Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai (Thai: เชียงใหม่ (·info), Lanna also sometimes written as "Chiengmai" or "Chiangmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand, and is the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located some 700 km (435 mi) north of Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city stands on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river.

In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city. It has several attractions for the approximately 1 million visitors who come each year. Chiang Mai has also gained prominence in the political sphere, when in May 2006 the so-called Chiang Mai Initiative was concluded here between the ASEAN countries and the "+3" countries (China, Japan, and South Korea). Chiang Mai's historic importance is derived from its strategic location on the Ping river as well as trade routes. Long before the modern influx of foreign visitors, the city served as 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 150,000, 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 itself is subdivided into four wards (khwaeng): Nakhon Ping, Srivijaya, Mengrai, and Kavila. The first three are on the west bank while Kavila is located on the east bank of the Ping River. Nakhon Ping district covers the north side of the city. Srivijaya, Mengrai, and Kavila cover the west, south, and east side respectively. The central part (the old walled town) is covered mostly by Srivijaya and partly by Nakhon Ping and Mengrai wards.


King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning "new city") in 1296, and it succeeded Chiang Rai as capital of the Lanna kingdom. The monarch was called Chao. To protect it against raids from Burma, the city was surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall. With the decline in power of the Lannathai kingdom, the city lost importance and often was occupied either by the Burmese or Thais from Ayutthaya. As a result of the Burmese wars that ended with the fall of Ayutthaya in April 1767, Chiang Mai was depopulated and its remaining inhabitants abandoned the city from 1776 to 1791. During that time, Lampang functioned as the capital of what remained of Lannathai. Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1774 in an agreement with Kavila, when the Thai King Taksin helped recapture it from the Burmese. Chiang Mai rose in cultural, trading and economic importance to its current status as the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, second only in national importance to Bangkok.

The people generally speak Kham Muang (also known as Northern Thai or Lanna) among themselves, but Central Thai of Bangkok is used in education and is understood by most. English is generally used in hotel- and travel-related businesses and many locals speak English. The old Kham Muang alphabet is now studied only by scholars; Northern Thai is commonly written using the standard Thai alphabet.

The modern municipal entity dates to a sanitary district (sukhaphiban) created in 1915. The district was upgraded to a municipality (thesaban) on March 29 1935, as published in the Royal Gazette, Book No. 52 section 80. At first covering an area of 17.5 km2 (7 sq mi), the city was enlarged to cover 40.216 km2 (16 sq mi) on April 5, 1983.


Climate data for Chiang Mai
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 29.4
Average low °C (°F) 14.2
Precipitation mm (inches) 7.7
Source: World Weather Information Service 2008-09-02

A panoramic view of the city of Chiang Mai, January 2010 CE


The city emblem shows the chedi on top of Doi Suthep in its center, as being the most important place of worship of Chiang Mai. Below are clouds referring to the moderate climate in the hills of northern Thailand. Below is a naga, the mythological snake which is said to be the source of the Ping River. Above the heads of the naga are rice stalks, the major crop referring to the fertility of the area.

Religious sites

Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (called "wat" in Thai). These include:

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep: the most famous temple in the area, standing on Doi Suthep, a hill to the north-west of the city. This temple dates from 1383. Its builders allegedly chose its site by placing a relic of the Lord Buddha on an elephant's back and letting it roam until it came across a place where it trumpeted and circled before it lay down and died. The onlookers took this as marking an auspicious place for building the temple. The temple's location also affords superb views over the city on a clear day.

Wat Chiang Man: the oldest temple in Chiang Mai dating from the 13th century. King Mengrai lived here while overseeing the construction of the city. This temple houses two very important and venerated Buddha figures – Phra Sila (a marble Buddha) and Phra Satang Man (a crystal Buddha).

Wat Phra Singh: 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, transferred here many years ago from Chiang Rai. This temple is one of the most important temples in the city. Visitors can also take part in meditation classes here at set times.

Wat Chedi Luang: founded in 1401 and dominated by the large Lanna style chedi which dates from the same time, but took many years to finish. An earthquake damaged the chedi in the 16th century and now only two-thirds of it remains.

Wat Ched Yot: located on the outskirts of the city, this temple, built in 1455, hosted the Eighth World Buddhist Council in 1977.

Wiang Kum Kam: the site of an old city situated on the southern outskirts of Chiang Mai. King Mengrai used this for ten years before the founding of Chiang Mai. The site has a large number of ruined temples.

Wat Umong: 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, the representation of the bodhisattva at the end of a fruitless fasting period. It illustrates a canonical text in which Buddha admonishes his monks not to fall into self-torture since this is just as "fruitless" as self-indulgence. There are hundreds of pithy Buddhist proverbs in English and Thai posted on trees throughout its grounds. During the eighties they were collected by a German monk, phra Santi, at that time living in this wat. Among the English languages ones there are no more than approx. 2 or 3 sayings of the Buddha; the rest of the English language sayings are aphorisms by the Vedanta saint who used to inspire the earliest Theosophists (Vedanta being a Hindu denomination).

Wat RamPoeng (Tapotaram): near Wat U-Mong, known for its meditation center (Northern Insight Meditation Center) with over 100 Thai and foreigner meditation students and monks attending at any time. The temple teaches the traditional vipassana technique where students stay from 10 days to over a month when 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 or languages.

Wat Suan Dok: a 14th century temple located just west of the old city-wall. The temple was built by the King of Lanna for a revered monk visiting from Sukhothai to spend the rains retreat. The name translates as "the field of flowers temple." There are several unique aspects to this temple. One is the temple's large ubosot (ordination hall). This is unusual not only for its size, but also that it is open on the sides instead of enclosed. Secondly, there are a large number of chedis housing the ashes of the rulers of Chiang Mai. The temple is also the site of Mahachulalongkorn Rajavidyalaya Buddhist University.

There are also around 20 churches, 13 mosques, two gurdwaras (Sikh Temples) and one Hindu temple. 7 out of 13 mosques belong to Chinese or Chin Haw. One of the biggest mosques in Chiang Mai is the Baan Haw Mosque. The two gurdwaras are Siri Guru Singh Sabha and Namdhari Silk Temple; the one Hindu temple is the Devi Mandir.


Chiang Mai hosts many Thai festivals, including:

  • Loi Kratong (known locally as Yi Peng): Held on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar 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) are launched into the air. These 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.
  • 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.

Some of the museums in Chiang Mai:

  • 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.

Chiang Mai has several universities, including Chiang Mai University, Chiangmai Rajabhat University, Rajamangala University of Technology, 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.

  • 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 Suthep and Opkhan.
  • 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.
  • Also past San Khampaeng, about 45 minutes outside of the cities is the village of Mae Kon Phong. It's home to multiple tea and coffee plantations and also has an eco-friendly zipline tour, Flight of the Gibbon, which donates 10% of the profit to gibbon reintroduction and rainforest conservation.


The Chiang Mai nightlife is much quieter than Bangkok or Pattaya. There are many relaxing bars, a few discotheques, and one street with many hostess bars or beer bars which cater to tourists, located primarily along the western end of Loi Kroh Road, including a walk-in arcade near the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel, and a stretch of Moon Muang Road south of Tapae Gate. A few go go bars can also be found in and around Chiang Mai. The city also accommodates the gay and lesbian scene. The Chiang Mai nightlife is quite restricted after midnight due to a current directive from the governor. A selected number of places have been allowed to remain open until 2 a.m. though several dance clubs stay open after regular closing 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 Tapae Gate area), along the Ping River near Nawarat Bridge, along Nimmanhaemin 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, coffee houses and restaurants at the intersection of Chang Klan and Loi Kroh Road. Karaoke lounges (which some regard as a national obsession) can be found all over the city. Many are found at Chiang Mai Land, a purpose-built street off Changklan Road, south of the city center.

Chiang Mai Night Safari was established as evening and night tourist attraction. It is committed to be a world class destination and is constantly upgrading to international tourism standard.

Shopping, massage and cookery

  • Shopping: Chiang Mai has a large and famous night bazaar for arts, handicrafts, and counterfeit products of all descriptions, and a number of large, well-appointed modern shopping centers. The night bazaar alone sprawls along several city blocks along sidewalks, inside buildings and temple grounds, and in open squares. A handicraft and food market opens every Sunday evening on Rachadamnoen Road, the main street in the historical center, which is closed to motorized traffic; the Sunday event attracts many local residents and tourists.
  • Thai massage: The back streets and main thoroughfares of Chiang Mai have an abundance and variety of massage parlors 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).
  • CentralPlaza Chiang Mai Airport: A shopping mall located near the international airport of Chiang Mai.


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 north-east 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. 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 pollution

A continuing environmental problem facing Chiang Mai is the rising air pollution. Air quality in Chiang Mai often remains below recommended standards with fine-particle dust levels reaching twice the standard. The northern center of the Meteorological Department has reported that low-pressure areas from China trap forest-fire smoke. Chiang Mai’s air quality has been steadily deteriorating over the past ten years. . This is, in part, seen in cities that attempt to increase economic growth without considering the environmental impact. The city is often shrouded in smog. Fine-particle dust levels have been tested between 190 micrograms and 243 micrograms per square metre (mpsm). The standard level is 120 mpsm. One of the sources of particulate matter pollution in Chiang Mai is the prevalence of burning in the city, with cremations, or burning off garbage, forest fires or vehicular emissions. Added to that are dusts raised during building and excavations. Chiang Mai’s problems are exacerbated by the fact that the city is located in a natural bowl that results in the same air being recirculated, picking up more particulates every time. The Thailand Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is actively engaged in finding solutions to this hazardous problem.

Sister cities


See also


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Ashley Ross
4 January 2020
Loved the hotel and staff! Friendly, beautiful hotel with option for room opening onto the pool. Excellent free breakfast with excellent egg choices. 2 free drinks from the minibar.
Jeffrey de Grijs
30 July 2013
This is an excellent hotel well located in the heart of the old centre of Chiang Mai. Nice interior design and you get to choose your checkin and breakfast time, soap and music.
Helen Siew
20 March 2015
U Chiang Mai Hotel is 4-star property offering 41 luxurious rooms which allows guests to select their choice of pillow, soap, tea, mini-bar, iPod music, and DVD's prior to arrival.
Chad Lavimoniere
18 December 2016
Beautiful pool, good room service food, friendly staff, and excellent massages in the traditional-architecture-inspired lobby building's upstairs space.
Colin Monk
12 October 2012
Amazing hotel, loved every minute of our stay, superb rooms with lovely character and right in the middle of the Sunday walking market! Thanks for an amazing stay!!
Pam Sweetman
31 October 2012
Sumpunna massage right across the street has the best massages and pedicures. Their specials and prices are unbelievable. Highly recommend!
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