Chiang Mai

World Facts Index > Thailand > Chiang Mai

In recent years, the population of Chiang Mai has grown at an alarming rate. It is now Thailands second largest city with a population of more than 200,000. The growth has brought with it tribulations of air pollution and rush-hour traffic, though they are not nearly as bad as in Bangkok. Other problems have occurred as a result of the influx of tourists. These include deforestation and the displacement of tribal people in the nearby hills and valleys to make way for resorts and roads. Despite these repercussions, Chiang Mai retains a magical charm. It is an exciting city with a rich cultural heritage and offering numerous sights and activities.

Some major attractions include historical and religious buildings, bustling markets, nature parks and stores selling an incredible variety of hand-crafted products. Chiang Mai is much smaller than Bangkok and, even if you are unfamiliar with maps, it is fairly easy to find your way around. Perhaps the best place to start is the old city. This central part of Chiang Mai is contained within four walls and a moat, originally built for defense. The wall dates back to the citys founding in the 13th century and was rebuilt in the 19th century. Several of the original gates in the wall have also been restored and serve as useful reference points to help you find your way around. Particularly interesting is the busy Tha Pae Gate. Around this area lies a plethora of restaurants including The Easy Diner, Aum Vegetarian Restaurant and Classic Touch Restaurant. Several guesthouses and small hotels also dot the vicinity. Amongst them are the Lanna-style Lai-Thai Guesthouse, Chiang Inn Hotel and Lodge and Lanna Palace Hotel.

Within the old city runs a maze of roads. Taking a walk around some of these quiet lanes can be a pleasure in itself. You will come across Chiang Mais most interesting temples, starting with Wat Pan On, which stands close to Tha Pae Gate. Farther into the old city you will find its other counterparts including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man.

To the east of the city, in the half-mile stretch between Tha Pae Gate and Ping River, lie the main business and shopping areas. Perhaps the most popular of these is Chang Klan Road, home of the increasingly popular Night Bazaar. Here you can grab a variety of crafts and other local products. Along the same street, to shoppers' delight, stands Kalare Food and Shopping Center and some smaller craft and clothing stores, along with banks and money changers. If all that shopping makes you weary, take a respite in one of the restaurants that abound in this area. For German food, try German Hofbrauhaus, which offers a selection of Western dishes. Other good restaurants in the locality include Red Lion English Pub and Restaurant and White Lotus Restaurant and Bar.

There are also some good hotels along Chang Klan Road--a great place to stay if you enjoy shopping. Among the more popular are Chiang Inn Hotel and Lodge and Royal Princess. Other hotels lying within walking distance include Downtown Inn, Suriwongse Zenith, Imperial Mae Ping and Porn Ping Hotel. One of Chiang Mais popular discotheques, Bubbles, throbs at the basement of the Porn Ping.

East of Chang Klan Road (at the corner of Nawarat Bridge along Ping River) is the Municipal Tourist Information Center. Farther north along the river are the main post office and Warorot Market, a bustling market selling, among other things, a diversity of northern food. As you cross Narawat Bridge, Tha Pae Road becomes Charoen Muang Road. The train and bus stations are on this side of the river. From here you can catch a bus south to the old city of Lamphun.

The western side of the old city, where Suan Dok Gate stands, reaches out toward Doi Suthep mountain, and Suthep Road leads to the beautiful white chedis (spires) of Wat Suan Dok. Farther west along Suan Dok Road stands another beautiful temple, Wat Umong.

From the northwest corner of the old city, Huay Keaw Road trails off toward the mountains. Many attractions skirt this road. The first building on the left is the popular Kad Suan Keaw, a bustling shopping mall. Central department store and a cinema are housed inside this complex. Farther along Huay Keaw Road is the sprawling Chiang Mai Zoo. If you come here, be prepared to do a lot of walking; it is very large. Farther out of town are the Huay Keaw Waterfalls and the National Museum. At the end of the road, proudly sitting atop the mountain, is the revered Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep, an elegant temple looking down over the city of Chiang Mai.

Also east of the old city, seven kilometers up the road passing Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is Phu Phing Palace, the summer home of the royal family. Several quality hotels, such as Chiang Mai Orchid, Amari Rincome and Holiday Garden Hotel, dot Huay Keaw Road.

Other attractions in Chiang Mai are found beyond the city limits. One route, along Chiang Mai-Hot Road, extends southwest out of the city. Most of the attractions along this route, such as hiking and white water rafting, tie in with the incredible natural scenery. Perhaps the most popular of all is the awesome Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand. Also along this route is the comfortable Belle Villa Resort. Lying east of Chiang Mai, number of attractions beckon along the road from Chiang Mai to San Kampaeng (Route 101). Lots of handicraft stores line this road. Bor Sang Umbrella Village provides a great place to buy locally produced souvenirs and gifts. The main product on offer here, however, is hand-crafted umbrellas. Beyond Bor Sang lies San Kampaeng, a small market town, and San Kampaeng Hot Springs. The countryside along this route is beautiful and unspoilt, so bring a camera!

Northward beyond the city (along Route 107), lie many natural attractions, such as Mae Sa Elephant Training Center and Chiang Dao Cave, a place of great natural beauty. If you prefer to stay in this beautiful area rather than journey out from Chiang Mai, you will find many beautiful resorts to choose from. Green View International Resort and Country Club, Pong Yang Garden Resort and Regent Resort are just a few possibilities.

Many trips outside Chiang Mai can be arranged independently as plenty of buses serve the provincial areas. Alternatively, to avoid the hassle of finding your own accommodation and such, book yourself an organized tour. These range from one-day trips around Chiang Mai city to longer excursions incorporating activities such as rafting, hiking or exploring hilltribe villages. 3rd Eye Travel, Trekking Collective Company and Chiang Mai in Action are just three tour agencies who can help you plan your itinerary. An exciting way to get an alternative perspective of the city is from the air. This expensive yet unforgettable option can be arranged by Chiang Mai Sky Adventure.

History of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is both a city and a province. Blessed with rich natural beauty, almost 70 percent of it is covered by mountains and forests. The population of more than 1.5 million makes Chiang Mai one of Thailands largest provinces. Estimates vary, but about 200,000 live within Chiang Mais city limits, while many hilltribe people settle in the surrounding mountains. To learn more about Chiang Mais hilltribes, visit the Hill Tribe Museum for an insight into their history, or book yourself an organized trek to one of their villages.

The city has a long and rich history, which may be encapsulated in the National Museum. To trace its beginnings, we have to go back more than 700 years to Yunnan, a province in southern China. Many ethnic Thais lived in this region, the kingdom of Nanchao, since the middle of the 7th century. In 1254, however, Kublai Khan conquered their kingdom. This forced many Thais to move south a few hundred kilometers into what is now northern Thailand. The Thai immigrants founded many new towns in the region. One of the largest was Chiang Rai, about 100 miles north of Chiang Mai. Here, Prince Mengrai of the Nanchao Kingdom created the Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields, also known as the Lanna Kingdom.

First, however, he had to overcome the Haripoonshai civilization that had already been a lively center of culture, art and religion for 600 years. After Mengrai and his people conquered the Haripoonshai Kingdom, they retained many of its beautiful architectural styles and Buddhist art forms. Indeed, the Haripoonshai Kingdom significantly influenced the architecture of northern Thailand. This can best be appreciated in the small town of Lamphun, approximately 30 kilometers south of Chiang Mai. Perhaps the most outstanding example of Haripoonshai architecture there is Wat Phrathart Haripoonshai.

Mengrais new kingdom quickly grew very large; however, it was restricted to what is now northern Thailand. A larger Thai kingdom, established by King Ramkamheang, ruler of Sukhothai, simultaneously flourished to the south of the Lanna Kingdom. Fortunately the leaders of the two kingdoms were on friendly terms with one another and so, with no fighting, both kingdoms grew fairly strong. In 1291, King Mengrai wanted a new capital for his growing kingdom. He chose a location for the new city on the agriculturally rich lands between the Suthep mountain range and Ping River. After deciding on the site for a new capital, construction quickly began.

The city spread out over an area measuring 800 meters by 790 meters. First a wall was built around the site for the new city. Then a defensive moat encircled the city. Strong gates, many of which are still present today, were also constructed, along with Wat Chiang Man, a temple sitting in the northeastern corner of the old city. Mengrai founded this temple and spent the last years of his life here. It affords a great example of the beautiful northern Thai Lanna style. Another notable temple, tracing its roots from 1345, is Wat Phra Sing on the western side of the city. The original building has been added to over the centuries, and it houses the Phra Singh Buddha--a golden Buddha said to have been cast in gold in A.D. 360 in Sri Lanka. Since then, it made its way to Thailand via a shipwreck and also spent time in Laos. Another important temple is Wat Chedi Luang, located in the southern part of the old city. Originally comprising four smaller temples, it bears an elegant chedi (spire) constructed in 1381, which stands where the original Chiang Mai city pillar stood. Today the temple serves as the center for Buddhist education in Chiang Mai.

Soon, the good relations that had existed between King Mengrais Lanna Kingdom and its southern Thai counterpart began to dissolve. King Ramkamheang did not want to accept the Lanna Kingdom as an equal Thai kingdom. Toward the end of the 14th century, he made repeated attempts to turn the Lanna Kingdom into a principality of his southern kingdom. You can explore this precarious relationship between the two kingdoms at Dara Pirom Museum.

The Lanna Kingdom often allied with the Burmese to protect itself, and the Burmese influence seen in Chiang Mai temple design and architecture dates from this period. It began with the founding of Nakorn Lanna 1296 and Kantoke Palace. Visitors can also re-experience Lanna times through the art and craft works of northern Thailand. Some good bets for this include Lanna Thai, Pon Art Gallery, Tita Gallery and Lanna Toys 'n Crafts.

Chiang Mai celebrated its 700th anniversary as a city in 1996.


Custom Search

Copyright 2005