Thailand’s fourth largest city, and one of the most popular with tourists, Chiang Mai is relatively quieter, cooler and less humid than Bangkok and more enjoyable for it. A day there wasn’t enough, particularly as I spent half of it catching up with a friend from Auckland who had moved there to set up a cafe with his Thai girlfriend, but I did get to explore the old town and visit an art temple on the way to the Laos border the following day.
The historical heart of Chiang Mai is a walled city surrounded by a 6.5km moat dating from the 14th century.
There is a gate on each side of the walled city, of which Thapae Gate is a good example.
Inside the walled city are around 30 temples and plenty of old buildings, it’s a pleasant place to wander around.
The most colourful temple I visited was Wat Phra Singh, which had a stunning interior. The temple dates back to 1345 but was extensively renovated in the 1920s after falling into disrepair, with further restoration work undertaken in 2002.
My favourite temple was Wat Phan Tao, despite it being a part ruin. Started in the 14th century it took over a hundred years to build to more than 80m high, only for the top 30m to collapse after an earthquake in 1545. Despite the damage is it still an impressive structure with wonderfully carved snake and elephant statues that survived.
Wat Chedi Luang was an attractive neighbour to Wat Phan Tao.
15km from Chiang Mai is the mountain of Doi Suthep, topped at 1,073m with the temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Reaching it involves climbing 309 steps, but it was worth it to explore this beautiful place, one of the holiest and most popular pilgrimage sites in Thailand. The temple dates from the 14th century, with many additions being made over the years.
There were great views of the low-rise Chiang Mai below.
A bonus of visiting at the end of the day was a procession of monks arriving to pray, quite a special moment.
My final stop in Thailand was Wat Rong Khun or the White Temple, a surreal piece of art in the form of a Buddhist temple. Opened in 1997 it replaced the original derelict Wat Rong Khun.
The Predator coming out of the ground was unexpected!
To finish with the toilet block there, easily the most golden I’ve ever come across…