Allure of the North
Thailand’s northernmost cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have much to offer the itinerant crowd.
ny visitor heading to the northern city of Chiang Mai in Thailand will discover a rich vein of culture and history dating back to the ancient Lanna kingdom.
For those not in the know, part of the territory did not belong to Thailand or Siam as it was known centuries ago. The Lanna kingdom was Laotian based and ruled the area independently for five centuries. Only in 1910 did Chiang Mai become a province of Thailand.
Taking this into account one can see that Chiang Mai folk tend to be fair-skinned owing largely to their SinoTibetan roots.
Chiang Mai means “New City” which is rather odd and almost a misnomer given that it is more than 700 years old. Here two faces of the city co-exist in harmony; the old façade of the ancient walled city and the glass and steel buildings in the new, developed city sectors.
With less than 150,000 residents according to a 2008
Acensus you’re less likely to bump into people as you would in 10 million-strong Bangkok, which is about an hour’s flight out.
To better enjoy and perhaps, understand your surroundings it makes good sense to stay in the old city where visitors can stroll around to browse through curio shops, markets, wats or temples, museums and other attractions. The everpresent tuk-tuk will honk you from time to time taking you anywhere you wish within city limits.
The old town is marked by four gates including the Thaapea Gate located strategically with a moat encircling them. The brick walled structures are crumbling but provide a glimpse into the past, when they were erected to keep invaders out.
Within those ancient walls lies the historic epicentre of Chiang Mai and more than 30 temples of various styles, such as Lanna, Sri Lankan and Burmese. Intricate woodcarvings, golden pagodas and gilded umbrellas adorn these ancient places of worship.
Modern Chiang Mai has expanded well beyond its signature moat with lots of development to the east of the Ping River where most of the big hotels and shopping malls, restaurants and the night bazaar can be found.
You can choose to see what you prefer and even if temples and museums are not in your list of preferences there are many markets that offer a stunning assortment of trinkets, wares and food to try.
There are many places to have a soothing body massage, foot massage, facials, body scrub and spa treatment here. For those who love aromatherapy Herb Basics provides a wide range of products.
Night life is never dull in a Thai city and Chiang Mai is no exception. There are many bars and restaurants although the standout will remain the Riverside Bar and Restaurant, actually located on the river bank, offering live music nightly.
The Sunday Walking Market, so-called because it is held every Sunday afternoon and is a popular haunt for tourists because of the variety of goods offered.
Surrounded by forest reserves Chiang Mai is often regarded as the stepping stone for outdoor pursuits like trekking, elephant rides, white-water rafting, kayaking and the like.
But of course for many travellers who journey to Chiang Mai it is also an opportune time to make a side trip to Chiang Rai, the country’s northernmost city.
Indeed the province of Chiang Rai offers several attractions – the stunning and majestic White Temple and the famous Golden Triangle, the once-notorious part of the Mekong River that traverses three countries, namely, Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.
The tour which can easily be arranged at most hotels also includes a visit to hot springs, Lao island and a Karen hill tribe village. It provides a peek into the lives of ordinary folk living on the borders.
Chiang Rai is home to majestic mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, caves, and much more. There are a number of hot springs and waterfalls such