Chiang Mai: Handicraft export paradise
Chiang Mai, capital of the province of Chiang Mai, is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is located at aproximatively 700 kilometers from Bangkok, among some of the highest mountains in the country. The city is on the banks of the Ping River, the largest tributary of the Chao Phraya River.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city, although it lacks the cosmopolitan gloss of Bangkok. It has many attractions for the thousands of foreign visitors who come each year. The historical importance of Chiang Mai derived from its strategic location on an old trade route. Long before the modern influx of foreign visitors, the city was an important center for the production of handicrafts, umbrellas, jewelry (particularly silver) and sculpture carved in wood.
While the city (nakhon thesaban) officially Chiang Mai only covers most of Mueang Chiang Mai district with a population of 150,000 people, urban sprawl now extends the city for several neighboring districts. This Chiang Mai metropolitan area has a population of almost 700,000 people, almost half of the total in the province of Chiang Mai.
History of Chiang Mai
King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning “new city”) in 1296, and succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna kingdom. Mengrai constructed a moat and a wall around the city to protect it against raids from Burma. With the decline of the power of the Lanna kingdom, the city lost importance and was often occupied by the Burmese and Thais of the kingdom of Ayutthaya. As a result of the Burmese wars that ended with the fall of Ayutthaya in April 1767, the territory of Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1774, when the Thai King Taksin snatched the Burmese, but the city was depopulated and its inhabitants abandoned between 1776 and 1791. During that period, Lampang functioned as the capital of what was left of Lanna.
Chiang Mai rose again as a cultural, commercial and production center to its present status as the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, and nationally as second largest city after Bangkok.
The people speak each other language Kham Muang (also known as Northern Thai or Lanna), but the Thai of Bangkok is used in education and communications. The old Kham Muang alphabet is studied only by scholars and Northern Thai is commonly written using the standard Thai alphabet.
Religious sites in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples (called wats in Thai). These include:
– Chedi Doi Suthep, outside Chiang Mai.
– Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep: the most famous temple in the area, built on a hill northwest of the city. This temple dates back to 1383. It is said that the builders chose the site by placing a relic of Gautama Buddha in the back of an elephant and letting the elephant roam until he came to a place where sounded the horn and circled before bedtime. This was considered as a sign of a suitable place to build the temple. The temple location allows magnificent views over the city on a clear day.
– Wat Chiang Man: the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. King Mengrai lived here while overseeing the construction of the city. This temple houses two very important and venerated Buddha images – Phra Sila (a marble Buddha) and Phra Satang Man (crystal Buddha).
– Wat Phra Singh: located within the city walls, dating back to 1345 and offers an example of the style of classic northern Thai architecture. It contains the Phra Singh Buddha, a highly venerated image, transferred here many years ago from Chiang Rai.
– Wat Chedi Luang: temple with great stupa, founded in 1401 and dominated by a large Lanna style chedi which began building the same year, but it took many years to complete. An earthquake damaged the chedi in the sixteenth century.
– Wat Ched Yot: located near the city, this temple built in 1455, hosted in 1977 the World Buddhist Council.
– Wiang Kum Kam: settlement of an ancient city used by King Mengrai ten years before the founding of Chiang Mai. The site located south of the current city, has a lot of ruins of temples.
– Wat U-Mong: a wat in a cave in the forest, in the hills west of the city, near Chiang Mai University. Wat U-Mong is known for its grotesque concrete statue of “Buddha fasting” and hundreds of Buddhist proverbs in English and Thai set in trees.
– Wat Suan Dok: translates as “Temple field of flowers”, a temple of the fourteenth century located just west of the old city wall. It was built by the King of Lanna for a revered monk who came from Sukhothai for Vassa or “retreat of the rainy season. This temple has several unique features. One is the great ubosot the temple (” ordination hall “). it is unusual not only for its size but also because it is open to the sides instead of enclosed. Secondly, there are a lot of chedis containing the ashes of the rulers of Chiang Mai. the temple is also home to the Rajavidyalaya Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist university.
Cultural life in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai hosts many Thai festivals, including:
– Loi Kratong (known locally as Yi Peng) is carried out on a full moon night in November. Thousands of people put to float on the canals boxes (krathong) decorated with flowers and candles to worship the goddess of water. Lanterns (khom fai) as hot air balloons, Lanna style, are released into the air. It is believed meant to help local people get rid of troubles and also taken to decorate houses and streets.
– Songkran: It takes place in mid-April to celebrate the traditional Thai New Year. Chiang Mai has become one of the most popular sites to visit during this holiday. A variety of religious and recreational activities take place each year, along with parades and beauty contest “Miss Songkran”.
-Flower Festival: lasts three days during the first weekend of February each year. This event occurs during the period when the temperate and tropical flowers Chiang Mai are in full bloom. The festivities include floral floats, parades, dances and traditional beauty contest.
Chiang Mai has several universities, including the University of Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai University Rachapat, the Rajamangala University of Technology, Payap University and the University of Maejo as well as several technological and educational institutes. Chiang Mai University was the first university in the state established outside Bangkok.
Tourism in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a regional center for a number of activities, including:
– Ethnotourism between the tribes of mountaineers: hiking in the mountains and local forests, on foot or by elephant, to visit native tribes such as the Akha, Hmong, Karen, Lisu.
– Elephant Nature Park: approximately 60 km north of the city, about an hour by car, this park is home to 30 elephants rescued.
– Visit to Doi Inthanon the highest mountain in Thailand, located in the national park area.
– Other outdoor activities: mountain climbing, elephant riding, water sports on typical boats.
Night Market in southern city
– Shopping: Chiang Mai has every night a great and famous bazaar for handicrafts and diverse goods. There are also numerous modern shops.
– Thai massage: The side streets and main avenues of Chiang Mai offers a variety of massage of the feet and caraasí as curos Thai massage.
– Local museums include the Art of the City, the Cultural Center, the Museum of the mountain tribes and the National Museum of Chiang Mai.
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