Today we flew about 410 miles north into the mountains to Chiang Mai, which sits at 3500 feet above sea level. It is the largest city in Northern Thailand with a population of about 200,000.
Chiang Mai was founded in 1296 and was the capitol of the LAN An empire until 1768…It then became a tributary state of Siam, the precursor to Thailand, until 1899. The northern lands then became an official part of the “Princely Rulers,” until 1939 when Thailand was officially recognized.
Like most SE Asian cities, Chiang Mai was built on the banks of a major river that provided transportation along trade routes. This time, it was the Ping River, which is a major tributary of the Chao Phraya, which flows south to Bangkok. The early city was threatened by the Mongols of Kublai Khan, who conquered much of Burma to the north, as well as other Warlords. So a moat and wall encircled the city. I’m a little fuzzy on this, but our guide told us that these defenses were largely ineffective during Chiang Mai’s history, at which point Mrs Bear blurted our that “Walls don’t work !!!” This received quite a quick reaction from the Americans in our group, and Mrs Bear, normally very serious about American politics, couldn’t stop laughing for five minutes…If only her children could have seen that !!! A photo of one of the wall remnants is shown above.
Our guide says that Chiang Mai is very popular with the Thai people. They like the elevations, which rise above 5000 feet in the mountains surrounding the city which reduces the heat and humidity…and the people also like getting out into nature. My next entry will review our visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which required an eleven kilometer switchback climb into the mountains. I noticed the first true Thai cyclists climbing the mountain, decked out in proper helmets and wicking jerseys, but riding hybrid bicycles.
Chiang Mai also has a large population of ex-pats… They are drawn to the low standard of living, good healthcare (Mrs Bear says that Thailand is popular for people having joint replacement surgeries), and, according to our guide, a ” happy life.” He reported that there is almost no crime and no pickpockets.
One more interesting geographical tidbit… Our guide pointed out the highway to Bangkok…He then explained that before 1918, Chiang Mai traded more with China, roughly 450 miles to the north, than Bangkok. 1918 is when the railroad line, subsidized by the British, was completed and linked the city to Bangkok. The road is a more recent completion.