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River Ping Walk, Chiang Mai, Thailand

We begin our walk from the junction of Tha Phae Road and Charoenrat Road on the western side of Nawarat Bridge. On the corner here is a memorial that most visitors to Chiangmai will pass at least once, but how many could say what it was ? The image is of a monk, Phra Sirimangalacaraya, who was born in Chiangmai during the reign of King Mungkaew (1495-1525). He studied in Sri Lanka, was considered to be a learned monk and was appointed as the King’s dharma counsellor as well as writing a number of important books which are detailed at the memorial.

Crossing Nawarat Bridge you will pass a small garden on your right that is yet to mature and as you reach the Mae Ping (Ping River) there are short pathways besides the riverbank in each direction where locals can often be found fishing for their evening meal. The river itself is approximately 600km in length flowing from Thuai in Chiang Dao district to Pak Nam Phu in Nakorn Sawan province. Here it merges with the Nan River to become the Chao Phraya and flows south to Bangkok and beyond. It used to be an important trade route with the journey south taking 15-20 days whilst the journey back, upriver, could take between 2 and 3 months.

As you reach the far side of the bridge look at the buildings opposite you to your right for a taste of Chiangmai’s Christian community. It is said that Christianity was introduced to Chiangmai in 1867 by Rev Daniel McGilvary and his family. Later Rev Jonathan and his family came to join them and the First Presbyterian Church of Chiangmai was established on 18 April 1867, here, on the banks of the Ping. First you will see the Chiangmai Christian School complete with wood framed church. The school is also known as the Phraner Memorial School in memory of Mrs Elizabeth Phraner, wife of Rev Stanley Phraner of the American Presbyterian Mission, who died in 1890. Next to the school is the Thailand Bible Society with a Christian Bookstore attached. Cross the road to follow the river to your left and note the police helmet under the tree on the opposite corner; an unusual design found in Thailand to give policemen shelter from the sun. Behind the ‘helmet’ is the Raintree Resource Centre for “Information, support, English books and videos. Helpful hints for getting started in Chiangmai. Programs and classes”. A small English language lending library can also be found here.

Proceeding north along Charoenrat Road you are able to descend to a shady path that runs for about 200m besides the riverbank. On the opposite side of the road the Christian theme continues with the Chiangmai First Church, The Church of Christ in Thailand. Here they have international and interdenominational services with nursery care and Sunday School. A service is conducted in English each Sunday at 16:30.

Reaching the end of the riverside walk you come to a small pier from where it is possible to “enjoy a leisurely boat ride along the cool water of the River Ping”. Departures are every 2 hours between 09:00 and 17:00, with a minimum of 2 people at 250 Baht per head.

Continuing north you will pass a clutch of popular farang boltholes including The Riverside, The Good View and Brasserie followed by a selection of small, pleasant, craft and antique shops. A few hundred yards further and you will discover a number of traditional wooden houses still hanging on to their prime riverside locations. Keep your eyes peeled on the far side of the road for a small gateway that leads into Wat Katekaram more commonly known as Wat Gate. It is not easy to go for a walk in Chiangmai and not pass one of the seemingly endless Thai wats but today’s walk will bypass this temple and save it for another day. Suffice it to say that from the early Ratanakosin era many foreign, particularly Chinese, boat merchants set up home around here and it is now a centre of the Chinese community.

Opposite the entrance gate is a footbridge back over the river that you should now follow. Although designated as a footbridge stay alert for the ever-present motorcycle that may speed past you " through you - as if you were invisible. To the right as you approach the footbridge a path leads back down to the riverbank where the Ping can be followed for approximately 1/4 mile. Whilst crossing the bridge take a look at the far bank to your right and notice the terraces built down from the road to the water as this is a particularly popular spot to celebrate the Loy Khratong Festival in November.

Reaching the western side of the bridge brings you to the largest market in Chiangmai, Wararot. Descend the stairs to your right and cross the road or ascend to your left and use the small footbridge to avoid the endless traffic that accumulates at this corner. Wararot is an endless maze of stalls and shops selling just about everything imaginable. Wander around the side streets and ascend the different stories of the indoor market for a feast on the eyes. When exhausted, or shopped out, return to the footbridge and follow the road back towards your starting point keeping the Ping at your left hand side. This section of the market is made up of hundreds of flower stalls lining both sides of the road for several hundred yards, assaulting your nose as well as your eyes it is a beautiful place to visit.

On the right hand side of the road as the flower market finishes you will find the visually stunning Chinese Pung Tao Gong Ancestral Temple. The original structure here had the number 1878 engraved in a roof beam and this is believed to indicate the year the temple was first built. By 1996 it was showing its age and the councillors and members decided to rebuild. Unfortunately the original structure was beyond renovation and had to be replaced in toto. On 26 February 1999, the first anniversary of the foundation being laid, a service and ceremony was held to invite the Chinese Gods into the new building. There were still two old shophouses blocking the frontage of the temple and after donations flooded in these were demolished opening up the temple to the river. Approaching from the main road you walk through the cleared area that is now full of colourful arches, columns and pagodas all richly decorated. Crossing a small lane enables you to enter the temple itself. Equally rich in decoration with even the floor tiled with designs of dragons and mythical creatures, the air is overpowering with the smell of incense burning everywhere. A distinct change from the Thai ‘wat’ we are used to in Chiangmai and in the main overlooked by visitors to the city.

Return to the main road and continue south, keeping the river to your left. After about 100m, on your right hand side, you will find a Philatelic Museum (open Tues-Sun, 08:30-16:30) and in the garden a collection of old red post boxes. Inside is a small display hall featuring examples of an 1841 ‘penny black’, a 1d red and a 2d blue from Britain. Perhaps the pride of the collection is an example of the first stamp issued in Thailand. From 4th August 1883, it depicts King Rama V, King Chulalongkorn, inside an oval frame in a blue hue, with a denomination of 1 solot. No value is given besides the exhibit today. The display features many pictorial releases which can be purchased as well as current day stamps.

Walking on you will pass Chiangmai Regional Police Traffic Centre, on your left, and then the Mae Ping Post Office - all services available - also on your left. A further 100m brings you to the Chief Justices residence on your left and the crossroads where the walk started.

On the corner to your right is Chiangmai City’s Information Office (not under the office of Tourism Authority of Thailand, TAT) Tourist where you can collect leaflets, maps, etc to plan for further explorations of Chiangmai.

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