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Life in Chiang Mai  


A Chiang Mai Top Ten

By Jai Pee
Chiang Mai – Rose of the North – straddling the wonderful river Mae Ping and nestling on the flood plain of the river surrounded on three and a half sides by hills and mountains – what is it that makes this city – Thailand’s second largest – so attractive? Reflecting on this my thoughts turned to an old teenage love of mine – the Hit Parade or Top Ten, an essential element in my formative years in the UK! So here are my personal choices for the Top Ten features that make this city so attractive.

When I moved here over 5 years ago one of the first things I noticed was the relative calm and deep spirituality of most of the people. I had come from Pattaya via Bangkok so the contrast was amazing – no, staggering. Here people got on with their daily lives without thinking money, money, money; people had strong religious and philosophical beliefs that were apparent in all they did. And I found the Thai smile to be quite genuine! A second great feature of life here is to be able to share in what is left of the former Lanna kingdom with its unique culture and lifestyle. There are reminders everywhere – the moat and remnants of the walls; the ‘galae’ – bird shaped cross lintels that ornament so many of the buildings; the traditional dress and dancing; and the lanterns that adorn the many trees in public places. These features lead to the third item on my list stemming from this older culture which is the strong sense of community that exists here. People know each other and gather together, not just on important religious occasions but when folk are in trouble, ill or in need of support. Add to this my fourth choice which is the rich and varied mix of the people living in the area; among the native Thais are many mountain people who come into the city to work – tribal names such as Lisu, Hmong, Aka and Galiang and many others abound. And then the Thai Yai people often displaced from Myanmar, add something quite unique to give this region to make up a truly rich diverse pattern of lifestyles and cultures - colorful, contrasting, harmonious and ever-changing.

My fifth choice is the magnificent array of temples throughout the area – from the hilltop shrine of Doi Suthep through to the multitude of beautiful temples of the inner city - Chiang Mai celebrates its religious philosophy in a blaze of architectural color, climaxing in the many festivals in which every community participates openly – with visitors made to feel an integral part of each event. Number six on my list is the music of Jarun Manopet, the singer-songwriter now sadly deceased, many of whose marvelous songs are deeply rooted in the culture of the area in which he lived for many years – ‘Lawng Mae Ping’, ‘Sau Chiang Mai’ and dozens of others can be heard in so many of the restaurants and bars – and so my seventh choice will come as no surprise when I choose Jarun’s former business partner singer Soontaree Vechanon whose palatial restaurant is a monument in itself and where, each night, this celebrated diva of the north herself can be heard singing his songs with great devotion as diners enjoy traditional northern food surrounded by giant lanterns and magical views of the river.

My eighth listing is the abundance the craft villages that surround the city, each specializing in different types of local industries and each one offering the visitor an insight into the practicing of local skills. Bo Sang, with its handmade and hand-painted parasols and Baan Tawae with its vast array of beautifully carved furniture are just two of the many villages scattered around the city. Number nine takes us further afield to the wonderful attractions that can be found in the nearby hills – not just temples and palaces, but magical waterfalls, working elephant villages, botanical gardens and opportunities to see wildlife in its natural habitat. My coda, number ten, is the brilliant blaze of yellow that bursts from the laburnum trees in the summer every year. There is no sight more captivating, entrancing or fulfilling than to see a long line of these trees in full bloom in April – a mass of vibrant yellow that epitomizes this wonderful place – colorful, welcoming, vibrant, genuine - this is Chiang Mai – the experience of a lifetime.

The Chiang Mai Mail is publishing a series of articles on residents’ experiences of life in Chiang Mai. If you would like to contribute please email [email protected]

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A Chiang Mai Top Ten