also sometimes written as "Chiengmai", is the largest
and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand, and
the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located at 18°47'20?N,
98°59'00?E, some 800 km 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,
although it lacks the cosmopolitan gloss of Bangkok. It has many
attractions for the thousands of foreign visitors who come to
the city each year. Chiang Mai's historic strength derived from
its important strategic location on an ancient trade route, and
long before the modern influx of foreign visitors the city served
as an important centre for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewellery
(particularly silver) and woodcarving.
While officially the city (thesaban nakhon) of Chiang Mai only
covers most part of the Mueang Chiang Mai district with a population
of 150,000, the urban sprawl of the city extends into several
neighboring districts. This Chiang Mai Metropolitan Area has a
population of nearly 700,000 people, nearly half of the whole
Chiang Mai Province.
King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning "new
city") in 1296, and it succeeded Chiang Rai as capital of
the Lannathai kingdom. Mengrai constructed a moat and a wall around
the city to protect it against raids from Burma. With the decline
of the Lannathai kingdom, the city lost importance and often was
occupied by either the Burmese or by the Thais from Ayutthaya.
As a result of the Burmese wars that culminated in the fall of
Ayutthaya in April 1767, Chiang Mai itself was so depopulated
that the remaining inhabitants abandoned the city for fifteen
years (1776 - 1791). Lampang functioned as the capital of what
remained of Lannathai during that time.
Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1774, when the Thai
King Taksin captured the city from the Burmese. Chiang Mai rose
in both cultural, trading and economic terms to gradually adopt
its current status as the unofficial capital of the north of Thailand,
second only in national importance to Bangkok.
The people generally speak Kham Muang (also known as Northern
Thai or Lanna) amongst themselves, but the Central Thai of Bangkok
is used in education and is understood by most. The old Kham Muang
alphabet is now only studied by scholars and Northern Thai is
commonly written using the standard Thai alphabet.