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Chiang Mai Information and Travel Guide

About Chiang Mai

Many visitors stay in Chiang Mai longer than planned because of the high quality and low cost of accommodation, variety of cuisine and shopping, cool nights, international atmosphere and friendly people. With the increasing number of cultural and spiritual learning experiences available to visitors, Chiang Mai has become more than just a quick stop on the tourist trail.

Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city, covering some 20,000 square kilometres. With a population of only 250,000 in the city, however, it does not even come close to the size of Bangkok.

It lies about 800 kilometres north of Bangkok on a mountainous plateau 310 metres above sea level. The city stands along the Ping River, a major tributary of Bangkok's Chao Praya River. Chiang Mai City also serves as the capital of Chiang Mai Province, which is home to around 700,000 people.

The province of Chiang Mai contains over 300 ancient temples, and some of the country's oldest. Although rich with history and legendary, mystical attributes, Chiang Mai has developed into a modern, cosmopolitan city of friendly people and manageable size. Its central location makes Chiang Mai an excellent base for exploring the north of Thailand.

Getting there is relatively easy. There are flights and trains from Bangkok daily as well as a good bus service. If your stay in Thailand is a short one, it's only an hour's flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Many people flock to Chiang Mai to do some trekking into the mountains or rafting down rivers. Others come purely for the fantastic shopping for handicrafts and furniture. Chiang Mai's elegant hotels tucked in valleys and hillsides provide perfect romantic getaways or soul-searching retreats. As everywhere in this country, Thai cooking is superb and you're sure to find a restaurant to suit your tastes.

The mountains are taller here than anywhere else in Thailand. Mt. Inthanon, located 106km from Chiang Mai at 2565 metres is the tallest peak in the country. The cooler plains provide fertile soil where fruits, vegetables and tobacco are grown.

It would be difficult to find a city that reflects more of the country's diverse cultural heritage than Chiang Mai. Tour buses crowd stunning temples, ablaze with the colour of saffron and humming with the chanting of monks. Hill tribe groups sell their wares in the busy market and local villages. Narrow streets lined with ornately carved teak houses lie in the shadow of contemporary skyscrapers.

Chiang Mai's heart is its Old City, an area surrounded by remnants of ancient walls and moats originally constructed for defence; yet Chiang Mai is a modern city with a growing infrastructure of modern shopping malls, international restaurants and condominiums. The contrast is part of the town's charm.

Whether you plan on a long visit or short, you will be touched by the friendliness of the people and the beauty of the Chiang Mai.

The Past of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai literally means new city and has retained the name despite having celebrated its 700th anniversary in 1996. King Meng Rai founded the city as the capital of the Lanna (A Million Rice Fields) Kingdom on Thursday, 12th April 1296 during the same period of time as the establishment of the Sukhothai Kingdom. King Meng Rai the Great conferred with his friends, King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Phayao before choosing the site where the capital of the Lanna Kingdom was to be founded.

From then, Chiang Mai not only became the capital and cultural core of the Lanna Kingdom, it was also the centre of Buddhism in northern Thailand. King Meng Rai himself was very religious and founded many of the city's temples, which are still important today.

At the height of its power, the Lanna Kingdom extended its territory far into Burma and Laos, and southwards to Kamphaeng Phet a province above Sukhothai.

The Burmese conquered the Lanna Kingdom in 1556 ending the dynasty founded by King Meng Rai that lasted over 250 years. As Burma had occupied Chiang Mai for nearly 200 years, Burmese architectural influences are visible in many temples. At the end of the 18th century, King Taksin the Great regrouped the Thais in the south and finally drove the Burmese out with the help of King Kawila of Lampang thereby regaining Thai independence from Burma. Chiang Mai was then governed by a succession of princes who ruled the north as a Siamese protectorate under the Chakri dynasty. In the late 19th century, King Rama V appointed a high commissioner in Chiang Mai and it was only in 1939 that Chiang Mai finally came under the direct control of the central government in Bangkok the same time the country was renamed Thailand.

In the past, Chiang Mai was only accessible by river and elephants. More convenient access was achieved only when the railway line was completed in the late 1920's. Moreover, the first motor vehicle driven directly from Bangkok arrived in Chiang Mai in 1932. Such isolation was more favorable to Chiang Mai as it helped to nurture and preserve the unique Lanna culture. When we look at Chiang Mai today, it is the economic, cultural and communications hub of northern Thailand complete with excellent infrastructure, good roads, by passes and road tunnels, and reliable communications infrastructure.

The Setting

Chiang Mai, with an altitude of approximately 310 meters above sea level, is situated approximately 700 kilometers from Bangkok on the Mae Ping River basin. Surrounded by high mountain ranges, the city covers an area of approximately 20,107 square kilometers and is the country's second largest province. Chiang Mai borders Myanmar on the north, Lamphun and Tak Provinces on the south, Chiang Rai, Lampang and Lamphun Provinces on the east and Mae Hong Son Province on the west. The terrain is mainly comprised of jungles and mountains, which are home to the hill tribes. In addition, wildlife and exotic flora may be found in the national parks.

Most of Chiang Mai's mountains are oriented from north to south. Together they create a multitude of streams and tributaries including Mae Chaem, Mae Ngat and Mae Klang. One of Chiang Mai's distinctive features is Doi Inthanon, Thailands highest peak, which is 2,575 meters above sea level. In addition, the province boasts flat, fertile valleys, which spread along the banks of the largest and most important river in Chiang Mai Mae Nam Ping (Ping River) which originates from the Chiang Dao mountain range.

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