Sunday, March 3, 2013

Old City of Chiang Mai

When I was discussing the places we should visit before finalizing on the trip, I chanced upon Chiang Mai. Velu was not the least happy when I mentioned Chiang Mai. He was already not happy with Ayuthaya. To him, they are all "bunch of bricks and rocks". So when I mentioned Chiang Mai, we were almost at loggerheads. Thats what happens if the interests differ.

The first question was - Are we not going to Pattaya? I replied - But we have already planned Phuket for your sake. Why again Pattaya. They are going to be the same. And the response was "What place is that - Chiang Mai? I have never heard. None of my friends mentioned it ever. They told me not to miss Pattaya! Not again!

Anyway, I made sure Chiang Mai was in the list. Chiang Mai offered more than what I expected and definitely made Velu very happy and glad that we visited Chiang Mai. It is nestled in the northern highlands and is close by to Laos and Myanmar; among rolling highest mountains along Ping River, a tributary of Chao Praya and has rain forests in abundance.

Though being second largest city after Bangkok, Chiang Mai offers serenity, experience to be closer to nature and has its ancient distinctive Lanna culture, old tradition and century old temples preserved. Its is more greener and quieter; surrounded by mountains, rivers, valleys and country side. The 4 days spent at Chiang Mai was perhaps the best of the Thai experience to me. The city is divided into two - historic old city where most of the temples are; is bounded by remains of ancient walls and moats on all four sides. The new city outside the city walls along its perimeter. There are heck a lot of activities one can indulge in being in Chiang Mai. Its also expat's haven. Most of them relocate to Chiang Mai after retirement as the city is friendly and closer to nature than probably others.

The temples of Chiang Mai date back to the founding years - during 1100s and 1200s, are very distinctive than what you could see at Bangkok. The temples have a combined Lanna Thai, Burmese, Sri Lankan architecture, decorated with beautiful wood carvings in teak, intricate Naga stair cases, angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced in gold fringes.

We opted to visit these temples by foot as the old city is only a mile square. Went around from one temple to another by walk, stopping at times to refresh ourselves. The old city is where the tourists crash in, there are lot of budget accommodations and guest houses. Since its also the place where expat stay, one can find many coffee shops offering English style breakfasts alongside Thai food, laundry shops and many bike and motorcycle rentals. You can rent a cycle for a whole day for 50 Baht and go around the town.

There is lot of activities to do at night. There is a 365 nights non stop night market offering array of street food, apparels and other knick knacks on offer and cabarets. Walk around the hundreds of shops, shop till you drop or just take in the atmosphere, when you are tired, find a table among hundreds of restaurants on the street. Choose from the fresh supply of sea food array - crabs, sappers, shrimps. Order a lemon grass sapper or if you are vegetarian - a simple thai style stir fried veg. Swig a couple of Chang beer while watching the crowd and the street, enjoy your meal and walk back to your guest house. If you are tired, hire a Songthaew to drop you.

Chiang Mai is home to around 300 temples. Each one older than the other and of significant historical importance.


A prayer bell


Wat Chiang Mai - the oldest temple built in 13th century by the king who founded Chiang Mai


Lanna style chedi supported by rows of elephants


Inside the temple with the Buddha image of Phra Kaeo Khao. Don't ask me what it means. Each temple has an image of Buddha more bigger and larger and they are all sacred with a distinctive name. I could understand only until this level.


The moat along with city gates are 900 years old and still functional. The moat here divides the old city to the west and new city at its eastern side.


Walking along the moat


One of the city gates - Chang Phuak 



Wat Lok Moli temple located near Chang Phuak Gate


A typical Lanna style temple with intricately carved vicars and Naga stuccoed figures of teak


The Naga staircase


Inside the temple.


Details on the ceiling


A castle styled pagoda behind the temple


Statue of Ganesha in the compound. I didn't know what they called in Thai, the plaque was in Thai


Sea food - squid rings, octopus, mussels.....

Wat Phra Sing of 14th century, the most revered Buddha of the north Phra Phuttha Sihing is housed inside


Prayer flags inside the temple


I have always been obsessed with photographing monks with no other noise in the frame. I do get lucky very often


Wat Chedi Luang - a 14th century temple with enormous pagoda, we could see it from a distance. The pagoda has massive give hooded Naga staircase on all 4 sides. Seems the spire collapsed in 1545 during an earthquake.


Inside the old city


A parrot going for a ride.


Wat Pan Tao - Monastery of Thousand Kilns; originally a royal palace.


Streets along night market. Tuk-tuks and Songthaews waiting in line to pick passengers.


Knick knacks on sale


Pick your food!



The market had a Pakistani restaurant where we had a good Biryani.



Entrance to the Night market


Another monk photo :)


An enormous old bell. Such ones were commonly found in every temple


Bought rabutang, dragon fruit, yellow and red watermelon. No dearth for fresh fruits!


Mobile Cocktail bar. Imagine if such a concept existed here!


Exploring on the 50 Baht per day rental bicycle.

23 comments:

  1. Amazing architecture! Wonderful that you could hire a bicycle and roam around.

    Guess one could drool at the beautiful buildings forever! What struck me is the way they have kept the old temples and buildings, compared to the shabby treatment we give to our monuments and temples. The difference lies in the fact that we Indians may say that we are proud to be Indians, but we forget to take care of our heritage...

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    1. Balan,

      That was the awesome thing. Going around in a cycle was so much fun. Yeah, I agree. The buildings, the roads, they are all so clean. Its not that there are no actions on the street happening unlike the West, Thailand has rows and rows of street food whichever town or city you go. But the cleanliness is maintained. The temples are taken care of.

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  2. Chiang Mai is an adorable place and I too have some lovely memories of my visit there:)Lovely write up n pics

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  3. A small place offered you so much to explore and soak in! Wow. Wonderful clicks. Each pic speaking volumes!

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    1. Oh! I have some more coming in my next post. It doesn't end here :D

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  4. Wow! A Great photo essay Insi. Loved the photos. All I've heard of Thailand was Bangkok, Phuket and Pattaya. This small city is beautiful and has so many things to be explored!

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    1. Thanks Anu. Oh yeah! there are lot of places which are beautiful; but our knowledge is limited to only Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket. I regret not having time to visit another city some 150 km north of Chiang Mai called Chiang Rai. I've read that its more more beautiful

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  5. Lovely photographs to explain the feel of the place. Enjoyed it. Thanks a lot.

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  6. I 'm tempted by the cuisine.
    And it was a good idea to cycle around.Wonder about the weather. Must have been humid!

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    1. Anil,

      You would love it! for sure. My husband had a gala time. Sadly, I don't eat meat. It was humid. We did a couple of mistakes. Woke up and started late and so had to be in the sun for most time.

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  7. As you describe it must be very nice place.
    What is amazing is ....Ganapathi

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    1. The Ganapati was the icing on the cake :)

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  8. B, to continue I think , the country has eluded the rampage of the barbaric conquests and the hordes of Islamic invasion that we in India and Tibet in the twentieth century by the communists have been subjected too.
    Result perpetual loss of heritage and documented knowledge.

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    Replies
    1. Anil,

      I thought about it. Siam had its share of invasion - esp the north; from Burma often. Some of the chedis you see are in Burmese style. I couldn't visit all the temples at Chiang Mai to document it. But the different invasions seems to have only resulted in improvising than destruction maybe simply because they all followed one religion - Buddhism.

      Wait for my Cambodia journal, you can witness the transformation of Hindu temples to Buddhist monasteries.

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  9. Loved this journal Bindu... Especially the night pictures. Really clear and very beautiful! Impressive cleanliness in the city! Commendable really.

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    1. Thanks Gautam. I can't stop praising about the cleanliness those folks maintain

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  10. B, I wonder how you remember all the names of the street and the city you visited:)Great pics and a detailed write up :)The place looks very clean.

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    1. Its not easy at all. Esp Thailand names. I struggled. I generally tend to remember the names but here, I had to refer on the Internet :)

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  11. woww have you joined discovery channel ... you have been to so many amazing places :D thanks for sharing :D

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Rajlakshmi :) Yeah trying to see as much as possible

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