Also referred to as 'the Thai capital of the north', Chiang Mai is Thailand's second largest city. Chiang Mai was first founded in 1296, and due to a prominent location on the River Ping and close to the Burmese border, it soon became the capital of the Lanna kingdom. As the city continued to develop and increase in importance, many defensive walls and other structures were built, along with the magnificent temples that are dotted throughout the Old Town today. In time relations with the Burmese became strained, and with an increasing number of attacks Chiang Mai lost its status as a capital, and began to diminish in importance. After the end of the Lanna Kingdom, in 1774 the city formally became part of Siam, and once again the city began to expand.
Today Chiang Mai is a thriving city, and it serves as a focal point for much of Thailand's northern region. The city is seen as a centre that represents all that is distinctly different from the south in Thai culture, as many of the surrounding northern provinces still continue with ancient customs such as making paper umbrellas.
Arguably one of Chiang Mai's most popular highlights is the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the city, the temple was founded in the 1380s and takes its name from the hill it sits on. According to legend, the temple was built on the site where a bone - believed to be the shoulder bone of the Buddha - was found. Decorated with a lavish interior and crowned with a fantastic golden tower, the temple is very popular with locals and visitors alike.