Chiang Mai

A Weekend in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Feb 10th - 12th, 2017

This is a short blog post about a weekend trip with my dear friends Crystal and Cristiane to Northern Thailand. We left Hong Kong on a Friday late afternoon flight on Hong Kong Express which got us into Chiang Mai around 7:00 pm. We stayed at the Le Meridien, which is a very nice hotel and conveniently located right next to the night market.

Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. It is also an historically important city. It was founded in 1296 and served as the capital of the Lan Na Kingdom until the 18th century. The city has a population of around 150,000. It is located among the highest mountains in Thailand and surrounded by several large national parks.

On Saturday we had booked a full day sightseeing and hiking tour to Doi Inthanon National Park through a local tour company (Bonvoyagethailand) . They were very responsive and seemed reliable based on the reviews. We were picked up at 9:30 am by our guide Tom and a driver. Doi Inthanon National Park is located southwest of Chiang Mai. The park is also known as the Roof of Thailand, since it contains Thailand's highest mountain Doi Inthanon (2,565 meters). The drive from the city to the park entrance took about 2 hours. Our first stop was the spectacular Wachirathan waterfall. There were quite a lot of local tourists here, as it turned out it was a public holiday weekend in Thailand.

We spent about 30 minutes at the falls and then continued to drive another 20 minutes or so to the start of our first hike. The 2 hour hike was easy and mostly downhill. We started walking along a river and passed many cascading waterfalls. These are the Siritarn waterfalls.

This is a very lush and fertile area and we passed many terraced fields, used to grow flowers and a wide variety of vegetables.

Our hike ended at the small village of Mae Klang Luang, where we got to try the locally grown coffee. It was very good and strong coffee.

We stopped at a small market, before we had a nice Thai lunch at a local restaurant. From here we drove for about half an hour towards the summit of Doi Inthanon. Since we didn't feel we had hiked quite enough yet, our guide Tom organised another unscheduled hike for us. We got a local guide and went on a very beautiful and quite popular hike along the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, which first took us through a dense forest and then along a ridge with great views across the valley beneath.

The entire hill side was covered in blooming bright red Rhododendron bushes.

And for reasons inexplicable to me, these surroundings also inspired some among us to engage in bit of spontaneous outdoor yoga.

Just around the corner from where the hike ended was our last destination, the King and Queen Pagodas of Doi Inthanon, which are right near the summit of the mountain. They are two almost identical pagodas a few hundred meters apart. They were built in 1987 and 1992 to honor the 60th birthdays of the king and queen respectively. It's quite a popular destination for locals and foreign tourists. and there are even covered escalators taking you up the last 50 meters to the pagodas.

Here as everywhere around the country there are memorials and shrines for the late king Bhumibol, who passed away in October last year.

The pagodas are also surrounded by beautifully manicured gardens.

After a great day out we were driven back to our hotel. And after a short rest we wanted to get a drink at the bar before heading out to dinner. However, we learnt that due to the Buddhist holiday there was a countrywide complete ban on alcohol for 24 hours. Not even the hotel would serve any alcohol during this period. (Luckily they did leave the beers in the minibar.) We later found out that some of the better restaurants made an exception for the foreign tourists and we did end up having a very nice dinner accompanied by a nice bottle of wine.

On Sunday we spent the whole day exploring the city itself. We walked straight from the hotel to the old town, parts of which are still surrounded by the ancient city walls and a large moat.

Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples. There seemed to be a temple on almost every second street corner. We first went to see Wat Chedi Luang, which is one of the largest temple complexes inside the city walls.

Construction of the temple began in the 14th century, but it wasn't completed until the mid 15th century.  The large chedi in the centre used to be 82 meters high and the largest buildings in the area, but it partly collapsed in an earthquake in 1545.

Next we went to see Wat Phra Singh, which dates from 1345, and it is famous for its golden stupa and the beautiful and ancient murals. It also houses one of the most important Buddha statues in the country, the Phra Singh Buddha. The origins of the statue are not known for certain, but it is believed to have been brought over from Sri Lanka.

From here on I continued my temple viewing by myself as the ladies had to leave for their afternoon spa appointments. The other major temple worth seeing is Wat Chiang Man, which is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, built in 1297.

On my way back I also passed the Three Kings Monument in front of the previous Provincial Administration Building. The monument depicts the three kings of the Lanna kingdom who were responsible for the founding of the new capital here in 1296.

And here are couple more examples of random temples I came across, that didn't have names and weren't described anywhere in the guide books.

Before we left for our late evening flight back to Hong Kong, we had an early dinner at a very nice restaurant in the centre of town, called the Dash Teak House - probably the best Thai food we had all weekend. Chiang Mai is a great city to visit both for its numerous and ancient temples and even more so for its beautiful surroundings, and two days wasn't nearly enough to see and experience most of it.

1 comment:

  1. The Wachirathan Waterfall (pronounced "wah-chee-rah-TAHN"; also spelled Vachirathan) was the second major waterfall on the way up to the summit of Doi Inthanon. Of all the waterfalls we saw in Doi Inthanon National Park, we thought this one had the most power and spray, and it was probably the most impressive of the lot on the mountain's slopes. Although the falls are flowing all year, the biggest quantity of water will be flowing during the wet season from May to November.