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Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:00

Chiang Mai Attractions

Written by  Roberta Sotonoff

Asia-Thailand
Near southeast Chiang Mai, Thailand, the Sankampaeng Hot Springs’ souvenir stand is crowded with locals purchasing raw eggs. A strange Thai tradition? Not really. They cook the eggs in the springs and have a picnic. 

Most Chiang Mai vacationers visit the most popular attractions, such as the elephant camps, the hill tribes and the magnificent hilltop temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. But Destination Asia guide, Khemruthrai (Kim) Sirsak, shows me hidden gems like the springs, Royal Park Rajapruek, Chiang Mai’s ancient lost city and an Edenesque lunch spot.

Special Sites to See

We visited Wiang Kum Kam, the former 13th century capital which was buried after being flooded and abandoned over 700 years ago. The ancient capital was uncovered after its discovery in 1984, revealing 30 sites. Pu Pia temple is named for the man who found the site. Today, locals climb on the
restored temple. 

A horse cart trots along the dusty road to the ancient refurbished temples. First stop is at Wat That Khao which boasts a statue of a Buddha inside another Buddha. Many of the Buddha heads at this site have been reattached. Archeologists date the statues with the heads, but robbers have decapitated them hoping to find gold inside. 

The cart bumps along the road to the 700-plus-year old White Stupa. My eyes scan upward. Its pyramid-shaped external walls contain multitudes of Buddha-encased niches. A solid gold parasol and lightening rod crown it. Note that women aren’t allowed in many Buddhist temples like this one.

Ladies do wander the 240-acre Royal Park Rajapruek built in 2011 for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Located in Chiang Mai’s Mae Hia District, its swelling landscape bursts with a riot of colorful flowers, the scent of orchids and the tinkling sound of waterfalls and fountains. 

On/off park trams transport visitors around the park. One section has giant insect sculptures. Another, the International Gardens, has plots from 30 nations, each reflecting its native heritage. Canada’s segment contains a First Nations totem pole, and Kenya’s looks a bit like an African village. I am struck by the quiet and serenity each garden exudes.

A long, pink, terra cotta path leads to the Lanna- styled royal museum, Ho Kham Royal Pavilion, with its of two V- shaped, clay-tiled, sloped roofs. The patterned landscape, statues and reflecting pool are a jaw-dropping sight from the terrace of the pavilion. The museum houses the king’s treasures. Learn about his life by checking out the coins minted for special milestones.

Lunch is nearby at the outdoor Khamao-Khaofang Restaurant. Visitors enjoy its amazing tropical setting of waterfalls, a lake, vibrant orchids and gardens. The food is as luscious as the surroundings, especially the Pad Thai, fried rice served in a pineapple, and the watermelon shake. 

Spa and Shopping

It is late in the day when I arrive at Sankampaeng Hot Springs. Fumaroles erupt out of the earth, filling the air with mist, warmth and the smell of sulfur. Locals are everywhere posing for pictures, picnicking, soaking their feet in the ponds or going to the baths. Some dip their feet in the fish pond to have a “fish pedicure.” It is a memorable experience. As I dangle my feet in the pool, fish nibble away at my feet and legs. Once I adapt to it, the little munchers feel pretty good. My feet and calves emerge so much smoother.

In the early evening, I abandon the lovely scenery for some retail therapy at the crowded night markets with blocks and blocks of open stalls. There always seems to be more vendors hawking spices, knock-off purses and scarves, T-shirts, clothes, leather, souvenirs, and whatever else you might choose. The vendors are not pushy. Many times they keep an eye on their stall while eating dinner or chatting with their neighbors. Bargaining is a given. I come away with cashew nuts, toys and some silk change purses. 

The markets are part of the Thai culture, which is also filled with unique traditions and rituals. If you get a chance to join the picnickers in the springs or peek at a wedding, don’t pass it up. I got to eavesdrop on a wedding from the restaurant at the RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort (www.raitlannachiangmai.com). Wedding guests hang messages to the newlyweds on a makeshift clothesline, and then dine without the bride and groom present. Later, the bride and groom come floating down the river on a brightly lit, decorated boat. They step onto the pier amid billowing smoke and bubbles, while guests throw flower petals. In another tradition, the groom pours champagne down a tower of glasses to be given to special guests.

Visitors should try to squeeze in some extra time in Chiang Mai to experience these attractions. You may even get to see a wedding. Visit www.tourismthailand.org

 

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