We have complained about downtown Chiang Mai’s lack of parks before but there is a stretch of grass and trees that we inconsiderately overlooked, a very long stretch in fact — nearly eight kilometres long — which makes for an interesting and attractive hike without ever having to leave the city centre. We’re talking of course about the strip of tree-lined parkland that borders the moat and frames the old town area.
The old city walls don’t quite make a square, being two kilometres each on the east and west sides and 1.8 kilometres on the other two sides, and they do of course have a busy three-lane road on either side. But there are at least 30 0r 40 metres of grass, trees and water between the two. (Indeed the most difficult part of our proposed walk is crossing the busy highway to actually get into the median strip.)
The inner moat road takes the following names on its east, south, west and north sides: Moonmuang, Bumrung Buri, Arak and Sri Phum respectively, and circulates in a anti-clockwise direction. The outer moat ring road is clockwise only and, again from east to north, has the names: Chaiyaphum, Rat Chiang Saen, Bunrueang and Manee Noparat. (Transliterations vary considerably.)
Regular causeways across the moat form two-way U-turns — usually three or four on each side — and there’s a total of five old entrance gates (plus two footbridges): Tha Paeon the east, Chiang Mai and Suan Prung on the south side; the west has Suan Dok and the north side Chiang Puak.
The reason for a later addition of the fifth gate was apparently to allow the Queen Mother a convenient access into the city while she was busy supervising the construction of Wat Chedi Luang. The same gate, Suan Prung, was then later used for funeral processions so to this day is still considered an inauspicious gate by certain locals.
Much of the old wall and corner bastions were pulled down some time ago to provide bricks for the construction of the city but extensive renovation including original bricks was carried out in the 1960s and again in the 1990s. Now most of the five gates and the four corner bastions are in reasonable condition and several stretches of wall still exist.
Now this could be done as a single hike but eight kilometres in this heat might be a bit much and you’d miss out the numerous interesting sites to be seen. We would propose to do one side at a time; perhaps say clockwise down and anti back for instance since there are plenty of sites to be seen. Apart from a proliferation of temples, you’ll find markets, interesting shops, some spectacular trees, with luck some inner city bird-life, plenty of Chiang Mai’s great cafes and bars and lots of general bustling street life.
Few people seem to have thought of this hike and the people I have dragged along have been more than pleasantly surprised; so coming up over the next few posts we’ll be describing no less than four excellent inner city hikes. Stay tuned!
By Mark Ord.