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Purple Dragon

Spend a day delving into the history, architecture, and folk tales of Lanna, the Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields. This day trip is a great introduction to things in Chiang Mai that most visitors never see and provides a wealth of experience that will accent your visit!

Start the day with a short boat ride on the Ping River aboard a unique "scorpion-tailed boat." These boats once used to make the long round trip between Chiang Mai and Bangkok, and their fanciful decorated tails have vanished on modern boats. Your captain, Khun Samak, is a font of folk wisdom and he'll bring ancient traditions to life as you glide quietly along the riverfront. Fascinating photos of old Lanna and folk toys and utensils are on hand to illustrate his comments.

The next stop is Wat Gate, a once-lively temple and community of traders and merchants. This temple compound has a little bit of everything that is typical of Northern sanctuaries. Very unusual Chinese ceramics decorate the ordination hall and the outer walls are lined with animal images representing the Thai Zodiac. There is also a beautiful old teakwood mansion that is used by monks, with a colorful spirit shrine at its entrance demonstrating the peaceful co-existence of animism (spirit worship) with Buddhism.

On the temple grounds is another very old structure that now houses the funky little Wat Gate Historical Museum displaying just about everything from everyday local life in the last hundred years, including phonograph records, fabrics, house ware, musical instruments, ritual items, money, and even slippers. The museum's founder, Uncle Jack, is a charming senior citizen of mixed Thai/English descent, who will happily point out nuances of his eclectic collection.

The surrounding neighborhood is full of excellent arts and craft shops, many of which are in restored heritage buildings. Have lunch in one of the cool, riverside restaurants.

End the afternoon with a visit to the truly excellent new Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center museum, which houses a variety of exhibitions and collections on Northern Thai history and culture.