Following an invite from 5-star airline (Skytrax) Qatar Airways and the Tourism Authority of Thailand, we’ve spent one week in Chiang Mai, where we’ve discovered beautiful landscapes, welcoming people and interesting cultural traditions through a series of activities organized by our hosts.
We’ve arrived in Chiang Mai with an Airbus A330 Qatar Airways after a brief stopover in Doha (video), transiting the amazing Hamad International Airport. On the last leg of our journey, as well as on the way back from Thailand, we’ve sampled QR’s award-winning Business Class service (see photos and videos here). After the airport transfer, we’ve checked-in at Stay with Nimman, a brand-new 4-star hotel nestled in the heart of Nimman, Chiang Mai’s bustling neighbourhood. There are plenty of cool cafes, trendy restaurants and hip bars to fit every taste, as well as swell shopping gems at short distances. Maya Lifestyle Shopping Mall, Central Festival Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and Nigh Bazaar Place are just minutes away from the hotel. For lovers of nature and history, there’s a short ride to the zoo, temples, museums and historic monuments in a city which embodies the perfect marriage of history and contemporary society.
Our Chiang Mai experience started with a visit at Wat Sri Supan (Sri Supan Temple), located on Wua Lai Road, where we’ve experienced how to create art. It is known as Silver Temple because of its handicraft silver decoration. Wat Sri Supan was originally built around 1,500 to serve as the main temple for a silversmith village. The later construction of the ordination hall and Phra Wihan Borommathai Chedi took place in 1509, when the ceremonial site of the hall was established together with the reestablishment of the Buddha image. However, the old structure is now replaced by the silver ordination hall due to dilapidation. The architecture is built in Lanna style of masonry stories of Buddhism, dharma puzzles and the history of the temple with purposes not only to preserve the religion, conserve the local wisdom of silverware, but also to boast the pride of Lanna Kingdom for generations to come. While there, we’ve noticed some artists working on the temple grounds.
We then went to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (Doi Suthep Temple). Located on Suthep Hill, it is the most revered temple in Chiang Mai and offers cool views over the town. The original founding of the temple remains a legend and there are a few varied versions. The temple is said to have been founded in 1383 when the first stupa was built. Over the years, the temple has expanded, and has been made to look more extravagant with many more holy shrines added. A road to the temple was first built in 1935. The original copper plated chedi is the Holiest area of the temple grounds. Within the site there are pagodas, statues, bells, a museum, and shrines. There are also a model of the Emerald Buddha and a statue of the Hindu God Ganesh.
Another day, another experience. This time at Mae Kampong community, where villagers’ main occupation are tea and coffee plantation. We met some kind people here, welcoming and open-hearted, people who help protect the community’s forest. On this occasion we’ve tried our hands at making small baskets and the villagers were happy to teach and assist us in delivering a decent product. Up next: a visit to the Bo Sang & San Kampaeng Cultural Area, full of interesting arts and crafts factories, and a visit of the umbrella making factory “Rom Tawil” and Lacquerware making factory at “Chiang Mai Arts”. We’ve rarely seen so many colored umbrellas in one place, so it was a nice opportunity to understand the process of manufacturing them.
After a refreshing breakfast at the hotel, we headed to – don’t laugh! – Poo Poo Paper Park in Mae Rim. It is an eco-friendly, naturally built, outdoor museum park that introduces and explains the unique steps involved in making paper products from elephant poop fibers. The interpretive walking tour through the lush gardens brings visitors through 8 different pavilions explaining each stage of the manufacturing process, from poo collection to rinsing to final product assembly. Visitors are encouraged to pull up a stool, roll up their sleeves and join together with talented artisans and guides and participate in the making process. Which we did!
Patara Elephant Farm was another highlight of Thailand adventure to Chiang Mai. The “Elephant Owner for a Day” is a special program created for everyone to learn and interact with elephants as what an owner would do daily, during which time you are trained to approach your elephant correctly, know the elephant’s temperament, feed and check its health, learn about and take care of your own elephant, bathe and brush it in the river, learn how to ride on its neck, and communicate through different spoken commands. Visitors also have the chance to hitch a bareback ride and visit surrounding forests, waterfalls or local temples.
A trip to Thailand wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a National Park, so we went to Doi Inthanon National Park. Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest peak (2,265 m) in Chiang Mai Province, is an offshoot in this southern extension of Himalayan Range. This national park’s vegetation consists of 8 types (a native pine, lower & upper dry dipterocarp, opened & moist hill evergreen, and sub-alpine). It is a habitat of more than 446 kinds of wildlife particularly 364 kinds of wind birds and there are several famous trails to explore the wonder of nature. Doi Inthanon is therefore one of Thailand’s best places for a nature walk and bird watching activities. There are Karen & Hmong Tribesmen dwell in isolated villages in this area where visitors can observe their unique lifestyle and culture. Tourists passionate about this can also hike along the Mae Klang Luang Trail before having lunch at a local restaurant.
Chiang Mai is not only about hikes, but also about boat trips. You can experience one on Mae Ping River for about 40 minutes, passing people houses (some are beautiful wooden houses), market, temple, restaurant, etc. You will have chance to observe how people fish and, upon reaching a farmer’s house, enjoy welcome drinks and fresh fruit as you see, first hand, how locals make a living. We’ve also been to Kaad Luang, the biggest market in Chiang Mai, where most people come to buy both fresh vegetables & meat & seasonal fruits and ready-cooked food/snack, souvenirs, etc. Nearby there’s the Flower Market, full of unforgettable scents and colours.
Next stop: a ride on a tricycle (one person per tricycle) to Wat Phrasing, which is the second most venerated temple in Chiang Mai after Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It houses 3 main structures, the main attraction being the elegantly decorated Lai Kam assembly hall and its restored murals depicting the lives of locals hundreds of years ago. After a healthy lunch in a local restaurant, we went to Thai Farm Cooking School located in the suburb of Chiang Mai, to attend – you’ve guessed it! – a cooking class. There we’ve seen and learned about different kinds of organic herbs, vegetables and fruits that the farm members grow. A good opportunity for us to pick some fresh ingredients from the farm which we’ve then used to prepare some dishes in the spacious and well-equipped kitchens. Each member of the group had his / her own cooking station, so here it all came down to the individual cooking talent. Once we’ve finished cooking, we’ve enjoyed the meal on the terrace overlooking the fishpond. A lunch with a view to the entire farm and to the lush, nearby mountains. Text and photos: Ervin Tulei.