Thailand – Chiang MaiBack to Story

Ancient temples and Buddhist history

Chiang Mai is both the largest city in North Thailand and the most culturally significant with over 300 Buddhist temples in the city district. There is a rich history to this modern Thai city that dates back to 1296 when the city was founded by King Mengrai. During this period Chang Mai replaced Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. There were rocky times ahead for the city and it was eventually abandoned due to increasing tensions with the Burmese. It wasn’t until 1774 when Chiang Mai became part of Siam that the city grew in cultural and economic significance.

Many of the temples built between the 14th and 15th Centuries are still in remarkably good condition. Theses temples that are scattered throughout the city are among the city’s most popular attractions. It is well worth exploring some of the smaller, lesser known ones in between sampling the local food and shopping.

Here are a few worth taking the time to visit:

Wat Chedi Luang

Construction of this temple began in 1391 during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma. The temple was designed to hold the king’s father’s ashes and was eventually completed in 1475. Arguably, Chedi Luang’s greatest claim to fame is that it housed the sacred Emerald Buddha which is residing in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. In 1545 an earthquake badly damaged the spire of the temple and lost 20 metres off its height. The Burmese took over Chiang Mai not long after and the temple has never been rebuilt.

The temple as it stands today remains an important place of worship and you can imagine how imposing it must have been when built. Impressive Nagas guard the steps leading up to the temple. An assembly hall was built in 1928 and is a very interesting building. There is a wax replica of Chan Kusalo inside the vihan of Wat Chedi Luang which is spooky in its realism.

Wat Umong

Wat Umong is an interesting temple based in a forest. As you enter the forest there are Buddhist teachings carefully placed on the trees. They are as relevant today as the day they were written and transcend cultures. There is a large chedi on a slight rise but the real point of interest is below the chedi where 700 year old caves exist that were said to be built for a clairvoyant. You can see outlines of ancient paintings on the walls of the caves.

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

High on the hill overlooking Chiang Mai is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep an amazing golden Buddhist temple and a very important pilgrimage site for Thai Buddhists. There is an colourful legend that King Kuena who reigned at the time couldn’t decide where to build his temple. He attached a sacred relic to a white elephant. The elephant roamed climbed the hills above Chiang Mai and then died. The King decided took this as a sign that this was to be the location for his new temple.

On the first terrace there are bells to ring for good luck. The ringing can be heard around the temple. Walking through to the second level there is a striking gold chedi with golden buddha images and umbrella’s. The colours are vivid in this restored temple.

Wat Chedi Liam

Wat  Chedi Liam was built in 1286 during the reign of King Mengrai. The chedi is a interesting shape as it towers high in a pointy pyramid style. One of the few remaining examples of Mon architecture makes this temple a must see. The 60 Buddha images around the Chedi are said to represent King Mengrai’s wives.

There are also striking Naga serpents guarding the doors of the temple. This is very typical for a Thai temple as legend has it that the Naga serpent protected the Lord Buddha while he was sitting under the Bodhi tree searching for divinity. While the Naga could not be made a monk the Lord Buddha was said to promise that the serpent would be represented at the door of every temple to guard the temple.

Hill tribes

Northern Thailand is home to many hill tribes such as Lisu, Lahu, Akha and Longnecks. Many are either refugees from nearby Myanmar (Burma) or are from nomadic communities years ago in the search of new land. Many of these groups uses slash and burn farming techniques and moved around as land became scarce. There are a number of trekking companies who take groups or individuals to see the villages. Home stays are also available and offer a closer insight into village life.

Sadly many of the traditional customs and dress have been discarded. The older women still wear the traditional dress and jewellery. When asked, some of these women are disappointed that young people are not wearing traditional dresses in favour of modern, more westernised attire. Traditional weaving is (thankfully) being kept alive by programs teaching the woman to weave so that village life can be more sustainable. Critical to the success is responsible tourism and selling the products, an important component of responsible travel.

Rachamankha Boutique Hotel

There are many excellent hotels in Chiang Mai but the Rachamankha is a world class boutique hotel option. The architecture is modern but based on Lana principles and the results are chic thai style. Despite only having 25 rooms it has all the facilities of a larger hotel. The service and food are outstanding and the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed. Even if you are not staying stop by and have a cocktail in the small bar and visit the boutique.



Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Chedi Luang, Hill Tribes

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