INM Asia Guides -> Thailand Travel Guide -> Chiang Mai & Northern Thailand
Chiang Mai,  the "Rose of the North", as it is often called, is the geographical and also the political capital of Northern Thailand (Lanna). It is the second largest city of Thailand, after Bangkok. (See our small map

The city is located in a valley on the banks of the river Ping. West of the city is the holy hill of Doi Suthep that is crowned with the temple Wat Prathat. If you arrive by plane one of the first things you see after the plane has landed is the high green hill to the left of the runway with the sparkling golden temple roofs.

Chiang Mai
View from Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

Until the 1960s Chiang Mai was a relatively quiet town full of beautiful traditional teakwood houses and surrounded by ricefields. Today most of the old houses have bee replaced by modern concrete buildings and the streets are full of cars and motorcycles, and tuk-tuks (almost as bad as in Bangkok), but it is still a city with a lot of atmosphere, and even today you can find  quiet backstreets and lovely teakwood temples with elaborate carvings and golden chedis and roof tops. The city  offers a lot of opportunities for sightseeing and is also a good starting point for rafting on the rivers of northern Thailand and for mountain trekking.


The city offers a large number of hotels to choose from. To name just a few of them, within walking distance from the centre of the city are Empress or the Princess. The Westin is located a little bit farther away from the centre, on the banks of the river Ping. Definitely outside of town is the very exclusive Chiang Mai Regent hotel. There are also a large number of simpler hotels and guesthouses for budget accomodation. Please Check out Hotels in Chiang Mai & Northern Thailand


The "Rose of the North" was founded in the year 1296 A.D. by King Mengrai and made the capital of his kingdom of Lanna (Northern Thailand). Before, King Mengrai had captured Haripunchai several kilometers south of Chiang Mai (and re-named it "Lamphun"). The new royal city was built on high ground west of the river Ping and surrounded with a defensive brick city wall that was encompassed by a moat (both the moat and parts of the wall, especially the city gates, still exist). The culture of the Lanna kingdom soon flourished (to which the large number of especially beautiful temples in and near the city still bear testimony) until a war with the Burmese broke out and the Burmese captured the city in 1558 A.D and ruled for the next two centuries. The Burmese subjected the city and its inhabitants to  hardships that were so severe and devastating that the city  was simply abandoned.  (See Overview of the History and Geography of Thailand).

Tapae Gate
Ruin of an Ancient City Gate in Chiang Mai

For many years the city remained deserted until a Lanna Prince, Kawila, succeeded in winning a war against the Burmese and re-settled Chiang Mai in 1799 A.D. Lanna remained an independent kingdom for the next one hundred years. It was only when the European colonial powers started occupying Laos (the French) and Burma (the British) that the Thai government in Bangkok took notice of Lanna again and sent a Governor in order to prevent colonization and to defend Thai sovereignty over the area. In 1921, a railway was built from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai is Thailand`s second largest city and is home to about 200.000 people. Most of the population of  Lanna, however, are still  farmers  and live in villages. Most of the farming is rice cultivation ("Lanna" means "land of a million ricefields"), though in the seventies a number of new crops were introduced by the Thai government, among them flowers, strawberries, brussels sprouts and other vegetables (mainly in order to replace the illegal cultivation of poppies for opium production).

The city is surrounded by hills and mountains that are lower extremities of the foothills of the Himalaya. The mountains are covered with vast teak forests, where elephants are still working in the woodcutter camps (although more and more of them are being replaced by modern machinery). Chiang Mai was a quiet and peaceful place until the late 1960s, when the first industrial plants were built and many of the pretty old teakwood houses  were replaced by modern concrete buildings and skyscrapers. The city  has always been a favourite destination  for tourists from other parts of Thailand, especially from Bangkok, who enjoy the cooler climate and the mountain scenery and in recent years it is  becoming increasingly popular for tourists fSom other countries as well.


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Last Updated 10.02.2007