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This morning, we left Bangkok for the one hour flight to Chang Mai in Northern Thailand. Chang Mai is known for its beautiful temples and as the gateway to the mountainous regions of Thailand’s North. Chang Mai is also quickly becoming a really cool, hipster place to live, given it’s cost of living and its relaxed vibe. Located along the banks of the Ping River [meaning Strong], the city is very livable and easy to visit, given that the main temples and markets all lie within the old city walls, which is an area of just one square mile. Chang Mai is over 700 years old. The city stands 1,000 feet above sea level in a valley that is divided by the Ping River. For seven centuries, this city was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and it’s isolation allowed it to develop a culture all it’s own.
We checked into the stunning five star boutique hotel, The Sala Lanna. The hotel is located right on the banks of the Ping River. It has a gorgeous outdoor space, with paper lanterns, a dipping pool and an outdoor furniture layout and restaurant all decorated in various shades of white that makes you feel like you are at the Shore Club in Miami Beach. We were upgraded to a room with a unbelievable balcony overlooking the outdoor space and the river. This hotel rivals anywhere we have stayed around the world. Beautiful.
Our guide took us to a local Chang Mai restaurant [the grandmother was the chef], where we were treated to homemade Thai sausages, ground spicy pork with basil, papaya salad and ribs. Chang Mai is known for it’s sticky rice. We used the sticky rice to pick up our food and eat by hand. For desert, I would highly recommend mango with sticky rice. The sticky rice has a nice layer of sweet coconut milk poured over it to give it more of a Tapioca texture and flavor.
After lunch, we went to two of the temples in the old city, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. Wat Phra Singh is known for three monuments: The Library, chedi and the Wiham Lai Kham. The most beautiful building there is the small Phra Wihan Lai Kham build in 1811, the wooden building’s front wall is decorated with gold flowers and a red lacquer base. There are murals all around the building that focus on the Buddhist stories of Prince Sang Thong and the tale of the Heavenly Phoenix.
To the East of Wat Phra Singh is the Wat Chedi Luang, a temple built in 1401 that was left damaged by a violent earthquake in the mid-1500s. What is left is quite impressive. The main pagoda stood initially at 295 feet, but after the earthquake it was reduced to 140 ft. There were 28 very large elephants around the perimeter of the temple – only one original badly damaged elephant remains. There are others that are reproductions of the original today. The temple has never been rebuilt, but parts of it have been restored to reflect how it must have looked. There is one giant gum tree at the entrance of the wat. Legend has it that when the gun tree falls, so will the city of Chang Mai. In recognition of the tree’s significance, the city’s boundary stone [the spirit of Chang Mai is said to live within the stone], is placed near the base of the tree.
Chang Mai is known for it’s lacquerware, it’s Celadon ceramics, wood carvings, umbrella making and silverwork. Our guide took us to where they make lacquerware and we watched as craftsmen worked on bowls and animal shapes, jewelry and other products, using a process that has been passed down from generation to generation. Thai lacquerware uses bamboo or teak as the wood base and then they painstakingly paint on seven layers of black resin from the Lak tree as the coating material. Then they hand paint, add gold leaf or use patterns created on paper to create designs on products such as elephant statues, bowls, plates, jewelry or beautiful boxes. We purchased two elephants that were hand painted with various shades of red, gold, blue and yellow. We also stopped at the Chang Mai Celadon shop, where we watched artisans producing glazed ceramics, not only in the traditional green that Celadon is known for, but in multiple designs and colors that were hand painted designs. We purchased a vase with a dragon design going through it with the traditional green background. Any stop to Chang Mai would not be complete without stopping to see their artisans at work. The handcrafted designs and workmanship that we saw today will die out, as family members are no longer interested in learning the craft.
We visited the sacred Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chang Mai’s main temple. The temple is still a working monastery, dating back to the 14th century. We climbed up 309 stairs up the side of the mountain on the Naga Serpent Staircase, a spectacular staircase encased with two serpent heads at the beginning and their tails wrapping the staircase from start to finish. We were fortunate enough to be there around sunset, when the monks gather and chant their beautiful melodies. It was so incredibly peaceful. Passing through to the main part of the monastery, you will see shrines and golden spires and the evening light over one of the best panoramic views you will have of Chang Mai.
Overall, it was a spectacular first day in Chang Mai. Tomorrow, the elephants! FK

By |2017-03-01T22:17:56+00:00February 27th, 2017|News|0 Comments

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