The ubiquitous city-wide ruined towers
If you spend any time in Chiang Mai you won't help but notice the ubiquitous brick chedis, or stupas, liberally scattered around the city.
We don’t mean the ones within existing temple complexes, but rather the solitary towers you see out of the corner of your eye, by the side of a back lane, at the far end of a car park, or stuck on a piece of otherwise empty ground. Some are crumbling and others, particularly those on the grounds of government buildings for instance, are well maintained.
Examples of the latter are the one at the moat corner of Suan Dok Road, another in the grounds of the Arts and Culture Museum and a recently restored one in the car park of Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. Good examples of the former are the ruin down an alley to the side of Chiang Mai Ram Hospital and one on Changlor, the south moat road, near the turn-off for Wualai.
Many of these sadly overlooked ruins are historically significant sites dating back to the 14th century and generally represent the site of long-abandoned temples. The Chiang Mai Ram one for instance is all that’s left of Wat Pan Sat while the Mae Ping car park chedi indicates the location of forgotten Wat Chongkhong. It’s a bit like the Angkor syndrome where there are so many spectacular old ruins, the smaller ones get forgotten about. But some of Chiang Mai’s 700 year old piles of bricks could be tourist attractions in their own right in a different context.
What impresses is the extent and sheer volume of these locations, giving an indication in turn of the extent of the ancient city and the number of its religious sites. Obviously in the 14th and 15th centuries, Chiang Mai had both a far smaller population and a far greater number of temples.
A few more strategically placed ones you might pass by are the Burmese-style chedi outside the US embassy—now a roundabout—and another at the crossroads of Ratchamanka and Phrapokklao Roads in the Old City. The first is hardly hidden but you can’t help but feel its original purpose has been lost. The priest or VIP whose ashes are enshrined within must be turning in his stupa as Toyotas and tuk tuks turn around him.
Next time you walk or ride past one, spare a thought. Some—when the light is good—are worth a photo stop.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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