Sunday, 30 March 2008

Chiang Mai North Of Thailand

“Nopphaburi Si Nakhon Ping Chiang Mai” (new town) was established by King Mengrai in 1292. Two hundred years later, the city was subdued by Burmese invasion and became Burma's vassal state in 1558. In 1774, Chiang Mai was liberated by King Taksin and became part of Siam and once again capital of anna (a million rice fields) an independent princedom, tributary to Bangkok. Today, Chiang Mai is the largest city of northern Thailand possessing unique cultural characteristics surrounded by truly magnificent natural beauty. Chiang Mai is also a centre of learning, art, antiques, and the ancient tradition of Lanna. An increasing number of tourists, both Thai and foreign, visit again and again, impressed by the hospitality and talent of the people, reflected in various silk, silver, sa paper products, and made cotton and silk, wood carving, ceramics and other handicrafts – and, of course, the food.
Chiang Mai is situated at 300 metres above sea level in a large mountainous area. The province encompasses approximately 20,000 square kilometres. Chiang Mai is separated from Bangkok by 700 kilometres of highway or 761 kilometres of railway. Chiang Mai province is located between the northern latitude 17-21 and the eastern longitude 98 – 99. Chiang Mai’s northern border of 277 kilometres of mountain range separates Chiang Mai’s Fang and Mae Ai districts from Myanmar’s Chiang Tung State. In some parts of northern Chiang Mai, the Kok River plays the role of the border between Chiang Mai and Myanmar. In the east, Chiang Mai is bordered by Chiang Rai, Lampang and Lamphun provinces. The south of Chiang Mai is separated from Tak province by the Mae Tuen River and also borders Lamphun province. To the west lies Mae Hong Son province.

Doi Sutep
The Doi Sutep Mountain is probably the first feature any first-time visitor to Chiang Mai would notice. It is part of the ring of mountains that surround Chiang Mai City. Doi Sutep is 3,051 feet high and standing proud at the peak of the mountain is the guardian temple of the city, the Wat Prathat Doi Sutep (holy temple of Doi Sutep). This gleaming pagoda could be seen from virtually any point in Chiang Mai City. This pagoda is the holiest of all Chiang Mai's temples. To reach it, you would have to drive through 17 kilometers of the beautiful mountainous national park. It is, without a doubt, the most visited temple and tourist spot in the north.

Upon arrival at the temple, visitors will get to see many street vendors trading their ware from sweet corn to Buddha replicas. Two awesome Naga (serpents) fiercely guards the temple's entrance. To reach it, you would have to walk up the 300 steps. It is a rather tough climb for the elderly, but rest assured that your patience and effort will be well rewarded when you reached the temple. Built in the 16th century, not much of the temple's original architecture remains today. However, the view you get from the temple is spectacular. And the view of the gleaming pagoda in its entire glorious splendor is even more awesome up close.

Phuping Palace
Phuping Palace, the winter home to the revered monarchy is located further up the mountain from Doi Sutep. You may view the palace during weekends and public holidays as long as the Royal Family is not in residence. The Royal Palace was completed in the year 1962 and the palace grounds are gorgeously beautiful during the winter months (December - January) for the well planned garden is in full bloom.

Chiang Mai Zoo
Visitors will find the Chiang Mai Zoo on Huay Keaw Road, about 5 kilometers from Chiang Mai City center. The zoo had been around for the past 21 years and currently occupies a land area of about 200 acres. This zoo located at the foothills of Doi Sutep is the largest zoo in Thailand. You'll find a huge variety of animals. There are about 6,819 animal living in the forested and green grounds. The wonderful nature that surrounds it includes two waterfalls, two lakes, various camping sites for the night zoo and some awesome view of the city. To enter the zoo, an entry fee of between 20 and 40 bath is charged. Additional charges for a tuktuk (Chiang Mai's version of a taxi) is recommended, as it is almost impossible to explore the entire zoo by foot. This is a nice and pleasant way to spend the day.

Chiang Mai National Museum
For those of you who are keen on northern Thai arts and archaeological findings, then head on down to the Chiang Mai National Museum. It is located on the Superhighway road about five kilometers from the city center. The Chiang Mai National Museum can vie for a spot with the rest of the world for its modest collection of arts and information. Here, you'll find interesting artifacts and pieces from the past such as The Buddha's footprint and a large Buddha head that once belonged to a complete statue. There are even artifacts dating all the way back to the fourteenth to fifteenth century, such as the Kalong, Sankampaeng, Haripunchai and other northern ceramics. On the grounds of the museum, you'll get to see two 500-year old kilns. Those kilns had been transported from these ancient sites.
Temples are one of Chiang Mai City's most prominent features. The city has over 36 active temples with majority of them, a tranquil and beautiful place where thousands of monks and novices were ordained. To many, these temples are social centers. Here are some:

• Wat Suan Dok bears the meaning of "flower garden". It is the resting-place for the old royal family of Chiang Mai. Their tombs are impressive and there are cenotaphs in the shape of pagodas. Visitors will notice that it is painted in white. This was done in reminder of the glorious past of the Kingdom of Lanna (Chiang Mai used to be the capital city of this Kingdom).

• Wat Umong is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai. At the Wat Umong, you'll get to see an old painting that is about 500 years old. There are also old monastic cells found underground that was used for meditation. Today, Wat Umong is well known as a modern temple for many Western monks have become ordained here. You can also take meditation and Dharma classes in English. The Wat Umong is also unique for it is an "open zoo" where many Thais released animals to earn merit. Although not so easily accessible, yet it is a quiet and peaceful place to study Dharma.

• Another famous temple is the Wat Chedi Luang. Its history began from around 1401. Its prominent feature has got to be the massive pagoda. Once, in 1545, it was struck by lightning. The pagoda was never restored but its sheer size is still impressive. On the temple grounds, you'll also find a city pillar that was placed beneath a tall gum tree. The tree was said to last as long as the city does.

• One of the most respected temples in Chiang Mai is Wat Pra Singh. It was founded in 1345. This has got to be one of the best-preserved buildings in Chiang Mai. Its history dates back to the 1800s. Despite its age, there are still beautiful murals and old scrolls found in this small building. The Wat Pra Singh is popular place during religious holidays. You will see people walking around the temple three times with lit candles. You may even join in if you wish.