7 Interesting Facts about Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand. Famous for its temples and old walled centre, the 13th-century river port city attracts millions of visitors every year. From its moats to mountains, Buddhas to baby elephants, here are some of the most interesting facts about Chiang Mai that might just surprise you.

7 Interesting Facts about Chiang Mai

1. Chiang Mai is known as the ‘Capital of North Thailand’

With a population of 1,197,931 (as of 2022) Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and the capital of Chiang Mai Province. It is the fourth-largest city in the whole of the country after Bangkok, Chon Buri and Samut Prakan.

 

2. Chiang Mai is a river port city

Chiang Mai is located 700km (435 miles) north of the Thai capital Bangkok. It is nestled among the highest mountains in the country. The city is situated along the Ping River, which is a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River. Due to its strategic location along the river and close to major trading routes, Chiang Mai has historically been an important city.

3. Chiang Mai is a 13th-century ancient city of the Lanna Kingdom

Chiang Mai, also written as Chiengmai or Chiangmai, means “new city” in the Thai language. Mangrai, a Northern Thai King established the new city ‘Chaing Mai’ in 1296. He chose the name as the city succeeded Chiang Rai as the new capital of the Lanna Kingdom.

4. Chiang Mai has more Buddhist temples than any other Thai city

In the city’s Muang district, you’ll find 117 Buddhist temples (“wat” in Thai), and 300 wats throughout the region. That’s more Buddhist temples than any other city in Thailand. The oldest temple in Chiang Mai is the Wat Chiang Man which King Mengrai constructed in 1296. In the Chiang Mai province, you’ll find Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is one of the most sacred pilgrimage spots in Thailand. This temple is on the Doi Suthep mountain at an elevation of 1,073 meters. The temple is famous for its huge Buddha.

5. Chiang Mai is a walled city

With over 700 years of history, there are plenty of sites of historical importance in Chiang Mai. Within the Old City area, you can see vestiges of walls, ramparts, gates and moats from its past as the cultural and religious centre of the Lanna Kingdom. Within the old city walls are 40 ancient temples. Though the original city walls date to the 13th-century, they were extensively rebuilt in the early 19th-century. One of the most-visited parts of the old city is the Tha Phae Gate on the east side of the city walls. This gate dates back to the 16th-century and was the main gate through which monks, traders and diplomates entered the city.

6. Chiang Mai is home to the highest mountain in Thailand

Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai is home to Doi Inthanon. This is the highest mountain in Thailand and rises 2,565 meters above sea level. Doi Inthanon National Park has lots of lovely landscapes including rainforests, pine forests and mixed forests. There are also lots of waterfalls and nature trails to explore. It is also a great place to witness the beautiful natural phenomenon of Mae Kha Ning or the winter frost. Mae Kha Ning is when ice crystals cling to flowers, grass, branches and trees and turn everything white.

7. There’s an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai

In 1996, animal lover Sangduen “Lek” Chailert opened up the 250-acre Elephant Nature Park as a sanctuary for distressed Asian elephants. Located 37 miles from the city of Chiang Mai, some 54 rescued elephants call the Park home. The herd includes disabled, orphaned and blind elephants, many of which were rescued from logging, street begging, and tourism industries. Other recused animals also live at the sanctuary, for instance, buffalos, dogs, cats, horses, goats and birds. You can visit the Elephant Nature Park on a day trip or as part of a volunteer programme.

Melanie May

Melanie is an intrepid solo traveller, endlessly curious about people, places and food. She is a fan of slow travel and loves exploring the world by mouth, discovering a culture through its food. Having backpacked her way around the world she turned her wanderlust into a career and is now a full-time travel writer.

View stories