Chiang Mai written as “Chiengmai” or “Chiangmai”, is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is the capital of Chiang Mai Province, a former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna from 1296–1768 and was the tributary Kingdom of Chiang Mai from 1774 until 1939. It is located approximately 700 kilometers or 435 miles north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. The city is along the Ping River, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River. Chiang Mai means “new city” and was so-named because it was the new capital, founded in 1296, succeeding the older city of Chiang Rai founded 1262 as the capital of the Lanna kingdom.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city and has been attracting over 5 million visitors each year, of which between 1.5 million to 2 million are foreign tourists from Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
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 which are China, Japan, and South Korea. Chiang Mai was one of three Thai cities contending for Thailand’s bid to host the World Expo in 2020 The others considered were Chon Buri and Ayutthaya. However, Ayutthaya was the city chosen by the Thai Parliament to register for the international competition.
It has also recently positioned itself to become a Creative City, and is considering applying for Creative City Status with UNESCO. Chiang Mai is one of two tourist destinations in Thailand on TripAdvisor’s list of “25 Best Destinations in the World”, where it stands in place 24.
Chiang Mai’s historic importance is derived from its close proximity to the Ping River and major trading routes. Several thriving markets are located in Chiang Mai including a large textile market and flower market.
While officially the city 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 or 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 within Srivijaya ward.