Top left: view of Chiang Mai's east moat; top right: the chedi of Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep; middle left: view from Doi Suthep of downtown Chiang Mai; middle right: Thapae gate; bottom left: aSongthaew share taxi; bottom right: Wat Chiang Man
Location of the city within Chiang Mai Province
|Province||Chiang Mai Province|
|• Type||City municipality|
|• Mayor||Tatsanai Puranupakorn|
|• City Municipality||40.216 km2 (15.527 sq mi)|
|• Metro||2,905 km2 (1,122 sq mi)|
|Elevation||310 m (1,020 ft)|
|• City Municipality||148,477|
|• Density||3,687/km2 (9,550/sq mi)|
|• Metro density||315.42/km2 (816.9/sq mi)|
|Time zone||Thailand (UTC+7)|
|Airport||IATA: CNX – ICAO: VTCC|
Chiang Mai (//, from Thai: เชียงใหม่ [tɕʰiəŋ màj] ( ), Northern Thai: ᨩ᩠ᨿᨦᩉ᩠ᨾᩲ᩵ [t͡ɕīaŋ.màj] ( )) sometimes written as "Chiengmai" or "Chiangmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is the capital of Chiang Mai Province, a former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna (1296–1768) and was the tributary Kingdom of Chiang Mai from 1774 until 1939. It is located 700 km (435 mi) north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. The city is along the Ping River, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River. Chiang Mai means "new city" and was so-named because it was the new capital, founded in 1296, succeeding Chiang Rai (founded 1262) in the capital of the Lanna kingdom.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city and has been attracting over 5 million visitors each year, of which between 1.4 million and 2 million are foreign tourists (depending on the year).
Chiang Mai gained prominence in the political sphere in May 2006, when the Chiang Mai Initiative was concluded here between the ASEAN nations and the "+3" countries (China, Japan, and South Korea). Chiang Mai was one of three Thai cities contending for Thailand's bid to host the World Expo 2020 (the others were Chon Buri and Ayutthaya). However, Ayutthaya was the city chosen by the Thai Parliament to register for the international competition.
It has also recently positioned itself to become a Creative City, and is considering applying for Creative City Status with UNESCO. Chiang Mai is one of two tourist destinations in Thailand on TripAdvisor's list of "25 Best Destinations in the World", where it stands in place 24.
While officially the city (thesaban nakhon) of Chiang Mai only covers most parts of the Mueang Chiang Mai district with a population of 160,000, the urban sprawl of the city now extends into several neighboring districts. This Chiang Mai Metropolitan Area has a population of nearly one million people, more than half the total of Chiang Mai Province.
The city is subdivided into four wards (khwaeng): Nakhon Ping, Srivijaya, Mengrai, and Kawila. The first three are on the west bank of the Ping River, and Kawila is located on the east bank. Nakhon Ping district comprises the north side of the city. Srivijaya, Mengrai, and Kawila consist of the west, south, and east respectively. The city center—within the city walls—is mostly within Srivijaya ward.
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King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning "new city") in 1296 on the location of an older city of the Lawa people called Wiang Nopburi. Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna kingdom. The ruler was known as the Chao. The city was surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall, since nearby Burma was a constant threat as well as the armies of the Mongol Empire which only decades earlier had conquered most of Yunnan, China, and in 1292 overran the bordering Thai Lü kingdom of Chiang Hung. With the decline of the Lanna Kingdom, the city lost importance and was occupied by the Burmese in 1556. Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1775 by an agreement with Chao Kavila, after the Thai King Taksin helped drive out the Burmese. Because of the Burmese counterattacks, Chiang Mai was abandoned between 1776 and 1791. Lampang then served as the capital of what remained of Lanna. Chiang Mai then slowly grew in cultural, trading and economic importance to its current status as the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, second in importance only to Bangkok.
The modern municipality dates to a sanitary district (sukhaphiban) that was created in 1915. This was upgraded to a municipality (thesaban) on March 29, 1935, as published in the Royal Gazette, Book No. 52 section 80. First covering just 17.5 km2 (7 sq mi), the city was enlarged to 40.216 km2 (16 sq mi) on April 5, 1983.
Chiang Mai has a tropical wet and dry climate (Köppen Aw), tempered by the low latitude and moderate elevation, with warm to hot weather year-round, though nighttime conditions during the dry season can be cool and are much lower than daytime highs. The maximum temperature ever recorded is 42.4 °C (108.3 °F) in May 2005.
|Climate data for Chiang Mai (1981–2010)|
|Record high °C (°F)||35.5
|Average high °C (°F)||29.8
|Average low °C (°F)||14.9
|Record low °C (°F)||0.5
|Rainfall mm (inches)||4.2
|Avg. rainy days (≥ 1 mm)||1||2||2||6||14||14||16||18||20||14||5||1||113|
|Mean monthly sunshine hours||272.8||251.4||269.7||258.0||217.0||177.0||170.5||161.2||156.0||198.4||234.0||263.5||2,629.5|
|Source #1: Thai Meteorological Department (Normal 1981-2010), (Avg. rainy days 1961-1990)|
|Source #2: Hong Kong Observatory (sunshine)|
The city emblem depicts the chedi at Wat Doi Suthep in its center. Below it are clouds, representing the moderate climate in the mountains of northern Thailand. There is a naga, the mythical snake said to be the source of the Ping River, and rice stalks, which refer to the fertility of the land.
- Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the city's most famous temple, stands on Doi Suthep, a hill to the northwest of the city. This temple dates from 1383.
- Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, dates from the 13th century. King Mengrai lived here during the construction of the city. This temple houses two important and venerated Buddha figures, the marble Phra Sila and the crystal Phra Satang Man.
- Wat Phra Singh is located within the city walls, dates from 1345 and offers an example of classic northern Thai style architecture. It houses the Phra Singh Buddha, a highly venerated figure brought here many years ago from Chiang Rai.
- Wat Chedi Luang was founded in 1401 and is dominated by a large Lanna style chedi which took many years to finish. An earthquake damaged the chedi in the 16th century and only two-thirds of it remains.
- Wat Ku Tao in the city's Chang Phuak District dates from (at least) the 13th century and is distinguished by an unusual alms bowl-shaped stupa thought to contain the ashes of King Nawrathaminsaw, Chiang Mai's first Burmese ruler.
- Wat Chet Yot is located on the outskirts of the city. Built in 1455, the temple hosted the Eighth World Buddhist Council in 1977.
- Wiang Kum Kam is at the site of an old city on the southern outskirts of Chiang Mai. King Mengrai lived there for ten years before the founding of Chiang Mai. The site includes many ruined temples.
- Wat Umong is a forest and cave wat in the foothills in the west of the city, near Chiang Mai University. Wat U-Mong is known for its fasting Buddha, representing the Buddha at the end of his long and fruitless fasting period before he gained enlightenment.
- Wat RamPoeng (Tapotaram), near Wat U-Mong, is known for its meditation center (Northern Insight Meditation Center). The temple teaches the traditional vipassana technique and students stay from 10 days to more than a month as they try to meditate at least 10 hours a day. Wat RamPoeng houses the largest collection of Tipitaka, the complete Theravada canon, in several Northern dialects.
- Wat Suan Dok is a 14th-century temple located just west of the old city-wall. It was built by the king for a revered monk visiting from Sukhothai for the rains retreat. The temple is also the site of Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya Buddhist University, where monks pursue their studies.
- "First Church", Chiang Mai, was founded in 1868 by the Laos Mission of the Rev. Daniel and Mrs. Sophia McGilvary. Chiang Mai has about 20 Christian churches Chiang Mai is the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Chiang Mai.
- Muslim traders have been travelling to north Thailand for many centuries, and a small settled presence has existed in Chiang Mai from at least the middle of the 19th century. The city has mosques identified with Chinese or Chin Haw Muslims as well as Muslims of Bengali, Pathan and Malay descent. In 2011, there were 16 mosques in the city.
- Two gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) serve the city's Sikh community, Siri Guru Singh Sabha and Namdhari Sikh Temples.
- Hindu temple Devi Mandir serves the Hindu community.
Chiang Mai hosts many Thai festivals, including:
- Loi Krathong (known locally as Yi Peng): Held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar, being the full moon of the 2nd month of the old Lanna calendar. In the western calendar this usually falls in November. Every year thousands of people assemble floating banana-leaf containers (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles onto the waterways of the city to worship the Goddess of Water. Lanna-style sky lanterns (khom fai or kom loi), which are hot-air balloons made of paper, are launched into the air. The sky lanterns are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.
- Songkran: Held in mid-April to celebrate the traditional Thai new year. Chiang Mai has become one of the most popular locations to visit for this festival. A variety of religious and fun-related activities (notably the good-natured city-wide water-fight) take place each year, along with parades and a Miss Songkran beauty competition.
- Chiang Mai Flower Festival: A three-day festival held during the first weekend in February each year, this event occurs when Chiang Mai's temperate and tropical flowers are in full bloom.
- Tam Bun Khan Dok, the Inthakin (City Pillar) Festival, starts on the day of the waning moon of the six lunar month and lasts 6–8 days.
The inhabitants speak Kham Muang (also known as Northern Thai or Lanna) among themselves, though Central Thai is used in education and is understood by almost everyone. English is used in hotels and travel-related businesses and many educated people speak English. The Kham Muang alphabet is now studied only by scholars, and Northern Thai is commonly written with the standard Thai alphabet.
- Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center.
- Chiang Mai National Museum highlights the history of the region and the Kingdom of Lanna.
- Tribal Museum showcases the history of the local mountain tribes.
- Mint Bureau of Chiangmai or Sala Thanarak, Treasury Department, Ministry of Finance, Rajdamnern Road (one block from AUA) has an old coin museum open to the public during business hours. The Lanna Kingdom used leaf (or line) money made of brass and silver bubbles, also called "pig-mouth" money. Nobody has been able to duplicate the technique of making pig-mouth money, and because the silver is very thin and breakable, good pieces are now very rare.
Khantoke dinner is an old Lanna Thai tradition in Chiang Mai. It is an elaborate dinner or lunch which is offered by a host to guests at various ceremonies or parties, e.g., at weddings, housewarmings, celebrations, novice ordinations, or funerals. It can also be held for temple celebrations such as celebrations for specific buildings in a Thai temple and at Buddhist festivals such as Khao Pansa, Og Pansa, Loi Krathong, and Thai New Year (Songkran).
Chiang Mai has several universities, including Chiang Mai University, Chiangmai Rajabhat University, Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna, Payap University, Far Eastern University, and Maejo University—as well as numerous technical and teacher colleges. Chiang Mai University was the first government university established outside of Bangkok. Payap University is the first private institution in Thailand that was granted university status.
- The nearby national parks include Doi Inthanon National Park, which includes Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand; Doi Pui Suthep; and Obkhan.
- Doi Pui Suthep National Park is just outside town. From all over Chiang Mai you can see the Wat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple looking down on the town from Doi Suthep mountain.
- Elephant Nature Park: Approximately 60 km (37 mi) north of the city or about one hour drive, the Elephant Nature Park is home to approximately 30 rescued elephants.
- Hill-tribe tourism and trekking: A large number of tour companies offer organized treks among the local hills and forests on foot and on elephant back. Most also involve visits to the various local hill tribes. These include representatives from the Akha, Hmong, Karen, and Lisu tribes.
Nightlife in Chiang Mai consists of numerous bars, several discotheques and live music venues. The discotheques play a variety of music, ranging from electronic dance music to reggae, while live music venues, like the Maya Cafe, feature solo artists as part of the roster. Also, Loi Kroh Road, in the center of the city, is well known for the hostess bars that are located along the length of most of the street—the street also features a walk-in arcade, with a Muay Thai boxing ring, near the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel.
Bars and late-night restaurants are located throughout the city, but many can be found on either side of the moat's eastern flank (in the Thaphe Gate area). Live music venues are located in several areas: along the Ping River near Nawarat Bridge; along Immanent road in the western part of the city; or in the vicinity of the night bazaar. The Playhouse Theatre, on Chang Puak road in the old city, offers nightly shows and entertainment, performed by Thai national performers, featuring contemporary jazz, ballet and tap dance performances; the 350-seat venue also offers a unique Lanna dining experience, surrounded by mountains and waterfalls.
Karaoke lounges can be found throughout the city, with many found on Chiang Mai Land Road; some very large establishments exist along the length of Chang Klan Road, extending south from the night bazaar. Go-go bars can be found in Chiang Mai, but they are less significant in comparison to karaoke venues—Foxy Lady Night Bazaar, off Thaphe Rd, is one such bar.
- Shopping: Chiang Mai has a large and famous night bazaar for local arts and handicrafts. The night bazaar sprawls across several city blocks along footpaths, inside buildings and temple grounds, and in open squares. A handicraft and food market opens every Sunday afternoon till late on Rachadamnoen Road, the main street in the historical centre, which is then closed to motorised traffic. Every Saturday evening a handicraft market is held along Wua Lai road, Chiang Mai's silver street on the south-side of the city beyond Chiang Mai gate, which is then also closed to motorized traffic.
- Thai massage: The back streets and main thoroughfares of Chiang Mai have an abundance and variety of massage parlours which offer anything from quick, simple, face and foot massages, to month-long courses in the art of Thai massage.
- Thai cookery: A number of Thai cooking schools have their home in Chiang Mai (see also Thai food).
- For IT shopping, there's Pantip Plaza just south of Night Bazaar, as well as Computer Plaza, Computer City, and Icon Square near the northern moat and IT City department store in Kad Suan Kaew mall.
- Horse racing: Every Saturday starting at 12:30 are the races at "Kawila Race Track" and betting on the horses is legal.
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Bus, train and air connections serve Chiang Mai well. A number of bus stations link the city to central and northern Thailand. The Central Chang Pheuak terminal (north of Chiang Puak Gate) provides local services within Chiang Mai Province and the Chiang Mai Arcade bus terminal northeast of the city (requires songthaew or tuk-tuk ride, see below) provides services to over 20 other destinations in Thailand including Bangkok, Ayutthaya, and Phitsanulok. There are several services a day from Chiang Mai Arcade terminal to Bangkok (a 10–12 hour journey).
The state railway operates 14 trains a day to Chiang Mai Station from Bangkok. Most journeys run overnight and take approximately 12–15 hours. Most trains offer first-class (private cabins) and a second-class (seats fold out to make sleeping berths) service..
Chiang Mai International Airport receives up to 28 flights a day from Bangkok (flight time about 1 hour 10 minutes) and also serves as a local hub for services to other northern cities such as Chiang Rai, Phrae and Mae Hong Son. International services also connect Chiang Mai with other regional centers, including cities in other Asian countries.
The local preferred form of transport is personal motorbike and, increasingly, private car.
Local public transport is provided in four forms: tuktuks, songthaews, less frequently rickshaws and the recently re-launched, though infrequent, Chiang Mai bus service. Local songthaew fare is usually 20–50 Thai baht per person for trips in and around the city. If the group of people is larger, the fare per person will be less. Tuk-tuk fare is usually at least 20 baht per trip (comfortable for two, but some can squeeze in four passengers); fare increases with distance. Chiang Mai's local bus service was relaunched in 2006. It serves routes in and around the city, although the service itself lacks the frequency and network available in other major cities.
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The Tourism Authority of Thailand's (TAT) website promotes the city as "a place where both backpackers and luxury tourists can enjoy the ultimate Thailand holiday", as the city is "one of the few places in Thailand where it is possible to experience both historical and modern Thai culture coexisting side by side: the city features centuries-old chedis and temples next to modern convenience stores and boutique hotels."
The Tourism Authority of Thailand's Chiang Mai office expects the number of tourists from China to increase by at least 20 per cent this year from 2012, driven by the success of the Chinese film "Lost in Thailand". More than 80 per cent of the film was shot in the northern province.
The Thailand Convention and Exhibition Bureau (TCEB) is aiming to market Chiang Mai as a global MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferencing, Exhibitions) city as part of a five-year MICE plan. In 2012, the total value of the Chiang Mai MICE industry reached 3.9 billion baht, of which 3.8 billion baht was contributed by 46,826 foreign MICE travellers.
However, the influx of tourists has put a strain on the city’s natural resources. Faced with rampant unplanned development, air and water pollution, waste management problems and traffic congestion, the city has launched a non-motorised transport (NMT) system. The initiative, developed by a partnership of experts and with support from the Climate & Development Knowledge Network, aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create employment opportunities for the urban poor. The climate compatible development strategy has gained support from policy-makers and citizens alike as a result of its many benefits. 
A continuing environmental problem facing Chiang Mai is the incidence of air pollution which primarily occurs in February and March. This issue has been acknowledged for some time. Back in 1996, speaking at the Fourth International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement conference, which was held in Chiang Mai in that year, the then governor of Chiang Mai, Virachai Naewboonien invited guest speaker Dr. Jakapan Wongburanawatt, the Dean of the Social Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University at that time, to discuss the state of Chiang Mai air pollution efforts. Dr. Wongburanawatt stated that back in 1994, there were already increasing numbers of city residents coming to hospitals suffering from respiratory problems associated with city air pollution. The Thailand Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is actively engaged in finding solutions with public awareness campaigns and other initiatives. During this period, unlike the majority of the year, air quality in Chiang Mai often remains below recommended standards with fine-particle dust levels reaching twice the standard.
The northern centre of the Meteorological Department has reported that low-pressure areas from China trap forest-fire smoke in the mountains along the Thai-Myanmar border. In a research conducted between 2005 and 2009, average PM10 rates in Chiang Mai during February and March were found to be well above the country's safety level of 120 μg/m3, peaking at 383 μg/m3 on 14 March 2007. The World Health Organization acceptable level is 50 μg/m3.
To address the increasing greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Chiang Mai, the city government has advocated the use of non-motorised transport (NMT). In addition to its potential to reduce greenhouse emissions, the NMT initiative addresses other issues such as traffic congestion, air quality, income generation for the poor and the long-term viability of the tourism industry.
- Uozu, Japan (8 August 1989)
- Saitama prefecture, Japan (9 November 1992)
- Kunming, Yunnan, China (7 June 1999)
- Harbin, China (29 April 2008)
Street food at the Sunday Evening Market.
A soi northeast of the city center
A police tuktuk at Tapae Gate.
The Ho Trai (library) of Wat Phra Singh
- Chiang Mai Creative City
- Chiang Mai Initiative
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