Tha Phae Gate is a historically significant landmark in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is one of the most well-preserved city gates of the ancient city walls that once surrounded the old town of Chiang Mai. As such, it is a significant tourist attraction and the central point of the old city area.
Chiang Mai City was founded in 1296 as the then-new capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Under the rule of King Mengrai, the city was designed with a square shape and surrounded by a protective wall and a moat. This gate, previously called Chiang Ruak Gate, was one of the main entrances to the walled city.
Tha Phae Gate was believed to be constructed in the early 13th century, shortly after the city’s foundation. Its original purpose was to serve as a defensive structure against Mongol and Burmese, allowing controlled access to the city and protecting it from potential invasions. The gate is located on the eastern side of the old city’s walls and is one of the five original gates to the city.
In the past, this ancient gate played a crucial role in the city’s transportation and trade. Translated, Tha Phae means “raft landing.” It was a significant hub for merchants, traders, and travelers entering or leaving Chiang Mai. The gate also served as a checkpoint where goods were inspected and taxed.
Over time, as the city expanded beyond its walls, the gate lost its military and defensive importance and deteriorated with time and material theft. The outer wall was removed, leaving only the inner wall. However, it continued to hold cultural and symbolic significance for the local population, and the local community funded its reconstruction.
Today, Tha Phae Gate stands as an iconic symbol of Chiang Mai’s rich history and cultural heritage. It has become a popular tourist attraction and is a gathering place for locals and visitors. The area around the gate, called Tha Pae Square, is bustling with activity, featuring shops, cafes, and street vendors.
Additionally, this part of the old town is often the starting point for traditional festivals and processions in Chiang Mai. It is a favored spot for locals to gather during important events, such as New Year’s celebrations or Yi Peng. During this festival, floating lanterns are released into the sky.
The original wall and gate have undergone several renovations and modifications over the centuries. It was initially built using a combination of brick and laterite, a type of rock commonly found in the region. The gate features architectural elements influenced by the Lanna and Burmese styles, reflecting the historical and cultural exchange between the two kingdoms.
Some of the notable features and design elements of Tha Phae Gate include the following:
Walking around Tha Phae Gate, you will notice it is a busy commercial area with a mix of Eastern and Western influences. However, you will see temples, monuments, and other popular Chiang Mai attractions between the shops and hotels.
Of course, many activities are hosted at this central location. There is a permanent market on the go, given the spot’s popularity. The market extends into the nighttime, too, so you’ll always have something to peruse when you’re there.
The permanent market differs from other tourist markets in Chiang Mai in that the vendors create much of the handiwork onsite using traditional methods. For instance, weavers, carpenters, potters, and metalworkers create clothes and old-fashioned household items. While their prices aren’t cheap, their products are authentic and of a higher quality than those at other markets.
The Tha Phae Square is a hub for all sorts of events and is especially busy during festivals. For instance, during Yi Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals in November, the square marks the start of the lantern parades and ceremonies. It is heavily decorated with lanterns and colorful flowers, making it a sight to behold day and night.
The same is true for the Chiang Mai Flower Festival, which is held on the first weekend in February. The opening ceremony is held in the square, and a parade goes past it later in the festival. Around the square and gate, you will see and smell hundreds of thousands of flowers and ornamental plants.
The gate is a great starting place to explore this part of Chiang Mai. When you have finished admiring its interesting architecture, there are plenty of other activities for you.
A popular activity here is to have your photo taken by the gate’s plaque as hundreds of pigeons fly around you. Many tourists and locals pay the entrepreneurial “pigeon spookers” to unsettle the pigeons for an action shot. While it can make a good photo, there are signs around requesting that people do not feed the pigeons as they become pests.
Let’s look at some other activities for you to consider when visiting Tha Phae Gate:
Walking or riding a bicycle is the best way to explore this central part of Chiang Mai. If you want a guided tour, consider signing up for a bicycle tour that takes you to landmarks, temples, and markets in the area.
Alternatively, consider walking or riding this 7.6 km (4.7 mi) loop trail. It starts on the eastern side of Iron Bridge, crosses over Ping River, and goes to Tha Phae Gate and beyond. The best time to do this route is in the early morning, when you can greet the monks going about their chores and watch the city wake up and start the day.
Every Sunday, a market starts at 4 pm and extends to midnight. It is commonly known as the Thapae Walking Street Market, extending 1.5 km (0.93 mi) down Rachadamnoen Road, which is closed for this weekly event.
Walking Street has much to offer for locals and tourists alike. For instance, you can buy Hill tribe products, artworks, woven silk and fabrics, wood carvings, lamps, and clothes. Remember to haggle for a reasonable price, as the vendors consider this a fun habit, and negotiate happily with buyers.
There are dance performances, live music, and beauty pageants during the night market and other events. The sois (or lanes) on either side of the road act as street performance areas for the various entertainers. Additionally, on Saturday nights, you can enjoy live music shows in the square.
In the plaza in front of the gate is a food court selling traditional dishes from Chiang Mai, e.g., Chiang Mai sausage and Khao Soi. The food prices at the market are reasonable and popular with locals and tourists.
Many other eateries sell local and Western food in the area, too. Some of these include popular fast-food chains like Burger King, MacDonalds, and Starbucks.
Tha Phae Gate and Square are a wide space open to sunlight and soaring temperatures. The busiest time is mid-morning before the temperatures reach midday high. There are trees around the gate and square, but many people sit or lie beneath them to escape the sun.
It is advisable to wear sunscreen, a hat, cool clothes, and shoes when you visit during the day. The ground gets incredibly hot to walk on with flimsy shoes, and heatstroke is a real risk if you’re not used to such temperatures. Additionally, make sure you keep hydrated; there are many shops (including two 7-11s) nearby for you to buy water or other refreshments.
The best time to visit the gate and square is during one of the Chiang Mai festivals or the Sunday night markets. Just be prepared for it to be very crowded. Also, when it is crowded, keep your valuables in a backpack or handbag that you can hold securely, and refrain from keeping things in your back pockets. As safe as Chiang Mai is, pickpockets are about, especially when it is busy.
When you’re at Tha Phae Gate, you’ll be close to dozens of other historical landmarks in the area, making it a convenient starting point. Additionally, there are many restaurants, cafés, and places to stay. Listed below are some of them:
As mentioned, the gate is one of the entrances to the old city. The ancient city of Chiang Mai is full of sights, including ruins, temples, and monuments. Wandering around the original city, you’ll be able to learn and appreciate its history of over 700 years.
Wat Lok Moli is a 14th-century temple housing a relic of Buddha. Also on site is the Great Pagoda, with twelve smaller pagodas resembling twelve northern Thailand temples. The twelve zodiac signs are represented alongside the pagoda with the view to allow believers to worship according to their own sign.
Wat Jed Yot is another ancient temple, completed in 1455. This holy place was the conference center for over a hundred monks in 1477. The temple is a serene place to visit, where you can watch young monks copying Buddha images onto the pagoda walls.
Bhubing Palace is the Thai Royal Family’s winter residence overlooking Chiang Mai. While it is not ancient (built in the early 1960s), it is a beautiful place to visit.
Chiang Mai Gate is the old city’s south gate, and it is still relatively intact, like Tha Phae Gate. A night market is held here every Saturday night, and the vibe is lively.
Wat Mahawan is an ancient, Burmese-style temple combining Lanna and Burmese architecture. Wat Mahawan has distinctive pagodas, ornate halls, and triple-layered eaves, giving it a solemn look.
Suan Dok Gate is perhaps one of the quieter gates of ancient Chiang Mai. Its high red brick walls are quite well preserved, and there is an old brick pagoda nearby and a lot of greenery.
Chang Phuak Gate night market is much smaller than the Tha Phae night market. The market runs every night, and it’s an excellent place to get snacks like the popular Fengfeifei Pig’s Foot Rice.
If you’re visiting northern Thailand, make a point to visit the old Lanna capital steeped in history. Tha Phae Gate is one of its ancient gates, built over 700 years ago and restored as a symbolic landmark with fascinating architecture.
When you visit Chiang Mai, you should visit this historical site and enjoy its surroundings. While the gate only warrants a few minutes, much is happening in the area. Use Tha Phae Gate as a base from which to explore the old city, and be sure to visit it for nighttime entertainment – especially on weekends.
Tha Phae Gate is not just an entry point, it’s a symbol of the city’s rich history. Historically, it was one of the four original city gates through which traders brought their wares into Chiang Mai. Its name, “Tha Phae,” translates to “raft landing,” indicating the gate’s role as a customs point where rafts loaded with goods from the Ping River were unloaded.
Tha Phae Gate was originally built around 1296 when King Mangrai founded Chiang Mai. However, the present-day gate is a reconstruction, as the original was eroded over the centuries.
From Chiang Mai International Airport, the easiest way to reach Tha Phae Gate is by taxi or tuk-tuk. It’s a short ride of about 6 kilometers, which usually takes around 15-20 minutes depending on traffic.
Thai people highly respect their historical sites. Therefore, it’s essential to dress modestly and refrain from any disrespectful acts like climbing on the walls. It’s also common to see people releasing birds and fish at the gate for good luck – a fascinating tradition you might want to partake in.
Accommodations around Tha Phae Gate are varied. De Naga Hotel offers a boutique experience with a Northern Thai aesthetic. Thapae Loft provides chic modern design, and Shangri-La Hotel brings world-class luxury. For budget travelers, hostels like Thapae Wow and Sleep Guesthouse offer excellent value.
Tha Phae Gate is a central venue for many of Chiang Mai’s most significant festivals. During Songkran, the Thai New Year, the area around the gate is filled with locals and tourists engaging in playful water fights. During the Yi Peng lantern festival, the sky above Tha Phae Gate fills with thousands of glowing lanterns.
Yes, there are numerous guided tours, both group and private. These tours often encompass other historical and cultural sites within the old city. A knowledgeable guide can provide valuable insights into the history and significance of Tha Phae Gate and the city’s other landmarks.
Chiang Mai is known for its unique Northern Thai cuisine. Try “Khao Soi,” a curry noodle soup, or “Sai Ua,” a spicy sausage. Many restaurants near Tha Phae Gate serve these dishes, including Dash! Restaurant and Bar, The Riverside, and Huen Phen.
Tha Phae Gate, as a historical monument, doesn’t require a huge amount of time to visit. However, I’d recommend setting aside at least an hour to fully absorb its historical significance, take photos, and perhaps partake in bird or fish release if you wish. Additionally, the surrounding area has lots of shops and restaurants that you might want to explore.
One lesser-known fact about Tha Phae Gate is its historical role in class segregation. The gate was once utilized to separate commoners from the nobility and traders. Common people were not permitted to use the gate; they had to use smaller gates elsewhere in the city walls. It’s a testament to how society and Chiang Mai have evolved over the centuries.
Discover a variety of pricing options for renting automatic scooters, maxi-scooters, semi-automatic motorbikes, and manual-gear motorcycles in Chiang Mai by browsing our Motorbikes Rental Rates page. Find out more about our scooter rental in Chiang Mai.
If you prefer to travel by car, be sure to read our guide on how to save up to 50% on rental car expenses in Chiang Mai.
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