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 is one of three Thai cities contending to host the World Expo 2020. It has also recently positioned itself to become a Creative City and is considering to apply for Creative City Status with UNESCO.
Chiang Mai's historic importance is derived from its strategic location on the Ping river and major trading routes. The city has long been a major center for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewelry (particularly silver) and woodcarving.
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 with Srivijaya ward.
 HistoryMengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning "new city") in 1296, and it succeeded Chiang Rai as 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. With the decline of the Lannathai kingdom, the city lost importance and was often occupied either by the Burmese or Thais from Ayutthaya. Because of the Burmese wars that culminated in the fall of Ayutthaya in April 1767, Chiang Mai was abandoned between 1776 and 1791. Lampang then served as the capital of what remained of Lannathai. Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1774 by an agreement with Chao Kavila, after the Thai King Taksin helped drive out the Burmese. 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 inhabitants speak Kham Muang (also known as Northern Thai or Lanna) among themselves, though Central Thai is used in education and is understood by 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.
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.
 ClimateChiang Mai has a tropical wet and dry climate (Koppen 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.
|[hide]Climate data for Chiang Mai (1961-1990)|
|Average high °C (°F)||28.9 |
|Average low °C (°F)||13.7 |
|Rainfall mm (inches)||6.9 |
|Avg. rainy days||1||1||2||6||15||17||19||21||17||11||6||2||118|
|Source no. 1: Thai Meteorological Department|
|Source no. 2: Hong Kong Observatory |
 EmblemThe 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.
 Religious sitesBuddhist temples (called "wat" in Thai). These include:
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the city's most famous temple, stands on Doi Suthep, a hill to the north-west of the city. This temple dates from 1383. By tradition, its site was chosen by placing a relic of the Lord Buddha on an elephant's back and letting it roam until it trumpeted, then circled, and finally laid down and died. The temple's location provides superb views on a clear day.
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. Visitors can also take part in meditation classes here.
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 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. It illustrates a canonical text in which Buddha admonished his monks not to fall into self-torture, since it is a "fruitless" as self-indulgence. Hundreds of Buddhist proverbs in both English and Thai posted on trees throughout the grounds. They were collected by a German monk who lived there in the 1980s. Ironically, only a few of the English language sayings are by the Buddha; the rest are by a Vedanta Hindu saint who inspired the earliest Theosophists!
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's large sala kan prian (sermon hall) is unusual not only for its size, but also because it is open on the sides instead of enclosed. There are many chedis which contain the ashes of the old rulers of Chiang Mai. The temple is also the site of Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya Buddhist University, where monks pursue their studies.
Chiang Mai has about 20 Christian churches, 13 mosques, two gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) and a Hindu temple. Of the 13 mosques, 7 belong to Chinese or Chin Haw Muslims. The gurdwaras are Siri Guru Singh Sabha and Namdhari Sikh Temple; the Hindu temple is Devi Mandir.
- Loi Kratong (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), 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. The festivities include floral floats, parades, traditional dancing shows, and a beauty contest.
- Tam Boon 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. In 2009, this is May 20–27. Centered around Wat Chedi Luang where the city pillar is housed, this is a celebration of brahmic origin. Offerings are made to the city pillar as well as the many other Buddhist and Lanna-era icons. Dancing, musical performances, carnival games, and the ubiquitous Thai vendor food is present. This is a very large celebration in which the Chiang Mai citizenry participate.
- 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.
- 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, Loy Krathong, and Thai New Year (Songkran).
- The nearby national parks include 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, it is a favorite place to visit for tourists and locals alike. Chiang Mai hiking group organizes free weekly hikes often in the Doi Pui Suthep National Park and has a map of hiking trails on their web site.
- 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. You can visit the park with options ranging from a day trip to volunteering.
- 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.
- Several venues located in the vicinity of Chiang Mai offer zip-line tours and canopy walks.
 Night-lifeThe Chiang Mai night-life is not as concentrated or outrageous as Bangkok's infamous Nana Plaza area or Pattaya. There are many relaxing bars, several discotheques, live music venues and one street with hostess bars which cater to tourists, located along Loi Kroh Road. It includes a walk-in arcade with a Muay Thai boxing ring near the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel. The city maintains its liberal, laid back attitude with several areas and venues that accommodate the gay and lesbian scene. The Chiang Mai night-life is lively and goes well into the small hours. Bars and late-night restaurants are located all over the city, but many can be found on either side of the moat's eastern flank (in the Thapae Gate area), with some excellent live music venues 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. At the Galare Centre, there is a free display of Thai cultural dancing and music. There is also a cluster of bars, American franchise fast food and coffee outlets together with more eclectic restaurants near the intersection of Chang Klan and Loi Kroh Road. Karaoke lounges (which are undoubtedly a national and indeed Asian obsession) can be found all over the city. Many are found at Chiang Mai Land Road, and some very large establishments along the length of Chang Klan Road, extending south from the famed night bazaar. There are only a couple of go-go bars in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Night Safari was established as evening and night tourist attraction.
 Shopping, massage and cookery
- Shopping: Chiang Mai has a large and famous night bazaar for arts, handicrafts, and imported products of all descriptions, and a number of large, well-appointed modern shopping centres. The night bazaar alone sprawls along 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 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, and which is then also closed to motorized traffic. Both Saturday and Sunday events attract many local residents and tourists.
- Visitors seeking bargains can also find a thriving second hand "Thieves" market with lots of interesting stalls under shady trees across the river to the east of the city beginning at the intersection of Kaeo Nawarat and Ratanakosin Roads.
- 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).
- Central Plaza Chiang Mai Airport: An ultra-modern air-conditioned shopping mall located 10 minutes from the city centre near the international airport of Chiang Mai has the full array of western and Thai fashion, electronics, food franchises, coffee shops, a large Cineplex with optional luxury seating and 3D screens showing the latest release western movies in English plus fine examples from the burgeoning Thai movie industry with an adjacent thriving low cost food hall and restaurants.
- A focal point of the Plaza is the unique Lanna style Northern Village shopping section featuring high quality local clothing handicrafts and furnishings over three floors. On the lower floor is a mouth watering array of typical Northern Thai Cuisine.
- Kad Suan Kaew Central mall, located on Huay Kaew road just 100–200 m from the old city moat, being even bigger than Central Airport Plaza, offers similar range of services and shopping/entertainment options.
- For IT shopping, there's Pantip Plaza (much smaller than the one in Bangkok) just south of Night Bazaar, as well as Computer Plaza near the northern moat and IT City department store in Kad Suan Kaew mall.
- As a major Thai city, Chiang Mai has hypermarkets of all major networks represented in Thailand, including two Tesco Lotus Supercenters (as well as three much smaller Tesco Lotus Express supermarkets), two Big C's, one Carrefour, and one Makro. Those are located on highways in the peripheral areas of the city and are highly popular among locals and expats.
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. A third-class offered is the most economical service, its lack of comfort makes it unsuitable for many tourists.
To get to cities such as Mae Hong Son or Chiang Rai a plane or bus must be used. No trains are available to cities north of Chiang Mai.
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 centres, including Hong Kong (China), Jinghong (China), Kaohsiung (Taiwan), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Kunming (China), Luang Phrabang (Laos), Mandalay (Myanmar), Manila (Philippines), Seoul (Korea), Siem Reap (Cambodia), Singapore (Singapore), and Taipei (Taiwan).
The local preferred form of transport is personal motorbike and, increasingly, private car. In recent years, the number of private vehicles on the road has begun to result in traffic congestion in major arteries during peak travel times. Motorbikes are available for hire from many places in the city, and tourists take advantage of this service.
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. Tuktuk fare is usually at least 20 baht per trip (comfortable for two, but some can squeeze in four passengers); fare increases with distance. The fare is negotiable with the driver before boarding. Songthaews and tuktuks normally operate until about 11pm or midnight, and then become scarce and more expensive to ride. Metered taxis are available from the airport with a 50 baht airport fee paid at a counter, plus the metered charge paid to the driver (60 baht on the meter gets you into the moated area). Tipping is not expected. Chiang Mai's fledgling local bus service was relaunched in 2006. It serves routes in and around the city, although the service itself lacks the frequency and route mass as is available in other major cities. Unlike Bangkok, which has the Bangkok Metro and Bangkok Skytrain, Chiang Mai does not have rapid transit public transport infrastructure.
 Air pollutionA continuing environmental problem facing Chiang Mai is the incidence of air pollution which primarily occurs for a period of several weeks up to the beginning of April. 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. Chiang Mai’s air quality has been perceptibly deteriorating over the past ten years. This is being addressed by a number of initiatives, and in part, is often seen in cities with increasing economic growth at the expense of a strong corresponding programme to counteract the negative effects of environmental impact. The city is often shrouded in smog during this period leading up to the rainy season. Fine particulate dust levels have sometimes been tested between 190 micrograms and 243 micrograms per cubic meter. (The standard acceptable level is 120 milligrams per cubic meter.) Amongst the minor sources of particulate matter pollution in Chiang Mai is the prevalence of burning in the city, with cremations, burning garbage, or vehicular emissions from poorly maintained diesel vehicles contributing. Added to these minor causes is dust raised during building and excavations.
 Main cause
Chiang Mai’s problems are exacerbated by the fact that the city, like other areas such as Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, is located in a natural geographic bowl surrounded by mountains. The result is a slowing of air movement, picking up more particulates as they are released by cars and burning trash. Also as a result of this inversion effect, as air rises in the bowl, it effectively turns over and settles back down over the city until a welcome wind shift or rainstorm cleans the air. The Thailand Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is actively engaged in finding solutions to this hazardous problem and has been for several years as Chiang Mai's air quality index numbers are ever decreasing. Exacerbating this problem, one the most popular modes of convenient low-cost public transportation in Chiang Mai—as in the rest of Thailand—is provided by differently coloured pick-up trucks called 'Songtheouw'. Red Songtheouws (Red Cars or Rod Daeng) provide passenger requested journeys whilst other colours operate on fixed routes. People ride in the back of these trucks which are equipped with diesel engines. The exhaust systems on all of these trucks are bored out in order to increase horse power which then increases the amount of carbon emissions and heavy metals which get ejected out of the back of the vehicles. As a result, the streets of Chiang Mai are increasingly difficult to ride on when using a motorcycle. It is a very common sight to see motorcyclists protecting their breathing passages as they follow these trucks. The same can be said from the famous Tuk tuks which are ubiquitous in Thailand. The city authorities are well aware of this issue and have enacted a campaign to replace all of the older, poorly tuned offending vehicles with modern yellow and blue metered passenger taxis. As these older, air quality offenders are slowly retired, it remains to be seen if the regulating bodies will be able to effect change in Chiang Mai in the face of resistance the drivers of these vehicles who have traditionally made their living in this way for many years. It should be said that Chiang Mai is not the only Thai city with this problem as Songtheow and Tuk Tuk is the major mode of low cost transportation in Thailand. Unfortunately, because of Chiang Mai's inversion effect as the result of it being situated in a geographic bowl, the carbon emissions emitted from vehicles is made an even more troubling problem.
For several years, as Chiang Mai's air quality index has become more and more troublesome, in relation to the rest of the region, the recognition of the problem has been growing locally. Doctors in Chiang Mai have been noticing an increase in people coming to see them with upper respiratory difficulties. Chiang Mai has now enacted stringent regulation of emissions standards for all vehicles. Since 2008, police sometimes set up roadblocks to test exhaust emissions on the spot and officers will enact the law to ban offending vehicles as Chiang Mai continues to work actively towards a cleaner environment.