Although Chiang Mai is a city filled with temples, a trip to northern Thailand wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which overlooks the city from a mountain where the temple gets its name from. It can be reached via a 306 step staircase flanked by nagas. Unfortunately when I reached the top, it was full of scaffoldings. I vowed to come back, however it has been a decade since, and even after a couple more trips to Chiang Mai, I have yet to revisit this temple. Not a big surprise, as staircases and me don’t get along.
To Get Here. Take a red songthaew from Huay Kaew Road. The cost is ฿40 per person per way. You can also charter one for ฿500 roundtrip.
While elephant rides and shows are on top of everyone’s list when visiting Thailand, why not opt for a different experience with these majestic animals and directly contribute to their survival as well? At the Elephant Nature Park, visitors are treated to a day full of fun and educational activities that can be only described as "special".
Visitors are picked up from their hotels in Chiang Mai around 8 AM for a picturesque hour-long drive to the Mae Taeng Valley where the park is located. Upon arrival, you will be eagerly greeted by dozens of dogs, most of them also rescued. A tour of the area then follows all the while learning about the life stories of each rescued elephants you meet as told by the park’s expert guides. Over the next couple of hours, you will learn about the plight of the Asian elephant and how the organization is addressing these issues.
One of the highlights is the bathing time. After learning how to properly and safely bathe an elephant, you get the chance to walk with them to the nearby river where you can give your new skills a try. If getting wet is not your thing, you can safely view the activities from the shore. Once bathing is over, everyone heads to the feeding platform where each elephant gets a big-basket full of fruits and vegetables hand-fed by you.
Day Visit. The price for a day’s visit is ฿2500/ $80 (Adult) and ฿1250/ $40 (2-11 yrs) and as a non-profit organization, the cost of every visit directly supports the elephants at the park.
For more information visit Elephant Nature Park
If there is one temple I would highly recommend in Sukhothai Historical Park, it would be Wat Si Chum which features an impressive giant seated Buddha, originally constructed some 700 years ago. You can reach it via a 10-minute bicycle ride from the main central zone of the park.
On the twelfth full moon of the Thai lunar calendar each year, Thai families gather on the banks of rivers, canals or any body of water to float banana leaf boats decorated with flowers and three sparklers, candles, or incense sticks to celebrate the Loy Krathong Festival. In the western calendar, this event usually takes place in November.
The ceremony is fairly simple and straightforward, after all "loy" means "to float" and "krathong" refers to the banana leaf vessel that is set adrift in the river with the hopes of having one’s wishes come true. However, when performed by thousands at the same time, it becomes a spectacle of light and emotion.
Sukhothai claims to be the festival’s place of origin and the ancient city is one of the best places to experience it. There is a plethora of activities at the Sukhotai Historical Park on these days, from beauty contests to parades to krathong-making constests. Each night culminates in a spell-binding light and sound show followed by a beautiful firework display set against the backdrop of the ancient ruins.
Another must-see temple in Sukhothai is Wat Mahathat, the most important and impressive temple in the Historical Park. Its name translates to the "temple of the great relic" and was built following the concept of the mandala, the ancient Hindu representation of the universe.
Get Around. The best way to get around Sukhothai Historical park is by bicycle. They can be rented at a shop opposite the main entrance of the park. To get to the Historical Park from the city center, take a 15 minute ride on a songthaew.
A daytime procession at Sukhothai Historical Park
After a 5-hr bus ride from Sukhothai, I am back in Chiang Mai just in time for another festival.
Coinciding with Loy Krathong is the festival known as "Yi-Peng". It is altogether a different festival that traces its roots to the ancient Lanna Kingdom. It is characterized by thousands of "Khom Loy" or Lanna-style hot-air lanterns released into the night sky. There’s also a giant krathong parade for two nights along the main tourist fare.
I came here for the giant pandas. I think every one does. On loan from China, the pandas of Chiang Mai Zoo, Lin Hui and Xuang Xuang has attracted a lot of visitors after the birth of their daughter Lin Bing, who was just 6 months old at the time. Lin Bing was the first panda to be born in Thailand.
Xuang Xuang died of natural causes on September 16, 2019.
Photography. Since Yi-Peng takes place at night, it is best to use a lens with a wide aperture as you need much available light to make it through the sensor - the wider the aperture, the better. My lens of choice during this festival is a 10-22mm ultra wide-angle as it focuses better in the dark and also gives consistent sharpness throughout the scene. The lens is also perfect for shots of people launching lanterns in the air. It exaggerates the arms of your subjects as they hold the lanterns before release. It is recommended that flash is not used as it destroys the light and mood of the festival, hence crank up your ISO.
The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, and one of the city’s most impressive temples featuring Lanna architecture, Wat Chiang Man is rarely busy, despite being located within the old walled city. The temple houses the Phra Sae Tang Khamani, a Buddha image carved from quartz crystal, which is surprisingly very small.
Chedi Luang is the highest point in the Old City
Before the night procession starts
Another night procession
Chiang Mai Zoo mascots at the parade
Tha Pae Gate is one of the main points of interest in Chiang Mai as it plays host to numerous events all-year-round, from releasing khom loys during Yi-Peng to waterfights during the Thai New Year. It is also a popular meeting place for many and a good place to people-watching.
Off To Bangkok
Bangkok Theatre Festival
B-boying in the Park