The Doi Pui Hilltribe

There are several places where you can visit the many hill tribes of northwestern Thailand, and the Doi Pui tribe offers an easy way of getting acquainted with village life if you are in Chiang Mai and on the Doi Suthep Mountain.

The Doi Pui tribe (หมู่บ้านแม้วดอยปุย) immigrated from China after the Second World War and they have created a small community of 300 inhabitants. There are a number of shops on main street where it is possible to buy locally produced goods – other products are also for sale, however. In the side streets, you can still see houses that have been preserved as they were when the tribe moved here. They are simple wooden houses with one room for most of the daily activities. You can also see how the women produce the traditional clothing of this tribe.

You can visit several museums that exhibit tools and depict village life. You should also visit the city garden, which is particularly beautiful with various flowers, including opium poppies.

The Phu Phing Palace

The Phu Phing Palace (พระตำหนักภูพิงคราชนิเวศน์), which is the Royal Family’s winter residence, is located in the hills outside Chiang Mai. It is not possible to visit the palace when the Royal Family is in residence (normally from the middle of December to the beginning of February), but the rest of the year, you can take a closer look at the palace and the beautiful park around it. Phu Phing was built and laid out in 1962.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep is the name of both a hill and a temple in the same place and it is one of the most visited places in the city.

The Phra That Doi Suthep Temple (วัดพระธาตุดอยสุเทพ) is located at an altitude of 1,156 metres and it was built in 1353. The golden chedi contains a relic of the Buddha and it is therefore a place of pilgrimage to Buddhists worldwide. The story goes that the monk Sumanathera felt called upon to search for a relic in Pang Cha. The monk found the shoulder blade of the Buddha, and Lanna King Nu Naone had the relic placed upon a white elephant that was let loose in the jungle. The elephant walked all the way to the location of the present temple where it laid down and died. This was a sign that a temple had to be built right there. Today, you can see a memorial to the elephant in the temple.

Going up to the temple, you can choose the beautiful staircase of a little more than 300 steps flanked by the mythical serpents, the nagas, or you can go by the funicular railway and get there without working up a sweat.

Apart from the temple itself, you can admire the beautiful flowers, including huge bougainvilleas, and on a clear day, the view of Chiang Mai at the foot of the mount is unequalled.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

The Chiang Mai night bazaar (เชียงใหม่ ไนท์บาซาร์), one of Chiang Mai’s most popular attractions, is located in the Chang Khlan Street between the streets of Tha Phae and Si Donchai. Here you can buy a load of tourist goods and local goods in the approximately 4,000 stalls and shops. The historical basis of the night bazaar is the caravan traffic between Simao in China and Mawlamyaing on the Burmese coast southwest of Chiang Mai.

Wat Ku Tao

Wat Ku Tao (วัดกู่เต้า) was built in 1613 and it is said to house the ashes of the Burmese Prince Tharawadi Min, the son of the Lanna King Bayinnaung, who ruled from 1578 to 1607.

The Ku Tao Temple is one of Chiang Mai’s many peaceful oases. The temple buildings are surrounded by many large, old trees – almost as if they are placed in a park. Ku Tao means the Watermelon Temple in Thai due to the peculiar shape of its chedi that looks like piled melons. At the foot of the chedi, you can see figures of several of the local animals, including a tiger.

Chiang Mai National Museum

The Chiang Mai National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติ เชียงใหม่) was established as a regional museum centre of the culture and history of northern Thailand. The museum opened in 1973 and the building was constructed according to local tradition, including a roof in Lanna style.

The museum’s collection of Thai arts and crafts is divided into various topics, including Buddhas dating from the 14th century, and you will find collections of historic weapons and effects from modern northern Thailand.

Wat Chet Yot

The Chet Yot Temple (วัดเจ็ดยอด) was built in 1453 and it was the setting of the eighth Buddhist World Synod – a religious congress held in 1477.

The construction of the temple was inspired by the Mahabodhi Temple in Bodhgaya in India. This is evident in the seven spires of the chedi. Each spire represents one of the weeks the Buddha stayed in Bodhgaya, where he achieved enlightenment.

There is a rural atmosphere in the temple area in spite of the proximity to the centre of Chiang Mai. The temple has preserved chedis where kings of Lanna are buried, and the Buddha figure is found inside the temple with the seven spires.

Chiang Mai Zoo

The zoological garden (สวนสัตว์เชียงใหม่) in Chiang Mai is one of the biggest in Thailand. The animals are interesting to watch, of course, but the park itself is also worth seeing with its landscaped gardens, ponds and waterfalls. It is placed on a hill with a fine view of Chiang Mai. A couple of panda bears sent as a gift from China are one of the attractions that draw people here.

Chiang Mai University Art Museum

Chiang Mai University Art Museum (หอศิลป์มหาวิทยาลัยเชียงใหม่) is one of the art museums of the city where you can see a number of interesting works of art – especially from the Chiang Mai region. The museum is part of the university that was founded in 1964 as the first in the country for modern art.

Wat U Mong

The U Mong Temple (วัดอุโมงค์) is known for its beautiful location in the middle of a grove. The temple complex dates from around 1400 and after being abandoned for many years, it was restored during the latter part of the 20th century.

The special thing about the temple is that it has underground meditation cells for the monks.

Old Chiang Mai Cultural Centre

A number of cultural shows take place in this cultural centre (ศูนย์วัฒนธรรมเชียงใหม่), including the traditional dance of northern Thailand. The centre has a very nice atmosphere and it will give you an opportunity to get close to the rich cultural life of the area – particularly the traditions of the Lanna Kingdom. The local Lanna Museum complements the experiences with historical artefacts and historical houses that have been moved to the area and reconstructed.

Wat Phra Singh

The Phra Singh Temple (วัดพระสิงห์) was founded in 1345 by King Pha Yu to contain the ashes of his father King Kham Fu. The big chedi and the Viharn Lai Kham, which contains fine woodcarvings and murals in the Lanna style, are among the interesting buildings in the temple area. In the temple viharn, you can see the Phra Singh-Buddha image, completed at the end of the 14th century and brought here from Chiang Rai in 1400 – another beautiful example of traditional Lanna style. The murals are from the end of the 19th century.

Chiang Saen city – เมืองเชียงแสน

The city of Chiang Saen is thought to have been founded in the 10th century and this makes it one of the oldest cities in northern Thailand. It was the seat of the regional government and ruling king, until King Mengrai founded Chiang Rai in 1262 and moved the capital there.
Chiang Saen was heavily fortified with city walls and moats, but it was still conquered by the Burmese in the 16th century, as was the rest of the area. The city was not under Thai rule again until King Rama of Bangkok drove out the Burmese at the beginning of the 19th century. At the same time, the king decided that Chiang Saen should be abandoned so that the Burmese would not want to reconquer it.
Throughout the 20th century, the city has been extended but with due respect shown for the historical ruins and the many old trees, which are part of the charm and characteristic of Chiang Saen.

Side Trip from Mae Sai to Tachileik, Myanmar

From Mae Sai it is possible to visit Myanmar, where there is a completely different atmosphere and culture than in Thailand in spite of the short distance between the two countries.

Directly opposite the border bridge, there is a big market winding in and out of all the side streets. There are many goods here appealing to both Thais and foreigners. Here it is also easy to find the Burmese version of the Thai tuk-tuk – it is a fun experience and a good way of getting around in the town of Tachileik.

On a hilltop near the centre of town, you will find the Burmese temple the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is a copy of the famous, colossal pagoda of Yangon. The pagoda in Yangon, however, is 3.5 times bigger than the one in Tachileik. The days of the week are marked round the pagoda, note the two Wednesdays representing the beginning and the end of the day. It is a tradition to have your photo taken on the day you were born and local people are ready with reference books to help you find the right date. From the Shwedagon Pagoda, there is as well a fantastic view over the city and the surrounding area.

At the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda, there is a beautiful temple from around 1900. Both its exterior with elephant statues and its interior are worth seeing. Inside, there are beautiful murals and some Buddhas in Burmese style, which differs considerably from Thai style. There is also a Thai Buddha. Notice the three-dimensional Buddhas whose eyes are always looking at you.

Mae Sai – แม่สาย

Day Tours from Chiang Rai to Mae Sai

Mae Sai is the northernmost town in Thailand, situated close to the Myanmar border. The town is one of the few places where you can cross the border between Thailand and Myanmar and this influences activities and life in the street. According to the best border trade style, the main street functions as one big market where it is possible to buy Burmese and other goods.

By the border bridge across the Ruak River towards Myanmar, it is possible on the eastern side to stand by a sign that marks the northernmost spot of Thailand.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang (วัดเจดีย์หลวง) is the name of a temple area that was originally three separate temples; apart from Chedi Luang, there was Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin. King Saen Muang Ma began the construction work in the 14th century and it was completed in 1401. It was, however, extended by King Tilokaraja shortly afterwards.

The Chedi Luang Temple contains one of the most impressive buildings of Thailand, now standing as an evocative and devout ruin: The great chedi was 97 metres high and the highest building in the Lanna Kingdom. An earthquake destroyed the chedi in 1545, and in the 1990s it was renovated and made into the present beautiful ruin as a testimony to the position of Chiang Mai as the absolute centre of power of the Lanna Kingdom.

From 1468-1551, the Wat Chedi Luang Temple housed the Emerald Buddha, which was found in Ciang Rai and is now kept in the Wat Phra Kaew Temple in Bangkok. In 1995, a replica of the figure was placed in the eastern niche in the reconstructed chedi.

There were life size elephant statues all around the chedi, placed in such a way that they helped raise the chedi and thereby the king towards the sky. In the southwestern corner of the chedi, some of the elephants have been preserved.

West of the chedi, you can see one of the fat, happy Chinese Buddhas and in the next building, there are more figures, including a reclining Buddha.

This temple is also known as the place where the foundation stone of Chiang Mai, Lak Mueang, is kept. Originally, it was placed in Wat Sadeu Muang, but King Chao Kawila moved it here in the year 1800. It is said that King Mengrai was struck by lightning and killed in this place in 1317.

Chiang Mai Art & Cultural Hall

The Chiang Mai City Art & Cultural Centre (หอนิทรรศการศิลปวัฒนธรรมเชียงใหม่) is located right behind the Three Kings Monument. Through a number of fine works of art and crafts, it shows the historical development of the area from main city in the Lanna Kingdom to a part of modern Thailand.

The museum building is the former residence of the royal families of northern Thailand and it was also the City Hall and seat of the provincial government.

The Three Kings Monument

The Three Kings Monument (อนุสาวรีย์สามกษัตริย์) was erected to commemorate the three kings of northern Thailand: King Mengrai of Chiang Mai, King Ngam Muang of Phayao and King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukothai. The monument is a symbol of the pact of the kings that made the foundation of Chiang Mai as the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom possible. The square, by the way, is the central square of the city from a historical point of view.

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man (วัดเชียงมั่น) dates back to the year 1296 when Chiang Mai was founded as King Mengrai’s capital. It is the oldest temple of the city, and in the beginning, it also served as the royal residence. The building style is typically Lanna-northern Thailand, which can be seen by the teak pillars in the bot, the main viharn and by the low hanging roof constructions. In the temple viharn, you can see some interesting Buddha figures.

Pratu Tha Phae

The old part of Chiang Mai is square and surrounded by a moat, walls and city gates. If you want to do the entire beautiful and nice trip around it, it will amount to a bit more than 6 kilometres and the Thae Phae city gate is a good place to start.

Pratu Tha Phae (ประตูท่าแพ) is the eastern entrance to the city and you can see the beautifully reconstructed city gate, just wide enough to allow an elephant with a person on either side to enter. Now, there is a square in front of the gate where the moat runs north-south and you can see quite a stretch of the city wall.

Walking clockwise will take you southeast to the Jaeng Katam bastion and from there to the next city gate, Pratu Chiang Mai, which carries the name of the city and was the entrance from the city of Lamphun to the south. The gate was erected by King Mengrai in 1296, restored around 1800 and reconstructed from 1966 to 1969. If you walk on, you will reach the other southern gate, Pratu Suan Prung, which for a long time was reserved funeral processions leaving the city.

Towards the southwest, you will see the Jaeng Ku Ruang bastion and further along at the west side of the moat the Pratu Suan Dok city gate, which means the “Flower Garden Gate”. The name refers to the king’s Flower Garden placed outside this city gate in the 14th century. To the northwest is the Jaeng Hua Rin bastion, which is probably the best preserved of the bastions.

The last of the five gates of the city, Pratu Chang Pheuak, which was erected in 1296 like the eastern gate, is on the north side of the moat. This was the gate where the Lanna sovereigns entered in connection with their crowning ceremonies. To the northeast, you will find the fourth and last bastion called Jaeng Si Phum, which is the oldest part of the entire structure.

Wat Chama Devi

Centrally located in the Chama Devi Temple (วัดจามเทวี), you will find the interesting stepped-pyramid chedi, among the oldest of its kind in Thailand. Apart from its special shape, it is lavishly decorated with no less than 60 niches housing Buddha figures. The chedi contains the ashes of the famous Queen of Lamphun, Chama Devi. Locally, the temple is also called Wat Ku Kut.

Wat Phra That Haripunchai

Wat Phra That Haripunchai (วัดพระธาตุหริภุญชัย) is said to have been founded in 1044 by Kong Athitayaraj of Haripunchai. The 46-meter tall golden chedi with a top of 9 sunshades made of 7 kilos of pure gold is especially interesting and dominating. Within the complex, it is also possible to see stone lions, an untypical square chedi and a Buddha statue in Lanna style from the 15th century. The temple is built in a place where there used to be a royal palace.

There is also a temple library here from the 19th century adorned with nagas and a pavilion with a gong that was the biggest in the world when it was cast in 1860. Outside the temple walls, there are various buildings and Buddha statues, including a reclining Buddha and a fat, happy Buddha in Chinese style.

Haripunchai Lamphun National Museum

The Haripunchai Lamphun National Museum (พิพิธภัณฑสถานแห่งชาติหริภุญไชย) in Lamphun has an interesting exhibition of finds and artefacts, especially from the periods of the Kingdoms of Haripunchai and Lanna, but also from other periods of the cultural history of Thailand.

Wat Chedi Sao

This beautiful temple, which is also known as the “Temple of 20 chedis”, Wat Chedi Sao (วัดเจดีย์ซาวหลัง) is found outside Lampang on the road to Jae Hom. It is a very idyllic place and the many white chedis in a blend of Burmese and Thai style are a delight to the eye. The temple also has a fine collection of statues, including the twelve animals from the Chinese calendar and some others from Buddhist mythology.

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang

Wat Phra That Lampang Luang (วัดพระธาตุลำปางหลวง). This impressive temple complex is among the most important in Thailand and a good example of the traditional building style of the Lanna Kingdom. It is situated in one of the historic satellite towns outside the actual city of Lampang. A memorable moment for the Thais in their many battles against the Burmese took place here when the Burmese troops were defeated after having ruled for 200 years. Thai soldiers sneaked into the temple through the drainpipes and the element of surprise was decisive in securing their victory.

Climbing up the stairs to the temple, you can see the grand and elegant design of the buildings. Some people consider it one of the most spectacular temples in Thailand and the 50-meter tall chedi is said to house genuine relics of the Buddha.

Access to the temple is through the richly decorated and monumental entrance guarded by lions and nagas, the mythological serpents.

The big viharn of the temple is from 1496. It was restored in the 1930s and it houses fine murals from the 19th century. In the Nam Tam viharn, there are paintings from the 16th century. In a small viharn, you can see the Phra Keo Don Tao- Buddha figure that was originally kept in the temple of Lampang, which had the same name as the figure.

Inside the temple grounds, there are also some holy bodhi trees whose branches are supported by a vast number of crutches placed there by people wishing to bring health and happiness to their families. There is also a minor temple here.

Wat Phra Kaew Don Tao

The architecture of the Phra Kaew Don Tao Temple (วัดพระแก้วดอนเต้า) was inspired by both the Lanna Kingdom and the Burmese, who ruled the city for centuries. Thailand’s famous Emerald Buddha, which can now be seen in Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok, was here for some decades in the 15th century. It is said, that the elephant that was to carry the Emerald Buddha from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai in 1436 stopped here and refused to move on. Therefore, the figure stayed here until 1468 when King Tilokaraja moved it to Chiang Mai as originally planned. The big white and golden chedi of the temple and a small museum with Lanna artefacts are among the sights here. The chedi with a height of 50 metres is the only preserved original building in the area, and it is said to house a strand of the Buddha’s hair. Among the 20th century buildings here, it is possible to see fine examples of glass mosaic and woodcarvings.

Gibbon Sanctuary

Gibbon Sanctuary (สวนชะนี) is approximately five kilometres south of the Pha Charoen Waterfall, there is a sanctuary for gibbons that have been found unwanted, injured or mistreated in the private homes, bars and zoos of Thailand. The sanctuary is run on a private basis and tries to give the gibbons a new and better life full of care, ample room and correct food.