Sun, 14 Oct 2001

Places of interest: Museums, handicrafts and markets

Among the most famous sights to visit are Chiang Mai's glorious temples Wat Suan Dok (built in a 14th century pleasure garden) and Wat Chet Yot (built in 1447 by Lanna architects recently returned from Buddhagaya, the site of the Buddha's enlightenment in northern India over 2,500 years ago).

Chiang Mai National Museum offers an overview of Lanna Thai culture, including works of art, war weapons and ancient Buddha images. Located in a modern Thai style building, the museum has reorganized and modernized its exhibits in recent years. The first floor is devoted to history, and the second floor has displays on both religion and subjects such as trade and health.

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, perched high on the flank of the hill, 1,000 m above sea level, is billed as Chang Mai's most famous temple. The pagoda in its center contains some of the relics of the Lord Buddha. The temple is visited throughout the year by thousands of tourists and Buddhist pilgrims from all over the world.

Chiang Man temple: Built in 1296, it is as old as Chiang Mai and the oldest in the city.

Wat Phra Sing, Chiang Mai's most famous temple after Doi Suthep -- and probably the most lovely -- dates back to 1345.

Mae Sa Butterfly Farm and Orchid Farm where a large variety of beautiful butterflies are bred. The farm's gift shop sells framed butterfly specimens, a wide variety ever blooming orchids and jewelry made from fresh flowers electroplated in gold. Chiang Mai's mountainous conditions are perfect for growing orchids.

If you want to know more about the native wildlife of the area, try the Chiang Mai Zoo on KM 4 on the Huay Kaew Rd. Author Oliver Hargreaves called it the "best zoo in Thailand" and praised its gibbon and deer collections. The zoo is large and allows cars, and on the weekends animals are brought out of their enclosures to allow the public a closer look.

Another curiosity is The Foreign Cemetery, on Old Chiang Mai- Lamphun road. It has a statue of Queen Victoria and is home to "some of Chiang Mai's most notable Western residents", Hargreaves writes in Exploring Chiang Mai -- City, Valley and Mountains.

If you like shopping, Chiang Mai boasts good shopping places for paper umbrellas, celedon and other delicate ceramics, dazzling gems and jewelry, all sorts of silverware, Thai silk, woodcarvings, antiques and furniture.

The largest and most popular of the local handicraft factories are situated along a 13 km stretch of the Chiang Mai - Sankampaeng Road. Both sides of the road are lined with factories and showrooms.

Another place of interest in Sankampaeng road is Bor Sang, a famous village which sells cotton umbrellas and paper parasols hand-painted in variety of floral and animals designs.

Generations of Bor Sang families have been engaged in umbrella and parasol making for over 200 years.

And, of course, like all parts of the world, there are megamalls. Kad Suan Kew is a popular mall for young people, and is home to shops, restaurants, a food center and entertainment venues. But is this the reason you came to Chiang Mai?

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