Monday, July 23, 2007

Introduction to Chiang Mai

If you are reading this guide in my office then you are sitting some 300 metres above sea level. That mountain which you see with the sun setting over the golden temple is ‘Doi Suthep’….. Doi in the Northern Thai dialect is the word for mountain and Suthep – means ‘hermit or angel’. The mountain is some 1700 metres above Chiang Mai. You are roughly some 800 kilometres Northwest of Bangkok…and somewhat 300 kilometres from Myanmar.If you are somewhere else – then you really do not know what you are missing and the following is a very personal account of the city based on many of my own experiences. Do try to come and visit us. However you may travel to Bangkok – we are then just over an hours flying time away. If you prefer a bus or train then you can make an overnight journey.A lot of other better and more comprehensive guides than this one will give you further details, but for starters…Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city. The Ping river runs thorough the town. Chiang Mai has some 300 Wats or Temples. The Population has roughly 250,000 folk including my Mum, Cassie Bon-Bon the family sheep dog and me.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

When To Visit Chiang Mai

Naturally, your own preferences and circumstances will determine just when you are able to come to Chiang Mai but the following may provide you with some additional information to help you decide: Many Guide Books will tell you that there are three weather seasons:

Cool October – Mid-February
Summer Mid-February – May
Rainy May - October

To some extent this is true but having seen the world weather ‘Upside-down’ during the past year…the dates should be treated as just that…a Guide.

Chiang Mai, and the surrounding mountains, being some metres above sea-level certainly cause lower, daily temperatures than the rest of Thailand . In fact if you are out-and-about in the early hours of the morning – it can be quite nippy as can be seen by watching many of the Thai’s wearing anoraks and scarves as they ride their motorbikes to work. The days however are dry, warm and sunny. This as far as the number of tourists visiting, full-flights and higher price tariff at hotels and guest houses is The High Season. I carefully use the word Higher rather than High with regard to Price tariff, as compared with accommodation prices in Europe and North America – these will provide a welcome, refreshing economic contrast. Check them out and see!

If you like it HOT…then this may be the time for you. Do be careful though as when the season cranks up…..there is no respite of cool mornings and you may end up spending most of your time either in the swimming pool or walking around air-conditioned Tesco-Lotus all day.

Sometime around mid-June, the first of the rain showers may come. Strange though it may seem – they can be quite refreshing as they do cool things off nicely as it is still very hot. Also it is rare that you will encounter a ‘Rainy-Day’… rather many heavy showers and perhaps a spectacular electrical thunderstorm in late-afternoon or evening. The Rainy Season coincides with the Buddhist Lent. During this time many new Monks will be ordained and apart from their daily excursion from the Wat or Temple ...the Monks need special dispensation to travel. This dates back many, many years to a time when there were many ‘Walking’ or travelling Monks. As it is also the time when the rice seedlings are growing in the Paddy-fields – the arrangement to help the farmers.. has become a tradition. If you are looking for even cheaper prices and lots of availability on flights and accommodation then this may be the time to come - as it is Low Season.

There are many Festivals and Holidays throughout the year – both Buddhist and Public and the following are some of them:

New Year
Thai’s are very enthusiastic and participative in both their own Festivals and also those of other cultures. They celebrate three New Year Holidays. Be aware that many offices may be closed for some or all of the days, most forms of transport will be full and some hotels and guest-houses have a special New Year tariff and in-house celebratory meal on the day.

Western New Year
– If the partying in my office is anything to go by then the last working day before the 1st ..will be the Office Party. The Girls lay on an incredible Northern Thai food-spread, sometimes have a few wobbly-pops, and for sure the TV and Kareoke machine blaring. Any and all passer-bys are roped in and it becomes very jolly. Gifts and cards are exchanged and the girls will then head home to their home-town – Lampang, on the last bus to be with their families for the New Year.

Chinese New Year – This year 9th February. All Thai’s celebrate but especially those of Chinese lineage who will return to their home-towns for the festival.

Songkran – Thai New Year. Celebrated in Chiang Mai from 13th –15th April.

Many things in life should be experienced at least once and perhaps this is one of them The tradition… to lightly sprinkle water over a person’s head and wish them “Sawadee Bee Mai” “Happy New Year” …has become a three days of out-and-out water warfare between anything and everything that moves, in the streets of Chiang Mai, being drenched in water. Everything is fair game and you will see roof-less Tuk-Tuk’s, Pick-ups and Songtiows trying to circle the town…full of very wet folk… water guns… water barrels…and buckets! It is either your dream come true to party.. or a good time head for the hills as Chiang Mai is grid-locked for 3 days.

Other Festivals
Flower Carnival 4th – 6th February
If you like flowers...then this is it....millions of them, plus a big parade and
beauty pageant in Nong Buak Hat Park in the Old City .

Doi Suthep Pilgramage Night of 11th May
Thousands of pilgrims walk with lighted candles up each and every one of the 7 kilometres to Doi Suthep. If you think that this is no big deal... wait until you drive up the mountain in your mini-bus.

Visakha Bucha Day May 12th May
Commemoration of the life, birth, enlightenment and death of Lord Buddha.

Loy Krathong – Yee Pang November 2 nights of the full moon
This is an especially beautiful festival. Lighted candles are placed outside of most houses, the sky is filled with mini hot-air balloons and fireworks and Krathongs, reef-like garlands of leafs, flowers, candles and joss-sticks are made or bought and floated on the Ping River . There are is a big parade with the floats made up to look like Krathongs.

Please check this year’s dates for some of the above festivals,for like Easter..they do change from year to year.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Walled City

The original walled city was made in the 13th Century. Some 90,000 labourers were involved. This is now the ‘Old City’ and is surrounded by remnants of the original wall….much of which you can still see and a canal (Klong), which forms a very useful way of finding where you are at any one time. Bit like getting lost is a maze really….just put your left or right shoulder to the wall (in this case klong) and keep walking. Eventually you will come to the exit. There are five ‘Gates’ : Thapae (closest to my office); Chiang Mai, Suan Proong, Suan Dawk and Chang Puak. The whole area of the Old City is some four square Kilometres. The Thai word for Gate – is Pratu.Now here is a curious thing – Cassie, the Sheep Dog, is a great traveller. Any time that there is an even remote possibility of a ride in the back of the pick-up…she is the first in line. For what ever reason, and believe me..I have looked into it…there is something about the road that leads to Thapae Gate that gives her the willies. The dog howls every time that we go up Thapae Road. Put it down to dormant images of those 90,000 labourers still beavering away today or whatever but it certainly makes her unhappy.As far as you and I are concerned Thapae Gate is a treasure trove of enjoyable activity, lots of cafes and bundles of second-hand bookshops and on Sunday evening is literally your gateway to The Walking Street Market.One of the best ways of finding your way around is pop into the office and to buy what my Girls call…The Nancy Map. The actual name is the ‘Nancy Chandler Map of Chiang Mai’. It provides graphic details of both the town and nearby attractions and comes complete with a small guidebook.Someone once described Chiang Mai as the ‘Oxbridge’ of Thailand. Certainly the CMU campus is enormous with all of the Faculty’s located west of the town on the run-up to Doi Suthep.