View of the museum building at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai: Stepping into Northern Thailand

Dec 19, 2014 - Julie

Chiang Mai is a sanctuary city in northern Thailand, built by the once ruling kings of the Lanna kingdom. The moated gates of the city enclosed an immense area now known as the old city. Nowadays the old city is only a small area in the middle of urban Chiang Mai, but still home to most of the historical sites. Even though we were already saturated with temples or wats from Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, we made an effort to really appreciate some of Chiang Mai’s finest piece of art.

Wat Phra Singh

Adorned with shiny mosaics, gold stencilled walls and multi-tiered rooftops, Chiang Mai’s most revered temple exuded beauty and charm. The front façade was in and of itself a masterpiece, with intricate nagas leading the stairway up to mirrored mosaic columns that supported the golden carved shapes on the gable.

Gable of Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai
Gable of Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai

Inside the main temple, numerous golden Buddha images made us feel like we were surrounded by enlightenment, even though we just took a quick look.

Beside the main temple was the city shrine, where women were not allowed to enter. I was not happy about that, but Carlos went and confirmed that I didn’t miss out on anything. He said it contained sacred images and carvings that were not as impressive as the ones in main temple.

Wat Chedi Luang

Built around a Lanna-style chedi, Wat Chedi Luang looked like a temple mountain, grand in both its size and sturdiness. Four naga stairways led the way up to the chedi, which housed several sacred religious images, including a replica of the Emerald Buddha found in Wat Phra Kaew in the Grand Palace of Bangkok.

Tower at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai
Tower at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai

On the side walls of the pyramid-looking base of the temple were several large restored elephant sculptures with massive tusks and trunks. We especially appreciated the elephants since these have been rare in the many temples we have visited.

Elephant statues at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai
Elephant statues at Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai

Another activity offered at Wat Chedi Luang was a public monk chat program, where anyone can sit and chat with monks about absolutely everything. It was a great way to learn more about them and also help the monks practice their English! We came back to do this on a different day and you can read all about our monk chat.

While sitting on one of the many benches around Wat Chedi Luang, we saw a young Thai girl’s photoshoot turning into a funny and bizarre crowd of tourists taking hundreds of pictures from all possible angles. It was quite hard to distinguish the real photographer from the tourist crowd of photographers.

Can you spot the real photographer?
Can you spot the real photographer?

Wat Doi Suthep

Overlooking Chiang Mai’s skyline, Wat Doi Suthep was located at the top of the Doi Suthep mountain outside the old city. To get there, we went to the songthaew departure point at the north gate of old city and waited until the car was full. It took about 20 minutes until we were on our way up the windy road with 10 other tourists, but for only 50 baht each.

Upon arrival, a set of over 300 steps with shops on both sides awaited us. The temple at the top looked like others we’ve seen in Chiang Mai – a main golden chedi, many golden Buddha statues on the surrounding walls, and rooms with more Buddha images. What made Wat Doi Suthep different though, was the platform with expansive views of all of Chiang Mai. It was a beautiful sight, though we both disliked seeing the prominent airport strip.

Julie overlooking Chiang Mai, at Wat Doi Suthep
Julie overlooking Chiang Mai, at Wat Doi Suthep

The temple did have some gorgeous gables, arguably the shiniest we’ve seen so far, making it almost impossible to look at it reflecting the sunlight. Countless ornaments decorated the remaining structures around Wat Doi Suthep.

View of the museum building at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai
View of the museum building at Wat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai

Wat Chiang Man

The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Chiang Man was no different than any other temple in town, or in Thailand, for that matter. As the saying goes: “same same.” The decorated golden gables and tiered roofs were, of course, still pretty. Wat Chiang Man also had an old chedi with elephant sculptures, similar to the one in Wat Chedi Luang.

Chedi at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai
Chedi at Wat Chiang Man in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Started by the Yunnanese trading caravans that stopped along the road that cross Chiang Mai, the night bazaar was one of the busiest parts of the city, especially at night. The size of the bazaar was astonishing. Small souvenir stalls filled both sides of the street for many miles, as well as side roads that extended from the main one.

Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai
Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai

We came to the bazaar in hopes of finding Christmas gifts for our families, but despite the immense options available, we left pretty much empty-handed. We did walk through pretty much the whole thing and learned the full catalogue of Thai souvenirs by the end.

Along with souvenir stalls, street food vendors and restaurants occasionally occupied parts of the night bazaar. The portions were not big and the prices were higher than what we’ve used to. It didn’t compare to our favourite corner of Chiang Mai street food.

We couldn’t stay two weeks in Chiang Mai without stopping by its major landmarks. However, we also did so many other things that were arguably more fun and memorable. Don’t miss our stories from Thai massage classes, fancy Thai cinemas, and intense Muay Thai fights.

For more pictures from Chiang Mai, please visit the gallery!