Creating a new walking route: Chiang Mai

Wat Prasat Temple Chiang Mai

Creating a new walking route: Chiang Mai

Always wondered how iDiscover creates a new walking route?  This time I packed a jacket for my trip to Chiang Mai Thailand. It was November and up there in the mountainous North, the days get short and the evenings chilly. I was on my way to meet a group of passionate locals together to create a new route in the iDiscover series, for the less explored neighbourhood of Muen Ngoen Gong. This is about my trip to get an idea of how we go about creating a new route.

Meet the locals that create a new walk

A group of passionate and happy locals for iDiscover Chiang Mai Thailand

iDiscover Chiang Mai research team (Image: Nalinee Udomsinn)

I was surprised by this slow-paced community, or as locals say ‘Ton Yorn’. The group was wonderfully diverse and just like right mix of young and old and all very passionate about their city – Tedx Chiang Mai organisers, writers of cultural magazines, local artists, musicians, photographers and café owners; and also five senior citizens from the community who lived for over 50 years and know the place inside-out!

young and old giving each other a 'box' sharing stories and a laugh during iDiscover Chiang Mai Thailand workshop

Young and old sharing stories and a laugh

Discover the spirit of the Chiang Mai

Khun Opor presenting in Chiang Mai Thailand

Khun Opor explaining his choice of words that he used to describe Chiang Mai

The location of the workshop was fascinating! Wat Prasat a wooden temple, and so we learned that it’s a very common gathering place for the local community. The workshop started with a game to establish what Chiang Mai old city is all about – it’s spirit. During a ‘identity quiz’ the locals were confused by a temple situated in Northern Thailand, and has mistaken it as a temple in Myanmar. We then started comparing Chiang Mai with a nearby city Lampang.

Lady showing the tradition of Lanna dance in full Lannca costume

Auntie Padeng sharing the tradition of Lanna dance in her full Lanna costume!

We tried to describe the south west of Chiang Mai old city, (locally known as Muen Ngoen Kong and Puak Taem communities) with adjectives and short phrases. The group came up with ‘quiet, green, mix of traditional and modern and Lanna community’.

When asked to explain their choices of words, the senior residents started to share stories about the neighbourhood, and the younger ones started asking start questions about the history of the place. The room was filled with amusement and ‘ahhs’ and ‘wows’.

Senior telling stories of the neighbourhood in Chiang Mai Thailand

Senior residents telling tales of the neighbourhood

Brainstorming sites in the old city

People interviewing local residents in Chiang Mai, Thailand

The green team interviewing a local resident

After lunch, we set off and began to explore. We split into four groups and each had the task to find five locations that represent the southwest of Chiang Mai old city and why these sites are uniquely representing the place. A tough task, some groups came back with over ten sites. In total we had 44. We had a great time sharing our findings with Lanna snacks and local friend chicken. We were all amazed by how much this small neighbourhood has to offer!

People interviewing the owner of a Chinese noodle shop in Chiang Mai Thailand

The red team interviewing the owner of a Chinese noodles shop

Girl on a bike in Chiang Mai Thailand

Tiffany Tang from iDiscover got a free ride

Filter the long list of sites

Coffeeshop owner showing his mokapots in Chiang Mai Thailand

P. Peng and his mokapots

Second day morning was the most interesting part of the process – to filter the long list of sites into just 30 exclusive locations that best illustrate the spirit of place. As expected, the longest and most passionate debate was always about food. How to choose? “cheap, aroy (tasty) and traditional dishes”. P. Peng, who’s a coffee shop owner himself, champion. He defended his café selection by showing his full set of mokapots, props from his picnic basket. Needless to say, his list of recommendations made it in the list.

Sharing stories

People sitting outside in the Wat Prasat temple talking

The group sitting outside the temple and sharing interesting stories

Equipped with 80 years of community’s history, Khun Mo and Khun Padeng were the source of wisdom of the group. Everyone turned silent when the sacred story. Legends of ancestral gods and spirits, worship rituals, and even gangsters’ fight, they knew everything that happened here. Listened and inspired, , the groups set out again to the selected sites to interview owners and operators of the places. It was late in the evening, dark and getting cold when everyone came back to the temple. With lots of food, and stories to be shared. Some had cleared some myths, some came back with even more questions, we shared, we ate and we learned and laughed a lot!

thai locals in Chiang Mai old town

Uncle Mo and Auntie Deng can talk about stories of Chiang Mai old town for hours!

It was such an idyllic setting- under a big tree, in front of Wat Prasat, young Thais listening to their elders, hanging on to every word. An evening to never forget!

Finalising the selection of sites

On the last day, we came to a final selection of sites. The most difficult call was where to start the route.  We decided on Wat Prasat, which was the place where we started the whole community curative process Teams worked hard to complete missing information and photos and we were all hungry for a big after-party meal!

We now have 26 beautiful sites, hand-picked by locals that projects the spirit of Chiang Mai City. Local Lanna temples, traditional craftsmanship, edgy graffiti and spicy street food are the best way to understand true ‘Lanna lifestyle’.

Thai local explaining in Wrat Prasat temple

The pink team explaining their choice of sites


Thai local giving presentation in Wat Prasat temple

The green team presenting their findings from the on-site interviews


Group of locals discussing work shop in Chiang Mai Thailand

The group making a final decision on the best walking route


scribbles and notes in book

My scribbles and notes from the workshop

Want to see the final Chiang Mai neighbourhood walk that is created by locals?  Download iDiscoverThailand app on Google Play Store or iTunes App Store. Don’t worry, it’s all free! Or learn more about iDiscover’s neighbourhoods.

Do you also want to get your community involved and create a new route for your neighbourhood? Drop us a line at: