Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai also sometimes written as "Chiengmai", is the largest and most culturally significant city in Northern Thailand, and the capital of Chiang Mai Province. Chiang Mai is located at 700 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.

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 to the city each year. Chiang Mai's historic strength derived from its important strategic location on an ancient trade route, and long before the modern influx of foreign visitors the city served as an important centre for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewellery (particularly silver) and woodcarving.

While officially the city (thesaban nakhon) of Chiang Mai only covers most part of the Mueang Chiang Mai district with a population of 150,000, the urban sprawl of the city extends into several neighboring districts. This Chiang Mai Metropolitan Area has a population of nearly 700,000 people, nearly half of the whole Chiang Mai Province.

Bus, train and air connections serve Chiang Mai well. A number of bus stations link the city to Central and Northern Thailand, the Central Chang Pheuak terminal (north of Chiang Puak Gate) provides local services to other locations within Chiang Mai province and the Chiang Mai Arcade bus terminal northeast of the city (requires Songthaew or tuk tuk ride - see below) provides services to over 20 other destinations in Thailand including Bangkok, Ayutthaya and Phitsanulok. There are several services a day from Chiang Mai Arcade terminal to Bangkok (a 10 to 12 hour journey).

The state railway operates 14 trains a day to Chiang Mai Station from Bangkok. Most journeys run overnight and take approximately 12 to 15 hours. Most trains offer a first-class (private cabins), and a second-class (seats fold out to make sleeping berths) service.

To get to cities such as Mae Hong Son or Chiang Rai a plane or bus must be used. No trains are available to cities north of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai International Airport receives up to 28 flights a day from Bangkok (flight time about 1hr 10 minutes), and also serves as a local hub for services to other Northern cities such as Chiang Rai, Phrae and Mae Hong Son. International services also connect Chiang Mai with other regional centres, including Xian (China), Kunming (China), Luang Phrabang (Laos), Taipei (Taiwan), Singapore, Hong Kong, Yangon (Myanmar) and Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) Tokyo (Japan).

Tuk-tuk waiting for passengers near Tapae Gate in Chiang MaiThe local preferred form of transport is personal motorbike, and, increasingly, private car. In recent years, the number of private vehicles on the road has begun to result in traffic congestion in major arteries during peak travel times. Motorbikes are available for hire from many places in the city, and tourists take advantage of this service.

Local public transport is provided in two forms - tuk tuks and songthaews (the latter known locally as rot daeng - literally "red car"). Minimum songthaew fare is 15 Thai baht and tuktuk fare is usually at least 40 baht; fare increases with distance. The fare is negotiable with the driver before boarding. Songthaews and tuktuks normally operate until about 11pm or midnight, and then become scarce and more expensive to ride. Chiang Mai Bus was recently relaunched, serving set routes in and around the city. Unlike Bangkok, which has the Bangkok Metro and Bangkok Skytrain, Chiang Mai does not yet have rapid transit public transport infrastructure.