Chiang Mai is the largest city in north Thailand, after Bangkok the second biggest in the country (sometimes called the second capital), and the political, cultural and, above all, economic center of north Thailand. It lies in the valley of Ping River, a tributory of Chao Phraya River, the main river of Thailand's central plain. The mountainous surroundings are the offshoots of the Himalaya Mountains. Thailand's highest mountain, Doi Inthanon (2.565m), lies somewhat west-south-west of the city, still within Chiang Mai Province.
The temperatures here are, as generally in the north, more modest than in the southern plains. Temperatures can drop in the winter months to below 10 degree centigrade. The monsoonal rainy season is also shorter here. As the whole north, Chiang Mai is annually suffering over the winter months (dry season) the heavy, never interrupted forest fires in the Greater Golden Triangle, who decrease the air quality heavily. A great deal of the local people suffer respiratory health problems due to the air pollution.
There are about 300 Buddhist temples in the city, which has officially almost a million inhabitants in it's full extension.
Chiang Mai's economy is coined by agriculture and trade. There is the still northernmost railway station in the country with a connection to Bangkok's Hua Lamphong Station and an international airport not far out of the city.
It's also one of Thailand's touristic centers. The expected tourist arrivals are rapidly increasing every year. For 2016 estimated 9.1 million visitors are expected, about 30% of them Chinese, many others are from other Asian countries like Korea. Tourism means a huge strain for the city, in terms of unplanned wild growth, air and water pollution and an enormous additionally waste production, together with a growing traffic chaos.
North Thailand is tribal territory. Dozends of different hill tribes live in the mountainous surroundings of the large province (after Nakhon Ratchasima, by the way, the second largest province in Thailand). The province's ethnic majority are the Thai Yuan (peoples of the north), who are nevertheless considered being standard Thai. However, they call themselves Kham Muang and speak a local language of the same name, which is distinctively different to central standard Thai, although standard Thai is everywhere understood. Among the other ethnics are the Akha, Karen, Hmong, Yao, Lisu, Lahu and many more. It's estimated that more than 1,000 tribal villages exist in the province.
The town of Chiang Mai has been founded under the order of king Mangrai of Lanna in 1296 CE. It was from the beginning on designed as the new capital of Lanna (Chiang Mai means 'new city'). The new capital replaced Chiang Rai, what was the capital from 1262 on.
King Pha Yu enlarged the city and ordered the construction of a city wall and a moat. The old city, within the still widely existing walls and moats, is covering a considerable large area. The fortified place was a bastion against the Mongol threat from China (Kublai Khan) and unexpectedly invading Burmese armies.
After centuries it came from 1556 CE on under the rule of a Burmese kingdom, which lasted until the late 18th century. Burmese influence, for example the establishment of Burmese traders, lasted much longer and many former Burmese are completely merged into the local population over the times. After the downfall of Ayutthaya, the city allied with Siamese king Taksin, who drove the Burmese out. However, Burmese armies came again and again and havoced the north; after 1776, Chiang Mai was completely abandoned for years. The capital of what remained of Lanna changed then to Lampang.
Not before the year 1899, the place, which only very slowly repopulated, became fully incorporated into Bangkok Siam. There was still a representative king of Lanna with seat in Chiang Mai until 1939.