General Information Chiang MaiArea: 40.22 km² Population: 148,477 Language: Thai Currency: Thai Baht
Chiang Mai (referred to as "the rose of the north") is situated in Northern Thailand, 700km north of the capital city of Bangkok. Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand, yet only has a population of around 200,000. Compare this to Bangkok which has about 9 million and it is easy to see why even the Thai people in Bangkok love to visit Chiang Mai for a holiday. The city is now becoming increasingly popular with overseas travelers as word spreads of this magnificent tourist location. There are various ways to travel to and visit Chiang Mai.
In the late 13th century the Lanna Kingdom covered most of Northern Thailand as we know it today as well as neighbouring parts of Myanmar (Burma), China and Laos. Back then it was bordered by Burma (now Myanmar) to the West, China to the North, the Khmer Empire of Angkor (now Cambodia) to the East and Siam (now Thailand) in the South.
The 700 year old city of Chiang Mai was built in 1296 to be the capital city of the Lanna Kingdom (the kingdom of a million rice fields) by its ruler King Mengrai.
Thai king Phaya Mengrai (also spelt Mangrai), originally from the Mekong riverside principality of Ngoen Yang (present-day Chiang Saen), established Nopburi Si Nakhon Ping Chiang Mai in 1296 after conquering the Mon kingdom of Hariphunchai (modern Lamphun). Traces of the original 1296 earthen ramparts can still be seen today along Th Kamphaeng Din in Chiang Mai.
Later, in an alliance with Sukhothai in the 14th and 15th centuries, Chiang Mai (New Walled City) became a part of the larger kingdom of Lan Na Thai (Million Thai Rice Fields), which extended as far south as Kamphaeng Phet and as far north as Luang Prabang in Laos. During this period Chiang Mai became an important religious and cultural centre – the eighth world synod of Theravada Buddhism was held here in 1477.
The Burmese capture of the city in 1556 was the second time the Burmese had control of Chiang Mai Province. Before Phaya Mengrai’s reign, King Anawrahta of Pagan (present-day Bagan) had ruled Chiang Mai Province in the 11th century. This time around, the Burmese ruled Chiang Mai for more than 200 years.
In 1775 Chiang Mai was recaptured by the Thais under Phaya Taksin, who appointed Chao Kavila, a jâo meuang (chieftain) from nearby Lampang principality, as viceroy of northern Thailand. In 1800 Kavila built the monumental brick walls around the inner city, and expanded the city in southerly and easterly directions, establishing a river port at the end of what is today Th Tha Phae (thâa phase means ‘raft pier’).
Under Kavila, Chiang Mai became an important regional trade centre. Many of the later Shan- and Burmese-style temples seen around the city were built by wealthy teak merchants who emigrated from Burma during the late 19th century. Not all the Shan residents were merchants, however. In 1902 several hundred laborers, most of them Shan, protested against the practice of corvée (involuntary service to the state) by refusing to construct roads or otherwise follow government orders. The ensuing skirmishes between corvée laborers and Chiang Mai troops – dubbed the ‘Shan Rebellion’ by historians – didn’t resolve the issue until the custom was discontinued in 1924.
The completion of the northern railway to Chiang Mai in 1921 finally linked the north with central Thailand. In 1927 King Rama VII and Queen Rambaibani rode into the city at the head of an 84-elephant caravan, becoming the first central Thai monarchs to visit the north, and in 1933 Chiang Mai officially became a province of Siam.
Long before tourists began visiting the region; Chiang Mai was an important centre for handcrafted pottery, umbrellas, weaving, silverwork and woodcarving. By the mid-1960s tourism had replaced commercial trade as Chiang Mai’s number one source of outside revenue.
After Chiang Mai born-and-raised politician Thaksin Shinawatra became Thailand’s prime minister in 2001, the city found itself the focus of a Thaksin-initiated development drive. The premier vowed to make Chiang Mai one of the nation’s primary centers of information technology, expand the airport, build more superhighways and double the size and wealth of the city within five years. Many local residents have reacted with dismay to these proclamations, and have organized a vocal movement to preserve quality of life.
Aspects of the proposed Thaksin developments did come into fruition, such as the continued construction of 5-star hotels, building of roads and the new Night Safari. However, although a new bus system is in place, the improved transportation system - including trams and metered taxis in the city - has not yet materialized. Since the political demise of Thaksin by the military coup of 19 September 2006, it remains to be seen whether the funding of Chiang Mai from central government will continue apace.
Seventy percent of the land in the north is mountainous and in the past was densely forested, making overland communication difficult. As a result each valley developed slight variations in customs and language.
People practiced wet-rice subsistence agriculture and were self-sustaining, making what they needed. Customs and beliefs associated with the agricultural cycle were passed down from their ancestors.
LanguageThe main ethnic language of the north is kham muang. With differences in both vocabulary and tones, Northern Thai may be considered a different language from central Thai. Though the differences are diminishing as kham muang borrows from the state language, a person from central Thailand cannot immediately understand the northern language.
Words of Indian origin trace their roots to Pali through the Mon civilization, as opposed to those of central Thai which came from Sanskrit via the Khmer civilization of Angkor. Kham muang has its own script used in religious texts, but most local people are unable to read it.
The people of the valleys refer to themselves as the khon muang, and are of mixed origin. The first inhabitants were known as the Lawa. These people were joined by other groups moving along the trading routes of the river valleys.
Notable amongst these were the Mon, who originated from the region around Thaton in Myanmar. The Mon founded Haripunchai, a northern offshoot of the Dvaravati civilization that predominated in the Chao Phraya basin from the 6th - 10th centuries. By the 13th century, however, the dominant group were ethnic Tai, who had been migrating south into the valleys from at least the 10th century (some theories plausibly suggest the Tai may have been in the area long before this date). This group came to be known as the Tai Yuan.
Hilltribes taking water at spring, Chiang Mai, Thailand until the European colonialism of the 19th century, the politics of the north was dominated by the struggles with the Burmese, and between the kingdoms of Ayutthaya, Lanna and Lan Xang. Each military incursion involved forced relocation of populations to increase manpower. Thus the wars of the region served mainly to mix ethnic Tai groups. Such resettlements tended to be geographically based, resulting in subtle differences within the population of the valley to this day.
The second half of the 19th century saw a large influx of overseas Chinese coming up from the South, as well as Haw Chinese coming overland from Yunnan. Many of the latter were Muslims who had fled to the hills after the brutal Chinese suppression of the Panthay rebellion in Yunnan in 1873. At the same time the hilltribes were also moving south through the uplands.
In the mid 19th century Westerners started arriving with Christian missionaries and increased in numbers with the growth of the teak industry. The teak industry also attracted large numbers of Shan who worked all over the north for the logging companies.
The 20th century has seen large migrations of hill tribes as well as Kuomintang Chinese, who fled China after the communist victory of 1949. Finally the recent economic growth has attracted people from all over Thailand. The incorporation of Lanna into the global market place brought to an end the relative cultural isolation of the once remote northern valley.
ReligionAlthough Mahayana Buddhism may have come to the region first via the Khmer empire and the Silk Road from China, Theravada Buddhism had become the dominant form of Buddhism by the end of the 14th century.
Theravada Buddhism in its essence is about the dhamma, the truth according to the Buddhist view. As the state religion of Lanna, however, it became connected with Brahmanic court traditions. These came from the indianised empires of the Khmer at Angkor and the Myanmarns at Pagan, which were at the height of their power in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Prior to the dominance of these beliefs, the Tai were animists with a fertility cult centered on the wet-rice cultivation cycle. The blend of the Tai spirit world with Buddhism has resulted in the variety of customs and religious practice today. See Spirits and Mediums
Central to the traditional Thai view of the cosmos is the cycle of rebirth. To commit sin is to be reborn into a hell world, and to make merit is to progress into a better after-life. A forest monk may explain this to a Westerner as an allegory for the laws of cause and effect known as karma. To a Thai villager, near Mae Chaem the holy images in the temples are the home of powerful spirits, and the vivid depictions of heaven and hell are maps that help him find his way in the cycle of seasons and years.
Naga, Chiang Mai, ThailandThe temple has long been the social center of rural Thai communities and Buddhism is woven into the fabric of rural life. The monk-hood originally provided the only education available and served to occupy males without work, especially during the rainy season. To this day folk festivals involve making merit by supporting the monk-hood with food and labor.
Until quite recently the temple was the main outlet for artistic creativity, the greatest works coming as a result of sponsorship by the ruling nobility. By so doing the rulers not only gained merit, but also gained political legitimacy, as pious works were seen as a crucial part of a leader's majesty.
Buddhist values pervade the character of the Thai, who value maintaining harmony in relationships very highly. To avoid causing offense, Thais pay much attention to outward appearance. However, they also prize having a "cool heart" - being jai yen. This means that you should not allow yourself to become "hot" with desire and at the mercy of worldly passions which can lead to harmful actions.
Buddhism also teaches tolerance, and so people have been free to practice other religions. Islam first arrived with Muslim Yunnanese who have been trading in the northern valleys since the time of the Mongols (11th - 13th centuries). The first permanent Christian mission was established in 1867. McCormick Hospital is one of several major institutions that came about with the growth of Christianity in the valley.
Culture and History Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai also sometimes written as "Chiengmai" or "Chiangmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand, and the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is located 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.
Thailand displays some very distinct and refined culture, developed over the centuries from early Lanna flourishing through to the golden ages of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya and beyond. This includes costume, dance, music, social graces – such as the famous wai greeting – along with architecture, religious art, woodcarving, and more. Chiang Mai is one of the best tourist destinations in Thailand to experience these.
Even in the modern era, the Thais, who have a knack for creativity and aesthetics, have stamped their own identity with some commendable contemporary design. As a result, the city has a very attractive art and craft trade, often involving traditional methods that have been passed down through generations. Festivals, like Songkran and Loy Krathong (Yee Peng), are uniquely experienced in the city, while art, dance, religious art, and even the colourful hill tribes, are commonly on display.
King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning "new city") in 1296, and it succeeded Chiang Rai as the 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.
The Ping River Valley was long a trading route between Yunnan and the Chao Phraya basin.
Evidence from archeological remains has shown that early inhabitants used iron tools in the valley at least two thousand years ago. These early people, who came to be known as the Lawa, were later supplanted by the Mon of the Dvaravati period (6- 10th centuries). Drawn by trade along the river, the Mon chose the wide, fertile valley to found Haripunchai (Lamphun), in the eighth century. It was the first city-state with a "high culture" in the valley.
The rich valley also attracted King Mangrai, a powerful Tai leader, who captured Haripunchai and then founded his "new capital" - Chiang Mai - in 1296. Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai, Thailand
He chose a site typical for a Tai city - at the foot of a mountain that provided both water and timber.
Chiang Mai was the capital of the kingdom of Lanna (the kingdom of a million fields), which enjoyed a golden age throughout the 15th century. During this age the powerful inland kingdom came to control most of what now constitutes northern Thailand, north-western Laos, the eastern Shan states of Myanmar and Xishuangbanna in southern Yunnan. The religion of the kingdom -Theravada Buddhism - gave rise to a cultural wealth whose influence was to be felt beyond the kingdom's boundaries down the centuries.
However, Lanna was caught between the Burmese, united under King Bayinnaung of Pegu, and the Siamese Thai of Ayutthaya. Lanna fought several times against Ayutthaya in the 14th and 15th centuries, draining the strength of the kingdom. Weakened by internal struggles for the throne and by oppression, the city fell to the Burmese forces of King Bayinnaung in 1558.
For over two centuries (1558-1774) Chiang Mai was under Burmese control. The fortunes of Chiang Mai declined for the Burmese exploited the city-state for military purposes in their wars with Ayutthaya. Rebellion brought suppression.
Eventually northern Thai forces allied with the Siamese drove the Burmese out, but Chiang Mai was so weak that it was totally abandoned.
With Siamese help, Chao Kawila of Lampang repopulated Chiang Mai with local people and with Tai Yai (Shan), Tai Khoen from Kengtung, and Tai Yong from Muang Yong east of Kengtung; he formally re-established Chiang Mai in 1796. To this day many of the people of Chiang Mai and Lamphun find their ethnic origins in the Tai groups who came here under Kawila.
Allied to the Siamese Thai, Chiang Mai gained strength.
Wiang Kum Kam, Chiang Mai, ThailandDuring the 19th century increasing Western interests in the teak forests of the north, however, forced King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) of Siam to take over the administration in 1892. In the second half of the century, the first Westerners as well as large numbers of overseas Chinese established themselves in the valley.
Economic integration with Siam, (which came to be named Thailand in 1949) became firmer with the opening of the railway in 1921. However, the historical trade routes to the north - to Jinghong in Xishuangbanna prefecture of Yunnan and Kengtung in Myanmar - have been blocked by political barriers for much of the century.
Thus Chiang Mai remained a quiet city until tourism brought the development boom of the seventies and eighties.
The last twenty years has seen the development of the modern city and consumer work culture. The growth of the Bangkok metropolis to saturation has partly encouraged this. The present population of Chiang Mai province totals almost 1.5 million people, with well over 200,000 making their home in Chiang Mai area. Plans to reopen trade routes that link Chiang Mai to its original sphere of influence as the capital of Lanna provide a bright prospect for Chiang Mai 700 years after its foundation
CultureChiang Mai hosts many Thai festivals, including
Loi Kratong: Held on a full-moon night in November. Every year thousands of people assemble floating banana-leaf containers (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles onto the waterways of the city to worship the Goddess of Water. Lanna-style hot-air lanterns (khom loi) are also launched into the air. These are believed to help rid the locals of troubles and are also taken to decorate houses and streets.
Songkran: Held in mid-April to celebrate the traditional Thai new year. Chiang Mai has become one of the most popular locations to visit for this festival. A variety of religious and fun-related activities (notably the good-natured city-wide water-fight) take place each year, along with parades and a Miss Songkran beauty competition.
Flower Festival: A three-day festival held during the first weekend in February each year, this event occurs during the period when Chiang Mai's temperate and tropical flowers are in full bloom. The festivities include floral floats, parades, traditional dancing shows and a beauty contest.
Chiang Mai has several universities, including Rachapat University, Rajamangala University of Technology, Chiang Mai University, Payap University and Maejo University -- as well as numerous technical and teacher colleges.
Chiang Mai is a regional centre for a number of activities, including:
Hill-tribe tourism and trekking: A large number of different tour companies offer organised treks among the local hills and forests on foot and on elephant back. Most also involve visits to the various local hill tribes. These include representatives from the Akha, Hmong, Karen, and Lisu tribes.
Other outdoor activities: The varied local terrain also offers opportunities for mountain biking, elephant riding, bamboo rafting and kayaking. The area also has several golf courses. The nearby national park that includes Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand, features many hiking trails.
Shopping: Chiang Mai has a large and famous nightly bazaar for arts, handicrafts and counterfeit products of all descriptions, and a number of large, well-appointed modern shopping centres. A major attraction is the Sunday walking street market which takes place on the main street of the old city, Ratchadamnorn road. Selling mostly arts and crafts from the surrounding hill tribes, it also features music and theater.
Thai massage: The back streets and main thoroughfares of Chiang Mai have a variety of massage parlours which offer anything from quick, simple, face and foot massages, to month-long courses in the art of Thai massage.
Local museums: These include the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre, the Hill Tribe Museum and the Chiang Mai National Museum.