Chiang Mai, the “Rose of the North”, as it is often refered to, is the geographical and also the political capital of Northern Thailand (Lanna).It is the second largest city of Thailand, after Bangkok.
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 Located in the Mae Ping River Basin, 710 kilometres from Bangkok, and 305 metres above sea level, the original city layout still exists as a neat square surrounded by a moat, and vestiges of the fortified wall. Four main gates offer principal access to the old town, which is criss-crossed by main roads, and veined by charming narrow lanes with traditional teakwood houses and lovely everyday images of Northern Thailand, all begging to be admired. There are more than 30 temples in this area, some venerable sites dating back to the founding of the city in 1296 Chiang Mai Mai is Thailand’s principal northern city and the provincial capital of a largely mountainous province, also called Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Thai (Kingdom of One M i l l i o n Ricefields) the first independent Thai kingdom within the fabled Golden Triangle. Chiang Mai flourished as a major religious, cultural and trading centre until 1556 when a Burmese invasion reduced it to a vassal state. The Burmese were expelled in 1785, and Lanna Thai again became part of northern Thailand.
Many lowland Thais regard Chiang Mai as being something of a national Shangri-la. The province has a reputation for beautiful women, distinctive festivals, historic temples, scenic beauty, temperate fruits such as apples peaches and strawberries, and a cool season climate.
Chiang Mai makes a great base for touring northern Thailand. Sightseeing around the Golden Triangle where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet. Visit hilltribe villages, go trekking around Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s tallest mountain and a major national park. As the established centre of Buddhism in northern Thailand, Chiang Mai also offers something for those seeking spiritual alternatives. As well as Buddhist retreats, there are courses in Yoga, Tai Chi and Thai massage.
Modern Chiang Mai is easily managed and very traveller-friendly. It’s well known for its restaurants and also has heaps of good guesthouses (although the hotel ‘safes’ are notoriously not). Chiang Mai is a good base for mountain treks, and just about every guesthouse advertises treks to visit the hill tribes who live in the surrounding area. You may want to think twice about joining such an excursion if you have qualms about interrupting the traditional patterns of life in hill-tribe areas. This part of Thailand is considerably overtrekked and some hill-tribe villages have been turned into little more than human zoos.