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Chiang Mai


Chiang Mai province is about 700 km from Bangkok and is situated on the Mae Ping River basin and is 300 m above sea level. Surrounded by high mountain ranges, it covers an area of approximately 20,107 km². The district is covered by many mountains, chiefly stretching in the south-north direction. The river Ping, one of the major tributaries of the Chao Phraya River, originates in the Chiang Dao mountains. The highest mountain of Thailand, the 2,565 meter high Doi Inthanon, is located in the province. Several national parks are in the district: Doi Inthanon, Doi Suthep-Pui, Mae Ping, Sri Lanna, Huay Nam Dang, Mae Phang, Chiang Dao.

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.

The mountainous terrain is mainly jungle, parts of which are within national parks which are still fertile and verdant with plentiful flora and fauna. There are many sites and locations where tourists prefer to visit to study the lifestyle of the tribal people who live on high hills.


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.

In 1775 Chiang Mai was recaptured by the Thais under Phaya Taksin, who appointed Chao Kavila, a jâo meuang (chieftain) from nearby Lampang principality, as viceroy of northern Thailand. In 1800 Kavila built the monumental brick walls around the inner city, and expanded the city in southerly and easterly directions, establishing a river port at the end of what is today Th Tha Phae (thâa phae means ‘raft pier’). Under Kavila, Chiang Mai became an important regional trade centre. Many of the later Shan- and Burmese-style temples seen around the city were built by wealthy teak merchants who emigrated from Burma during the late 19th century. Not all the Shan residents were merchants, however. In 1902 several hundred labourers, most of them Shan, protested against the practice of corvée (involuntary service to the state) by refusing to construct roads or otherwise follow government orders. The ensuing skirmishes between corvée labourers and Chiang Mai troops – dubbed the ‘Shan Rebellion’ by historians – didn’t resolve the issue until the custom was discontinued in 1924. The completion of the northern railway to Chiang Mai in 1921 finally linked the north with central Thailand. In 1927 King Rama VII and Queen Rambaibani rode into the city at the head of an 84-elephant caravan, becoming the first central Thai monarchs to visit the north, and in 1933 Chiang Mai officially became a province of Siam. Long before tourists began visiting the region, Chiang Mai was an important centre for handcrafted pottery, umbrellas, weaving, silverwork and woodcarving. By the mid-1960s tourism had replaced commercial trade as Chiang Mai’s number one source of outside revenue.
After Chiang Mai born-and-raised politician Thaksin Shinawatra became Thailand’s prime minister in 2001, the city found itself the focus of a Thaksin-initiated development drive. The premier vowed to make Chiang Mai one of the nation’s primary centres of information technology, expand the airport, build more superhighways and double the size and wealth of the city within five years. Many local residents have reacted with dismay to these proclamations, and have organised a vocal movement to preserve quality of life. Aspects of the proposed Thaksin developments did come into fruition, such as the continued construction of 5-star hotels, building of roads and the new Night Safari (see p289 ). However, although a new bus system is in place, the improved transportation system – including trams and metered taxis in the city – has not yet materialised. Since the political demise of Thaksin by the military coup of 19 September 2006, it remains to be seen whether the funding of Chiang Mai from central government will continue apace.

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.

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, 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.
The north of Thailand’s culture is Lanna in origin and the people are very proud of their northern roots. The region is home to distinctly different food, music, arts, way of life and even language. Chiang Mai is also a melting pot of hill tribes and their own unique cultures.
Maintaining their traditional life-styles, the seven major hill-tribes of the Karen, Yao, Meo, Lisaw, Lawa, Lahu and Akha, live in relative isolation independent from Thai society. All of them, in their villages anyway, still wear their unique dresses, speak their own dialect and eat their own food.

Tai Yai, Burmese in origin, harvest rice, farm, raise cattle and trade. Their craftsmanship lies in weaving, pottery, wood carving and bronze ware.
Akha have the largest population of any hill tribe in the region. Originating from Tibet and Southern China, they dwell on high grounds around 1,200 meters above sea-level. Within their villages they build a Spirit Gateway to protect them from evil spirits.
Lahu are also from the Yunnese area and live in high areas. They are known as hunters and planters. Karen live in various areas of the region which have valleys and riverbanks.
Hmong from southern China are located on high land. They raise livestock and grow rice, corn, tobacco and cabbage. They are also known for their embroidery and silver.
Tai Lue live in dwellings of usually only a single room wooden house built on high poles. They are skilled in weaving.
Lisaw from southern China and Tibet are renowned for their colorful dress and also build their dwellings on high poles. They harvest rice and corn and their men are skilled in hunting.
Yao reside along mountain sides and grow corn and other crops. They are skilled blacksmiths, silversmiths and embroiders.

The best time of the year to see Chiang Mai is from November to April where the weather is super-fresh and crispy and all the province’s renowned flowers are out in full bloom. In fact, in the mountainous areas temperatures can dip down to freezing point. It doesn’t snow, but sleet is known to drop at times. One of the best times to visit Chiang Mai during this period is at Songkran (Thai New Year) as the town is synonymous with Songkran tradition, color and fun. During the hot season March to May temperatures especially in the city are high, going up to the high 30s. The rainy season in north is from June to October and trekking is not advised due to the chances of storms, winds and rains. From May to October there is a lot of rain but since the climate is tropical, the rain falls in quick heavy but short downpours.

The Chiang Mai nightlife is much quieter than Bangkok or Pattaya. There are many relaxing bars, a few discotheques, and one street with many go go bars, 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. 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.. Bars are located all over the city, but are mostly located 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. A little further down Chan Klan Road (heading north) there is a small arcade, known for its 'Peak Climbing Wall'. 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.

Local Food
* Nam Prik Ong is a type of chili paste which is made of minced pork and tomatoes. It is usually eaten with soft-boiled vegetables, pork crackling or deep-fried crunchy rice cakes.
* Nam Prik Noom meaning in English Chili Paste Young Man, is another kind of paste that is extremely popular in the north and eaten also by Thais of all regions. It is often eaten with pork crackling.* Sai Ua is a local Chiang Mai sausage that is very aromatic and spicy and is usually eaten with sticky rice.
* Kaeng meaning curries are not made of coconut milk in the north.
- Kaeng Hang-Le is northern-style pork curry
- Kaeng Om is a spicy curry consisting of intestines
- Kaeng Khae is a spicy curry consisting of vegetables.

* Khanom Chin Nam Ngiao is a traditional noodle dish with chicken of the North.
* Khao Soi is another popular noodle dish which can be made from chicken, pork or beef. What makes it unique is that it contains coconut milk and it is garnished with garlic.


Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is located between latitude 17° N and 21° N with Myanmar as its northern neighbour. It is bordered by Lamphun and Tak on the south, Chiang Rai, Lampang and Lamphun on the east and Mae Hong Son on the west. Situated at about 300 m. above sea level, it is 696 km. away from Bangkok by road and about one hour by air.

With a total area of 20,107 sq. km., Chiang Mai is the second largest province of Thailand.

There are three seasons in a year -- the rainy season from June to October, the hot season from March to May, and the cool season from November to February. Generally, Chiang Mai is cool and pleasant for the most parts of the year. The coolest months are December and January. The temperature throughout the year varies between 14° - 30° C, while the yearly average temperature is 26° C.

About 69% of the area of Chiang Mai consists of mountains covered with forests. Mostly located in the north, these mountains form the sources of several rivers and streams which provide the water necessary to Chiang Mai's agriculture. The largest and most important river is the Ping, flowing along for 540 km. from north to south. The highest mountain peak is Doi Inthanon, at 2,575 m. above sea level.

1,658,298 (end Feb 2007) with 815,529 males and 842,769 females. About 10% of the population are hilltribe people living in approximately 1,000 villages in the mountainous districts of Chiang Mai. Six major tribal groups are Karen, Lahu, Lisu, Akha, Yao and Meo.

"The total population includes only permanent residents."

The provincial administration of Chiang Mai has jurisdiction over 22 counties (amphoes) as follows: Muang, Chiang Dao, Doi Saket, Fang, Hot, Mae Chaem, Mae Taeng, Phrao, San Kamphaeng, San Sai, Wiang Haeng, Chom Thong, Doi Tao, Hang Dong, Mae Ai, Mae Rim, Omkoi, Samoeng, San Pa Tong, Saraphi, Chai Prakan and Mae Wang.

Standard Thai is used as the official language, but the northern dialect is more widely spoken among the local people. English is understood in business circles and tourist areas.

The most important products are silk, silverware, woodcarvings, lacquerware, ceramics, tobacco and fruits.

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