Visiting Chiang Mai, the Rose of the North

Table of Contents

Chiang Mai attractions and tourism

North Thailand and Chiang Mai in particular always have had a great attraction to people. That applies to both overseas visitors and local people. Only in the late 19th century the Lanna kingdom lost its independence and became part of a Siamese Kingdom, with Bangkok as the capital. King Mangrai founded Chiang Mai in 1296 and established a kingdom, known under the name Lanna. This kingdom at times stretched out to the current borders of North Thailand and even further into Myanmar, Laos and China.

In 1558 Burmese forces conquered the Lanna Kingdom and occupied Chiang Mai. In the late 18th century Lanna people drove out the Burmese, with help from the kingdom of Siam. This was the beginning of the revival of an independent Lanna kingdom, which lasted until the late 19th, early 20th century. This is a very brief overview of the history of North Thailand. I am working on a more detailed timeline.

Statue of three people Chiang Mai attractions
The Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai

Tourism in Chiang Mai and North Thailand

The opening of the railway from Bangkok to Chiang Mai in early 1922 was a pivotal moment in the history of North Thailand. It was the Royal State Railways of Thailand, that promoted tourism in Chiang Mai and North Thailand. In 1928 they issued a guidebook called “Guide to Bangkok, with notes on Siam”. Erik Seidenfaden, a Danish ethnologist and anthropologist, wrote the book.

In the section, “notes on Siam” Seidenfaden praised the attractions of Chiang Mai and North Thailand and promoted the Northern Line from Bangkok to Chiang Mai: “There are express trains with excellent day and night coaches, single and double compartments and restaurant cars running between Bangkok and Chieng Mai (old spelling of Chiang Mai). The journey occupies only 26 hours, and the time table is so arranged that daytime is spent in the most interesting part of the country.”

The first railway station of Chiang Mai. Date and source unknown

The Railway Terminus Hotel

The Royal State Railways of Thailand also opened the first accommodation for tourists in Chiang Mai and Lampang: “Rest-houses are maintained by the Royal State Railways at Lampang and Chiengmai. Good accommodation and excellent food can be obtained at both places. Many of the tourists visiting Chiengmai and Lampang find it convenient to make their headquarters there.” The original Railway Terminus Hotel was opposite the railway station, on Charoenmuang Road. In the early 60s, it made way for a new modern building, renamed the Railway Hotel. They demolished this hotel in 2002.

Ruined temple Chiang Mai attractions
Chiang Mai Timeline: Wat Chedi Luang in the early morning

The tourist boom of the 1990s

It was not until the 1990s that tourism to Chiang Mai and North Thailand really took off. The groundwork was done by young back packers who started to come from the mid-1970s onward, with the Lonely Planet guidebooks under their arms. Mainstream tourism followed in numbers that were increasing every year. Economic prosperity in Thailand allowed local people to travel and explore their own country more and more. More people from neighboring countries and from China and South Korea started to come to Thailand as well. Before the Covid-19 pandemic the Thai tourist industry reached an all-time high. This was the history of tourism in North Thailand in a nutshell. Let’s now focus on the attractions of Chiang Mai: what to do in Chiang Mai.

Tai Lue women in traditional dress Tai Lue people
Tai Lue women serving food

The attractions of Chiang Mai and North Thailand

On this website you can find a wide range of articles about Chiang Mai attractions, temples, markets, museums and other places of interest. For starters we have information about the Chiang Mai airport and the railway station, the two major transportation hubs.

The Chiang Mai Railway Station

The Chiang Mai International Airport

old airport building
Chiang Mai Airport in the 1960s. Source unknown.

What to do in Chiang Mai?

We have lots of information on activities and attractions in Chiang Mai. First of all we have this page:

Things to do in Chiang Mai

We have separated the temples and ruins:

The Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai

On this page there are links to articles about the most important temples.

Temple chedi with umbrella Chiang Mai attractions
Wat Doi Suthep in the morning

Selected articles on Chiang Mai

I have written a number of articles about attractions and activities in Chiang Mai. Many of these appear in our tours or in those of our sister company Green Trails. Examples are

Wiang Kum Kam, the ruined City

Chiang Mai: McKean Senior Center

Warorot Market in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Doll Museum and Factory

Bo Sang, The umbrella village

The old Chiang Mai Cultural Center

Woman making pancakes
Making khanom beuang, San Pakoy Market