It’s over 700 years old and has over 300 temples. The old city is still surrounded by remains of an old city wall and a moat. King Mengrai founded Chiang Mai, which means “new city”, to be the capital of Kingdom of Lanna. The city was very carefully designed to obey all the correct astrological laws. Within the city walls the King built his palace, several temples and accommodation for his followers. None of the original buildings remain, although Wat Chiang Man is said to be where King Mengrai stayed while he was building his city.
The main attraction of the old walled city is the atmosphere. As you stroll through the narrow streets you feel the heart of the people. Looking into the little dark shops you can see girls sewing, men repairing bicycles or watches, some playing cards, others watching TV, old people smoking and children playing. There are also plenty of food stalls where you can taste the noodles, cool fruit juice or some beetles, maggots or other delights. Goods offered are not limited to food you can find here everything you might need from clothes through house equipment to flowers and souvenirs.
I would like to introduce you to one of the legends I found regarding Chiang Mai:
The story has been told for countless generations that the kings of Chiang Mai and Lamphun one day discussed the sensitive question of the uncertain boundary between the two kingdoms. One of them suggested a clever way to define the appropriate borderline that would result in both cities have equal amounts of land. Since there were neither maps nor measuring instruments of any description, they agreed the best way to reach this equality of size was for the kings to travel from their capitals and accept that the point at which they met would be midway between them, and should therefore be the border. Having made the agreement, they then set a date on which this joint venture should be conducted.
On the morning in question, the King of Lamphun awoke early, was arrayed as splendidly as possible for the occasion, and having mounted his royal elephant, awaited the auspicious moment when the train of ruler, troops, pages and entertaining musicians should set out.
On the same morning, the King of Chiang Mai also woke early. Having dispensed with meals and all ceremony, his horse was brought out and – with a handful of trusted soldiers – off he and his party galloped just as fast as they could go.
Of course, having ridden until noon, it was the Chiang Mai royal party that had covered the greater amount of ground, surprising the Lamphun laggards with the inroads that had been made into what they had previously regarded as their territory. But an agreement is an agreement. Accepting that he’d been outsmarted in this battle without weapons, the Lamphun King dismounted from his elephant, put his seal to the border document that then became law, and turned back to the kingdom that had so suddenly been diminished.
I will bring to your attention some of the temples we visited. First of them is Wat Saen Fang. Along Tha Phae Road, you’ll notice a pair of nagas (dragon-like serpents) lining a narrow lane. Following the lane away from the busy street will take you to the quiet compound of Wat Saen Fang. It was built in XIV century (the architecture is late XIX century) and was used as the ho kham (palace residence) of the local ruler, Chao Kawilorot in the 1860s. The Wat has a fairly typical layout, with the east-facing viharn flanking a large chedi to the west. It displays many Burmese details, such as in the shape of the highly decorated chedi with its rainbow of mirroed tiles, or the guardians on the roof of the ordination hall (ubosot). The prayer hall (wiharn) sports an intricately carved front painted in bright red and gold. Behind the wiharn is a large rambling building where the monks are quartered.
Wat Bupparam (วัดบุพพาราม) was founded by King Muang Kaew in 1497. The Burmese-style chedi was rebuilt in 1958, and there is a well nearby which supplies holy water for anointing the King. The site of Wat Buppharam has a historical importance, as it is from here that in 1797 Chao Kawila took back the city of Chiang Mai after 200 years of Burmese rule. At the entrance you are welcomed by the Moms – guardian beasts, and a small Lanna contains a large brick and stucco Buddha over 300 years old. In the surroundings of the temple we found plenty of animal statues as well as live roosters. The detailed carvings and paintings are truly amazing.
The other temples I recommend seeing are: Wat Pa Pao, Chinese Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple and Wat Phuak Hong.
I’ll let you enjoy the slideshow.