Having snacked, supped and cappuccino-ed your way along the Tha Pae side of town you’ll probably be ready to hit the much quieter southside of Chiang Mai’s old city. Well, okay, it’s true you’ve got to ignore the four lanes of traffic, but the roadside action is much less in what’s more of a low-key commercial area than tourist hotspot. You’ll find a small market, Chiang Mai’s only city park and an eclectic mix of hardware stores, wedding dress outfitters and electrical goods outlets. Note you’d go here if you specifically wanted to buy a wedding dress or get a picture framed only — it’s certainly not a shopping area as such and no-one goes here to browse. The central grassy moat strip is particularly lush though and the east side has some spectacular mature trees.
Note the improvised shrine at the foot of the tree below. The larger trees are interspersed with flame trees and smaller flowering shrubs so this is an attractive stretch and you may even see a bit of bird-life, with luck.
Before we start our ramble, the inner, anti-clockwise, west heading side is Bumrung Buri Road and the exterior road is called Chong Lor. Bumrung is narrower — it gets down to one lane where it meets Chiang Mai Gate — while the opposite side of the moat is a much busier four-lane route leading off to the main Hang Dong highway, Airport Plaza, Chiang Mai’s largest shopping mall, and the international airport. (Check our Chiang Mai map here.)
As opposed to the other three sides of the old city wall, the southside includes two entrance gates: Prathu (gate) Chiang Mai at approximately the half way mark, and Prathu Saen Pung between that gate and the southwest corner. We’d recommend keeping to the inner side for this stroll where there’s more going on and less traffic, so heading up from the corner of Moonmuang Road the first sight of note you’ll hit, on your right, is the interesting Wat Sai Moon. Interesting since it’s Chiang Mai’s only Burmese temple (that’s Burmese not Shan). Now don’t expect Shwedagon — it’s not a classic of Burmese-style architecture — but constructed mostly of wood and painted bright scarlet it certainly stands out.
Next up is the Chiang Mai Gate, constructed in 1296 though restored on several occasions and formerly important as the start of the road leading to the neighbouring city of Lamphun — but these days home to both a smallish daytime market with a mixture of dry and wet goods (kind of a mini Worarot) and a smallish night food stall market (kind of a mini Chang Puak Gate market), which sets up late afternoon with a variety of cheap noodle, rice and drinks stalls.
Incidentally the yellow songthaews that depart from in front of the market head out to Hang Dong.
It’s a good little night market but during the day this side of the city suffers a distinct lack of eateries — at around this point though you’ll find a couple of good coffee shops on the far side if you can negotiate the four-lane highway. Also over on the far side, just before reaching the Gate, Wualai Road leads off southwest to the traditional silver-making quarter of the city. There’s not too much on show these days but there are still plenty of traditional old wooden buildings remaining and it is the setting for the excellent Saturday Walking Street Market.
A few more buildings of note in the central section are on your right: the Chiang Mai traditional medicine and massage centre where you’re welcome to pop in and on the right the rather abruptly contrasting Siam TV warehouse — a giant electrical goods, computer and camera shop which is one of the best options in town if you do want to pick up a new laptop, iPod, Canon or fridge, for example.
Continuing west note the interesting little chedi squeezed among the grocers and noodle shops on the southside near the corner of Thipanet Road — one that we omitted to feature in our earlier post on the lost chedis of Chiang Mai.
You’re now at the small but well preserved Sean Pung Gate.
From Saen Pung Gate, Thipavet Road leads off into south Chiang Mai and Samlan Road takes you into the central part of the old city towards Wat Phra Singh. The final stretch before you reach the southwest corner is notable for the large Chinese embassy on the right and the small but cute Suan Buak Hat park.
After that you’ve reached the southwest corner bastion and the junction with Arak Road, which continues round the west side and Mahidol Road leading off to the airport, Hang Dong and all points south.
By Mark Ord.
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