Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand. It is the capital of Chiang Mai Province, a former capital of the Kingdom of Lanna (1296–1768) and was the tributary Kingdom of Chiang Mai from 1774 until 1939. It is located 700 km north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. The city is along the Ping River, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River. Chiang Mai means “new city” and was so-named because it was the new capital, founded in 1296, succeeding Chiang Rai (founded 1262) in the capital of the Lanna kingdom.
King Mengrai founded the city of Chiang Mai (meaning “new city”) in 1296 on the location of an older city of the Lawa people called Wiang Nopburi. Chiang Mai succeeded Chiang Rai as the capital of the Lanna kingdom. The ruler was known as the Chao. The city was surrounded by a moat and a defensive wall, since nearby Burma was a constant threat as well as the armies of the Mongol Empire which only decades earlier had conquered most of Yunnan, China, and in 1292 overran the bordering Thai Lü kingdom of Chiang Hung. With the decline of the Lanna Kingdom, the city lost importance and was occupied by the Burmese in 1556. Chiang Mai formally became part of Siam in 1775 by an agreement with Chao Kavila, after the Thai King Taksin helped drive out the Burmese. Because of the Burmese counterattacks, Chiang Mai was abandoned between 1776 and 1791. Lampang then served as the capital of what remained of Lanna. Chiang Mai then slowly grew in cultural, trading and economic importance to its current status as the unofficial capital of northern Thailand, second in importance only to Bangkok.
In the photos below you can see a small excerpt of temples found in and around Chiang Mai of which the Wat Doi Pui Suthep is most well known. Doi Pui Suthep National Park is just outside town. From all over Chiang Mai you can see the Wat Doi Suthep Buddhist temple looking down on the town from Doi Suthep mountain.
Other places of interest in the area are the nearby Doi Inthanon National Park (which includes Doi Inthanon), the highest mountain in Thailand and Elephant Nature Park. Approximately 60 km north of the city, the Elephant Nature Park is home to approximately 30 rescued elephants.
A large number of tour companies offer organized treks among the local hills and forests on foot and on elephant back. Most also involve visits to the various local hill tribes. These include representatives from the Akha, Hmong, Karen, and Lisu tribes.