Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai 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 along the Ping River, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River. Chiang Mai means "new city" and was so-named because it was the new capital, founded in 1296, succeeding Chiang Rai (founded 1262) in the capital of the Lanna kingdom.

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).[citation needed]

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 was one of three Thai cities contending for Thailand's bid to host the World Expo 2020 (the others were Chon Buri and Ayutthaya). However, Ayutthaya was the city chosen by the Thai Parliament to register for the international competition.

It has also recently positioned itself to become a Creative City, and is considering applying for Creative City Status with UNESCO. Chiang Mai is the only tourist destination in Thailand to have made it into the 2012 list of "25 Best Destinations in the World" of the popular travel website TripAdvisor, and it stands in place 24.

Chiang Mai's historic importance is derived from its close proximity to the Ping River and major trading routes.
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 within Srivijaya ward.

Nightlife in Chiang Mai consists of numerous bars, several discotheques and live music venues. The discotheques play a variety of music, ranging from electronic dance music to reggae, while live music venues, like the Maya Cafe, feature solo artists as part of the roster. Also, Loi Kroh Road, in the center of the city, is well known for the hostess bars that are located along the length of most of the street—the street also features a walk-in arcade, with a Muay Thai boxing ring, near the Imperial Mae Ping Hotel.

Bars and late-night restaurants are located throughout the city, but many can be found on either side of the moat's eastern flank (in the Thaphe Gate area). Live music venues are located in several areas: along the Ping River near Nawarat Bridge; along Immanent road in the western part of the city; or in the vicinity of the night bazaar. The Playhouse Theatre, on Chang Puak road in the old city, offers nightly shows and entertainment, performed by Thai national performers, featuring contemporary jazz, ballet and tap dance performances; the 350-seat venue also offers a unique Lanna dining experience, surrounded by mountains and waterfalls.

Karaoke lounges can be found throughout the city, with many found on Chiang Mai Land Road; some very large establishments exist along the length of Chang Klan Road, extending south from the night bazaar. Go-go bars can be found in Chiang Mai, but they are less significant in comparison to karaoke venues—Foxy Lady Night Bazaar, off Thaphe Rd, is one such bar.

A continuing environmental problem facing Chiang Mai is the incidence of air pollution which primarily occurs for a period of several weeks up to the beginning of April. This issue has been acknowledged for some time. Back in 1996, speaking at the Fourth International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement conference, which was held in Chiang Mai in that year, the then governor of Chiang Mai, Virachai Naewboonien invited guest speaker Dr. Jakapan Wongburanawatt, the Dean of the Social Science Faculty of Chiang Mai University at that time, to discuss the state of Chiang Mai air pollution efforts. Dr. Wongburanawatt stated that back in 1994, there were already increasing numbers of city residents coming to hospitals suffering from respiratory problems associated with city air pollution. The Thailand Pollution Control Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment is actively engaged in finding solutions with public awareness campaigns and other initiatives. During this period, unlike the majority of the year, air quality in Chiang Mai often remains below recommended standards with fine-particle dust levels reaching twice the standard. The northern centre of the Meteorological Department has reported that low-pressure areas from China trap forest-fire smoke in the mountains along the Thai-Myanmar border. Chiang Mai’s air quality has been perceptibly deteriorating over the past ten years. This is being addressed by a number of initiatives, and in part, is often seen in cities with increasing economic growth at the expense of a strong corresponding programme to counteract the negative effects of environmental impact. The city is often shrouded in smog during this period leading up to the rainy season. Fine particulate dust levels have sometimes been tested between 190 micrograms and 243 micrograms per cubic meter. (The standard acceptable level in Thailand is 120 milligrams per cubic meter, while the World Health Organization acceptable level is 50 milligrams per cubic meter.)
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