Around Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep

Overlooking Chiang Mai, 16 km to the northwest, is Doi Suthep (Suthep Mountain) a very popular pilgrimage spot for Thais, perched on the hillside and offering spectacular views of the city and plain below. A steep, winding road climbs 1000 m to the base of a 300-step
naga
staircase, which in turn leads up to
Wat Phrathat
. Initially, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd arrived at a tacky theme park rather than a revered site, such is the proliferation of overpriced souvenir stalls. And, where foreign tourists are concerned, everybody seems to be on the make, from the tuk-tuk drivers to the temple staff who ensure no foreigner enters without their
ticket. Some Thais have complained that
Doi Suthep is becoming degraded by the influence of tourism, yet the same critics have failed
to
address the fact that the temple guardians themselves have adopted commercial practices.

If you don't fancy the climb take the cable car. A white elephant is alleged to have collapsed here, after King Ku Na (1355-1385) gave it the task of finding an auspicious site for a shrine to house a holy relic of the Lord Buddha. The 24-m-high
chedi
has a number of
Buddha images in both Sukhothai and Chiang Saen styles, arrayed in the gallery
surrounding it. The compound is surrounded by bells (which visitors can no longer ring).

Phu Ping Palace

The winter residence of the King, Phu Ping Palace, is 5 km past Wat Phrathat. The immaculate gardens are open to the public when the family is not in residence.

Doi Pui

Rather commercialized, Meo village, 4 km past Phu Ping Palace, is only worth a visit for those unable to get to other villages. There are two second-rate museum huts, one focusing on opium production, the other on the different hilltribes. On the hillside above the village is an
English flower garden
 which is in full bloom in January.

Tribal Museum

The Tribal Museum, attached to the
Tribal Research Institute
, overlooks a lake in Rachamankha Park, 5 km north of town off Chotana Road. The building itself looks like a cross between a rocket and a
chedi
and it houses the fine collection of tribal pieces that were formerly held at Chiang Mai University's Tribal Research Centre. Carefully and professionally presented, the pieces on show include textiles, agricultural implements, musical instruments, jewellery and weapons. The museum is particularly worth visiting for those intending to go trekking .

Wiang Kum Kam

Wiang Kum Kam is a ruined city, 5 km south of Chiang Mai, which was established by the Mon in the 12th or 13th centuries and abandoned in the 18th century. The gardens and ruins are beautiful and peaceful, dotted with bodhi trees. Today, archaeologists are beginning to uncover a site of about 9 sq km which contains the remains of at least 20 wats. It was discovered in 1984 when rumours surfaced that a hoard of valuable amulets were found. Treasure seekers began to dig up the grounds of the Wat Chang Kham monastery until the Fine Arts Department intervened and began a systematic survey of the site to reveal Wiang Kum Kam. The most complete monument is Wat Chang Kham, which has a marvellous bronze
naga
outside. In front of the wat is the spirit chamber of Chiang Mai's founder, King Mengrai. Nearby are the ruins of Wat Noi and two dilapidated
chedis
. Perhaps the most impressive single structure is the renovated
chedi
at Wat Chedi Liam. This takes the form of a stepped pyramid - a unique Mon architectural style of which there are only a handful of examples in Thailand.

Bor Sang and San Kamphaeng circuit

A pleasant 75-km day trip takes you east of the city, visiting craft centres a couple of interesting wats, some incredible caves and a hot spring. Almost immediately after leaving the city along Route 1006 (Charoen Muang Road), kilns, paper factories and lacquerware stalls start to appear, and continue for a full 15 km all the way to Bor Sang.

Bor Sang is famous for its handmade, painted paper umbrellas. The shaft is crafted from local softwood, the ribs from bamboo, and the covering from oiled rice paper. The
Umbrella Festival
in January is a colourful affair. Beyond Bor Sang is San Kamphaeng, another craft village, which has expanded and diversified so that it has effectively merged with Bor Sang - at least in terms of shopping. If you make it as far as San Kamphaeng, there is a good Muslim restaurant at the intersection with the main road (left hand, near side) serving chicken biryani, other Indian dishes, ice creams and cappuccino.

For
Wat Pa Tung
, which is 10 km on from San Kamphaeng, take a right-hand fork onto Route 1147. At the junction with Route 1317, cross over the road (signposted towards the Chiang Mai-Lamphun Golf Club). Where the road takes a sharp right (with another sign- post for the golf club), continue straight ahead on the minor road. About 3 km on is
Wat Pa Tung. This wat is a lively and popular modern wat, set amongst sugar palms and rice
fields. Its popularity rests on the fact that the revered Luang Phu La Chaiya Janto (an
influential thinker and preacher, highly regarded for his asceticism) lived here to the ripe old age of 96.
When he died in 1993 his rather diminutive body was entombed in a sealed glass coffin, which was then placed in a specially built stilted modern
kuti
where it still resides today.

From Wat Pa Tung, return to Route 1317 and turn right. After about 10 km, on the left, you will see a rocky outcrop with flags fluttering from the top; this is the only marker for the
Muang On Caves
; take a left turning (no sign in English) and wind up a lane, past a forest of ordained trees, to the car park. From here there are around 170 steps up a
naga
staircase to the entrance to the caves, with great views over the valley. The entrance to the caves is tricky and the steps very steep, with low overhangs of rock. But it is worth the sweating and bending; the cave opens up into a series of impressive caverns with a large stalagmite wrapped with sacred cloth and a number of images of the Buddha. There are drink stalls at the car park.

At the foot of the hill (before returning to the main road), take a left turn for the back route (2.5 km) to the
Roong Arun Hot Springs
. Here, sulphur springs bubble up into an artificial pond, where visitors can buy chicken or quail eggs to boil in wicker baskets hung from bamboo rods. The springs reach boiling point; if you want a dip head for the public baths, where the water is cooled. A full range of massages, mud baths, saunas and herbal treatments are also available.

Mae Sa Valley - Samoeng circuit

The 100-km loop from Chiang Mai along the Mae Sa Valley to Samoeng and then back along Route 1269 is an attractive drive that can easily be accomplished in a day. Travel north on Route 107 out of town and then turn west onto Route 1096, in the district town of Mae Rim. From here the road follows the course of the Mae Sa River. Just past Mae Rim are a couple of exclusive shops selling 'antiques'. Also here is the
Sai Nam Phung Orchid and Butterfly Farm
. It has the best selection of orchids in the area as well as a small butterfly enclosure and unusual jewellery for sale. At the Km 5 marker is the sign for the
Tad Mok Waterfalls
, which lie 9 km off the main road to the right. These are less popular than the Mae Sa Falls a couple of kilometres on from here , but still worthwhile.

Continuing west on the main road, there are two more orchid gardens:
Suan Bua Mae Sa Orchid
 and
Mae Rim Orchid and Butterfly Farm
. The orchids are beautiful, the butterflies even more so (watch them emerge from their chrysalises), but the food is average and overpriced.

Mae Sa Waterfall
, is located in the
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
, 1 km off Route 1096 (to the left) and about 1 km beyond the orchid farm. The waterfall is in fact a succession of mini-falls - peaceful, with a visitor centre and stalls.

But the most popular destination of all in the valley, 3 km further on from the waterfall, is the
Elephant Training Camp
. Around 100 elephants are well cared for here (with a number of babies, which must be a good indicator of their happiness). Visitors can see the elephants bathing, feed them bananas and sugarcane and then watch an elephant show.

Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens
, www.welcome-to.chiangmai-chiangrai.com/queensirikitgarden.htm,
was established in 1993 on the edge of the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, 12 km from the Mae Rim turn-off. The great bulk of the gardens was designated a conservation area before 1993, and there are a number of large trees. It is Thailand's first botanical gardens and a truly impressive enterprise. There are three marked trails (rock garden and nursery plus waterfall, arboreta and climber trail), a museum and an information centre. But the highlight of the
gardens is the glasshouse complex. The largest features a waterfall and elevated boardwalk, and there are also glasshouses for desert flora, savannah flora and wetland plants.

Mae Sa Craft Village
 is a leafy resort spread over a hillside, with immaculately kept gardens of brightly coloured annual flowers. There are dozens of great activities to get involved in.

Continuing further on along Route 1096 there are, in turn, the
Mae Yim Falls
(17 km),
Doi Sang
- a Meo village (25 km) - and the
Nang Koi Falls
(34 km). At the furthest point in this loop is
Samoeng
, the district capital. There's little to do here unless you arrive for Samoeng's annual
strawberry festival
held in January or February.

Continuing on from Samoeng, the road skirts around the heavily forested
Doi Suthep- Pui National Park
. The winding road finally descends from the hills and comes out by the north-south irrigation canal at the village of Ban Ton Khwen. Just before you reach the canal is a turning to the right and, a little further along, the bare brick walls of
Wat Inthrawat
. The entrance at the back is by a cluster of sugar palms. This spectacular
viharn
was built in 1858 in Lanna style. Its graceful roofs and detailed woodcarving are a fine sight. Return to Chiang Mai by way of the canal road (turn left at the junction) or on Route 108 (the Hang Dong road), which is a little further to the east of the canal road.

Chiang Dao Elephant Training Centre

This elephant training centre at Chiang Dao is 56 km from Chiang Mai on the route north to Fang, about 15 km south of Chiang Dao. Elephant riding and rafting is available. A second elephant camp 17 km south of Chiang Dao, the
Mae Ping Elephant Camp
, is not as good.

Chiang Dao

Chiang Dao, a district town 70 km north of Chiang Mai, is a useful stopping-off point for visitors to the Chiang Dao Caves . The surfaced road running east from the town leads to a series of hilltribe villages: Palong, Mussur, Lahu and Karen. Most of these are situated on public forest reserve land and many of the inhabitants do not have Thai citizenship. They have built simple huts where tourists can staynd a number of trekking companies in Chiang Mai begin or end their treks in the villages here. The town has a number of good restaurants; of particular note is the locally renowned
Bun Thong Phanit
(on the left-hand side, travelling north, in a wooden shophouse), which serves excellent
khao kha muu
(baked pork with rice).

Chiang Dao Caves

These caves, 78 km north of Chiang Mai on Route 107, penetrate deep into the limestone hills and are associated with Wat Chiang Dao. They are among the most extensive in Thailand and are a popular pilgrimage spot for monks and ordinary Thais. There is a profusion of stalls here, many selling herbal remedies said to cure most ailments. The caverns contain Buddha and hermit images, as well as impressive natural rock formations. Electric lights have been installed, but only as far as the
Tham Phra Non
(Cave of the Reclining Buddha), where a royal coat of arms on the cave wall records Queen Sirikit's visit to the caves. To explore further it is necessary to hire a guide.

Lamphun

This quiet, historic city lies 26 km south of Chiang Mai, and is famous for its
longans
(small tropical fruit) - there's a
Longan Fair
every August with a contest to judge both the best fruit and to select the year's Miss Lamyai (
longan
). It is also a venerated place of Buddhist teaching at
Wat Phra That Haripunjaya
. This famous temple has a 50-m-tall
chedi
crowned by a solid gold nine-tiered honorific umbrella (weighing, apparently, 6498.75 g). Another renowned temple is
Wat Chama Devi
, which lies 1 km west of the moat on Chama Devi Road. It is said that Princess Chama Devi selected the spot by having an archer shoot an arrow to the north from town - her ashes are contained within the main
chedi
. Built in 1218, this square-based
chedi
of brick and stucco has five tiers of niches, each containing a beautiful standing Buddha.

Lamphun, which was founded in AD 600, is sited on the banks of the Ping River and was formerly the capital of the Haripunjaya Kingdom. The moat and parts of the old defensive walls are still present and it was a powerful centre of the Mon culture until King Mengrai succeeded in taking the city in 1281.

Lampang

An atmospheric provincial capital complete with horse-drawn carriages, soothing riverside hang-outs and the sumptuous temple of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang, Lampang makes a great day or overnight trip from Chiang Mai. Established in the seventh-century Dvaravati period, Lampang prospered as a trading centre, with a wealth of ornate and well-endowed wats. Re-built in the 19th century as a fortified
wiang
(a walled city), it became an important centre for the teak industry with British loggers making this one of their key centres. The influence of the Burmese is reflected in the architecture of some of the more important wats - a number still have Burmese abbots.

Wat Phra Kaeo Don Tao
, and its 'sister'
Wat Chadaram
are to be found on Phra Kaeo Road, north across the Rachada Phisek Bridge. Wat Phra Kaeo housed the renowned Emerald Buddha (the Phra Kaeo - now in Wat Phra Kaeo, Bangkok) for 32 years during the 15th century. This royal temple is said to be imbued with particular spiritual power and significance, largely because of its association with the Phra Kaeo. The ceilings and columns of the 18th-century
viharn
are carved in wood and are intricately inlaid with porcelain and enamel. In the compound, there is also a Burmese-style chapel (probably late 18th
century) and a golden
chedi
. Next door, Wat Chadaram contains the most attractive building in the whole complex: a small, intimate, well-proportioned, wooden
viharn
.

Wat Chedi Sao
, the 'temple of the 20 chedis', is 3 km northeast of the town, 1 km off the Lampang-Jae Hom road at Ban Wang Moh. A large white
chedi
is surrounded by 19 smaller ones, and a strange assortment of concrete animals and monks. The most important Buddha image here is a gold, seated image cast in the 15th century. Its importance stems both from its miraculous discovery - by a local farmer in his rice field in 1983 - and from the fact that it is said to contain a piece of the Lord Buddha's skull in its
head.

Wat Sri Chum
is a beautiful wat, constructed 200 years ago and regarded as one of the finest Burmese-style wats in Thailand. Tragically, the richly carved and painted
viharn
, was destroyed by fire in 1993. The compound exudes an ambience of peaceful meditation, although it is in urgent need of funds to complete restoration.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

The monastery stands on a slight hill, surrounded by a brick wall - all that remains of the original fortressed city which was sited here more than 1000 years ago. Sand and tiles, rather than concrete, surround the monuments. While the buildings have been restored on a number of occasions over the years, it remains beautifully complete and authentic.

Originally this wat was a fortified site, protected by walls, moats and ramparts. Approached
by a staircase flanked by guardian lions and
nagas
, visitors enter through an archway of intricate 15th-century stone carving. The large, open central
viharn
,
Viharn Luang
, houses a
ku
- a brick, stucco and gilded pyramid peculiar to northern wats - containing a Buddha image (1563), a collection of thrones and some wall paintings. The building, with its intricate woodcarving and fine pattern work on the pillars and ceiling, is dazzling.

Behind the
viharn
is the principal
chedi
, 45 m high it contains three relics of the Buddha: a hair and the ashes of the Buddha's right forehead and neck bone. Made of beaten copper and brass plates over a brick core, it is typically Lanna Thai in style and was erected in the late 15th century. The
Buddha Viharn
to the left of the
chedi
is thought to date from the 13th century and was restored in 1802. Beautifully carved and
painted, it
contains a seated Buddha image. Behind
this
viharn
is a small, raised building housing
a
footprint of the Buddha
(only men
are permitted). This building houses a camera obscura; at certain
times of day (from late
morning through to early afternoon) the sun's rays pass through a small hole in the
wall, projecting
an inverted image of the
chedi
and the surrounding buildings onto a sheet.

To the right of the main
viharn
are two more small, but equally beautiful,
viharns
: the
Viharn Nam Taem
and the
Viharn Ton Kaew
. The former is thought to date from the early 16th century, and may be the oldest wooden building in Thailand. It also contains some old wall paintings, although these are difficult to see in the gloom. Finally
within the walls are the
Viharn Phra Chao Sila
, built to enshrine an image of Buddha.

Outside the walls, through the southern
doorway, is an enormous and ancient
bodhi tree
,
supported by a veritable army of
crutches. Close by is a small, musty and rather unexciting
museum
. Next to this is a raised scripture library and a
viharn
, within which is another revered
Emerald Buddha
-
heavily obscured by two rows of steel bars. It is rumoured to have been made from the same block of jasper as the famous Emerald Buddha in Bangkok.

Thai Elephant Conservation Centre

The recent fate of the Thai elephant has been a slow inexorable decline. Numbers are
dwindling and the few that do remain are mainly used as tourist attractions .
Many of the places that offer chances to interact with elephants are poorly run, treating their charges with contempt. Not so the excellent Thai Elephant Conservation Centre, which lies 33 km northwest of Lampang near Thung Kwian, on the road to Chiang Mai (Highway 11). Here elephants are trained for forest work, others are released back into the wild, there are elephant musicians, elephant artists and elephant dung paper. There's even an elephant hospital and rescue centre. All in all there are about 100 animals here.

Pha Thai caves

The Pha Thai caves are some of the most spectacular in Thailand; the cave system is one of the country's deepest too, extending more than 1200 m. The caves are renowned not only for their length but also for the snakes that have taken up residence here. From the
arrival point to the cave entrance visitors have to climb 283 steps. As with many caves, it has
acquired religious significance and the cave is associated with a wat. A white
chedi
stands like a sentinel outside the mouth of the cave and a large gilded Buddha fills the entrance.

Jai Sorn (Chae Sorn) National Park

The park, Lampang's only protected area, has hot volcanic springs in the waterfall pools - the Chae Son Waterfall and Chae Son Hot Spa Park, which are just 1 km apart. The waterfall tumbles seven levels and during the wet season is spectacular. The springs bubble
out at 75-80°C, are mixed with cold water from the waterfall and channelled into 11 bathrooms.

Doi Inthanon National Park

Located off Route 108, on Route 1009, Doi Inthanon is Thailand's highest peak at 2595 m. The mountain is a national park and the winding route to the top is stunning, with
terraced rice fields, cultivated valleys and a few hilltribe villages. The park covers 482 sq km
and is one of the most visited in Thailand. Although the drive to the top is dramatic, the park's flora and fauna can only really be appreciated by taking one of the hiking trails off the main road. The flora ranges from dry deciduous forest on the lower
slopes, to moist evergreen between 1000 m and 1800 m, and 'cloud' forest and a sphagnum
(moss) bog
towards the summit. There are even some relict pines. Once the habitat of bears and tigers,
the wildlife has been severely depleted through over-hunting. However, it is still possible t
o see flying squirrel, red-toothed shrew, Chinese pangolin and Pere David's vole, as well as an abundance of butterflies and moths. Although the mountain, in its entirety, is a national
park, there are several thousand Hmong and Karen living here and cultivating the slopes.

Just beneath the summit, in a spectacular position, are a pair of bronze and gold-tiled
chedis
, one dedicated to the king in 1989 and the other dedicated to Queen Sirikit at the end of 1992. Both
chedis
contain intricate symbolism and have been built to reaffirm the unity of the Thai nation. The ashes of Chiang Mai's last king, Inthawichayanon, are contained in a small white
chedi
on the summit - the ultimate reflection of the idea that no one should be higher than the king, in life or in death.

There are a number of waterfalls on the slopes: the
Mae Klang Falls
(near the Km 8 marker and not far from the visitor centre),
Wachiratan Falls
(26 km down from the summit and near the Km 21 marker, restaurant here) and
Siriphum Falls
(3-4 km off the road near the Km 31 marker and not far from the park headquarters), as well as the large
Borichinda Cave
(a 2-km hike off the main road near the visitor centre at the Km 9 marker). Note that it is a tiring climb up steep steps to the Mae Klang and Wachiratan falls. The
Mae Ya Falls
in the south of the park are the most spectacular, plunging more than 250 m (they lie 15 km from park headquarters and are accessible from Chom Thong town).

Ob Luang National Park

The park is just over 100 km southwest of Chiang Mai, and makes a good weekend trip. It's famous for its gorge, through which the Mae Chaem River flows, and there are waterfalls, caves, hot springs and marked trails for trekking. It you follow the trail by the Mae-Bua Come Waterfall, you will pass the 'Land of Prehistoric Human', where archeologists have found remains and artefacts dating back to the Stone Age.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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