Founded in 1296 AD, the culturally rich city of Chiang Mai is the longest continuously inhabited settlement from the ancient days of Siam. Located amidst the rolling foot hills of the Himalayan Mountains 700km north of Bangkok, it could only be reached by an arduous river journey or an elephant back trip until the 1920's, isolation which has helped keep Chiang Mai's distinctive charm intact to this day.
Chiang Mai's historical centre is the walled city (chiang in Thai, hence Chiang Mai - "New Walled City"). Sections of the wall remain at the gates and corners, but of the rest only the moat remains.
Inside Chiang Mai's remaining city walls are more than 30 temples dating back to the founding of the principality, in a combination of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai styles, decorated with beautiful wood carvings, Naga staircases, leonine and angelic guardians, gilded umbrellas and pagodas laced with gold filigree. The most famous is Doi Suthep, which overlooks the city from a mountainside 13km away.
Modern-day Chiang Mai has expanded in all directions, but particularly to the east towards the Ping River (Mae Nam Ping), where Thanon Chang Klan, the famous Night Bazaar and the bulk of Chiang Mai's hotels and guesthouses are located. The locals say you've not experienced Chiang Mai until you've seen the view from Doi Suthep, eaten a bowl of kao soi, and purchased an umbrella from Bo Sang.