Have you seen all the main tourist hot spots in Chiang Mai but have an extra day before journeying on to your next port of adventure? Consider bicycling through the wooded campus of Chiang Mai University. Located between Suthep and Huay Kaew roads, with the main entrance off Huay Kaew, Chiang Mai University offers shade from the hot Thai sun, picnic areas, beautiful views of Doi Suthep and a look inside university life in northern Thailand.
When To Go?
Any day at any time of year is a good day to bicycle through the university campus but if you are looking for peaceful days when fewer people are on the roads, weekends or the months of September, March, April and May are the best times to visit.
If interacting with people is part of the experience for you, however, consider visiting during the week and especially on Wednesdays when classes are not held. You are more likely to see students practicing school spirit chants/dances, sports activities and final projects. In addition, campus-wide festivals and faculty-sponsored events, such as Japan Day, are most often held on Wednesdays.
Yearly attractions include the week-long Annual Book Fair at the end of November which is located in around the Main Library near the Registration Office. There is also a Vegetarian Festival in September in and around the ITSC building near the post office. If you like to people watch, consider visiting campus during graduation week when the first year students design photo booth displays and games for the graduating class. Do NOT attempt to go on campus during this week with anything other than a bicycle or your own two feet as the traffic is insane!
Where do I begin?
You can enter the university via one of the several entrances. I recommend either starting at the main gate off of Huay Kaew Road, which is the same road you would take on your way up to Doi Suthep. This will get you immediate access to Sala Dham Hall, the reservoir and some beautifully shaded grounds.
The other recommendation is to enter at one of the three gates off of Suthep Road, just north of Klon Chon Pratan or Canal (Irrigation) Road.
The first one will land you at the Royal Project store where you can buy fresh organic produce, vegetable chips and an assortment of locally grown tea and coffee. This store is also equipped with a salad bar and comfortable places to sit and relax, both inside with AC or outside with fresh air.
The second gate will take you to the Language Institute on your left and the agricultural fields on your right where, during the academic school year, you can see what the agriculture students have planted. This is a particularly beautiful place during graduation week.
The third gate will have you bicycling directly towards the clock tower. If you go straight past the clock tower and make your next right, you will see public exercise equipment for the students. You may not have seen some of these before and it could be fun to try out and get pictures of you doing so.
Vegan Places to Eat?
Finding vegan options on campus is a bit like finding a palm tree on a snow-covered mountain. Pork seems to make its way into everything, even “vegetarian” dishes, but there are a few places that are vegan-friendly.
Vegan snacks, fruit and a salad can be purchased at the Royal Project Store and there is one vegetarian food stall in the cafeteria in the Social Sciences building, across from the Registration Office and behind the ITSC building. All the meals served there are vegan with the exception of a few dishes that include egg. The woman who runs this stall is very friendly, patient with foreigners struggling to speak Thai and is an excellent cook. A plate of rice and two dishes of your choice will cost you only 25 baht. Three choices will cost you 35.
A final option is Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant, which is located off-campus and is only a short bike ride up Suthep Road on the left hand side or, alternatively, you can bring your meal and enjoy a picnic on campus.
If you want to people watch, eating lunch in the cafeteria will be part of the experience and might just bring back some memories of your college days. The most beautiful place to eat on campus is at the reservoir, which is located across from the Faculty of Humanities and near the front gate of the university. I recommend walking around to the opposite side where you will find picnic tables set up with a great view. You can also play a game of chess or checkers as each tables comes with a built in mosaic chess board.
The university is actually equipped with banks, a post office and even a money exchange. Coffee shops and bakeries are sprinkled throughout the campus so if you’re looking for a break, a libation is never far away. The larger streets within the campus have designated bike lanes and there is a gas station just off Klon Chon Pratan where you can fill up your tires if needed.
Activities on Campus
A Japanese men’s softball league meets every Sunday and Wednesday morning for a warm-up and game. This is a great opportunity to watch a softball game, cheer on the batters and perhaps learn a few Japanese phrases.
A Tai Chi group meets every weekday evening from 5-6pm under the pavilion to the right as you enter the main gate to the university. If you join a session you will be perfectly timed to visit the market across the street which opens at 6pm.
You can also peruse the Geology Museum in the Biology Building, the small Art Gallery at the Fine Arts building or create some of your own art by taking pictures as the grounds are rather photogenic. And if you happen to be visiting in the month of February the Department of Humanities offers a theater production (in English) every year, usually over a weekend.
Visit the King’s building (Sala Ang Kaew) which was recently constructed where you can see pictures of the King and Queen at various stage of their lives. The information in this mini-museum is unfortunately not in English but it’s beauty is worth a look inside and it’s a great place to cool down from the heat as it is always air-conditioned.
Don’t be afraid to put down the map and just bicycle where your heart takes you. This is often how you discover wonderful things. Don’t be afraid to go up and talk to students. Especially in and around the Department of Humanities, many students are itching to practice speaking English with fluent English speakers. Get student advice of secret places on campus they have discovered. And don’t worry, you’ll never be lost for long as all roads eventually lead to either Suthep, Klon Chon Pratan (Irrigation Road) or Huay Kaew Road.