Buried beneath the emerald fields of a peaceful village on the outskirts of Chiang Mai lie the long-forgotten ruins of Wiang Kum Kam, an 11th century metropolis that served as the capital early in the Lanna dynasty. It once stood on a strategic bend in the Ping River, which offered the only means of transportation at the time. The river eventually changed its course and the the once-thriving city became a swamp. Slowly, time covered the city with a blanket of forgetfulness.
What is left of the city has been a bonanza for archaeologists. Over a thousand inscriptions have been uncovered that provide the earliest evidence of the Thai written language.
Start in the cool of morning or late afternoon. Your guide, car and driver will transport you outside the city center, into a small village of quiet, winding streets and peaceful temple compounds. You may travel through the area by car or horse-drawn carriage (included), on foot, or even by elephant like an ancient aristocrat. Any way you decide to go, take it easy and enjoy the charm of simple country life, organized around temples, and playing host to numerous ruins that are slowly being restored.
A small museum and information center has been built for those who want an overview of the archeological site, although you may prefer to play explorer and discover the ruins of this lost city without models and maps, savoring the mystery of what lies just around the bend.
Village life is equally appealing, with small rest stops offering glass jars stuffed with Technicolor sweets that are arranged on bowls of refreshing crushed ice. You may see school children reciting their lessons in open-air classrooms, artisans sculpting stucco and mirror decorations on new temple pavilions, grannies tending colorful gardens or the chanting of monks drifting through gilded temple windows.
On your way back to town, you might like to drop by a local temple market that gets going in the late afternoon and wander through stalls selling tasty treats, fresh produce, or fascinating incidentals from everyday life.