In the second of a three-part series on Thailand, Matthew Mok wandered beyond the glittering temples of Chiang Mai and found many surprises the ‘’rose of the north’’ had to offer.
Part 1: To Lampang with Love
Part 3: One Night in Bangkok
The following morning, I woke up with a dream so vivid, fresh from last night’s encounter with wildlife. The lady tour guide at Chiang Mai Night Safari kept warning us as we toured around the facility with the 50-seater tram ride: “Don’t feed the zebras, they have sharp teeth! If you lose your hand, I’ll lose my job!’’
Never before in my life had I come so close to zebras, giraffes, deer, wildebeests and hippos and were able to touch and feed some of them with fruits and vegetables. Don’t worry about finishing the food fast because the tram will stop midway for you to top-up for a minimal fee.
Those who love animals will thoroughly enjoy ‘’the world’s largest night zoo’’ (bigger than the ones in Singapore and Guangzhou in China, apparently). Expect to see wild cats from Africa, Bengal Tigers (including white ones), Malayan Sun Bear, Siamese Crocodiles, wild yaks and more! Thank goodness I didn’t dream of the laughing hyenas–that would have been a nightmare!
English-speaking guide: North Zone: 7:45pm & 9:30pm, South Zone: 8:30pm & 10:10pm. Park opens daily 11am-10pm (last ticket 10pm)
Temples, legends, and tourist tales
In Chiang Mai, we visited three temples, each with a unique facade and interesting setting.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep offers panoramic views of Chiang Mai with its Buddha relic-on-a-free-roaming-white elephant legend and shrine. Graduates from Chiang Mai University make their annual pilgrimage for blessings via a 15km snaky uphill road to this temple perched on a hilltop.
Wat Chedi Luang, located in the historic part of Chiang Mai city, is grand and impressive especially during sunset. The summit of this 600-year old temple collapsed after a strong earthquake in 1545.
The temple that really stood out the most for me was Wat Srisuphan on Wua Lai Road. Its fascinating silver ordination hall that has been under construction for many years is indeed an intricate work of art. You can get here easily as you cycle around town. I witnessed the locals and young monks banging on silverworks and various sheets and emblems adorning the temple. Ironically, it was still more peaceful than other temples despite the noise!
Wood is cool
Next stop, we arrived at the one and only Lanna Woodcarving Art Museum (Bann Roi An Phan Yang) that totally blew me away!
This 5-storey living museum features Lanna treasures and antiques in the form of wood designs and carvings that easily took between 7 months and four years to sculpt. The collection here is sourced from all over Thailand as well as from international markets. Each piece is created by dedicated carvers and none are mass-produced. They are then displayed according to themes, such as Buddhism, Literature and Lanna culture. Want to see the erotic corner in the house?
Proceeds from the sale of select wood handicrafts and art pieces go into maintaining the museum, whose entire collection is estimated over THB10million. I particularly enjoyed this one-of-a-kind museum, a must-visit if you are in Chiang Mai!
Last night but we were not ready to leave
After a brief visit to Baan Tawai for more Thai handicrafts and souvenir shopping, we eagerly arrived at Khum Khantoke for our Khantoke dinner experience—a sampling of northern Thai cuisine complete with northern classical dances. Imagine—up to 600 diners sat cross-legged on the floor enjoying the various dishes from shared Khantoke trays. The environment was truly a unique Thai experience!
We dined in one of the four huge villas (one is reserved for halal food), facing the large compound and stage to catch the cultural performances. From an episode of Ramayana to a war dance with drum and hill tribe dances, a total of nine performances accompanied by live traditional music entertained us throughout the evening.
The show ended with diners joining in the performances and the release of sky lanterns, believed to be a way to pay respect to the goddess of the river. Have you Khantoke before? Try it if you haven’t!
Our final stop during our last day in Chiang Mai was Sunday night market shopping at Tha Pae Walking Street, just outside the Tha Pae Gate. Often, most night markets repeat their goods after several stalls, but this market buzzing with beautiful locals and tourists alike offered a wide variety of local produce, very creative arts, crafts, and souvenirs, not forgetting the slew of delicious street food and snacks to whet your appetite for more shopping!
I remembered walking into one of the many compounds off the main road to enjoy a local talent contest in progress, and the community atmosphere was almost festive, much like a scene from Thailand’s kick-ass variety shows. Many foreign tourists who don’t understand a single word of Thai seemed to enjoy the antics, yours truly included :)
There’s still so much to see and explore in this cultural city of north Thailand. My first trip many years ago brought me to elephant camps where I watched the gentle creatures playing football and painting with brushes, while this recent trip took me out of Chiang Mai to Lampang and discovered another charming city that’s worth your journey. Much like the elephant painting, Chiang Mai still has more surprises in store for new and returning visitors. I’ll be back!
Part 1: To Lampang with Love
Part 3: One Night in Bangkok
What was your most memorable experience in Chiang Mai? Sound off in Comment box below!
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