May 22 2012
We begin our circumnavigation of Chiang Mai’s old city at the northwest corner known as Hua Lim, for no particular reason other than you have start somewhere. And we move in a clockwise direction simply because it’s considered the more auspicious by Buddhists. This is where Huay Kaew Road heads off west past Central Huay Kaew shopping mall, crossing Nimmanhemin before passing the Chiang Mai Zoo on its way to Doi Suthep, while to the north Hassadhisawee Road leads off into the maze of side streets between there and the superhighway ring road.
Leading east the exterior moat road carrying the clockwise flow is Manee Nopparat Road and the interior road is known as Sri Phoom (or Phum). The brick bastion of Hua Lim itself is in pretty good condition. At this point the grassy median strip is wide enough to hold a footpath so you can add that to the choice of four possible pavements as you head off. (We will confess that having to cross over the busy one-way system on numerous occasions in order to check out the sites left and right is something of a drawback to this stroll.)
Right away there’s interesting stuff to be seen and looking beyond a rather splendid golden shower tree — in full bloom during the dry season — note the rather odd white buildings on the old city side.
These highly elaborate, yet modern, Thai concrete constructions — no Lanna style here — are actually only an upmarket townhouse development but manage to incorporate Greek statues, relief covered lintels and pediments, balustrades and classical columns, creating an almost Gothic, modern Thai meets Hammer House of Horror set. Location spotters take note!
It’s been empty for as long as we’ve been in Chiang Mai so having asked my wife why it has never been done up, demolished, built over or whatever, we received the predictable reply: there are many ghosts. Anyway moving on, you have on your left the decidedly unhaunted array of computer and electronic goods warehouses; Computer City, Computer Plaza and so on followed by, on both sides of the moat, a couple of old wats. (This juxtaposition of old and new — 14th and 21st centuries is a common feature of this and indeed any city walk in Chiang Mai.)
The pair of southside wats, Wat Monthien and Wat Kuan Kama, frame the small garden setting of Khao Soi Khun Yai, our favourite downtown khao soi spot, while on the exterior side is one of our favourite downtown temples, Wat Lok Molee. Last but not least along this stretch, and just past Wat Lok Molee so keep on the same footpath, is the interesting hill-tribe handicraft training centre.
Back on the flora front note the awesome old rain tree, above, shading the central moat.
At the half-way point is the city’s northern gate — Prathu Chang Puak — famed for its excellent night market, a great street food market which sets up at the end of the afternoon and continues until late. Also worth mentioning at Chang Puak Gate, but on the old city side, and also open early evening until late, is the excellent North Gate Jazz Co-op.
At Chang Puak the road of the same name leads to the bus station – also of the same name — where local buses head off to Hot, Chomthong and other inter-provincial destinations. Leading south from the gate, and winding its way through the old town, is Phrapokklao Road.
From the gate to Sri Phum Corner in the northeast the exterior side is a mixture of more wats and shophouses, many of which sell camping gear, army surplus type stuff and raincoats, crash helmets — a good cheap alternative to Central Department Store if you’re missing a few items for an upcoming trek.
On the interior side are a couple of interesting guesthouses, including the Mountain View, plus a few popular local eateries. Of note is the late night and hugely popular Jok Somphet specialising in... jok, the ubiquitous rice soup of which locals are particularly fond as a kind of stomach filler to end an evening on the town. They also do excellent dim-sum as well as teas and coffees.
By the time you reach Sri Phum Corner and even allowing for a few road crossings you won’t have done more than a couple of clicks but if you’ve checked out a wat or two, stopped off at a coffee shop, even had a bite to eat and photographed a tree or two you’ll be looking at two or three hours minimum. We’ll call a break at the northeast corner and continue down the east side in a later post.
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