Chiang Mai is the capital city of Northern Thailand. With a population of over 250,000 in the city proper (but more than 2 million in the metropolitan area), it is Thailand's second-largest city. Located on a plain at an elevation of 316 m, surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, it is much greener and quieter than Bangkok, and has a cosmopolitan air and a significant expat population, factors which have led many from Bangkok to settle permanently in this "Rose of the North".
City of Temples
Founded in 1296 AD, Chiang Mai is a culturally and historically interesting city, at one time the capital of the ancient Lanna kingdom. Located among the rolling foothills of the Himalayan Mountains 700 km north of Bangkok, it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant back trip until the 1920s. This isolation helped preserve Chiang Mai's distinctive charm intact to this day. Chiang Mai's historical centre is the walled city (City is chiang in the northern Thai dialect while 'mai' is new, hence Chiang Mai - "New City"). Sections of the wall dating to their restoration a few hundred years 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.
The Thai 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 nonsense, but the Kao Soi, Bo Sang umbrellas and Doi Suthep are important cultural icons for Chiang Mai residents. Ratchadamneon Rd hosts the main Sunday night walking street market from Thapae Gate to the popular Wat Phra Singh. more info in Wikitravel...