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A guide to travel in Thailand's Chiang Mai

Updated : 2019-06-07 23:53:10

Thailand’s splendid Chiang Mai is a semantic oxymoron: the new (Mai) city (Chiang) is actually quite old. Exactly 723 years old. Not cragged and wrinkled but laid-back, beautiful, loaded with history. And stories. Of the Buddha who sits in many a temple; of the valiant King Meng Rai, the city’s founder; of a monk so good looking that he turned himself fat and ugly so that others weren’t distracted; of the old city hemmed by 1.8 square kilometre moat; of the 300 temples within the old square; of elephants; the hill tribes…There many a reasons to visit Chiang Mai (700 kms from Bangkok). From the airport, take a shuttle (nearly 20 baht), call a Grab taxi (there is no Uber; roughly 200 baht) or take blue/yellow taxis. Within the city, use the red cab (30 baht from one point to another), tuk-tuk (it is not metered, so haggle) or blue public buses (very affordable but not available on all routes). For budget travel, there are hostels (dorms start as low as 150 baht a night). Several options are available online (check free Wi-Fi & free breakfast). If you choose roadside eateries, food courts within markets, 250 baht is good for a day (three meals, no alcohol). Legal drinking age is 18; carry a photo ID for entry into nightclubs. Currently, visa on arrival is free for Indians. For quick visa, pay premium fee of 200 baht/person. 1 baht = Rs 2.21. Here are a few must-dos.

The highest point in Thailand: Sitting in a valley surrounded by wood hills, Thailand’s highest point is Doi Inthanon (60-minute drive from the city), its peak reaching out to the heavens at 2,565 metres (8,415 ft). Part of the Himalayan mountain range, Doi Inthanon is one of the most popular national parks in Thailand. Easily accessible, the highest point is reached by a wooden bridge and a few more steps lead to the ash-memorial of King Inthanon after whom the mountain is named.
The highest point in Thailand: Sitting in a valley surrounded by wood hills, Thailand’s highest point is Doi Inthanon (60-minute drive from the city), its peak reaching out to the heavens at 2,565 metres (8,415 ft). Part of the Himalayan mountain range, Doi Inthanon is one of the most popular national parks in Thailand. Easily accessible, the highest point is reached by a wooden bridge and a few more steps lead to the ash-memorial of King Inthanon after whom the mountain is named.
Massage by a prisoner: Welcome to the Prison. In Rachvithi Road, a signboard above a rattan swing with red cushions welcomes walk-ins and promises a relaxing massage by a criminal. It sounds like a con-woman’s ploy, but it is not. Yes, these women are prisoners who are brought in every morning from the correctional facility to offer massage – it’s a massage rehabilitation program to help the inmates make a living after their release.
Massage by a prisoner: Welcome to the Prison. In Rachvithi Road, a signboard above a rattan swing with red cushions welcomes walk-ins and promises a relaxing massage by a criminal. It sounds like a con-woman’s ploy, but it is not. Yes, these women are prisoners who are brought in every morning from the correctional facility to offer massage – it’s a massage rehabilitation program to help the inmates make a living after their release.
Graffiti on the wall: Chiang Mai is arty in its mien, its walls awash with art - sprayed, stencilled, scribbled, anonymous stickers; the motifs ranging from cartoon, anime, classical, to contemporary and irreverent. One of the best graffiti walks in town is the walls along the now-closed correctional facility.
Graffiti on the wall: Chiang Mai is arty in its mien, its walls awash with art - sprayed, stencilled, scribbled, anonymous stickers; the motifs ranging from cartoon, anime, classical, to contemporary and irreverent. One of the best graffiti walks in town is the walls along the now-closed correctional facility.
The Royal Garden: Ferns. Orchids. Portulaca. Air plants. Ancient statuesque trees. Zinnia and periwinkles. Sculptures, arches and garden pavilions from various countries. Officially called Royal Flora Rajapruek, the garden was built to commemorate the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne. Counted as a major centre of agricultural research, it is a long walk around the manicured space. Take the free tram ride and do stop at the India Pavilion where a tall Ganesha stands on a pedestal in a lotus pond. (Photographed here is the Cannon Ball tree flower in the garden’s India Pavilion)
The Royal Garden: Ferns. Orchids. Portulaca. Air plants. Ancient statuesque trees. Zinnia and periwinkles. Sculptures, arches and garden pavilions from various countries. Officially called Royal Flora Rajapruek, the garden was built to commemorate the 60th anniversary of King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s accession to the throne. Counted as a major centre of agricultural research, it is a long walk around the manicured space. Take the free tram ride and do stop at the India Pavilion where a tall Ganesha stands on a pedestal in a lotus pond. (Photographed here is the Cannon Ball tree flower in the garden’s India Pavilion)
Traditional Umbrella Making: For nearly a century, Bo Sang (also known as Bor Sang; 10 kms from Chiang Mai) village has been pounding the fibre of the Sa tree to make the famed paper umbrellas. Legend has it a Thai monk discovered umbrella making in Burma and launched it in the village. One can watch women hunched over sedulously creating canvas and paper umbrellas and parasols. Together, they had created a 7-metre long umbrella when Princess Diana visited the Umbrella Making Centre.
Traditional Umbrella Making: For nearly a century, Bo Sang (also known as Bor Sang; 10 kms from Chiang Mai) village has been pounding the fibre of the Sa tree to make the famed paper umbrellas. Legend has it a Thai monk discovered umbrella making in Burma and launched it in the village. One can watch women hunched over sedulously creating canvas and paper umbrellas and parasols. Together, they had created a 7-metre long umbrella when Princess Diana visited the Umbrella Making Centre.
Lamour Salon & Cafe: The house is mango yellow, the servers wear red, the food is scrumptious and on a whim, you can get a haircut. Lamour Cafe (Soi Wat Umong, Suthep) started life as a salon and turned into a popular cafe where smoothies come with accompanied with tiny flower baskets. Commonly known as the Yellow House, the cafe/salon is quaintly charming and its fusion cuisine is delicious.
Lamour Salon & Cafe: The house is mango yellow, the servers wear red, the food is scrumptious and on a whim, you can get a haircut. Lamour Cafe (Soi Wat Umong, Suthep) started life as a salon and turned into a popular cafe where smoothies come with accompanied with tiny flower baskets. Commonly known as the Yellow House, the cafe/salon is quaintly charming and its fusion cuisine is delicious.
Museum of Contemporary Art: Located in the cultural district of Sankampang (20-minute drive from the city centre; entrance fee: Adults 150 Baht; closed on Tuesdays), MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art opened its door in 2016. With a mirror facade and large white walls, the Museum is currently hosting Spanish artist Pilar Albarracín’s first solo exhibition in Asia.
Museum of Contemporary Art: Located in the cultural district of Sankampang (20-minute drive from the city centre; entrance fee: Adults 150 Baht; closed on Tuesdays), MAIIAM Museum of Contemporary Art opened its door in 2016. With a mirror facade and large white walls, the Museum is currently hosting Spanish artist Pilar Albarracín’s first solo exhibition in Asia.
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