A roadtrip to the east of Chiang Mai

Last week my friends and I rented a car and took a road trip into the eastern part of Chiang Mai province. It was a full day and a solid itinerary and after a day full of hiking, exploring and being chased by monkeys, we were exhausted.

  1. Bor Sang umbrella village
  2. MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum
  3. Muang-On cave
  4. Muang-On viewpoint
  5. San Kamphaeng hot springs

Bor Sang umbrella village is a handicraft centre where you can walk through the entire process of making paper umbrellas. Local artisans sit next to smouldering fire pits while making bamboo struts, which they then cover with paper, put out to dry in the sun, and then hand-paint. The umbrellas are beautifully decorated and come in multiple sizes and styles. Besides the umbrellas there were also parasols, fans, colourful bracelets and keychains, and even artists who painted cellphone cases by hand. We had the entire facility nearly to ourselves and many of the stations were not being used, nevertheless it was a fascinating place to see.

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I bought a couple of small umbrellas to send back home. Being about the size of my head, they wouldn’t do much good for the monsoon, but they make for culturally interesting, lightweight gifts!

The San Kamphaeng hot springs are a popular spot for Thai locals who want a rest from the city. The water is very hot, but there are tiny canals where people can rest their feet. Perhaps the coolest thing about the destination is that I can now officially say that I’ve boiled quail eggs in a hot spring. There are small shops all around selling baskets with eggs and soy sauce, and a sign that lists the different boiling times depending on how you like your eggs.

Our second stop was the MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum. We were lucky to be there on the museum’s inauguration show – Chiang Mai resident Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Serenity of madness. Apichatpong’s mainly known in Thailand for his work in the independent film industry, but the exhibition focused on his other artwork. Exploring the narrative traditions of his Isan origin, Apichatpong created a display that was a lot like walking through someone’s haunted memories. Alongside dreamlike film clippings and explorations of light and sound were equally surreal paintings and sculptures. Perhaps the most arresting of them all was the enormous portrait of a man wearing a ghoulish mask that greets you right at the front entrance of the museum.

The Muang-On Cave system was our next destination, located in the San Kamphaeng District about 30km east of Chiang Mai. Not all of my friends were ready for the many steep climbs and descents required to explore the cave, but the interior of the cave was easy to navigate and well-lit. The cave is full of small shrines, including a 30-foot long reclining Buddha, and a white string runs all the way from the cave entrance down to the depths of the cave where it ends on an enormous white stalagmite wrapped with an orange sash.

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Just outside of the cave we headed straight up the mountain to the viewpoint. I love hiking and was impressed that my friends were up for it, despite the fact that it was raining a bit. It was an energising climb to the temple at the top, and unsatisfied with the trees blocking my view, I climbed a nearby bell tower. By then the rain had stopped and the view from up there was gorgeous. There was a cloud flowing through the valley in between the low-lying mountains, and the sun made part of the landscape glow like pearls. It was quiet and the air was so clear.

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We headed back down the mountain before sunset and found the parking lot occupied by a bunch of monkeys! I’d forgotten that there were monkeys in Thailand and it was a welcome reminder that there was so much left to see in this country. After that we drove back to Chiang Mai, shouting out of the windows as we cruised through the rice fields. It’s great to get out of the smog every once in a while.

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