Chiang Mai Tourist Attractions
Top Tourist Attractions in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, Thailand's second largest city, is also unquestionably the most beautiful, its location earning it the soubriquet of "Pearl (or Rose) of the North". It sits at the foot of Doi Pui (1685 m (5530 ft)), one of the highest mountains in the Indo-Chinese range, in a sheltered, mountain-ringed and fertile basin irrigated by water from the Menam Ping.
By car: from Bangkok via highways 1 or 32 to Chainat, then 1 (to Lampang) and 11 (about 696 km (432 mi.)).By bus: air-conditioned bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (journey time 12 hours).By rail: from Bangkok Hualampong (751 km (466 mi.)). Comfortable sleepers are available on overnight trains.By air: about 700 km (435 mi.) from Bangkok (several flights daily, flying time about an hour).At one time splendid capital of the independent kingdom of Lan Na ("Kingdom of the Thousand Rice-fields"), Chiang Mai today takes pride in being the "northern capital" of Thailand. It has long since ceased to be simply the "City of Golden Temples" - as it was christened by the first European visitors. Austere modern concrete buildings and an efficient road network, together with many of the usual trappings of late 20th c. life, mean that old teak houses with tropically luxuriant front gardens have become something of a rarity. Bangkok's nouveaux riches consider it particularly smart to have a second home in Chiang Mai. Consequently more and more of the countryside is being developed and traditions evolved over centuries here in northern Thailand are being eroded. The resulting cultural contrasts could hardly be greater. Just a few kilometers from this university city, mountain peoples such as the Meo, Akha and Lisu continue in their age-old ways.Chiang Mai is also the center of the Thai craft industry, exporting elaborate wood carvings, brightly painted sunshades, batiks, silk fabrics and fine silverware to the tourist centers of the south as well as to all parts of the world. Less well known is Chiang Mai's role as the Thai center for jade, this much prized mineral being brought in (often illegally) from Myanmar (Burma).
Opened in 1972, Chiang Mai National Museum (a little further north along the Super Highway has many fine sculptures in the Chiang Mai, Dvaravati, Lopburi, U Thong and Sukhothai styles (mainly the former), also terracottas from Haripunchai. The footprint of Buddha with mother-of-pearl intarsia also deserves mention. The upper floor houses a collection of tools and other artifacts used by the hill tribes.
Being the center of the Thai arts and crafts industry, handwork can not only be bought in Chiang Mai but also seen in the making. The visitor intending to buy a more valuable article is advised to visit the showrooms in the late afternoon when the coaches belonging to the main tour operators have been and gone and it is possible to look around for the desired purchase in relative peace.Silversmiths for example are found concentrated in and to the east of Chom Thong Road (in the southern part of the city), producing silver and silver alloy bowls, dishes and jewelry. In the Ban Khoen district, a little further east, lacquer ware is made (boxes, dishes and trays). Black lacquer, applied in several layers, is polished with ash or lime. Decorative patterns are then etched into the surface and picked out in paint, either colored or gold.Teak carvers ply their trade from workshops mainly located in Wulai Road and Ratchangsaen Road, the fruits of their labors being exported all over the world. With the felling of tropical hardwoods banned in Thailand, teak now has to be imported from Myanmar (Burma).It is not often that tourists have the opportunity to watch bronze being cast. The place to go to in Chiang Mai is Chang Loh Road. Finished products include bells (without clappers, their clear tones being produced by small tin discs suspended on a thread) and the solid bronze cutlery sold in virtually every shop in the country.The "Potters' Village" is on the north side of the city near the White Elephant Gate. Many families work in this particular trade, the pots being put out in front of the houses to dry (as well as to sell).There are more craft villages at Bo Sang and San Kaemphaeng.
Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center
Despite its name the "Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center" (on Highway 108, South) has nothing to do with the history of Chiang Mai, being the brain-child of an enterprising businessman. It is a reconstruction of a hill-tribe village, members of various tribes (Karen, Lisu, Akha, Yao) living in traditional huts, wearing traditional dress and working with traditional tools. Craft items such as jewelry and fabrics are sold in the village shops. Khan Toke dinners (as they are called), i.e. meals composed of typical north Thailand dishes, are served in the evening, accompanied by traditional tribal dancing. Many of the tours arranged by travel agencies include a visit to the Center.
In Chang Phuak Road near the city's north (White Elephant) gate, a plain monument erected by King Saen Muang at the end of the 13th c. commemorates two loyal comrades in arms who saved his life when the elephant carrying him into battle during the war with Ayutthaya was killed. The two were afterwards ennobled. The White Elephant Gate takes its name from the monument.Near the monument, a radio mast stands sentinel over the ruins of a collapsed 15th c. chedi, originally in the Lan Na style. Note the fragments of reliefs surviving on the central part.
The old walled city is no longer the heart of Chiang Mai today, the new town center being situated just to the east, closer to the Menam Ping. Four of the five original city gates - Tha Phae (east), Suan Dok ("Flower Garden", west), Chang Phuak ("White Elephant", north) and San Poong (south-west) - have been rebuilt from designs based on old models.
Every evening Tha Phae Road and Chang Klan Road, between the east gate and the Menam Ping, are transformed into a huge street market with a multitude of stalls selling food, fabrics and typical local products (mainly from the hill tribes). There are also numerous small, mostly open-air, restaurants from which the colorful atmosphere can be imbibed.
Tribal Research Centre and Museum
Chiang Mai University, opened in 1965, is also situated north-west of the city on the way to Wat Doi Suthep. The university's Tribal Research Center and Museum is dedicated to the study of the hill tribes, and to ensuring their survival and that of their culture. The museum provides an interesting insight into the lives of the hill peoples. Examples of their craftwork are also on display.
Chiang Mai Zoo
The botanic garden, beyond the university, contains a wealth of exotic plants including orchids. The neighboring zoo, Thailand's largest, is well worth a visit, concentrating on native south Asian animals and rare species of birds and butterflies.
More Chiang Mai Pictures
Map of Chiang Mai Attractions