Chiang Mai: A City of Art and an Art Inspired Hotel
Traveling in Thailand offers a lot, beaches, shopping, good food, and cost effective accommodations. But what if you are looking for an artistic destination, a place where you can enjoy and appreciate local art within the city and maybe even your hotel itself?
Thailand has become the epicenter for travel in the last 10 or so years, and its popularity isn’t accidental. It’s a country full of history and cuisine, beautiful landscapes and incredible cities. And located just north of Bangkok in the mountains is the city of Chiang Mai, one of the most culturally significant cities in Thailand.
When most people think of art destinations, Europe comes to mind, maybe New York City. But Chiang Mai has become a must visit if you’re an art and history lover. There are festivals, galleries, temples, and all sorts of art from traditional to graffiti style. Though it may not be the first place you think of, if you're looking for inspiration and creativity, it’s a dream destination.
The Local Art Scene
There are many galleries and studios encompassing a wide spectrum of art styles and focuses. No matter what type of art you are looking for, Chiang Mai has a studio, gallery, or exhibition for you.
Chiang Mai is full of dynamic street art. One of the best places to see this style is a section of town known as "Old City." It takes a keen eye, as the brightly colored murals are often hidden down tiny alleys or side streets. Street artists are looking for the best place for their work, not necessarily the most visible, and so patience is required to find these hidden gems.
One treasure of Chang Mai is the John Gallery. Hidden behind creeping vines on Tha Phae Road are hundreds of pieces of psychedelic art created by John Monoon.
Monoon traveled in London and New York to sell artwork before settling into his studio in Chang Mai. The art contains messages meant to inspire customers and cause them to think, not just to admire his paint.
Another space devoted to the work of a single artist is the Matoom Art Space. This gallery showcases the work of local artist Chumpol Taksapornchai. His work includes a variety of mediums, such as oil or acrylic. He makes his own paper from bamboo, giving his pieces a magical quality that impart a sense of peace and tranquility on the viewer.
Galleries in Chiang Mai showcase everything from local talent to international artists. They devote space to emerging artists and to veterans in the field.
One of the largest galleries is the Gongdee Gallery. It showcases local talent in a variety of traditions, from contemporary to traditional cultural art, and it specializes in wood and sculpture. Visitors can see statues such as dramatic, large buddhas, and altars painted by local artist Baniya. There are also some home furnishings and tapestries.
Another gallery is the “Soft Light” Gallery, or Sangdee Gallery, a not for profit gallery that promotes local and emerging talent, though it doesn’t shy away from international exhibits. It previously hosted Chris Bredon, an Royal Academy alumnus who showcased Aung San Suu Kyi during her house arrest in Burma and painted canvases from his travels across the African continent and Madagascar.
Travelers looking for something truly unique can visit La Luna gallery. It is currently the only purveyor of the tiny Thai elephants created by Thai and European artists. In addition, they offer paintings, sculptures, photos and design products from artists around the world.
There is also a space dedicated solely to Burmese artists, Thailand’s neighbors. The gallery offers a retrospective look at the work of Burmese artists in various mediums and hopes to increase awareness of Burmese culture and history. It wants viewers to see Burma for the exquisite art and architecture it offers and not just a place of conflict.
One gallery employs local artists as volunteers for exhibitions so that visitors can get inside expert information about the art. Gallery Panisa is privately owned by the Chindasilpa family who shares a passion for the art of northern Thailand and Chang Mai, and organizes several exhibitions a year showcasing that talent. The gallery recently hosted an exhibition by Missamai Prutamang. Prutamang explored the lives of the people groups of northern Thailand and the ways they are incorporating the modern world into their remote existence.
If you're more into filmmaking and photography, Documentary Arts Asia is a gallery that supports emerging Asian documentary filmmakers. This art form is gaining popularity in Thailand and with such rich culture and history has so many stories to tell. Past exhibitions included I AM BANGKOK from Lilian Suwanrumpha.
Design Hotel: akyra Manor
There’s no hotel that has embraced Chang Mai’s cultural vibe more than the akyra Manor Hotel. It’s designed as a living gallery and promises to be a vibrant and continually transforming representation of the art that makes Chang Mai different from so many other major cities.
One of the best parts of the hotel is that it not only showcases Chang Mai’s ever changing art scene, but actually allows visitors to participate in the art themselves. It offers private classes led by local artists in specialties such as charcoal or acrylics for three hour blocks to spark creativity and provide guidance.
The hotel also promotes and leads three to five day art retreats for those looking to awaken their creative spirit. Visitors can delve more fully into their artistic expression. The retreats include visits to local galleries and studios so that visitors and local artists can share in artistic vision and understanding.
The hotel itself is a 5 star artistic hotel located downtown on a street known as “Coffee Street.” Surrounding the hotel are coffee shops, boutiques, bars, and galleries, all easily reachable by walking. It also hosts its own exhibitions, beginning with showcase from the celebrated Andy Gotts that opened along with the hotel.
There are 30 rooms. 23 are deluxe suites designed to bring the outdoors in. Another 7 are larger deluxe suites designed for guests who would like to spread out, or who are bringing their whole family. Each room comes with complementary wifi, flat screen tv and ipod docks, fully stocked mini bar, and a modern espresso coffee machine.
Chiang Mai is a rising cultural center for the arts in Thailand, and is a destination that you can’t miss. Staying in an art hotel, taking art classes offered from the hotel itself, and finding great work in everything from the colorful street art, to psychedelic pieces with a profound message, to work from emerging and established Thai and international artists, Chang Mai deserves top spot on your list of must see art cities.