Founded in 1296 CE, Chiang Mai is a culturally and historically interesting city, at one time the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. In the rolling foothills of the Himalayas 700 km north of Bangkok, until the 1920s it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant trek. This isolation helped preserve Chiang Mai's distinctive charm, which remains intact.
Chiang Mai's historical centre is the walled city ("city" is chiang in the northern Thai dialect while mai is "new", hence Chiang Mai translates as "new city"). Sections of the wall dating to their restoration a few decades ago remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains.
Inside Chiang Mai's remaining city walls are more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality, in a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan, and Lanna Thai styles, decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree. The most famous is Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside 13 km away.
Modern-day Chiang Mai has expanded in all directions, but particularly to the east to the banks of the Ping River (Mae Nam Ping), where Changklan Road, the famous Night Bazaar, and the bulk of Chiang Mai's hotels and guest houses are located. Loi Kroh Road (ถนนลอยเคราะห์) is the centre of the city's (tourist) night life.
Locals say you've not experienced Chiang Mai until you've seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of kao soi and purchased an umbrella from Bo Sang. Of course this is touristic blather, but kao soi, Bo Sang umbrellas and Doi Suthep are important cultural icons for the locals.
CrimeChiang Mai, like most of Thailand, is quite safe, even at night. The dark streets can look forbidding but crime is rare and visitors shouldn't worry unduly. As always, travellers should take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas. Don't carry valuables in a bag after dark as the most common tourist related crime here is bag-snatching by youths on motorbikes. Mind your bag especially if you are walking on a dark street at night. The safest approach is to act like your Thai hosts and wear reasonable clothing (shoulders and chest covered) medium-length skirts, long shorts or long pants, speak in a moderate tone of voice, and avoid flashing money or jewellery. Not only will respectable Thais appreciate your behaviour, you are much less likely to become a target of any criminal activity.
Scams in Chiang MaiSome scams from Bangkok have started to rear their ugly heads in Chiang Mai. Two in particular are worth watching out for: the gem scam, where you are talked into buying near-worthless gems at far above their real value; and the tuk-tuk scam, where a smooth-talking tuk tuk driver tells you that the attraction you want to see is closed, and instead offers you a sightseeing tour for 20 Thai Baht (or some similarly unrealistic amount) - needless to say, the tour will either consist of nothing but overpriced gift shops, or will smoothly segue into the gem scam. See the "Stay Safe" section of the Bangkok article for more details.
WaterTap water should be regarded as non-potable. Liquids from sealed bottles nearly always are, and should be used wherever possible. Nearly all restaurants use ice that is made by professional ice-making companies and is generally safe. There are street side water vending machines (1 Thai Baht per litre) throughout the city. Using one saves money and a lot of plastic refuse.
|Area (km2)||40.216 km2|