the Lao side where there are lots of simple but clean guesthouses.
A beautiful 2-day journey down this river where you can unplug and re-charge!
Public Slow Boat or Charter your own if you can!
Avoid the Speed Boats which can be very dangerous travel- but thank goodness their engine noises have been controlled! Along the main road of Houixay, several helpful Lao agents can assist with getting the boat down to Luang Prabang. The public slow boat can get very crowded so get to the boat early to claim a good seat. You need to break up the trip half way at the market town of Pakbeng where lots of accomodations from budget backpacker places to more upscale now available.
Clear Immigration in early morning by 0800am if you wish to continue directly by boat downriver.
Private boat charter down the Mekong and arrangements for northern Laos can be arranged by a great local guide in Luang Prabang, Mr. Khamsouk email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Important to check the Mekong water levels during the dry season!
The North of Laos: Luang Namtha
Another fascinating area to explore the diverse ethnic villages of Laos. The road from Houixay is all well paved now so its only a few hours drive.
Boat Landing Eco Lodge: www.theboatlanding.laopdr.com
For More on Laos: click below
More on backroads and rivers into Laos: click on Vietnam