It is in Chiang Mai, the Thai place of culture par excellence, that a visitor discovers a genuine Lanna essence through ancient palaces, temples with a dated history and numerous sightseeing areas.
Chiang Mai old town is over 700 years old. It was founded in 1,296 in an area of the Lanna Empire called Noppaburisrinakornping by three great kings: King Mengrai, King Ramkamhaeng and King Ngam Mueng. Right at the beginning of the Lanna Empire, King Mengrai ordered the construction of a city at a site called Wieng Kung Kam. This was then temporarily moved to a new location at Wieng Chiang Man (currently Wat Chiang Man), until King Mengrai noticed that the plain between Doi Suthep and the Mae Ping River was the perfect location for a town. He immediately ordered the construction of a central square, palaces, homes, and a wall that completely surrounded the city for protection.
The original city layout still exists as a neat square surrounded by a moat with vestiges of the fortified wall and its five main gates offering prime access to the old town. Nowadays you can retrace the magic history of the Lanna people by visiting these gates, located at specific cardinal points: Chang Paek Gate to the north, Tha Pae Gate to the east, Chiang Mai Gate to the south, Suang Prung Gate to the southwest and Suan Dok Gate to the west. They have all been restored but still retain their ancient structures.
An itinerant visit to holy stupas (chedis) and holy Buddha images in Chiang Mai’s numerous temples is highly recommended. These are important ancient remnants of the Lanna people.
Wat Chedi Luang has the biggest chedi in Chiang Mai. This temple was built during the sixth Kingdom of the Mengrai Dynasty; King Pha Chao San Nuang Ma ordered the construction of this massive structure 88 meters high with a base diameter of 54 meters. It is here that the main pillar of the city is located.
Wat Chiang Man, the former residence of King Mengrai, is the oldest temple in town; situated in the north-eastern section of the old city, it has treasured Lanna artifacts and boasts two famous Buddha images: Pha Kaew Khao and Phra Sae Tang Kamani (the crystal Buddha), and also includes a stone inscription depicting the history of the wat and of the town.
Located on the west side within the city walls, Wat Phra Singh has an elegant architecture and is home to an important Buddha image named Pha Phut Tha Sihing. This is paraded along Chiang Mai’s lanes yearly on Songkran Day, when Buddhists pour water over the image as a blessing for the New Year to come.
It is in the Chiang Mai Cultural Hall that visitors learn about a valuable historical heritage: the customs and traditional way of life of the Lanna people. Chiang Mai Cultural Hall is located near the Three Kings monument, to the east within the city walls, and it opens Tuesday to Sunday from 8.30am to 5.00pm.
Another popular weekend activity in the shopping and eating experience is Muang Kung Village. Located in the Hang Dong District, it is famous for its pottery making people. While there, visitors can purchase high quality elaborate pottery at reasonable prices. A notable symbol at the entrance of the village is a 15 meter high decanter. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is indeed the best place for bargain hunting and souvenir searching; the variety of the products is unbeatable: hand-made clothes, silverware, crafts from hill tribes, wood carvings, and much more. And if you love handicraft products, don’t miss Tha Wai Village, the largest handicraft village in the world, with hundreds of craft businesses and workshops concentrated in this area. Wood carving, silver and coppersmith, textile and many other artistic trades can be witnessed first hand.
Chiang Mai Night Safari covers over 128 hectares of lush secondary forest, and is a major tourist attraction for children and animal lovers. The safari is divided into geographical areas, and visitors are taken in trams to explore wildlife in a tropical jungle. Through the use of subtle lighting techniques, guests are able to view several animals of many species in a vast naturalistic habitat. The dancing fountain show that ends the evening is a must.
The gates to discover Lanna heritage are always open to visitors. Chiang Mai has more than mountains and rivers; it retains a Thai cultural heritage which is being maintained despite the passing of times.