My previous trip to Northern Thailand province was during Christmas holiday in 2010 and that was Chiang Rai. Looking back at that trip now, it was really one of the great year end holiday in particular because the weather was cool just right for Christmas atmosphere and Chiang Raihas many to offer to visitors and travellers be it nature, culture experience, sampling of northern thai food and some inexpensive shopping across the border town at Tachileik. You can sample tea at some of the good quality teas at various tea farms in Doi Mae Salong and of course purchase them for your own consumption or for family and friends, head to Mae FahLuang in Doi Tung to witness yourself the beautiful and colourful flowers blooming marvellously over the winter and cross over to Tachileik for a shopping trip or visit the hilltribes village. Well, this was how good it was during my previous trip to this northern most of Thailand province. Last year, I was at Chiang Mai, another northern province city of Thailand. However, sadly it did not rekindled the great memories that I had enjoyed during the last trip to Chiang Rai. The train journey from HuaLumphong Bangkok to Chiang Mai took about 14 hours on a 2nd class sleeper coach which cost slightly less than THB900 for a single journey. Overall, the train was comfortable and the sleeping area was clean and air condition was functioning well. Nevertheless, the toilet and clean up area as well as the services from train staff particularly the cleaner and cafeteria staff can be much improved. The train stewards were indeed much friendlier and helpful.
The weather in Chiang Mai during the year end was not as cold as Chiang Rai, the city was jam packed with vehicles and infrastructures need much improvement and attention from the local authorities. One of the highlights of this trip was the annual floral festival known as the Royal Flora Festival of Ratchaphuek. After checking into the guesthouse of White Chalet located at Arak Road Soi 2, head to one of the oldest shopping mall in Chiang Mai city at Central KadSuanKeaw. This mall offers locals, visitors and travellers some contemporary shopping experience with various multinational food outlets such as Sizzlers, Starbucks, KFC and The Pizza Company. On the lower ground floor of this mall, there were some very inexpensive food corner offering local northern food of which one of the distinctive one is “khaosoi” similar to the curry noodles available in Singapore and Malaysia. But I would think that the thai version is much healthier as it adds in lots of other variety such as coriander, mint leaves, pickles, bean sprouts and chillies. The main items of khaosoi is the curly yellow noodles and 2 piece of small chicken drumsticks filled with milky curry. Depending on the cook who prepared the curry, some were much spicier while some milkier. I thought the best version of khaosoi would be the one at KadSuanKeaw food corner. Another noteworthy northern fare is the barbecue sausage which has blend of spicy, salty and sour taste which will really set your appetite tantalised. Apart from shopping and food, this is also where you can take a ride to the Floral Festival with a “rod deang” or red car which is a converted pick-up truck with 2 long benches at the rear of the truck which seats around 10 persons. Tickets can also be purchased from here which located at the open parking area of KadSuanKeaw known as 11C.
The Royal Flora Festival Ratchaphuek was actually not exactly an exhibition on flowers but to showcase the various display of creativity, art works, innovations, food and beverage sales and thai massage services. Various Thailand’s major private corporations, government agencies and also from various countries including ASEAN (Association of South East Asia) countries. Visitors are greeted with some colourful structures and beautiful and colourful flowers from the road leading to the entrance to the flora exhibition. Flowers were being utilised to create gigantic features such as a small boy, a robotic figure and butterfly at the concourse of the entrance to the exhibition. At the large concourse area also display multinational flags on a large and long brick pole with multi levelsmall stairs and a small structure similar to a thai traditional house on the side of the flag pole. The entrance fee cost THB200 per person which has increased from the previous THB100. As the exhibition area is large, visitors have the option to take a ride on the tram with small fee which has 2 cars and you can drop off on preferred locations and then ride again from the selected pick up points but remember to keep the tram tickets as proof of purchase of ride. There is also personal buggy for rent which costs THB600 per buggy and this is good as you get to stop wherever and whenever you want. The 1st stop was the Thai Danish Dairy Farm PCL which created a dairy farm like experience with display of some cows around its display centre that comes with the “mooing” sound effect. Also on display is a large milk box and a red roof top arch with stalls selling of course its range of milk products which was very eye catching. The next was the Rice Department, a government agency’s pavilion. This one displays the real rice field on its display centre, a small garden, exhibition hall on new theory of agriculture farming which is similar to a farm house and ornamental garden. After that was PTT, an oil and gas company which exhibit a nice, clean garden with beautiful display of flowers, a small rice field and a 3D exhibition centre which educate visitors on the benefit of recycling from various sources and how to be self-sustain.Another pavilion display that worth mention was the Land Development Department, yet another government agency. There was an abundance of several flower species on display which were very colourful, fresh, marvellous and exhibit the true objective of this flora festival though it lacks the creativity to create a better and exciting experience.
Laos exhibit its heritage, the Wat built from the wood with it beautifully crafted design on its roof to wall as well as its doors with 2 apsara crafted on each of the openings. There was a small Buddha sculpture on display as well as a TV set and buntings which read Visit Laos 2012. India display a Boddhi Tree at its pavilion and some structures resembling the World Heritage treasure, the TajMahal. Canada display some flowers, several pillars resembling the aboriginal figures as well as a water fall like fountain on the roof top. Nepal has an entrance arch which resembles its ancient temple located in UNESCO Heritage site such as Durbar Square. Thai Beverage PCL, the producer of Beer Chang was one of the grandest pavilion owner over at this Royal Flora Festival and was also a sponsor for this festival. All the beverage stalls at this festival were those from the Thai Beverage range of drink products. It charges fees for entrance to its pavilion which has a gigantic broken like tree main branch and “smoke” billowing from the broken branch which was created from sprinkle of water. Bhutan one of the most isolated country display structures that look like its Royal Family palace with garden, lake and bridge within its pavilion. Other pavilions include the Ground Water Department’s exhibiting on how underground water from hills were extracted. Its exhibition centre include a large replica of hills with houses and buildings scattered in the foot hills with streams and spring falls where water were being extracted for drinking purpose. While visitors walk along the steps of this hill replica, it leads to the lower ground of the centre where there was a real-like display on how the underground water was being extracted and treated to be channelled for household consumptions. Traditional houses from north and south of Thailand were also part of the exhibition in this Royal Flora Festival and which showcase on the real wooden houses which were beautiful with the blend of old time living atmosphere.You can also try out some northern thai food over here including the northern thai sausage known “saioua” which is slightly spicy, sour and salty. Its quite tasty and best eaten with stick rice. The grandest of allpavilion is of course the Grand Pavilion which is a replica of Thailand’s Grand Palace. This pavilion was built from the wood with walls and windows crafted beautifully in various thai designs and with fine finishing painted in gold colours. Inside the palace was a large royal symbol topped by a royal crown. The palace overlooks the boulevard which stretched to the main square of this flora festival at the entrance gate. Over at the square, it was brightly lit with colourful lights which blink to the tunes of musics played during the light and sound show atnight time.
After shower, it was time to explore the night bazaars. There were 3 main night bazaars namely the Warorot Night Bazaar, The Walking Street Night Bazaar which runs only on every Sunday night and the permanent night bazaar which runs throughout the year. First visit of night bazaar shopping was the Warorot Night Bazaar. This night market was indeed the Chinatown of Chiang Mai, similar to the one in Yaowarat in Bangkok but smaller in size. In the morning, this is one of the busiest area in Chiang Mai with locals and visitors/travellers seen moving around the market area to shop for fresh food such as fruits and vegetables, cooked food, daily necessities and shopping for all kinds of items for personal use as well as groceries. At night, Warorot was turned into a walking street bazaar where you can get things for your own use or for your loved ones and friends at budget price. Most of the visitors to this night market are locals. Chains of stalls were set up by the roadside in front of shop buidings over at night and you can walk and check out items which may suit your interests, mostly consumer items like dress, tshirts and souveniers. The fruit stalls which sell mostly oranges, apples, bananas, mandarin oranges and strawberry (its season in December) were also available during the night time and these are permanent stalls where there are also open during the daytime for wet market shoppers. Fruits sold here were in expensive. For 3 big oranges which weigh 1 kg, it costs only THB50 and there are fresh as well. There is a multi level building at Warorot market which closed during night time but stalls were set up at the five foots at the main entrance walkways of this indoor market. Over at daytime, you can get everything from this multi level indoor market from newspaper, fresh or cooked food, praying items, candies, toys, gold jewellery to varieties of packed teas, textiles and grocery items. This market is located very close to the nakhon ping river one of the landmark of Chiang Mai which also house some of the best pub and restaurant outlets such as The Riverside and Best View. Over at the Night Bazaar, this market actually caters to the taste and interests of “farang” or foreigner tourists and travellers. There were some posh accommodation establishments, wetern fast food chain including McDonalds and Starbucks as well as food bazaars which serve range of thai and international food. There were 2 sections of night bazaar stalls one located at the five foot walkways of shops and guesthouses while the other at the food bazaar area. Surprisingly, the crowd were rather less in quantity though it was during the year end holiday season. Many of the crowds were however seen over at the food bazaar instead. I don’t know whether this night bazaar has lost its lustre but if you want to enjoy some relaxation over some food and drinks after a tired day out of exploration, this can be one of the many places to chill out. The Sunday Walking Street is a very large nigh bazaars and you maybe at a lost on where to start and where to end your walking. A good point to start is in front of the WatPhra Singh main gate, one of the must visit temple in Chiang Mai. The market stretches from one end of Ratchadamnoen Road to the other end and from one end of Pinklao Road to other end. Ratchadamnoen and Pinklao Road crossed with each other making it a T junction. There were also several foot and body massage shops within the night market and it’s a good business because shoppers can get so tired walking through the big market and I observed the business were doing very well with most massage seats at all shops were mostly fully occupied. Its inexpensive where some charge THB120 for foot massage. The normal rate at a decent massage establishment would charge between THB180 to THB200.
As you walk along the night market you will also get to see some great wats such as WatChediLuang, WatPhantao and WatPhra Singh. Some of the massage services also operate within the wats’ premises. There were so many items you can buy here from cooked food, snacks, tshirts, souveniers, clothes, bags, decorative items and many more. You can shop here till you drop and prices are within one’s budget.
The next day itinerary was the DoiSuthep where the magnificent WatPhrathat is located. The journey to DoiSuthep can be a little unpleasant when you get up to the foot of the hill with the rod deang . So be prepared for any discomfort feelings if you did not pre-consume any medicine for dizziness. Depending on individuals, some feel alright while others may not. The fee is THB40 for one way for a ride on the rod deang and can be taken from the base of the road just before the journey up to DoiSuthep. Reaching the point where visitors would need to take a ride on a cable car, there were many roadside stalls selling food and drinks. The fees for the cable car up for 2 ways is THB20 and THB30 for entrance to WatPhrathat. At the premise of WatPhrathat, there was a concourse area in front of the entrance to the wat with 2 side entrance. In the middle of the entrance, sculptures of a head monk and fellow monks were placed inside a large altar. The 2 side entrance and the sole altar in the middle each have thai styled roofs with nice wall carvingsover at the top. As one enters inside the pagoda area, the large, tall and beautiful WatPhrathat is located in the middle of the premise surrounded by squared steel grill fence which block visitors from entering into the wat. Worshippers will walk around the squared fence with joss sticks, lotus flower and candle and praying quietly as they walk. Once completed, then the candle and joss sticks would be lighted up and placed on designated place. You can have photo taken by the professionals with a fee depending on the size preferred. WatPhrathatDoiSuthep in my opinion is the most grandwat found in Chiang Mai and can be sum up as one of the most marvellous wat found within Thailand. The gold coated pagoda was so shining that when taken against the sunlight, it can still be seen in the photo though the sky looked in pale dark blue in the photo taken on a very bright sunny day. Over at the rear of the WatPhrathat, visitors can walk around the open space which overlook nice and beautiful view of the hills and mountains around Chiang Mai. There were also lines of bells placed at this area. Descending from DoiSuthep, next stop was WatPhra Singh which is located right at the start of Ratchadamnoen Road, where the Walking Street night market is located. At the concourse of the wat, is a mid-size rounded square where a standing statue of a woman holding athai traditional umbrella and a water pot all in gold colour where worshippers would pray before proceeded to the main temple building. Inside the wat sits a large golden Buddha statue in the middle of the foremost end of the wat with several other smaller statues placed in front of it with small tables in various heights also seen placed there. There was also an altar on the lower level. All were in golden colours. Unlit yellow candles were place on candleholders which were place on the multiple tables. On the right side of the big Buddha statue was a huge glass decorative panel with mid-size Buddha statue sits inside. In the middle of the open area near to the altar in front of the Buddha statues, another set of Buddha statues were found placed facing the opposite direction with lines of other smaller Buddha statue were placed on a long 2 tiered table covered with white cloth. Hanging from strings tied to the ceilings are the many “tung” a kind of long and thin bunting like white cloth with gold colour side frames and the Chinese calendar’s 12 animals carvings from top to bottom, similar to the one found in Doi Tung in my Chiang Rai blog. The shorter tung consists of THB20 notes from worshippers and each tung from top to bottom can fill up to 5 notes.
Within the wat premise is a white chedi where for those who wanted to further enhanced their wishes could donate small amount of notes to have a small size bottle like water container to be pulled up to the higher level of the chedi and to be spill over the chedi. From WatPhra Singh, walk further down along the Ratchadamnoen Road and noticed that there were quite a few massage and spa shops along this road, which was also turned into a walking street night bazaar every Sunday as mentioned previously. At the intersection of Ratchadamnoen Road is the Pinklao Road where another 2 notable wats, WatPhantao and WatChediLuang are located. WatPhantao was rather distinctive as all the wat’sstructure is made from wood and you can see there is no paintings on the wall of the wat as it is all in its natural wood form. The top of the main door and the top of the 2 windows in front of the wat have special extended carvings each. The top of the main door carvings looked like the thai royal symbol while the windows carvings looked like a combination of thai temple, thai silk and the orchid flower which is Thailand national flower. Inside the wat, there were many black colour pots where normally these are used by the monks when they are out to seek for food in their early morning walkabout. Inside the pot contains small coins like metal. At the end of the wat is the Buddha sculpture which is yellow in colour with 5 other smaller sculpture place in front of it. On the eve of new year, this temple was brightly lit up at its rear with candles and trees hung with lanterns while group of student monks chanting prayers. Those who wanted to make wishes could also hung their wishes here where a chedi like structure was set up for such purpose. On the side of the wat, there were many colourful tung hung out making the compound look bright and interesting. Moving on from WatPhantao is the WatChediLuang, another important temple in Chiang Mai and having one of the oldest chedi within Chiang Mai. The design of the wat is rather similar to WatPhra Singh, where the top of the entrance door of the wat with heavy carvings of flower like designs in gold colour. Inside the ubosot there was a long thick wooden bench located on the left side near the windows with notes in tungs hanging from the strings hung on the upper level just above the head. There were several large poles on the left side of the ubosot with flowery paintings on the poles in gold colour. Few lamps in yellow lights can be seen fixed to the ceiling of the ubosot. The main door was carved with a picture of an apsara and while one enters the ubosot, one will be greeted with a Buddha sculpture right at the front door of the ubosot. At the end of the ubosot, in the middle section, instead of the usual position, the Buddha sculpture was in standing position instead of seating position. There were several other smaller Buddha sculptures placed in front of the huge standing Buddha sculpture. At the rear of WatChediLuang is where the partly damaged old chedi was located. This chedi has a rectangle base which were built very high from the ground surrounded by 4 staircases on each side of the rectangle to get to the chedi main area. The summit of the chedi has been damaged by an earthquake in B.E. 2088.
The next morning, before checking out from White Chalet, visited WatChaimongkol which located on the river bank of Nakhon Ping river. Actually, there’s nothing much distinctive about this wat other than its location where there’s a pier at the front of the wat (the rear entrance is meant for non-water vehicles) where boat ride to the Chiang Mai city is possible from here. As one enters the wat, the 1stencounter will be the chedi instead of the ubosot or viharn. This chedi was smaller if compared with the few others in the old city area. The lower level of the chedi was white in colour while the upper level is gold in colour with carvings. The lower level was covered with yellow cloth while the middle level with pink cloth. There were 2 Buddha sculptures inside the ubosot on a back to back position. On the left and right side of the main Buddha sculpture were 2 royal umbrella placed on.
Moving on from WatChaimongkol, next was yet another must visit WatJedyod. This wat is different from all other wats found in Thailand and from the structure of the wat, it can be observed that this was one of the oldest wat seen in Thailand. The viharn was not the usualwat building structure with triangle roof with carvings. It was in a rectangular shape with a flat top. It was built with piles of bricks that had looked centuries old withsubstantial number of Buddha carvings on the brick walls seen on them. Right at the front of the viharn is a very large tree resembling the Boddhi tree and for those who would want to extend their donations, they can write their names on white colour sticks made available for such purpose and to be placed on the branch of the big tree. At the front of the viharn is the altar of Buddha sculpture place on the inner part of the viharn. Worshippers can pray here by lighting up and placing candle sticks and also the lotus flower. On the flat top of the viharn were 7 peaks, in which how the wat got its name because 7 mean Jed in thai. The wat surroundings were covered with trees and 2 chedis were observed within the premise of the wat, one smaller and the other larger in size. At the rear of the viharn, there was an opening entrance where a golden Buddha statue was placed here. It looked very much like a cave inside here and distinctive from the other wats in Thailand. It was quite a small area but the height was quite tall. The Buddha statue was placed on an inner part of the wall inside this small hall and wrapped with a gold and yellowish clothe over the body.
After WatJedyod, it was then time to returned and checked out from White Chalet and head to Tanita House. Tanita House is a unique family-run guesthouse and consists of cluster of Lanna styled traditional wooden houses within the boundary of the guesthouse. The owner of this guesthouse stays within the cluster of these Lanna styled wooden house as well and they were several of them including the mother and her 2 daughters including one of them named KhunAor, who has been helpful and friendly. She is assisted by her elder sister and group of guesthouse workers. Tanita House is located on the Charoen Raj Road just behind Nakhon Ping River and within walking distance to Warorot Market. The family stay on the upper level of the largest wooden house among the guesthouse while on the ground level was separated into 2 areas, one as a pantry for guests to have breakfast with a fridge which keeps the milk, juices and drinking water and cabinet that keeps the glasses, cups, fork, spoons, knives, sugar, tea and a coffee blender as well as bread and butter. So breakfast basically is DIY while the KhunAor and her workers would prepare the bacon and scramble egg once you placed the order. There is a section for internet usage within the pantry. The other ground floor section is utilised as gallery for some woodwork furniture and accessories. Just right in front of the pantry is a small garden where guests can have a sit to chat or just to relax or read books.The room itself has been very interesting and spacious enough for 2 person on a queen size bed. All the structures of the house are made from wood. The cupboard for wardrobe is also made from wood. Outside the house is a small verandah with 2 chairs and a table where you can relax, chatting and have coffee, tea or beer. Inside, other than a comfortable wooden structure bed and the cupboard, there is also a long chair for one to lie on to read books or just to relax. The bathroom is spacious and without the standard long bath tub and has an open concept with a shower at one corner of the bathroom. On the side of the bed,there’s a wooden slide window which has a large glass panel covering the whole window’s area. You can slid the window open to let natural lights in and slid it close when you go to sleep. At the back of the bed are 2 wooden window openings with glass window frame attached to ensure that air will not get out from the house when air-condition is switched on. Nearby Tanita House is WatKetKaram, which is very beautiful as the viharn building is fully and massively crafted with various figures and designs. It has a huge chedi with yellow cloth wrapped around it on the lower level and a Lanna styled traditional house within its compound.Celebrating the new year in Chiang Mai turned out to be one of the most memorable and exciting experience. Over here, the new year revellers were huge as people from all over be it the locals, thais from other provinces, tourists, farangs and other travellers converged into the various countdown spot including the one at ThaPhae Gate to usher the brand new year and to bid farewell to the current year as it came to an end. One of the best spot to spend some good time prior to the countdown is the John’s Place located within the intersection of ThaPhae and LoiKhro Road. This is a 2 storey (only 1st& 3rd storey) bar & restaurant with the upper floor being the most exciting and great place to have some beers and light food while waiting the time to come. On the 3rd floor, this area is partially roofed where those who seated on the tables on the side of the floor will get to enjoy to watch the crowds as well as night scenes and some of Chiang Mai city’s skyscrapers. Guests can also watch football here played over a sizeable TV good enough to get a close watch of a game while enjoying food and drinks. The best during the new year eve celebration will be, patrons can get to see many of the flying lanterns moving in huge numbers up into the sky as time running up to midnight. Some revellers also light up fireworks to create even much more excitement to the celebration. The flying lanterns, depending on the sizes were sold at between THB30 to THB40 and you should never miss the opportunity to buy one, light it up and make a new year wish before releasing it up to the air hoping that your wish may come true in the new year.
Before the new year’s eve celebration, visited another unique wat named WatUmong. This wat is distinctive because of the the cave like viharn with the chedi located on the upper level of the flat top of the viharn. There were several entrances to get into the viharn, which also has tunnel passageways to get to each of the few altars located at several corners of the viharn. Each altar has a Buddha statue placed on it. Prior to entering the viharn, visitors will be greeted with a pillar by the name of Asoke, which was built in remembrance of King Asoke of India, whom was one of the greatest Buddhist believer whom has help to spread the faith across the world. The viharn itself has been amazing and look very much likesecret war tunnels. At some points, the ground is higher and there were steps to get to the higher level. At some points, visitors would need to bend their body as the ceiling of the viharn can be quite low in particular the altar area where the Buddha statue is placed. Moving on to the upper level of the viharn where the chedi is located, along the way, there were many small Buddha figurines and other character figures scattered on the floor. The chedi was in its original condition and not repainted. It is not too huge and the height not too tall. WatUmong is surrounded by trees and lush greeneries within its territory with a lake where visitors can buy some white bread at the entrance to the wat to feed the fishes. However, there were more pigeons seen around while fishes hardly surfaced.
A short detour to Lamphun to take a brief look at the small town about 30km away from Chiang Mai city was next after a late night new year countdown. To get to Lamphun, you can take the mini bus service at the Warorot Market, where the bus stop is just near the Nakhon Ping riverbanks. It departs every 20 minutes. Lamphun is indeed a very small town with lesser vehicles while crowds is nowhere near Chiang Mai. The main attraction over here is WatHaripunchai. This wat is very similar to WatPhratat at DoiSuthep. The structure of the Chedi is large and with shiny bright gold colour painted over its wall. It is guarded with a square shape metal grills to prevent access to the Chedi. Worshippers are required to walk around the rectangular shape grills that guarded the chedi for 3 times while quietly whispered their wishes that hope to be fulfilled over the year. There were four altars around the chedi’s guard grills and worshippers should place the candles, joss sticks and the chrysanthemum flower on the altar where they 1st started joining the walk around of the wat. The viharn is of medium size and unlike the others, there was no large size Buddha statue inside the viharn but with 5 same size small Buddha structure placed inside the viharn with a sculpture of what could be that of King Athithayarat, one of the king that rule northern thai during the 17th or 18th centuries B.E. In front of the viharn is another smaller chedi, a thin and tall triangular shape structure with multiple level on the wall of the chedi, each level has 4 sides with 3 door like structure found on each side. There was a large bell covered by a large red colour arch located on the open space near the ubosot. On the entrance to the wat, a reclining Buddha can be seen inside the viharn. One particular interesting findings over at Lamphun is the special drinks where the cup is filled with black jelly, topped with broken ice, then filled with evaporated milk and finished up with topping of caramel. This made the drinks creamy, sweet and tasty.
Well, after a good few days exploring Chiang Mai, its time to pack up and get home. The travelling over the couple of days had been tiring but the experience, adventures and excitement will last forever. The train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok on a 1st class sleeper took yet another 14 hours journey but not complaints at all. The train was comfortable, with a comfy, spacious private room to oneself. The bed was good for 2 mid-size couple and can doubled up as a large seat near the aisle. There was also a small tv but not in function and a foldable sink for cleaning up and brushing teeth. It also has a very small rubbish bin located below the small tv area. There were 3 lights available for your convenience during night travel. For THB 1,980, you get what you pay for in which a low cost airline cannot afford you.