The population of Chiang Mai is just over one and a half million residents in a vibrant metropolitan centre making it the fifth largest city in Thailand attracting on average more than one million international visitors each year. Chiang Mai was the site of The Chiang Mai Initiative an important economic summit between the Peoples Republic of China, South Korea and Japan in The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) where leaders devised an increase to the emergency reserve funds to prevent the collapse of the Asian financial markets.
The city rests on the banks of the Ping River and along historically significant ocean trade routes and is closely bordered by Burma and Laos. Chiang Mai is referred to as "the rose of the North" for its rich suburban agriculture and natural beauty.
The high season for travellers visiting Chiang Mai is October through February with the hottest months occurring in March and April. Travelling to Chiang Mai during the month of March is not advised as it is a time when agricultural burning creates a very thick and smoky haze of dust and particles. The air quality is very poor during that time and may be a health hazard to travellers with respiratory conditions.
It is relatively easy to travel to and from Chang Mai to other areas of Thailand. The railway offers multiple trains from Chiang Mai to Bangkok daily with convenient cabins and sleeping berth services for comfortable travel during the twelve hour trip. Third class accommodation (while economical) is not recommended for international tourists. Chiang Mai also offers the convenience of an international airport and a charming tuk tuk service (small cart like taxi service) is available within the city for short travel. Songthaews (pickup trucks) are also regular in the city and are very cheap for short journeys.
Architectural sightseeing is high on the list of attractions for Chiang Mai as the city boasts over three hundred Buddhist temples (wat) from the 13th century and onward. It is also the home of many Thai festivals including the breathtaking Loy Krathong festival which is held on the full moon in November. During this festival the Goddess of Water is worshipped and thousands of people line the waterways to celebrate by floating boats fashioned from banana leafs (krathong) which are decorated with flowers and candles creating a candlelit procession of twinkling lights in the water. The Chiang Mai Flower Festival takes place annually on the first weekend of February when the local tropical flowers are in full bloom. The city celebrates with displays of beautiful parades and traditional dancing.
Another must see place in Chiang Mai is the Elephant Nature Park. The nature park houses over thirty rescued elephants with tours and interactive volunteering trips. For the adventurous types a visit to the "Flight of the Gibbon" which is an ecological non-profit organization that donates 10% of its earnings to conservation, is a must. The zip-line tour allows you to explore more than three kilometres of rainforest on the three hour excursion.
When deciding on a vacation in Chiang Mai there are numerous accommodation options available to you. The Bodhi Serene is a highly recommended luxury hotel as is the Suriwongse Hotel Chiang Mai located conveniently six kilometers away from the International Airport. There are also a number of hostels and guest houses in the city for tourists on a budget holiday. The most popular include Julie's Guesthouse (300 baht a night), A Little Bird Guesthouse (100 baht a night) and 7 Century (prices start from 150 baht a night).
Chiang Mai is the perfect place to visit for tourists who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok and who want to experience some real Thai culture. There are so many things to do that it is impossible to get bored, and many tourists find themselves wishing they had longer to spend in the beautiful city.