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Chiangmai Travel Guide

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Experiencing the merging of the past into the present in Chiang Mai where locals are proud of the city’s 700-year history. Its rich traditional heritage and unique culture is a perfect foundation for the development of the city. Chiang Mai is one of the few places in Thailand where it is possible to find in the heart of the city centuries-old chedis and temples next to modern convenience stores and boutique hotels. The original city layout still exists as a neat square surrounded by a moat with vestiges of the fortified wall and its four main gates offering prime access to the old town.

For years, tourists have mistaken Chiang Mai as the northern junction and the base from which they can explore other provinces. The phrase “a day in Chiang Mai is enough to see things around” was common. Today, tourists are surprised by the fact that there is always something new to discover Chiang Mai. Intriguing diversity among ethnic tribes coupled with breathtaking scenery makes Chiang Mai one of Asia’s most attractive tourist destinations. Two weeks in Chiang Mai may not be long enough for serious travelers.

The old city of Chiang Mai with its fascinating indigenous cultural identity such as diverse dialects, cuisine, architecture, traditional values, festivals, handicrafts and classical dances is a prime location in its own right. In addition, the presence of hill tribes and their wealth of unique cultures enhance Chiang Mai’s distinctive diversity.

Chiang Mai is also blessed with pristine natural resources of mountains (dois), waterfalls, and other nature-based tourist attractions. At the same time, Chiang Mai residents are warm, gracious and congenial providing authentic hospitality making visits memorable and meaningful. Moreover, visitors from all walks of life can collect handicrafts of silk, silver and wood produced locally as timeless souvenirs. Chiang Mai is a place where both backpackers and luxury tourists can enjoy themselves to the fullest.

The Past

Chiang Mai literally means new city and has retained the name despite having celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1996. King Meng Rai founded the city as the capital of the Lanna (A Million Rice Fields) Kingdom on Thursday, 12th April 1296 during the same period of time as the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom. King Meng Rai the Great conferred with his friends, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao before choosing the site where the capital of the Lanna Kingdom was to be founded.

From then, Chiang Mai not only became the capital and cultural core of the Lanna Kingdom, it was also the centre of Buddhism in northern Thailand. King Meng Rai himself was very religious and founded many of the city’s temples, which are still important today.

At the height of its power, the Lanna Kingdom extended its territory far into Burma and Laos, and southwards to Kamphaeng Phet a province above Sukhothai.

The Burmese conquered the Lanna Kingdom in 1556 ending the dynasty founded by King Meng Rai that lasted over 250 years. As Burma had occupied Chiang Mai for nearly 200 years, Burmese architectural influences are visible in many temples. At the end of the 18th century, King Taksin the Great regrouped the Thais in the south and finally drove the Burmese out with the help of King Kawila of Lampang thereby regaining Thai independence from Burma. Chiang Mai was then governed by a succession of princes who ruled the north as a Siamese protectorate under the Chakri dynasty. In the late 19th century, King Rama V appointed a high commissioner in Chiang Mai and it was only in 1939 that Chiang Mai finally came under the direct control of the central government in Bangkok the same time the country was renamed Thailand.

In the past, Chiang Mai was only accessible by river and elephants. More convenient access was achieved only when the railway line was completed in the late 1920’s. Moreover, the first motor vehicle driven directly from Bangkok arrived in Chiang Mai in 1932. Such isolation was more favorable to Chiang Mai as it helped to nurture and preserve the unique Lanna culture.

When we look at Chiang Mai today, it is the economic, cultural and communications hub of northern Thailand complete with excellent infrastructure, good roads, by passes and road tunnels, and reliable communications infrastructure.

The Setting

Chiang Mai, with an altitude of approximately 310 meters above sea level, is situated approximately 700 kilometers from Bangkok on the Mae Ping River basin. Surrounded by high mountain ranges, the city covers an area of approximately 20,107 square kilometers and is the country’s second largest province. Chiang Mai borders Myanmar on the north, Lamphun and Tak Provinces on the south, Chiang Rai, Lampang and Lamphun Provinces on the east and Mae Hong Son Province on the west. The terrain is mainly comprised of jungles and mountains, which are home to the hill tribes. In addition, wildlife and exotic flora may be found in the national parks.

Most of Chiang Mai’s mountains are oriented from north to south. Together they create a multitude of streams and tributaries including Mae Chaem, Mae Ngat and Mae Klang. One of Chiang Mai’s distinctive features is Doi Inthanon, Thailands highest peak, which is 2,575 meters above sea level. In addition, the province boasts flat, fertile valleys, which spread along the banks of the largest and most important river in Chiang Mai Mae Nam Ping (Ping River) which originates from the Chiang Dao mountain range.

Chiang Mai Attractions

Chiang Mai Art, Culture & Heritage

Khru Ba Siwichai MonumentKhru Ba Siwichai Monument is situated at the foot of Doi Suthep Mountain.  The monument honours the devoted Buddhist monk whose followers built the first 10 kilometre road to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in 1935.

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King Naresuan StupaLocated at Mueang Ngai Village. The locals built the stupa to mark the stay of King Naresuan the Great before he led his troop to invade Angwa in Myanmar in 1604.

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Wat Phan TaoWat Phan Tao, located on Phra Pok Klao Road beside Wat Chedi Luang. The temple was a throne hall for King Mahotara Prateth, thus the peacock shaped doors were built.  It is believed that peacock is a symbol of king.

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Wiang Kum KamWiang Kum Kam is an ancient city that was built in the reign of King Mengrai in 1286.  The city was surrounded by ditches in every corner and they were used as reservoirs. From the discoveries, there are 20 ancient remains in and around Wiang Kum Kam include buildings and temples of Wat Chedi Liam, Wat Chang Kham, Wat Noi, Wat Pu Pia, Wat Ku Khao, Wat E Kang, Wat Hua Nong, and Wat Pu Song. The remains are dating from 21st –22nd Buddhist centuries.Wiang Kum Kam is located in the southeast of Chiang Mai, between Km.3-4 along Chiang Mai-Lamphun route, Tambon Wang Tan, Saraphi district. Take the road at Nong Hoi Polce box to the Ko Klang Pa Kluai intersection and en route to Chedi Liam Police box. Wiang Kum Kam Information Center Tel: 0 5327 7322Wat Chedi Liam or Chedi Ku Kham was built in 1288 in the reign of King Mengrai after he had authorised an administrative responsibility of Lamphun town to his minister, Aey Fah. King Mengrai established a town in the northeast of Chiang Mai for 5 years and then resettled a town near the Mae Ping River in 1277 and renamed it “Wiang Kum Kam”. In 1287, the stupa of Wat Jamthewi, Lamphun was rebuilt in Wiang Kum Kam for the locals to worship.After that for hundreds years, the temple was left abandoned. In 1908, a Burmese tycoon renovated it, thus the temple has influences of Burmese architecture instead of its former Khmer style.  Only some parts were rebuilt in Khmer architecture.

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Wiang Tha KanWiang Tha Kan is an ancient city wall dated back to the Hariphunchai period, built before the advent of King Mengrai.  During excavations, sandstone and earthen Buddha images including earthen amulets, brown jars with bones and Chinese porcelains from the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368) were found in the area of Tha Kan village. The best preserved of the ruins are the pagoda and the foundations of the viharn, constructed from bricks and laterite. Wiang Tha Kan is located about 34 kilometres to the south of Chiang Mai along Highway No.108.

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King Naresuan StupaLocated at Mueang Ngai Village. The locals built the stupa to mark the stay of King Naresuan the Great before he led his troop to invade Angwa in Myanmar in 1604.

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The Former Chiang Mai-Lamphun RouteThis route has a connection with the history of the ancient Ping Hang River. According to a historical tale of Chiang Mai, the Ping River used to flow past the eastern side of the ancient Wiang Kumkam Town, and also flowed past the eastern side of the ancient Hariphunchai Town (present-day Lamphun).

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Chiang Mai National MuseumLocated on the Chiang Mai-Lampang Super Highway near Wat Chet Yot, the museum has been designated by the Fine Arts Department as a regional center for education and preservation of the art and culture of Chiang Mai and upper northern Thailand the Lanna Kingdom. Their Majesties the King and Queen graciously presided over the opening of the museum on 6 February 1973. The museum was built according to traditional northern architecture, with a Lanna Thai rooftop. Interesting exhibitions include:Topic 1: The natural and cultural background of the Lan Na Kingdom including the geology, ecology, geography and prehistoric settlement of the north.Topic 2: The history of the Lan Na Kingdom from the establishment of Chiang Mai city to its peak and decline under Burmese control from 1558 to 1769.Topic 3: The city of Chiang Mai under the Kingdom of Siam, from the time Chiang Mai regained its freedom from Burma, to the reestablishment of Chiang Mai city in 1782.Topic 4: Trade and economy of the Lan Na Kingdom from 1782 to 1939.Topic 5: The modern way of life and social development: agriculture and industry, banking, international relations, education and public health.Topic 6: The development of the Lan Na Art Style, and the history of art in Thailand from the Dvaravati period to the present day.Not far away from the Chiang Mai National Museum is the Tribal Museum, which displays information on the history and culture of each hill tribe as well as their traditional handicrafts. The museum is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. (closed on National Holidays) Contact tel. 053 221328 for more information. Admission fee is 30 baht.

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SBUN-NGA Textile MuseumThis is the largest textile museum in Thailand which is situated at Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. See over a thousand ancient and rare textiles revealing the elaborate weaving skills of both royal and local ancestors in Southeast Asia. Open daily (except Wednesdays) from 10.30 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. Address: 185/20 Wua Lai Road, Mueang, Chiang Mai. Tel: 0 5320 0655 or 08 1883 6713

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Chiang Mai Dollworks and MuseumThe Museum comprises a collection of homemade dolls incorporated into charming displays.  Visitors will find dolls in traditional costumes from around Thailand, as well as dolls from many other countries.  The Dollworks is worth visiting, particularly for doll lovers and families with children. Furthermore, the charming dolls intricately handcrafted by local artisans make impressive souvenirs and collection items.Located at 187/2 Moo 9, Ban Dong Khi Lek, Tambon Ma Kham Luang, Amphoe San Pa Tong, a district surrounded by lush green forests and famous for local handicrafts.Getting There: Take Chiang Mai – San Pa Tong Road, and turn left at km 23.  Continue along Ban Rai Road for 5 km. For more information, call 0 5383 7229.

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Inthakhin Archaeological Site and Pottery MuseumThe museum is situated at Ban San Pa Tong, Tambon Inthakhin, Amphoe Mae Taeng, Chiang Mai.  It is an archaeological dig site which uncovered ancient Inthakhin kilns of the Mueang Kaen area of Thailand.  Because of this, it is very important to Thai history and archaeology, helping to firmly establish the fact the Village of Phan Aek Phan Fuea Mueang Kaen actually existed in the ancient Kingdom of Lanna.  Stone inscriptions have been found, dating back to the era of King Mengrai era (1258 – 1311 AD).  It is also very important to the archaeology because kilns in good condition as well as beautiful examples of traditional pottery have been found here.  Nowhere else in the Upper North have kilns or earthenware been found in such good condition as the ones unearthed here.From the evidence found, archaeologists determine that these kilns were in use from approximately 1407-1457 AD, and it is assumed that the Ban San Pa Tong area was once a major producer of earthenware for the entire Lanna Kingdom.  By the 14th century the art of glazed pottery making was widespread throughout Chiang Mai and the rest of the Lanna Kingdom.Most of the earthenware found here are of the celadon type – with a light green or greenish-brown glaze – molded from extremely good quality white earth which can be compared with the Sangkhalok wares of Si Satchanalai, and with also specimens produced in Tao Phan Kiln in Chiang Rai Province.  The products were uniquely strong and beautiful.  Significantly, pre-fired ceramics molded from white earth have also been discovered, a find unduplicated in kiln sites anywhere else in Thailand.This celadon glazed earthenware made Lanna famous in early times, although originally it traces its origins to China.  The green glaze in especially treasured as it mimics jade, which is considered the most auspicious of Chinese colors and materials.  Throughout this entire period, native Thai sensitivity, craftsmanship and artistic warmth imbued the pottery with unique flavour and vitality.A nearby attraction is Mae Ngat Sombun Chon Dam, where visitors can relax at the water’s edge and dine surrounded by the natural environment.

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Ban Kham Un MuseumSituated on the right side of km. 4, opposite Mae Sa Snake Farm in Amphoe Mae Rim, this private museum of Thai art is owned by an accomplished artist-cum collector family.  True to the nature of the family, the museum presents a warm and inviting atmosphere for both families and art lovers.  It contains contemporary art, as well as rare ancient objects from the Ban Chiang Era (dating back 5000 years).  It also boasts old furniture such as tables, chairs, mirrors, and carved Chinese-style beds from the Ching Dynasty.  In the museum, light, shadow and reflection are well utilized to produce a holistic composition of beauty and serenity.The museum building is a golden teak house built in the mid-1800 in the traditional Thai style.  In fact, the house used to be situated in an art centre in Uthai Thani, but it was threatened by floods and was therefore moved.  Thai wooden houses are traditionally made without nails — they use wooden pegs instead — and so it was saved from the impending floods by being literally disassembled and moved piece by piece to its present location.The Museum collections include works by the family members as well as others.  Visitors will be treated to all manner of art, ranging from picture portraits, landscapes, and sculptures; to woodcarvings, silverwork, pottery and laquerwares.  The Museum grounds are home to beautiful trees and flowers, a pavilion for guests to escape the sun, and a souvenir shop full of interesting items.The Museum is open every day 09:00-16:00.  Admission is 30 baht for children, and 100 baht for adults. Call 0 5329 8068 for more information.

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Tribal MuseumTribal Museum is in King Rama IX Lanna Garden on Chotana Road.  This is an ethnology museum featuring the indigenous culture of 9 hill tribes including Karen (Kariang), Hmong (Meo), Mien (Yao), Lisu (Liso), Akha (Iko), Lahu (Musoe), Lau,Thin, and Khamu including the minority tribe of Malabri.  Each tribe possesses unique identity and culture.The museum exhibits ways of life, culture, beliefs, and local wisdom of those tribes, which have been intellectually conveyed through artistic objects displayed in the museum. It is open daily to the public from 09.00 to 16.00 hrs. For more information, contact tel. 0 5321 0872.

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Ban Tawai – The Village of HandicraftBaan Tawai  is the village of wood-carving handicrafts. It has been known as the major cultural attraction of Chiangmai for Thai and foreign  tourists.  The best quality and bargains of wood carving items can be found in Baan Tawai.At present, a wide variety of wood carvings and other decorative items e.g. wood carving, wood-strips, gold leaf wood, antique wood, silverware, lacquer ware, hand-woven textile, basketry and earthenware, can be found in Baan Tawai at Baan Tawai handicraft  Center and Baan Tawai Song Fang Klong Center.

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Kad Suan Kaeo Art & Cultural CentreKad Suan Kaeo Art & Cultural Centre  located in Kad Suan Kaeo Shopping Mall.  As the name indicates, it is a centre of art and cultural performances. The Kad Suan Kaeo theatre is equipped with advanced technology where numerous Thai and foreign shows are performed. For more information, contact Tel:  0 5322 4333 ext. Kad Silpa.

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Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural CenterLocated at Prapokklao Rd., Tambon Sriphum. An old building of elegant architectural design was built in 1924. Standing on the location of former royal hall, the building was used as the central administrative offices of the Monthon Phayap administrative unit of Siam, and later as the Provisncial Hall of Chiang Mai.The cultural center was created to help them understand their roots and foster a sense of pride in local indentity and thus to help preserve the beauty of local customs and culture. The museum has been divided into two sections. The front (eastern) part of the square-shaped building contains permanent exhibits. The rear section of the building has been dedicated to cultural activities, temporary exhibits, a souvenir shop, a lecture theatre, an exhibition hall for Lanna arts and an archive.Permanent ExhibitsThe Permanent exhibits are thematically divided into periods and topics which are shown in 15 rooms. They show the development of the region and the city from pre-history to its rise and decline as an independent capital.The city’s history is illustrated up until present times.The system of administration, way of life, local wisdom and the culture that have created the city’s proud identity are presented using a variety of media . Models, slides, pictures with text explanations, digital video presentations and graphic displays will impress visitors and help them understand the origins of the city.Temporary Displays and ActivitiesThe rear of the building and the enclosed open-air courtyard are reserved for a variety of cultural acitvities aimed at conserving and promoting the valuable traditions of the local culture.

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Lanna Woodcarving Art MuseumBan Roi An Phan Yang Museum is the exhibition center of antiques and woodcarving masterpieces located at Chiang Mai-Sanpatong Road, Hang Dong District, Chiang Mai 50230.

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Khum Chao Burirat HouseA ’Khum’ is the traditional house of Northern Thai royalty.  ’Chao Burirat’, refers to one of the highest levels of government office in the Chiang Mai political system during the period from 1774 – 1932.  The House is located on Phra Pok Klao Rd., on the side that meets Ratchadamnoen Rd., in Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang.The House architecture was created by combining traditional and colonial styles.  A model of the first Western influence to come to Chiang Mai, it shows a perfect blend of local and western style.  The first floor has thick brick walls with a round arch arcade on the north facade. The second floor and roof structure, however, were built of teak in the Thai style. This unique architecture was influenced by British merchants engaged in the teak trade.  At present, it is the office of the Lanna Architecture Centre, Architecture Faculty, Chiang Mai University.The museum is open Monday-Friday, 09:00-17:30. For more information, call 0 5327 7855.

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Bhubing PalaceBhubing Palace is located on the same road, 4 kilometres beyond Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, on Doi Buak Ha. The royal winter palace was built in 1961. The palace is also the royal guesthouse for prominent State visitors from abroad. The lavishly landscaped gardens and grounds are open to the general public everyday from 8.30 a.m.-3.30 p.m. Tickets are sold until 3.30 p.m. The palace is closed when the Royal Family is in residence, January to early March. Call 0 5321 9932, 0 5321 9915

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Daraphirom PalaceThe museum was originally the residence of Chao Dara Rasmi , one of the favorite consorts of King Chulalongkorn, or King Rama V , a princess of the northern Lanna Kingdom. The structure of the museum is well-preserved, and constitutes a cross-over between Thai and Western architecture.

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