Thailand – Chiang Mai – Historic District

This city, founded in 1296, is in the north near the highest mountains of Thailand.   It is the capital of the Chiang Mai province.  The city was fortified with a moat and defensive wall due to threats from the neighboring country of Burma (now known as Myanmar) and the spread of the Mongol Empire.

A nighttime photo of the historic wall and moat around the historic district.
Today, the area near the fortified wall is a place to escape the heat of the day and socialize with neighbors at night.

I have to say, in all honesty, I was disappointed with the historic district. I had a vision of narrow streets from days gone by.  This wasn’t the case.  The main street, Th Ratwithi, is one shop after another offering all kinds of trekking tours, which Chiang Mai is well known for being so close to the mountains…you can go kayaking, rock climbing, mountain biking, and hiking to name a few activities.  There are a variety of restaurants…Irish Pubs, Mexican, a few Thai.  It was crowded and didn’t appear to have much for historical interest.

We did visit a couple of temples.  One was Wat Pan Pang which is approximately 542 years old.  Unfortunately, in 2002, the Vihara (Buddhist monastery) was destroyed due to an electrical shortage.

Photo credit

The Religious Affairs Department paid for the restoration, along with the 1 million Bhat (approximately $32,200.00 US today) that the people raised. Eight years after the fire, in 2010, the renovations were completed. This is what the Vihara looks like today.

When we were there, the Vihara was open but we were not certain if it was opened to the public, so didn’t go in.

There is very little information about this temple in books or on the internet. So, I will let the pictures that I share speak for the lack of words that I can find.

The entrance to the Vihara. You can make out the Buddha statue in the background. In the report I read about the fire, it was mentioned that the statue was not harmed. I believe this might be the statue of Buddha that they were referring to.
This small and elaborate building is the most sacred on the grounds. It is the Ubosot and special ceremonies are held here. Often, it is locked and there are usually signs saying women are not allowed inside.
These makaras, which means sea dragons, are at the entrance to the Ubosot. If look closely, you will see that they are regurgitating a naga. Nagas are usually found throughout temples guarding the building entrances. Buddhist legend says that the naga king, Muchalinda, sheltered Buddha, while he was meditating, from the rain for seven days.

There are two night markets that happen in Chiang Mai. The Saturday Night Walking Market is on Wualai Road near the southern part of the old wall and moat. The Sunday Night Walking Market follows Tha Pae down to Ratchadamneon Rd. It appears to be almost in the center of the Old City. We didn’t visit the Sunday Market, which is supposed to be the more popular one. We did go to Saturday Night’s market and that was very busy. I cannot imagine what the Sunday night market would be like.

You can find just about anything you want or need at the Saturday night market. There are booths of mass marketed souvenirs, crafts from the hill tribes, clothes, entertainment and always, a variety of food.
This dance was telling an ancient story. I wish I knew what it was about but it was fun to watch.
These vegetarian dumplings were delicious.

I took us a couple of hours to walk around and see all that was offered. After a while, the crowds just got to be too much to continue to navigate. We decided to head back to our apartment. On our way back, we stumbled on this gem of a temple – Wat Sri Suphan, the Silver Temple, established in 1502. This temple is located in the part of the Old City that was once where the silver craftsmen had their shops.

As we walked through the gate, we saw this building, the Viharn. It doesn’t have an exterior of silver. From my research, I learned that inside there are panels of silver that line the walls. These panels tell the story of the previous lives of Buddha, the moral and ethical lessons. We didn’t go inside as there was some kind of a meeting being held.

We didn’t go back to the Silver Temple during the day. I am certain there was so much more to see but I enjoyed the special affect that the lights had on the buildings and seeing the monks come out of the Ubosot the night we were there.

In all honesty, we didn’t spend much time in the Old City of Chiang Mai. I am certain that my impressions of it would be changed if we had more time to spend exploring. I would definitely encourage you to visit the city and form your own impressions. The whole area has much to offer, which I will share in my next post.

Until then, I wish you sparkles and joy.

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