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Five Fantastic Days in Chiang Mai
– You Begin Here
Text: J.M. Cadet
You begin here because as far as I can
see, after five meagre days, you'll just want to keep
I should know. I came here - er, how many
years ago was it? Basically, I was dropping by on my way
from Europe to fame and fortune in Oz's proletarian
As I say, just dropping by, but here I am still, gawping!
Well, I won't claim you've put yourself in good
hands by taking me as your guide, but you can bet yer life, I
now know what I'm talking about, Chiang Mai-wise.
But let's begin.
I'd suggest that you get under way with a
wai (salute) to the founding-father of Chiang Mai,
Jao (prince) Mengrai, up on his plinth at the very centre of the old
city, Three Kings Square. The two other monarchs with
him were princes from Sukhothai and Phayao
respectively, and it was partly from the military-social springboard
their collaboration created that modern Thailand has come
Now, if you go just five hundred metres approx.
south, to the junction of the Rajadamnern and Phrapokklao
Roads, you'll come to the neat little memorial
terrace at which Mengrai is more traditionally honoured. There's a small
chedi there, festooned with flowers, some rather handsome
reliefs on the wall commemorating Mengrai's triumphs, an earth
shrine to one of the aboriginal female spirits (yes, you'd better
give her a wai too, to be on the safe side) and a municipality
tablet (in English), telling us that Mengrai died in something like
his 72nd year as a result of being struck by lightning, right at
the very centre of his kingdom. There's a very curious story at
the back of this, but I'm afraid I have to hold out on you,
because there just isn't space for it here.
In any case, here we are, 11 o'clock of a cloudless
day (this being the dry cool season), and we should be
scuttling along to our next important venue.
Which has to be Wat Phrathat Doi
Suthep, up on its forested eminence to the west of town.
Now if you really want to make merit
(thambun), you'll eschew the various other means of transport like the
writer (occasionally) does, and turn to Shanks's Pony, i.e. hoofing
it up the pilgrim path that runs from close to the Channel
Seven TV Station, past the lovely little temple of Wat Pah Lat,
across the Srivichai Road, and into the temple through its
kuti area (monks' cells) - an hour and half of steep upward progress
if you're in reasonable nick.
On the other hand, you might decide to be sensible
and avail yourself of the excellent shared taxi service
(rot songtaw) that runs up the Srivichai Road from the entrance of
Chiang Mai University main entrance, to Suthep Village. You've still
got the 200 plus steps up the naga stairway to make your merit
on - unless you opt out by taking the cable railway that final
steep section: right into the temple itself.
Having got to Wat Phrathat, what do you do?
First, enjoy the magnificent view out over Chiang Mai from the
elegantly-tiled lower courtyard, then admire the many
images, from the White Elephant through Khruba Srivichai -
plastered over with gold leaf - to Hermit Suthep, the temple's
legendary founder, and various tewadas (celestial beings: including
elephant-headed Phra Pikanet
now what's he doing
here?). Next you go up to the inner courtyard, and circumambulate
the superb white chedi containing the Buddha relic. That's your duty done, since all visitors to Chiang Mai - and the Thai
tourists don't require to be told this - need to pay their respects here to
the founder of the Buddhist religion, and perhaps bong a few of
the temple's melodious bells before leaving.
You might now take a look at the jewelry and
miscellaneous gee-gaws on sale in Ban
Suthep, just outside the temple. On the other hand, time pressing, you might prefer to taxi back down
the mountain, snatch a quick bowl of noodles, and then trip over to
the Silverware 'Village' in the Wualai district just outside the
Chiang Mai Gate on the south side of the walled city. The
craftsmanship, especially of the silver ceremonial bowls with their detailed
workings of mythological and religious themes, is exquisite, and
prices are very reasonable - particularly if you bargain politely.
Three Kings Monument
Amazing how quickly time passes - dusk already. So
leaving the clink of the craftsmen's hammers behind you, you hunt up
a meal worthy of your first evening in the city - but how to
choose when so much is on offer? Chinese, Thai, Muslim, Western.
Well, why not slink around the Night Bazaar area, in the heart of town
- let your nose be your guide. And if it's quietness that's
attractive after the hard day you've had, can you do better than the
restaurant of the Yang Come Village on the Sridonchai Road?
And why not wind down afterwards, at somewhere on
the east bank of the Ping River, from which you see the lights of
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep sparkling in the night sky? The choice here
is amazingly varied too, but you can't go wrong if you wind up at
the Riverside Bar, the Brasserie or the Huan Soontaree - or some
of the others on this bank of the river. Hit them at the right time,
and there'll be live music to make the evening memorable.
And so to bed - but with DAYS TWO TO
FIVE to follow (I told you, you begin here). A visit to the
Mae Sa Valley on day two- waterfalls, snakes, butterflies and elephants among the tourist
attractions - up to the top of the highest mountain in Thailand,
Doi Inthanon on day three - north to Mae
Sai and across the border into Burma on day four perhaps - and
certainly a closer examination of Chiang Mai
city and its culture on the final day? And you still won't have more than touched all
there is to see and do here.
Text © John Cadet 2007
(The writer lives in Chiang Mai and his works - The Ramakien: the Thai epic among them - are available in major bookstores).