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All roads lead to Chiang Mai

Posted on 28 Jun 11

By WorldTravelJoy

I decided to highlight “all roads lead to Chiangmai” as a headline because I, myself, personally believe that from wherever you start your journey.  If you set your mind to it, you will eventually make it to your destination.  However, I was in Chiangmai over the past week to observe what Chiangmai currently has to offer.  The changing face of Chiangmai, today, has become a destination for millions of tourists all year round.  In view of the fact that there are more modern conveniences being supplied to the province, surprisingly the lifestyle of the locals, culture and traditional values conservation has been unduly affected by the tourist boom.   If you wish to break away from formal to casual wear to enjoy the full benefit of tourism development, capture the most scenic tourist spots in both downtown Chiangmai and its outskirts, experience the kind of service you would expect from locals even in the off season, then Chiangmai is your perfect choice.   I would like to recommend a visit to the following five actively enhancing temples situated nearby downtown Chiangmai, which will remind you of the importance of conserving traditional values of temples built during the noble Thai Lanna dynasty, from intricate woodcarvings to the protective Naga serpent staircase.  All these temples or in Thai known as “Wat” are situated close by each other and take no more than a 5-minute drive to reach.   Wat Chiang Mun is the oldest temple located within the walled city on Rajpakinai Road.  It was built in 1296 by King Mengrai, who was resident in the city during the construction period.  The feature enshrined in this temple is a small sized crystal Buddha image, “Phra Seh-Taang Kamanee”, which is believed to be scared and posses influence to bring rain.  Another Buddha image at the same site, “Phra Sila Khoa”, reflects the fine art and workmanship of the Indian craftsmen of more than 1,000 years ago.   Wat Pra Singh in the city centre, at the Singharaj and Rajadamnern Road intersection, was built in the mid 14th century.  Spectacular scenery inside this temple includes a large chedi (pagoda), built in 1345 by the Kind Pha Yu to house the remains of his father King Kam Fu.  A typical scripture repository is also located in this temple.  These repositories were designed to keep and protect sacred texts written on palm leaves and the delicate sa paper (mulberry paper sheets used by monks and scribes to keep records and write down folklore).  The high stucco-covered stone base of the repository protects the delicate scriptures from rain, floods and pests.  The walls of the chapel are covered with murals illustrating Lanna customs, dress and scenes from daily life activities.   Wat Jedi Luang located on Prapokklao Road, was built about 600 years ago on the orders of King Saeng Muang Ma.   In 1454, the reigning King Tilo-Garaj, enlarged the chedi to a height of 86 metres.  However, following an earthquake, the chedi was badly damaged and lay in ruins until 1991, when its reconstruction began, being completed the following year at a cost of several millions bath.  More importantly, this temple is also home to the “Pilar of the City”, a totem used in ancient Thai fertility rites, as the temple marks the exact centre of Chiangmai.  In a similar theory, each year, Wat Jedi Luang celebrates the ancient Inthakhin Festival fertility rite over a period of 7 days during the months of May or June.  The festival’s objectives are to ensure unity within Lanna society, protection from siege and to ensure the rains fall at the right time, so fields will be fertile and crops abundant.   Wat Suan Dok, located on Suthep Road, was built in 1383 in the gardens of the Lanna Royal Residence.  Inside the temple campus, there are rows of small, find art, white chedis, containing the ashes of Chiangmai’s royal family.   Wat Jed Yod is located on the super highway, off Huay Kaem Road, near the Chiangmai National Museum.  Built around 1455 by King Tilokaraja, its name means “Seven Spires” – a precise description of the chedi construction.  The chedi building concept was copied from the Mahabodi Temple in Bodh Gaya in India, where the Buddha achieved enlightenment.  The large chedi contains the ashes of King Tilo-Garaj   Maesa Elephant Camp is approximately a 45-minute drive from downtown Chiangmai and has been established for 33 consecutive years with the objective of preserving the elephant population from being hunted and involved in any illegal trading.  Today there are 77 elephants being raised inside the camp.  Each elephant is trained to perform a special task, from jungle tracking adventures, offering a natural balance between landscape and greenery sties, to the sensational showtime exhibition. Elephant shows usually begin by welcoming guests with an elephant parade followed by demonstrations of various interactions between humans and elephants, a musical talent show with dancing, an elephant soccer game, an elephant log manipulating game, a dart game show and logging and lumber work show.   One best part that never fails to win the hearts of each audience is the elephant artist performance, when 6 young elephants, 2 or 3 years old, are trained by professional Thai and Chinese artists to paint abstract and realistic art styles.  On February 19, 2005, the elephants’ artistic talent entered the Guiness Book of World Records as “Maesa Elephant painting tuition fees are the most expensive in the world”.  The elephant paintings are on sale at the site and each painting costs between 2,000 – 3,000 baht, selling like hot cakes!!  Also, there is a Gallery Maesa situated inside the camp selling original elephant paintings and other locals items.  Whatever you decide to buy, you will definitely be well pleased with your purchases.   Jolie Famme Thai Silk features the art of designing Thai silk attire and is situated on the Chaingmai-Sankampaeng Road.  Besides selling world class quality Thai silk pieces, it also demonstrates the amazing cultural heritage of unique silk making by Lanna silk weavers using traditional techniques, blending brilliant colours and supple strands of silk to create “Jolie Femme” the highest quality handloom fabrics.  Gifts readymade and made-to-measure clothing, or choose from the endless selection of silks by the metre are among the wide range of merchandise, all available at reasonable prices.   Chiangmai Tusnaporn Handicraft opened in 1969 and originally sold garments and textile fabrics.  Six years later the owner realised the influx of foreign tourists from all corners of the world starting to flow into Chiangmai was a source of high spending potential with a particular interest in acquiring things related to Thai traditional life and culture as a souvenir of their visit.  Teakwood furniture items have proved to be an especially popular purchase with foreign tourists.  Consequently, the storeowner decided to convert his store into a handicraft centre and renamed it “Tusnaporn Handicraft”.  Today, it offers an extensive variety of beautiful, ornately carved teakwood furniture, including specially hand crafted decorative pieces in breathtaking designs that would add a touch of splendour to any room, home or office.  Prices conveniently in US dollars, with a reliable shipping service included, this is a unique and good value for money service.   Baan Celadon or the “House of Celadon” was founded in 1989.  Celadon is one of the three main types of ceramics produced in Thailand and is believed to be the most popular of all Thai ceramics.  Celadon is a high-fired porcelain covered with a unique wood and ash glaze which undergoes bisque firing, with an initial firing stage of 800 degrees Celsius, followed by a second more intense firing stage of 1,250 degrees Celsius to obtain the unique, vibrant shade of pale green that characterise this particular ceramic, whose natural tones transpire a finely crackled finish.  The manufacture of Celadon in Thailand goes way back to its origins by Chinese potters in early Chinese history.  When Thailand’s King Ramkamhaeng went to Peking in the 13th century, he was so impressed by this beautiful porcelain that he brought back some Chinese potters to teach Thai craftsmen how to produce this unique ceramic.  Ceramics were mainly produced in Sukhothai, the former Thai capital, but from then onwards, there was a full swing to production in Chaingmai during the 15th century.   Baan Celadon is on Sankampaeng Road, complemented with many classics handmade home-decor items, featuring, in particular, contemporary items of tableware, household products, gifts and souvenirs from the finest artistry of skilled potters, carvers, and painters, which are now all available.   Umbrella Making Centre (Parasol Centre) is perhaps another official symbol of Chiangmai province.  The art of traditional handmade bamboo framed parasols in Borsang Village has been passed down the generations to the present day, where it remains pretty much the same as it has always been for over two centuries.  In the early days, villagers only made paper parasols purposely for monasteries on ritual occasions and also individually to provide monks with weather protection.  With the passing of time, Borsang bamboo parasols have become widely recognised and are in high demand in this particular market.  The Parasols Centre was later established in 1978 and substantial development plans to improve the quality of the parasols was implemented.  This included co-opting more villagers to produce and increase the market scale of the parasols, by using different materials, such as Sa-paper (mulberry paper from the bark of mulberry trees), cotton, rayon, silk, artificial silk and canvas.  Prices for individual parasols at the Centre are substantially less expensive than those downtown, and can be bargained depending on sizes and materials.  You may also purchase a T-shirt, tank-top, jacket, bag, wallet, or shoes here, all individually painted with your own preferred pattern, or design, by the Centre’s talented artists, while you wait.   P.Collection – P Factory is a production house and P. Collection is a retail outlet, and both are part of Mitsairoong Co., Ltd., which was launched in 1991.  It specialises in the manufacture of delicate, unique silver and gold jewelry pieces, souvenirs, home-decorative goods, household ware, accessories and much more, all the way down to the fine art scene.  Each piece is handmade, but more importantly, at the modest prices.   Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre – There are a few places in this world that will never change, nor ever let you down, especially places that give you a feeling of satisfaction, whenever you want to escape the daily chaos.  The Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre is one such place, offering you that special atmosphere ever since its establishment in April 1971.  Today, the Old Chiangmai Cultural Centre still operates under its original name, offering a unique Lanna style dinner experience; know as “Khantoke dinner”.   Khantoke is a pedestal tray used as a small dinning table by Thai people related to a sticky rice culture.  The various foods served in khantoke are typical Northern Thai foods and usually consist of 8 main dishes: fried chicken, Burmese pork curry, fried cabbage, pork tomato-chilli paste, fried pork skin, fresh cucumber, fried banana and fried rice crispies – which are served as dessert.  In addition, two different types of rice are served – sticky rice, which is served inside a bamboo basket, and plain rice, to accompany the khantoke dishes.   During the meal, you will be entertained by a performance of Northern Thai classical music and dance with dancers wearing their distinctive costumes.  The performance includes a fingernail dance, usually performed on special occasions to welcome honourable guests; a silk reeling dance – a folk dance reflecting the silk weaving process and activities in the village; a candle dance – similar to the fingernail dance, but usually performed in the dark; a sword dance – developed from an ancient martial art, using 12 swords; and the rumwong, or circle dance – a typical Thai folk dance.  The final dance performance is the showcase of the evening in which guests are invited to participate in the dance.  If that captured your interest, then you might wish to experience more at a performance of traditional hilltribe dancing just outside the dinning room.  Here you will observe a variety of hilltribe dance performances by native hilltribe people, dressed in their traditional colourful costumes.   Doi Pui Meo Hilltribe Village, by-passed by the modern world, is 40 kms away from the city.  Set in an attractive hillside location, surrounded by unspoiled nature, it closely resembles a hidden paradise.  This contrast to modern life will further motivate you to continue touring this beautiful area, where you will observe the traditional way of life of Meo tribes people, dressed in their colourful costumes, going about their daily routines.  A Meo Hilltribe museum, located nearby, displays agricultural tools, harvesting opium methods and much more.  Original hand made costumes, bed covers, sheets, etc., made from naturally dyed cotton fabric, incorporating fine art embroidery and a diverse collection of religious cult objects, are all for sale at the site, at bargain prices.     Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is set in a landscape stretching into the far distance, surrounded by cool air at 3,500 feet above sea level.  It is regarded as one of the most recently built temples dating from the Lanna period, which combines a mixture of architectural styles, reflecting the various regions of Northern Thailand.  The site was selected by allowing an elephant to roam at will up the mountainside.  When it reached this spot, it trumpeted, circled three times and then knelt down, which was interpreted as a sign indicating an auspicious site.  Additionally, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is considered a most sacred temple as it contains a holy relic of the Lord Buddha and includes a statue of “Kul Ba Srivichai”, a master of the monk who planned all motivations to implement what Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep has become today.    The temple is easily accessible by car, or if you prefer to make a true pilgrimage, you will have to climb the 305 steps to the peak of Doi Suthep.  Alternatively, you can take the cable car, which takes a mere 5-minute to reach Doi Suthep peak.  On a clear day, from this unique vantage point, you will be able to observe a spectacular panoramic view of the city of Chiangmai and its airport spread out before you.  Do make this visit to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep when you visit Chiangmai, for if you fail to visit – it is as if you had never actually been to Chaingmai!

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