Second in size only to Bangkok and over 700km to its North-West, the city of Chiang Mai is a little more relaxed than the country’s capital, with a very friendly and international feel.
Chiang Mai city stands on the banks of the Mae Ping River and is over-looked by surrounding mountains, the city itself is only a 50 minute flight from Bangkok.
Chiang Mai province is home to Thailand’s handicraft and textile industries all of which can be seen and bartered for daily along the streets of the famous Night Bazaar. There are over 300 temples within the municipal limits and religion along with spiritualism, meditation and relaxation are an important and essential part of the regions culture.
History of Chiang Mai
Once part of the independent Lanna Thai (Million Thai Rice-Fields) Kingdom, Chiang Mai was developed on an existing Mon settlement by King Mengrai in 1296. The name means ‘old walled city’ and refers to the original fortified centre, parts of the terracotta coloured wall are still visible along Kampaengdin Road.
The city fell captive to the Burmese in 1556 and remained under their control until it was recaptured by King Taksin in 1775. The sections of wall along the moat which encompass the old city are largely reconstructions of the monumental wall built in 1800 under his rule. He expanded the city and established it as an important centre for trade in the region with merchants from China, Laos and Burma settling in the area to peddle their wares, these included silk, opium, tea and the manufacture of silver and lacquer wares as well as various other handicraft items still produced in the area today.
The North of Thailand has a much more agreeable climate than Bangkok and the central regions. There are three distinct seasons with the ‘cool season’ from November to February being a favourite for foreign visitors, when daytime temperatures average around 29 degrees dropping off to a low of around 10 degrees at night.
From March until June the temperatures can rise to as high as 38 to 40 degrees. The third part of the year sees the arrival of the much needed rains from July until September and the justly named ‘wet season’. Average temperatures stay around 30 degrees but the rains also bring a certain amount of humidity not as evident during the rest of the year.
Festivals in Chiang Mai
For three days in February Chiang Mai is literally ‘blooming’ with colour as the city is decorated with hundreds of thousands of flower arrangements for the annual Flower Festival. A procession of flower heavy floats, the ‘Queen of the Flower Festival’ contest and musical and traditional dance performances are some of the highlights.
During April there is a chance to cool down whilst celebrating Thai New Year (13-15 April) and taking part in the annual water festival or ‘Songkran’. The celebrations are most prevalent outside the boundaries of Chiang Mai’s old city where thousands of Thais and foreigners line the edges of the moat, armed with water pistols and buckets or even oil drums of iced water. Nobody is safe from a soaking regardless of dress, social position, race or religion so be prepared to join in with the fun if you intend visiting Thailand at this time.
City Pillar Inthakin Festival
This festival is held to invoke blessings of peace, happiness and prosperity for the city and its’ residents. The ceremony is held for seven auspicious days and nights during the seventh lunar month at Wat Chedi Luang and images of the Lord Buddha are paraded around the city.
Yee Peng (Loi Krathong) Festival
The most charming of all the Thai festivals; the custom of placing hand-made floats (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles on waterways dates back over 700 years. In the north ‘Yee Peng’ is celebrated for two nights under the full moon. As the moon rises on the second night, a procession of beautiful maidens and floats parade through the city to the Mae Ping River and thousands of small, paper hot-air balloons are launched, illuminating the nights sky.