Thailand’s “Rose of the North”
Set amidst the rolling foot hills at the south-eastern edge of the Himalayan Mountains some 700 kilometers north of Bangkok is the culturally rich city of Chiang Mai, which just happens to be the longest continuously inhabited settlement from the ancient empire of Siam.
Whether you want to go trekking, elephant riding, sightseeing, or take a trip to the highest point in Thailand we are sure that you will find many things to enjoy during your stay in Chiang Mai.
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The city of Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 by King Mengrai, who named it Nophaburi Sri Nakorn Ping Chiangmai (later changed to just Chiang Mai for obvious reasons !).The decision of exactly where to locate the city was made in co-operation with King Ngam Muang of Phayao & King Ram Khamhaeng the Great of Sukhothai.
The reason I intentionally make reference to this point is that it was King Ram Khamhaeng the Great who during the Sukhothai Period was the founder of what was the capital and “whose history sums up the beginnings of the Thai nation”.
The city of Chiang Mai was intended by the King to be the great new capital of his thriving Kingdom known as Lan Na Thai ( One Million Rice Fields) and it was to become one of the most important cities in the region.
It was isolated from Bangkok and could only be reached by either an arduous river journey or by travelling on elephant’s right up until the 1920’s!. Such isolation has helped keep Chiang Mai’s distinctive charm intact to this day.
Chiang Mai’s historical centre is the walled city, which means “Chiang” in Thai, hence Chiang Mai the “New Walled City”.
The original square city laid out was 1800m by 2000m and after a time a moat would be added to clearly mark out the boundaries of Chiang Mai and to safeguard the people.
Today sections of the wall remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains.
Inside Chiang Mai’s remaining city walls are more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the city the most important culturally are:
Wat Chiang Man: the oldest temple in Chiang Mai dating from the 13th century. King Mengrai lived here while overseeing theconstruction of the city.
This temple houses two very important and venerated Buddha figures – Phra Sila (a marble Buddha) and Phra Satang Man (a crystal Buddha).
Wat Phra Singh: dates from 1345 and offers an example of classic northern Thai style architecture. It houses the Phra Singh Buddha, a highly venerated figure, transferred here many years ago from Chiang Rai.
This temple is one of the most important temples within the city.
Wat Chedi Luang: founded in 1401 and dominated by the large Lanna style chedi, which dates from the same time, but took many years to finish. An earthquake damaged the chedi in the 16th century and now only two-thirds of it remains.
Wat Suan Dok: a 14th century temple located just west of the old city-wall. The temple was built by the King of Lanna for a revered monk visiting from Sukhothai to spend the rains retreat.
The name translates as “the field of flowers temple.” There are several unique aspects to this temple. One is the temple’s large ubosot (ordination hall). This is unusual not only for its size, but also that it is open on the sides instead of enclosed. Secondly, there are a large number of chedis housing the ashes of the rulers of Chiang Mai.
The temples are a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan, and Lanna Thai styles decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree.
This particular temple is one of the most important in the whole of Thailand, and during the Makha Bucha Day Buddhist Holiday in February – Wat Doi Suthep Temple is always filled to capacity with both Thai’s & fellow Buddhists who all gather to honour the event.
Visitors carry flowers, lighted candles, and joss sticks around the Chedi at the temple three times, before placing their gifts & offering prayers to the Lord Buddha.
Chiang Mai boasts more than 700 years of history and enjoys a superbnatural environment. Nestled among the mountainous north of Thailand, the city offers an endless variety of sightseeing opportunities and provides a good base from which to explore the lush tropical landscape of the area.
You can wander among historic ruins, admire exquisite temples or simply sit quietly beside the moat and soak up the charm of this sleepy city.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become a popular sightseeing destination due to its laid back atmosphere, unique cultural character and well developed range of tourist facilities and activities.
It’s also surprisingly cheap and good value !.
From the superb views on top of Doi Suthep to the crumbling excavated ruins of Wiang Kum Kham-the ancient city, or from the hustle & bustle of the Night Bazaar to the quiet grassey knolls of the moat, Chiang Mai is an unforgettable experience of the real Thailand !.
Not only is the old city, with its pretty moat and well preserved bastions, a fascinating experience but Chiang Mai also has numerous sights worth seeing outside of the centre.
Excursions and treks into the mountainous interior of Northern Thailand are also rewarding experiences.
Chiang Mai really is a destination that should be included on EVERY visitor to Thailand’s itinery, you can do as much or as little as you like, but there is something for everyone here !!.