Want to see more than the usual in Chiang Mai? Here are nine off-the-beaten-track attractions to addby Percy Roxas
1. Doi Inthanon
From Chiang Mai city, take Highway No. 108 on Chiang Mai-Hod Road to Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest elevation at 2,599 meters above sea level, on Chomg Thong district. The “doi” enjoys a year-round cool climate and boasts attractions such as the Royal Air Force Radar Station and the King Inthawichayanon stupa. The road to the top is scenic, and the view is awesome. Visitors can also camp, walk trails, see the waterfalls, and enjoy other activities.
2. More in Chom Thong
On the way down, drop by Phra Mahathat Napha Methanidon and Phra Mahathat Naphadon Phumsiri on Km 41.5. Built to commemorate the fifth cycle birthdays of Their Majesties, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, the two pagodas enshrine the ashes of Lord Buddha, and some Buddha images overlook the exhilarating scenery of Doi Inthanon. Also drop by Ban Rai Phai Ngam, famous for high-quality traditional cotton weaves; Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong on Km 58, a Burmese-style chedi that houses a highly revered bronze Buddha; and Wat Phar That Doi Noi, a hilltop temple built by Queen Jamathevi in 658 AD.
3. Ganesha Museum and Sanpatong Temples
On Highway 108, in Doi Lo, is the Ganesha Museum on Km 35. Said to be the only such museum of its kind in Thailand, it was built by Banthom Teerakanont, one of Thailand’s leading devotees of the Indian god Ganesh. Nothing fancy here, but there are three rooms full of 1,000 Ganesh statues, paintings, gemstone pictures, and other Ganesh images made from metal, wood, and papier mâché. A visit here will give you a glimpse of how Thais show devotion to a Hindu god, which only reflects their basic religious tolerance.
From Ganesha Museum, drive toward the main highway for Sanpatong, passing by idyllic rows of green fields and old Lanna houses. Interesting stops should include the sacred statue of Luang Po Pech at Wat Nong Pan Ngerm (Moo 13, Yu Wah sub-district), where scores of ancient Buddha images are located. Two other temples worth visiting: Wat Pa Charoen Tham, with its park-like temple grounds and a large reclining Buddha; and Wat Sri Nawarat, home to an 18th-century teakwood Buddha image that is also famous for its beautiful murals inspired by the King Rama V-era tale of Phra Suthon and Manorah.
4. Wieng Tha Kan
Wieng Tha Kan, an ancient walled city dating to the Haripunchai period is located on Km 34. Excavations here have unearthed Buddha images, earthen amulets, brown jars and bones, and Chinese porcelains from the Yuan Dynasty circa 1280–1368. The ancient ruins were not as grandiose as those in Ayutthaya or Sukhothai but they definitely add to the mystique of this charming little, but not so often visited, place.
5. Dok Mai Garden
Dok Mai Garden, the agricultural tourism destination in Nam Phrae District is a private tropical botanical garden developed by the Seehamongkol family in collaboration with Western scientists. The garden covers four hectares and has more than 1,000 plant species and a number of free-living butterflies, birds, reptiles, and fish. The place also hosts seminars, excursions, and conducts special courses related to gardening.
6. Ban Roi An Phan and Baan Thawai
Also on the same route is Ban Roi An Phan Yang, an exhibition center for antiques and woodcarving masterpieces. Then, on Km 15, Chiang-Mai-Hod Road, there’s Baan Thawai—famous for imitation antiques and woodcarvings—a major cultural attraction in Chiang Mai for many years. The shopping village is a cooperative endeavor of about 70 or so local families.
7. Supha Museum
Supha Museum on Km 14, houses a museum with, again, a great collection of Lanna arts. If you have not yet seen the range of arts and crafts that prove the rich cultural breadth of the Lanna kingdom, this is one of the places to go. Built in 1999 by a local named Supha Limsakdakul, the museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
8. Baan Muang Goong Pottery Village
Baan Muang Goong Pottery Village, on Km 10, Hang Dong, is a major pottery center. Feast your eyes on highly prized items such as celadon, produced in many forms: jars, pots, and other decorative items. A few more stops in the other major thoroughfares of Han Dong, and you will enjoy houses of great architectural beauty, along with run-down factories, and chic manufacturing shops and display complexes, all in this district.
9. Mountain Enclave of Mae Kampong
If you still have more time, visit Ban Mae Kampong—a typical Northern Thai village with unique culture, customs, and dialect—nestled in the heart of the lushly forested mountainous area of Chiang Mai. Mae Kampong has been a favorite backdrop for many Hollywood films, and there are nature trails, a viewpoint some 480 meters above sea level, and waterfalls. The village offers complete breakaway from the modern world. Homestays are available for overnight stays.