Things to Do in Northern Thailand
If you’ve ever wanted to chat to a Buddhist monk, pull up a chair at Wat Chedi Luang. As you enter the wat from Th Phra Pokkao, turn right and you’ll see some tables under a sign reading ‘Monk Chat.’
The partially ruined wat dates back to the year 1441, and is most famous as the former home of the incredible Emerald Buddha. Nowadays, a jade replica fills the eastern niche of Wat Chedi Luang, and you can see the original in Bangkok at the Wat Phra Kaew.
Wat Chedi Luang has undergone a restoration program, which has added several Buddha images, porticoes and statues.
If you only see one temple during your time in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra Singh (also known as Wat Phra Sing Waramahawihan) should be it. Set in the heart of the old city, the temple was founded in 1345 and is home to Chiang Mai’s most sacred relic – the Phra Singh (Lion Buddha image).
The temple consists of many buildings, but the most spectacular is the golden wihan that houses the Phra Singh. Look for classic Lanna architectural features like the three-tiered roof, white chedi with an octagonal base, and lion statues guarding the entrance. It is possible to go inside to see the Buddha statue, just remember to remove your shoes first. Wat Phra Singh is an active temple and lucky visitors may see chanting monks or a blessing ceremony. Many novice monks study here and are happy to practice their English by sitting and chatting with tourists in the temple gardens.
Whether it’s dried durian paste and spicy bowls of hot curry or prayer beads and bath towels, the halls of Warorot Market definitely have a little something for everyone. The indoor hub for local ingredients and inexpensive clothing is a perfect place for travelers to sample local cuisine and stock up on handmade items and cheap souvenirs. The streets surrounding the market are also lined with stalls selling handicrafts and artwork from area hill tribes at a fraction of the cost.
Wat Suan Dok’s brilliant golden spire stretches high into the skyline of the northern Thailand city of Chiang Mai and has done so just west of the old city walls since the 14th century. The name roughly translates to "field of flowers," as the temple stands on a site that was once the garden of a ruling monarch. Today, the ashes of some of the royal family are tucked into the wat’s spires, as homage to leaders past.
Wat Suan Dok is a favorite among travelers, particularly photographers, who gather amid the temple’s ornate structures during sunrise and sunset to capture impressive photos filled with rose-colored light. A 500-year-old bronze buddha—one of the largest in the region—also makes this a popular stop. Aside from the structure itself, there is a Buddhist university at the site as well. Monks in training are often eager to share conversation and practice their English with visitors in informal "monk chats."
This Buddhist temple near Doi Suthep mountain is also known as the “Tunnel Temple,” both for its unique network of underground tunnels and its location in the forest. There is a large stupa to visit, as well as “talking trees,” which feature words of wisdom in both Thai and English. Monks here live in a very natural setting, among deer and ponds full of fish and turtles.
Stroll the temple grounds under trees and across trails, or explore the underground tunnels, featuring many shrines to Buddha. It is said that the tunnels, dug underneath an artificial mound, were created to keep a highly regarded monk who was prone to wandering from getting too far from the temple. It was later abandoned, adding to its ancient, wooded feel—but today several monks live on the site. Its tranquil environment makes it a popular spot for meditation.
Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar is perhaps the city's most popular must-do attraction. The colorful mix of regular shops and stalls create a unique market buzz.
You’ll find everything for sale here, from ersatz designer brands to embroidered hill tribes textiles, lacquerware, silver jewelry, carvings, silks, ceramics and antiques.
The best range of antiques is on the second floor of the covered market building called the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, to the north of the busy intersection near a narrow cross street.
The Mae Ping River cuts through Chiang Mai just a few blocks east of the old city and night market. In central Chiang Mai the banks of the river have been developed and are home to hotels, open-air restaurants, and bars, while in the countryside the river retains its natural charms. The ancient city of Wiang Kum Kam is also set on the banks of the Mae Ping River south of Chiang Mai.
Sight-seeing tours and dinner cruises along the Mae Ping River available. For the more adventurous, kayaking and rafting trips can be arranged.
Wiang Kum Kam is an ancient “lost city” located on the banks of the Mae Ping River. It was founded in the 13th century by King Mangrai and was the royal capital prior to Chiang Mai. Wiang Kum Kam was abandoned in the 16th century due to flooding, and was only rediscovered in 1984.
Wiang Kum Kam has been partly restored to its former glory and visitors can tour the ruins of ancient temples and see the carved stone tablets unearthed by archaeologists. Some of the sites have plaques with information in English and guides are available for hire.
More Things to Do in Northern Thailand
This eco-agricultural village in northern Thailand is the present home of four hill tribe groups: the Lahu, Palong, Lahu and famous long-necked Karen tribe. Built in 2005 as a cultural preservation project, the village brought together the different tribes into one community and became accessible to visitors.
Set peacefully in the hills among rice fields and thatched-roof houses, the village grants the opportunity to experience hill tribe life in one place. Walk through the winding trails and see women wearing brightly colored textiles—many of them weaving and spinning clothes. Many of the tribes have migrated from nearby Myanmar (Burma) and maintain their cultural traditions, including the wearing of several brass rings around women’s necks. There are various handicrafts on display throughout, including jewelry, dolls and textiles—the sale of which provides income for the people here.
Chiang Saen is a town in northern Thailand on the bank of the Mekong River that is known for its historic ruins. Though Chiang Saen is a small, sleepy town by modern standards, until the 14th century it was home to a powerful independent kingdom. Ruins of the ancient kingdom of Chiang Saen can still be seen, including temples, Buddha images, and the old city walls, and there is an excellent history museum.
Chiang Saen is also near the "Golden Triangle" where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. The town offers hotels and guesthouses as well as restaurants, banks, and an immigration office.
For a crash course in the history of Chiang Mai, pay a visit to the Arts & Cultural Centre in the heart of the old city. Using a mixture of labeled artifacts, audio recordings, photographs, and life-size dioramas, the centre’s multimedia exhibits take you on a journey from Chiang Mai’s ancient past as the Lanna Kingdom to its present as a modern, cosmopolitan city. Topics include royalty, religion, agriculture, and hill tribe people. There are also subtitled videos about the history of Chiang Mai that you can watch in air-conditioned comfort.
In addition, the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre serves as a venue for special exhibits and cultural events. Enquire with the staff about upcoming events like dance or music performances.
Doi Mae Salong is a mountain in northern Thailand with an elevation reaching 1,800 meters. The stunning scenery and cooler temperatures make it a popular retreat for Thais and tourists alike with activities such as mountain trekking, visiting hill-tribe villages, and touring tea plantations.
Nestled near the mountain is the village of Mae Salong (officially known as Santikhiri, meaning "hill of peace") which offers accommodations to suit all budgets. The village was originally settled by anti-communist exiles from China who were granted asylum by Thailand. The Chinese influence can still be sensed in the town's language and food.
The Lanna Kingdom, an area in Northern Thailand culturally distinct from any other region, was founded in the 1400s and became a vassal state in the late 1700s. The Mae Fah Luang Art and Cultural Park, located just west of central Chiang Rai, houses the finest collection of Lanna art and artifacts in Thailand, including many teak pieces from across Northern Thailand.
Apart from the museum, the cultural park features several other points of interest dotted throughout its meticulously manicured grounds. Rising from the center is the Golden Pavilion (Haw Kham), a temple-like royal residence built in 1984 from the materials of 32 Thai wooden houses and presented to the Princess Mother on her 84th birthday.
Located in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, Mae Sa Waterfall is one of the most enjoyable waterfalls to visit in Chiang Mai province. The waterfall consists of eight tiers which cascade over rocks in the midst of the jungle. A well-worn path leads from the lowest fall to the highest and each tier has a marker sign. Since the individual falls are not that high or fast-moving, they are ideal for swimming.
Mae Sa Waterfall is a popular retreat from the city and full facilities are available including washrooms, picnic tables, and food stalls.
Thailand is renowned for its variety and quality of orchids, and the Mae Sa Valley, north of Chiang Mai, is a place to go and see their beauty at the source. The Mae Sa Orchid farm is home to a large complex of thousands of orchids and an enclosure of live butterflies, and in addition to the 50-plus types of brightly colored orchid flowers to see, there are also tropical plant species and hybrid plants to explore.
Visitors can stroll through the peaceful gardens, breathe in the floral-scented air and see the orchids, which bloom year-round. Butterflies flutter overhead, as the farm doubles as a sanctuary for hundreds of them. Enjoy the variety of tropical species on display in their natural habitat, or have lunch at the onsite restaurant.
Things to do near Northern Thailand
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