Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep and the white elephant legend

The legend goes that a monk named Sumanathera from Sukhothai had a dream; in this dream he was told to go to Pang Cha and look for a artifact. Sumanathera went to Pang Cha and found a bone, which many state was Buddha’s shoulder bone. The relic displayed magical powers; it shined, it was able to disappear, it could move itself and reproduce itself. Sumanathera took the artifact to King Dharmmaraja who ruled Sukhothai.

The excited Dharmmaraja made offerings and hosted a rite when Sumanathera arrived. Nonetheless, the artifact displayed no abnormal characteristics, and the king, doubtful of the artifact’s validity, told Sumanathera to keep it.

However, the king of the Lanna Kingdom Nu Naone (rules 1355 – 1385) heard of the artifact and offered the monk to take it to him instead. In 1368 with Dharmmaraja’s permission, Sumanathera took the artifact to Lamphun, in northern Thailand. The artifact split in two, one piece was the same size, the other was smaller than the original. The smaller piece of the artifact was preserved at a temple in Suandok. The other piece was placed by the King on the back of a white elephant which was released in the jungle. The elephant is said to have climbed up Doi Suthep, at the time called Doi Aoy Chang (Sugar Elephant Mountain), and trumpeted three times before dying on the top after the long journey up. It was interpreted as a sign and King Nu Naone ordered the construction of the temple Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep at the site.

The present complex dates from the 16th century and was expanded or restored several times later. The video above is from Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep anno 2007.

Podcast: Visa run to Mae Sai & Tachileik, Burma

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If you are a foreigner living in Thailand, you’ll probably be familiar with the concept of a ‘visa run’. Depending on what visa you enter Thailand with, you may be required to leave Thailand after 30, 60 or 90 days before re-entering with a new visa. There are several places you can do this, but two of the most popular are at Mae Sot and Mae Sai. At both these crossings you walk over a bridge, enter Burma, pay, get your passport stamped and re-enter Thailand.

This month I decided to do my crossing at Mae Sai as it can be done in one (albeit long) day from Chiang Mai. 13 hours later I returned home. By clicking the play button above, you can listen to the podcast I made along the way.

Mae Sai is the Northern most point in Thailand, well known thanks to its location in the Golden Triangle region of Thailand – one of the main Opium producing areas in the world – made famous during the rein of Khun Sa, the ‘Opium King’, who died last year in Rangoon, Burma.

Trip information

A year or two ago, I took a one day minibus round trip from Chiang Mai to Mae Sai. It was hell. This time, following a recommendation, I decided to take a public ‘VIP’ bus from Arcade bus station. I caught the Greenbus company’s V400 bus leaving Arcade bus station in Chiang Mai at 8.00 am, and arrived in Mae Sai at about 12.15pm. After about 3 hours in Mae Sai and Tachileik, I returned to Chiang Mai with the V403 bus (also the Greenbus company) leaving Mae Sai bus terminal at 15.30. The trip cost 335 THB each way (about US$10).

I suggest you buy your bus tickets the day before travel, and take some ear plugs due to the presence of Karaoke VCDs on the bus. Upon entering Burma you will need to pay $10 or 500THB for the Burmese entry visa – it is much better to quickly change 330THB to $10 before crossing as this saves you 170THB and gives the Burmese regime less.

Map of Northern Thailand showing Mae Sai


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Podcast: 1483km by motorbike in North Thailand

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Last week I completed a long 1483Km motorbike trip with my sister Laura through the mountains of North and North West Thailand, you can listen to the podcast we made along the way by clicking above.

The road between Mae Sot and Umphang

Setting off from Chiang Mai, we headed North East through the mountains to Mae Hong Son (via Pai), before heading South to Mae Sot and about 650KM along the Thailand/Burma border to our final destination – Umphang. Surrounded by national parks and wildlife reserves (and classified as a UNESCO World heritage site), Umphang is one of the most beautiful, but least accessible districts in Thailand. Nevertheless, it has one major tourist attraction, Thi Lo Su Waterfall, the largest waterfall in Thailand – 200 metres high and 400 metres wide.

Remarkably, Laura had only learned to ride a motorbike two weeks prior to the trip – she drove a 125 CC Honda Dream Scooter and I drove my 200CC Honda Phantom. In total, the trip took seven days of actual driving, with two days ‘resting’ in Mae Sot and Umphang.

This podcast features a lot of the sounds we heard along the way, from the jungle sounds of cicadas & birds of paradise, to frogs, Lisu musicians, a Thai kick boxing match, rafting near Umphang, and an interview with Tasanee at Safe Haven Orphanage.

You can view photos of the trip by visiting our Flickr account.

Route information

Click here for the motorbike trip route mapThe route we took was Chiang Mai – Pai – Mae Hong Son – Mae Sariang – Khun Yuam Sunflower fields – Mae Sariang – Mae Sot – Umphang – Mae Sot – Chiang Mai. (See the map on the right courtesy of Travelfish.org)

The approximate distances are below.

Chiang Mai to Pai – 135KM
Pai to Mae Hong Son – 139KM
Man Hong Son to Mae Sariang (via the sunflower fields) – 250KM
Mae Sariang to Mae Sot – 242KM
Mae Sot to Umphang – 176KM
Umphang to Mae Sot – 176KM
Mae Sot to Chiang Mai – 365 KM
Total: 1483KM

Video: Ob Luang National Park

Ob Luang national park is about 105 kilometers from Chiang Mai and is a very worthwhile day trip. The park is famous for its gorge through which the Mae Chaem River flows. It is also known as the "Grand Canyon of Thailand".

A footbridge across the gorge 500 meters downstream makes a walk through the natural trail possible. The walk passes an ancient burial site (Land of Prehistoric Human), the remains of which are in the National Museum in Chiang Mai. They found human bones, beads, wrist rings, clay bowls, tools, weapons, etc. You can also see ancient rock drawings from about 2500 -3000 years ago and an amazing view over the valley can be enjoyed from the rock outcrop above at Doi Pa Chang.

Ob Luang is furthermore known for its water rafting. While we were there the river was not particularly high but it was definitely forceful, with a strong current and plenty of water to enjoy a wild water rafting trip. When there is less water it is also possible to enjoy canoeing and kayaking.

The National Park covers a total area of 553 square kilometers of steep forested granite hills, adjoining the much higher mountains of Doi Inthanon Park to the northwest. The elevation ranges from 200 meters to 1,656 meters along the Mae Chaem River to the northeast. The Mae Chaem River originates from the mountain range in Mae Hong Son. It is running along steep cliffs, knolls, and valleys and has some islands as well as sandy beaches on the side.

The National Park Office has tents and sleeping equipment for visitors to rent (although tents have to be put up no later the 6 pm). Contact Ob Luang National Park, P.O. Box 2, Hang Dong Sub district, Hord District, Chiang Mai 50240. Tel: 053-229272.

How to get there

Traveling from Chiang Mai, take the road number 108 to the town of Hot. At Hot take the Hot – Mae Sariang road. After 17 km you will reach the park’s headquarters. Total distance from Chiang Mai is 105 km.

Video: Wild Sunflower fields at Doi Mae U-Kho

The wild sunflowers of Doi Mae U-Kho in Northern Thailand (Mae Hong Son province) bloom during November and early December, painting the entire mountain of Doi Mae U-kho in gold. The flowers are also known as Bua tong in Thai or Golden lotus and are actually Mexican sunflowers.

The area that the sunflowers cover is more than 1,000 rai (400 Acres). The Bua Tong Forest Park is located on the mountain of Doi Mae U-Kho, 1,600 meters above sea level. Imagine entire mountain sides and valleys in bright colors of yellow, blue, green and occasionally pink. It is a divine sight.

In November you are almost guaranteed stunning blue skies and pleasant temperatures for your drive. You won’t have the sunflower fields to yourself as they’re just too beautiful to keep people away, but it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to experience such a surreal and beautiful setting. You’ll find that most of the tourists at the sunflower fields are Thai since most guidebooks doesn’t mention this spectacular sight.

Along the way as you get closer to Khun Yuam, you’ll see the farmers bringing in the rice harvest and threshing by hand, and increasing quantities of naturally blooming sunflowers bursting from the road side.

Getting there

From Mae Hong Son, take 108 highway South to Khun Yuam, before turning off and following the signs for the last 30 KM to the sunflowers. You should allow 2-3 hours from Mae Hong Son to Khun Yuam, and about 45 minutes from the turn-off to get to Doi Mae U-Kho.

From Chiang Mai, the fastest route is highway 108 via Mae Sariang where you turn North towards Mae Hong Son. You should allow about 5 hours from Chiang Mai to Khun Yuam by car, and longer by motorbike. We’d recommend staying the night in Khun Yuam (as we did) and viewing the sunflowers at sunset and early morning.

Podcast: Road trip to the wild sunflower fields

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This weekend, we completed a 700KM round trip from Chiang Mai via Ob Luang National Park, to Mae Sariang and onto Khun Yuam and the Doi Mae U-Kho sunflower fields in Northern Thailand. We made this podcast along the way, and Tina will soon also be uploading a video she made of the trip…if flowers and blue skies put a smile on your face, you’d better head there quickly as this magnificent spectacle only lasts until early December.

Doi Mae U-Kho sunflower fields, Thailand

Map showing the sunflower fields in relation to Chiang Mai


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The Bhubing Palace (royal winter residence) in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Bhubing Palace is located on Doi Buak Ha, about 4 km behind Doi Suthep (22 km from the center of Chiang Mai city) in Chiang Mai Province. It is the royal winter palace in Chiang Mai where the Thai king stays with his family during seasonal visits to the northern part of the country. The palace is also the royal guesthouse for prominent State visitors from abroad. In the past the king welcomed or granted royal audience to State visitors only in Bangkok.

The palace was built in 1961. The building started initially with only the royal resident building and the guesthouse. The other buildings were additionally built on later dates. I didn’t find the palace very spectacular but it is surrounded by beautiful flower gardens.

The opening hours to the public are on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as well as holidays, when the Thai Royal Family is not in residence. The entrance fee is 50 baht.

The Bhubing Palace (Royal winter residence) in Chiang Mai, Thailand