Chiang Mai (Thai: About this sound เชียงใหม่ (help·info), IPA: [tɕʰiəŋ màj], Northern Thai: IPA: [tɕiəŋ màj]) sometimes written as “Chiengmai” or “Chiangmai”, 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 (435 mi) north of Bangkok, among the highest mountains in the country. The city is on the Ping river, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya river.
In recent years, Chiang Mai has become an increasingly modern city and has been attracting over 5 million visitors each year, of which between 1.4 million and 2 million are foreign tourists (depending on the year). Chiang Mai gained prominence in the political sphere in May 2006, when the Chiang Mai Initiative was concluded here between the ASEAN nations and the “+3″ countries (China, Japan, and South Korea). Chiang Mai is one of three Thai cities contending to host the World Expo 2020. It has also recently positioned itself to become a Creative City and is considering to apply for Creative City Status with UNESCO.
Chiang Mai’s historic importance is derived from its strategic location on the Ping river and major trading routes. The city has long been a major center for handcrafted goods, umbrellas, jewelry (particularly silver) and woodcarving.
While officially the city (thesaban nakhon) of Chiang Mai only covers most parts of the Mueang Chiang Mai district with a population of 160,000, the urban sprawl of the city now extends into several neighboring districts. This Chiang Mai Metropolitan Area has a population of nearly one million people, more than half the total of Chiang Mai Province.
The city is subdivided into four wards (khwaeng): Nakhon Ping, Srivijaya, Mengrai, and Kawila. The first three are on the west bank of the Ping River, and Kawila is located on the east bank. Nakhon Ping district comprises the north side of the city. Srivijaya, Mengrai, and Kawila consist of the west, south, and east respectively. The city center—within the city walls—is mostly with Srivijaya ward.