Old City, New Spirit
A new energy is running through one of Thailand’s oldest cities.
The Old Town has been considered the core of Lanna art and culture for over 700 years. Traces of its past glory can still be found in many historical sites.
Nestled in the foothills of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai has long been a lure for travellers in pursuit of stunning landscapes and Buddhist heritage. Alongside its reputation for gilded temples and nature trekking, the former Lanna Kingdom capital has also been the most culturally significant city in the country since the 15th century, famed for its traditional handicrafts made by hill tribes using skills handed down over generations. Today, Chiang Mai still plays an important role in Southeast Asia’s art and craft industry, which generates a large proportion of its annual income.
The Old Town has been considered the core of Lanna art and culture for over 700 years. Traces of its past glory can still be found in many historical sites. For those who want to get acquainted with the northern capital’s rich heritage, visit Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre, Lanna Folklife Museum and Chiang Mai Historical Centre – all within walking distance of one another and taking less than half a day to stroll through.
Located behind the Three Kings Monument, the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre offers a glimpse into bygone eras with engaging displays, such as life-sized exhibits of an early Lanna village. The building, once the former Provincial Hall, has been meticulously preserved and received an award from the Royal Society of Siamese Architects for its restoration efforts. The 18 exhibition rooms in the Lanna Folklife Museum provides an informative overview of the Chiang Mai people's livelihood, documenting the evolution of their way of life with art pieces, sculptures, mural paintings, ceramics and lacquer wares made by local artisans.
Historic monuments are not the only place where you can imbibe the city’s rich culture. A number of institutions, including the Thailand Creative & Design Center, have launched a series of initiatives to showcase Chiang Mai’s up-and-coming creative talents. One example is the first-ever Chiang Mai Design Week held in December last year, a multi-day design extravaganza of exciting design showcases, workshops with local design studios, pop-up markets, citywide art installations, exclusive products from over 100 shops and a line up of creative happenings throughout the city.
With the theme “Born Creative”, the event thrives on the foundation of the city’s affluent artisanal skills and stakes a claim to the city’s transformation into a regional centre of modern artworks. The area flanking both sides of Ping River is where most of the showcase venues are located. Visitors can either make the tour on foot or by bicycle to revisit the city through a new path.
In recent years, the city has also taken a step forward to become a new attraction for creative types seeking an alternative to large shopping malls and night markets, as evident in Nimmanhaemin Road. Anchored by Chiang Mai University, the area’s tranquil side streets are loaded with lovely coffee shops, bookstores, design boutiques and gallery-style stores, and is now known as a cool place for artists and designers to hang out.
After spending a whole morning exploring this vibrant neighbourhood, visitors can get their caffeine fix at one of the quirky cafes and head towards Think Park on the corner of Nimmanhaemin Road and Huay Kaew Road, where they can find a chunk of artsy little shops offering hip items from up-and-coming local designers. While little shops scattered along major pathways throughout the complex, a large portion of the area is left open for holding exhibitions, art shows and live music, creating a bustling public space for everyone to enjoy.
There is nothing better than a soothing natural remedy after a long day of sightseeing and shopping. Visitors can retreat to CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai and indulge in an array of signature therapies created out of the finest local ingredients. Situated within a 4,600-square-metre landscaped garden, the acclaimed spa takes on a life of its own with nine spacious Lanna-inspired villas decorated with Thai silks and delicate furnishings. In pursuit of an authentic experience, CHI offers a Lanna Blend Massage and a range of body treatments not available anywhere else.
Needless to say, Shangri-La Hotel, Chiang Mai itself is a tranquil city resort setting in seven acres of lush greenery. Conveniently located close to the bustling Night Bazaar on Changklan Road and just a 10-minute drive from Chiang Mai International Airport, the 281-room hotel is a perfect base from which to explore the best that this ever-evolving city has to offer.