The first of several heritage walks
After almost two years of Covid-induced hibernation, a small group of intrepid individuals met to look into Chiang Mai’s history as part of the Payap University Lifelong Learning programme. The walk, led by Graham Jefcoate, focussed on the east bank of the Ping River. This was where Chiang Mai’s early farang (foreign) residents – an odd mix of missionaries and mercenaries – lived and worked in the late 19th century.
The walk began opposite the former First Church of Chiang Mai, which is now part of the Chiang Mai Christian School. It was designed and erected in the 1880s by Marion Cheek, a medical missionary turned teak trader who was one of the city’s most colourful foreign residents. Besides this church, he was responsible for building the first sturdy bridge over the river and the city’s first hospital.
Next stop was the current First Church of Chiang Mai, which occupies spacious grounds just north of Nawarat Bridge. The strong presence of Christianity in this once-remote outpost of Asia was due to the efforts of Dr Daniel McGilvary, who established the Laos Presbyterian Mission in 1868. Beneath the modern church, a small museum displays old books, pianos and watercolours depicting early events in the mission’s history.
Charoenrat Road, which runs parallel to the east side of the river, is lined with trendy shops, cute lodgings and popular night spots such as the Riverside and the Good View. While it’s an interesting area to explore, the road is narrow and busy, and lacks pavements (sidewalks), so it is not at all pedestrian friendly.
The exploratory tour stopped for a coffee break in the grounds of Baan Orapin – an attractive, shuttered colonial building that has stood for over a century. Incidentally, with teak furnishings and local textiles decorating its rooms, it’s one of the most atmospheric places to stay for out-of-towners.
From there the walk escaped the busy riverside road to go through Wat Ketkaram, commonly known as Wat Gate. This is the hub of the local community and contains all the typical features of a Thai temple compound – an assembly hall, ordination hall, stupa and bo tree, as well as a small teak museum. The buildings are lavishly decorated, particularly the ordination hall with its bas-reliefs of mythical beasts.
Probably the highlight of the walk was a wander round the grounds of 137 Pillars House, a luxury hotel that incorporates the former office of the Borneo Company as its centrepiece. Along with the Bombay and Burmah Trading Company, the Borneo Company made massive profits during a teak boom in the late 19th century.
The original occupant of 137 Pillars was Louis Leonowens, who worked for a while as Agent for the Borneo Company in Chiang Mai. He was the son of Anna Leonowens, whose book The English Governess at the Siamese Court brought her notoriety and is still banned in Thailand, although the films based on it, The King and I (1956) and Anna and the King (1999) were hugely popular in the West.
Last stop on this walk was a small museum-cum-antique shop called the Dragon and Phoenix, which houses some striking examples of traditional clothes and accessories from all across Asia. These include some lavish Chinese costumes, Java batiks, Japanese kimonos, French and English silver mesh purses and Lomi Akha headdresses laden with silver.
After this short exploration of Chiang Mai’s past, participants were left looking forward to further excursions into the rich cultural history of this ancient city. For more information about upcoming Heritage Walks, visit lllpayap.com.
One of the many reasons that I love living in Chiang Mai is the nearby presence of Doi Suthep, the city’s ‘guardian mountain’, which rises about 1600 metres above sea level. The most popular place on the mountain is the temple called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which sits at an elevation of around 1300 metres and on a clear day offers sweeping views of the city and valley below.
While this temple is one of the must-see sights of Chiang Mai for visitors, there’s a place I much prefer to go to enjoy the mountain’s tranquil, natural surroundings. It’s a trail that leads up the mountain about 300 metres, taking about an hour, and ends at a dramatic waterfall that runs all year. I never fail to finish that walk in a better mood than I started.
As the royal wedding approaches, our blogger offers a surprising tip to Prince Harry on how to spend his honeymoon.
When Henry Charles Albert David Mountbatten-Windsor, better known as Prince Harry, walks down the aisle of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle on 19 May 2018 to marry Meghan Markle, those of us who don’t have a personal invite will be watching weepy-eyed on TV. Though the concept of a monarchy may seem a bit outdated in the 21st century, there’s something irresistible about the pomp and pageantry that goes with a royal wedding, and Windsor does pomp very well indeed.
Now, Harry (can I call you that?), I’m sure you are planning to zip off with Meg (can I call her that?) to the Caribbean or somewhere out of public sight as soon as the ceremonies are over, but let me suggest that you do something totally unexpected. Why not spend your honeymoon beside the River Thames in Windsor, and give Meg a taste of true British culture?
Of course, first you should show her round the castle, but I shouldn’t bother with all the rooms, just enough to impress her. You might mention that it’s the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, and that it was originally built by William the Conqueror in 1070, because he deemed the site “a place appearing proper and convenient for royal retirement on account of the river and its nearness to the forest for hunting, and many other royal conveniences”. Perhaps you’d better not mention the fire of 1992, when thousands of irreplaceable treasures went up in smoke. It might give her bad dreams on the big night.
As my book Walks along the Thames Path has just been released in its fourth edition, I got to pondering the magical attraction that the source of a river has, and in the case of the Thames, the nagging doubts about its true origin. Then the pondering turned into a story, called...
SEEKING THE SOURCE OF THE THAMES
Locating the source of a river is not as simple as it may seem. For a start, most rivers have dozens of tributaries, all of which originate at springs, so just how do you decide which is the main source? Interestingly, there is no internationally recognized method of determining such an essential fact, though logic would suggest it is the spring that is furthest from the mouth of the river, or at the highest elevation above sea level, or that produces the greatest volume of water; yet this logic does not always apply.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.