In Thai, Chiang Mai means “new city,” but in this ancient kingdom new is a relative term. Founded by Lanna settlers in the 13th century, Chiang Mai was once the capital of the northern kingdom of Lanna (meaning one million rice fields). Situated between picturesque mountains and the Ping River, this ancient capital was carefully planned with a moat and fortress walls whose remnants still mark the heart of the city today. Dotted around the city you will notice many beautiful Buddhist temples or “wats” dating as far back as the 14th century, an eye-catching testament to Chiang Mai’s rich Lanna background.
Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second most important city after Bangkok, with a much smaller population of approximately one million people. Despite being a thriving and bustling metropolis, visitors find the “small town feel” -- accentuated by small lanes (soi) lined with teakwood houses and beautiful gardens -- to be very welcoming.
Chiang Mai is a hive of activity all year round. Artists, musicians, and talented handicraft designers alike flock to Chiang Mai for the city's internationally renowned festivals, art shows, craft fairs, and popular walking streets.
The city comes alive with activity and color during the annual festivals, such as the Flower Festival in early February and the Loi Krathong Fire Festival in mid November. The most reknowned of them all, Songkran, is the Buddhist New Year celebration that occurs in April. Chiang Mai hosts the grandest water parade in all of Thailand, filling the streets with people of every nationality and age group that spray one another with water in joyous respite from the scorching sun.
In addition to the aesthetic beauty and cultural wealth, Chiang Mai is a great place for trekking in the surrounding mountains, going bamboo and white water rafting, joining retreats, and participating in meditation holidays. Others come simply to shop in the wide range of markets. Offering a formula of endless activities, scenic treats, and rich cultural foundations, Chiang Mai itself is truly a worthwhile experience. Once you have visited, Chiang Mai will always hold a place in your heart.
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