people and cultures – inspiring journeys
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Read below for:
– Introduction to Chiang Mai and Lanna, Exploring Wats, Chat with Monks
Click on Links below for:
– Yoga in Chiang Mai, Meditation in Thailand: Click on: Retreats Page.
– Mae Hong Son and a Piece of Peace in Pai
– Chiang Rai, Golden Triangle and crossing into Laos and 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 ethnic 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 city has certainly grown but there is still a relaxed pace of life which continues to attract repeat and long-term visitors- especially to enjoy the nicer 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 long time resident, Oliver Hargreave.
Beautifully illustrated covering history, culture, food and maps for exploring the city and surrounding valleys.
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. So set off on the back sois, wander through the wats, visit the museums and shops, enjoy the many great coffee places and whenever tired, get a foot massage or traditional Thai massage.
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. Formerly part of a royal residence of Chao Mahawong (1846-54), it became part of the monastery in 1876. During Buddhist festivals, the monks light hundreds of butter lamps in this beautiful compound.
Wat Chiang Man: known as Chiang Mai’s oldest wat from where
King Mengrai supervised the building of the city. A Sri Lankan-style chedi is supported by 15 elephants at its base. There are two small viharas containing old artifacts.
The Phra Sila image is believed to have the power to bring rain. You can also see a crystal Buddha image which belonged to Queen Chamdevi of Haripunchai (present-day Lamphun). Having survived the burning of Haripunchai, the crystal image is believed to have protective powers against disaster.
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.
Akha Ama Coffee:
Chiang Mai is full of coffee shops and coffee lovers will appreciate learning 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 and 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.
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 Phalad: 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 Phalad 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 Phalad, it is possible to continue on foot all the way up to Doi Suthep Temple.
Wat Umong is a peaceful forest temple dating back to 14th century. It is said a monk named Thera Chan loved the solitude of the forest and kept running away from the city to what was once a jungle on the foot of Doi Suthep. King Mengrai first built this temple and later, tunnels (U-Mong) beneath the chedi were created leading to meditation cells where Thera Chan and monks from Sri Lanka once practiced. Within the tunnels you can find small traces of old paintings.
Wat Umong was deserted in 1487 and re-established as a monastery again in 1948 with the assistance of Buddhadhasa Bhikkhu, founder of Suan Mokkh in southern Thailand. Wandering through the grounds, you will find words of wisdom on the trees. And down by the pond, you can help feed the fish.
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) where Thera Chan stayed when in town:
Wat Umong Noi is located within the moat behind the Tamarind Village Hotel.
Check out Tamarind Village to see if any interesting exhibits are on there.
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. It was established in 1371 by King Ku Na who invited the Ven. Sumana Thera from Sukhothai to bring Buddhist teachings from Sri Lanka to Chiang Mai. Sumana Thera brought a holy relic with him which had miraculously split into two pieces. One is kept at Wat Suan Dok and the other was placed on a white elephant which made its way up Suthep mountain and collapsed at the site where Wat Phratat Doi Suthep was then built. The graceful white stupas house ashes of former Lanna royal family members.
Monk Chat is held here Monday- Friday 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.
For more on Meditation Retreats in Thailand and Asia,
see Retreats Page.
Pun Pun Organic Veggie Food is tucked around the corner from Monk Chat Building. Open for Lunch.
Yoga in Chiang Mai:
Click on Links below for:
– Arts and Crafts, Galleries, Textiles, Coffee, Tea and Cooking Classes
– Accomodations in and around Chiang Mai
– Mae Sa, Lisu Lodge Mae Taeng and
– Chiang Dao’s sacred mountain