November 26, 2020
The old city of Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand was always one of my favorite places to visit. I probably spent more time there than anywhere else outside of Bangkok. The thing about the ancient city is that there are a seemingly endless supply of interesting places tucked away just around the next corner. The casual visitor who only spends a few nights in the city can only scratch the surface of what there is to discover. I've collected here a short list of the places I would suggest you seek out if you get a chance to visit the city for an extended stay in the future.
Chiang Mai is definitely a city of temples, almost every one of them interesting and distinctive in their own ways. Among all the possibilities, I believe Wat Umong is probably my favorite. The “forest” temple on the outskirts of the city at the base of the mountains is definitely different than almost any other of the city's temples. The forest location is just the start of the differences. Next, there is the small network of tunnels buried beneath a mound, atop which stands an elegant chedi.
Shopping is one of the main attractions of Chiang Mai, from it's famous night bazaar to the big “factories” outside of town. Somewhat forgotten by most visitors and guide books is the “Silver Village” which lies just outside the southern gate to the old city. It's not really much of a shopping destination these days, but it is a rather pleasant place to wander around, and can even be a convenient base to stay. The center of the neighborhood is a temple that underwent a transformation a few years ago and is now adorned with extensive silver decorations.
It's completely overlooked by all the guidebooks, but Wat Pa Pao is a quite unique temple in Chiang Mai. It's not as ancient as many of the temples of the city. It was built late in the nineteenth century by the Thai Yai community, an ethnic group originating in the Shan States of Burma. The temple stills sits in a small grove of the pao trees that gave the temple its name. Given its ethnic origins, it's no surprise the temple is more reminiscent of the kind you'll see around Mae Hong Son.
Wat Gate on the east side of the Ping River is not in itself a particularly interesting temple, but in the grounds is one of my favorite Chiang Mai museums. The temple museum, like most, is an eclectic collection artifacts culled from the attics and store-rooms of the temple. However, some of the items on display are much more interesting than the typical temple museum. Of special interest is a collection of old photographs from the early 1900s.
While Chiang Mai is well known for it's traditional crafts and souvenirs, as sold in the Night Bazaar among other places, it's the fresh markets that always fascinated me. Not far from the area where the Night Bazaar is held every night is the city's main fresh market, Wororot. It spreads out along the riverfront, starting with a large section of fresh flowers, followed by fruit and vegetable stalls. If you venture into the warren of stalls away from the river, you'll find all sorts of things.
Here's a short list of hotels I would recommend to help make a visit to Chiang Mai extra special. Some of them I've stayed at, while a few are places that I've had on my personal bucket list.