Amazing attractions, both in and out of the city
WAT PHRA SINGH: Considered Chiang Mai’s most revered temple, the lavish monastic buildings and immaculately trimmed grounds are testament to the prosperity of this religious landmark. Devotees come to worship Phra Singh (Lion Buddha), housed in Wihan Lai Kham, a small chapel immediately south of the chedi to the rear of the temple grounds. The idol is reputed to have arrived in Thailand from Sri Lanka, and was enshrined in 1367.
WAT CHEDI LUANG: The glorious, towering ruins of a Lanna-style chedi (built in 1441) are what draws so many sightseers, so don’t be surprised to find this landmark crowded at all hours of the day. You can also view a jade replica of the famed Emerald Buddha (currently held in Bangkok’s Wat Phra Kaew), which originally resided in the temple’s eastern niche until 1475. The temple’s other claim to fame is the Làk Meuang (city pillar), allegedly raised by King Mengrai himself when Chiang Mai was founded in 1296.
DOI SUTHEP: Of many well-known temples in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra That—a gilded 14th-century cloister perched 1,676 metres above the city on the side of the mountain known as Doi Suthep—should not be missed. You can drive most of the way up the mountain, but you still have to climb the 306-step naga-lined staircase to reach the summit—where you can admire the amazing views overlooking the city (open daily 7am-7pm).
NIMMANHAEMIN ROAD: Located a little bit to the north and to the west of the main walled downtown city core that most visitors are familiar with, Chiang Mai’s increasingly popular Nimmanhaemin Road district is a thriving hub of hipster activity—definitely the place to see and be seen. The main drag itself, that lies between Huay Kaew Rd and Chiang Rai Rd, can be walked in less than 15 minutes, but within this compact quadrant there exists a mind-boggling concentration of bars, restaurants, bakeries, hotels, art galleries, and specialty stores. And if you’re at all a java junkie, there are some amazing cafés to choose from—many using coffee beans grown in the Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai regions.
If you take your coffee seriously, and you know the difference between a long black and a flat white, then consider Ristr8to (15/3 Nimmanhaemin Rd) ground zero when it comes to finding the best brew in the ’hood. Owner and head barista Arnon ‘Tong’ Thitiprasert is a veritable encyclopedia on the subject of coffee, and his passion for his product shows through in every cup. And in the wake of the success of this neighbourhood favourite, a second branch, called Ristr8o Lab, has opened on Soi 3. Coffee lovers should also seek out Impresso Espresso Bar, a funky and spacious indoor/outdoor coffee venue with a relaxed garden atmosphere (28/1, Soi 11), as well as the recently opened Simple Simple, and The Lost Garden, which uses coffee from farmer in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Once the sun goes down, a seemingly infinite number of drink spots pop out of the woodwork along the main road and on every side street. Two well established anchor points—for beer lovers anyway— are Beer Lab, located on the main road at the corner of Soi 12, and Beer Republic, on Soi 11. Both specialize in premium suds—import draught and craft—and both are pretty much packed every night of the week. And, located right next door to Beer Republic, is El Patio Wine & Pintxos, a fun and funky wine bistro—with indoor and outdoor seating—serving up Spanish tapas, as well as Mediterranean and other Euro-fare.
MAIIAM: For two full years now, Chiang Mai’s status as Thailand’s culture capital of the North has been underscored by the amazing displays of modern art at the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum, located 20 minutes from the centre of Chiang Mai in the Sankamphaneg district. This 3,000 sq.m state-of-the-art museum facility’s permanent collection is known as the ‘Pipitmaya Collection of Thai and Southeast Asian Contemporary Art’, and is an amalgamation of the collections of Jean-Michel Beurdeley (pictured bottom left), Patsri Bunnag and Eric Bunnag Booth (the museum was opened in memory of co-founder Eric’s great, grand aunt Jao Jom Iam—a royal consort to King Rama V). Along with the family’s desire to share their private art collection with the general public, there are also temporary exhibitions here of visual art, design, and fashion on display, and the museum also stages performances, film screenings, lectures, and workshops. Even the building’s exterior is a marvel, with thin mirrored rectangles covering the front façade. The building, which also contains a restaurant and museum gift shop, is open every day except Tuesdays, from 10am-6pm, and admission for adult/student is B150/B100.
ROYAL PROJECTS: Part of the Himalayan mountain range, Doi Inthanon is Thailand’s tallest peak (reaching 2,565 metres above the sea level). There are many sights to see here, such as beautiful waterfalls, spectacular caves, nature trails, and Phra Mahathat Napha Methanidon and Phra Mahathat Naphaphon Bhumisiri, twin pagodas that offer spectacular mountain views. But for those interested in seeing first-hand the lasting legacy of the late King Rama IX’s Royal Projects, a good place to start is the Royal Agricultural Station Inthanon, established in 1979 and located in the village of Khun Klang (a 2.5 hour drive from the city). It’s one of four such stations in Thailand, and was part of His Majesty’s vision to promote farming sustainably as well as diminish poverty and deforestation in Thailand by giving the hilltribes living in these Northern regions knowledge of farming and sharing the latest innovations and technologies with these farmers.
The station now consists of gardens, ponds, nurseries, greenhouses, all of which are places of work as well as a busy tourist attraction. The focus here is on growing mainly temperate vegetables, ornamental flowers, and fruits, as well as farming fish. For the most part the farmers working at the station are members of hilltribe communities, either of Hmong or White Karen ethnicity. One of the main focuses of the Royal Project in Chiang Mai was the cultivation of the coffee bean—a viable alternative to the lucrative opium crops that were originally being farmed in Northern Thailand, especially along the borderlands with neighbouring Laos and Myanmar. Today, Thailand has become a burgeoning producer of coffee on the global market, presently ranked in third place among Asia’s top coffee producers. The Royal Project now encompasses 22 areas that produce Royal Project coffee. In all they produce about 500 tons annually. The coffee is bought from the farmers and sold to roasting companies, but the Royal Project also roasts its own coffee—around 50 tons a year.