The Rose of the North, a brief history

Chiang Mai, established by King Mengrai in 1296 A.D, is part of the Lanna region of Thailand and refers to both the city and the encompassing province. Lanna’s name derives from an ancient kingdom that once covered Northern Thailand and parts of Burma, Laos and Southern China. Located 700km north of Bangkok, it is often called the capital of the North. The Thai-Lanna region includes the provinces of Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lampang; these three areas are at the centre of mainland Southeast Asia’s crafts and art industries.

Chiang Mai, with a population of 1.6 million people, is Thailand’s second most important city due to its strategic position in the Greater Mekong Subregion, a large number of universities, government offices, hospitals, local and international schools, and foreign representations. The City’s International Airport is well connected with other cities within Thailand and the region, including Bangkok, Phuket, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Korea, China and Dubai.

The region has been a centre for trade, commerce, religion, education, arts, crafts and culture for over 700 years. As far back as the 15th century, caravan traders used Chiang Mai as a relay hub for the transportation of goods from China and between Burmese ports on the Indian Ocean. Chiang Mai’s culture, arts and crafts industries are the product of a diverse history, with artisans from a number of different ethnic groups now settled in the area, as well as members of mountain hill-tribe communities, which consist of 20 different tribes, including the Karen, the Hmong, and the Yao. The city has successfully retained its cultural, artistic and crafts heritage; distinct local cultures and designs are expressed in festivals and other cultural activities, which draw visitors to this charming city, also known as the Rose of the North.

There are several crafts industries within the Thai Lanna region, but it is most well known for its ceramics, silverwork, lacquerware, textiles and woodcarvings. More recently, furniture and decorative items made from rattan, bamboo, mango wood, recycled teak and Asian rosewood have gained popularity both locally and overseas. Lamphun is known for its textiles, whereas Lampang is a major producer of ceramics, featuring more than 200 factories that produce fine porcelain, stoneware, earthenware and building materials.

In 2010, the city launched an initiative to promote creativity and innovation under the name “Chiang Mai Creative City” and in 2011 the Ministry of Commerce awarded Chiang Mai the designation “Creative City for Crafts”. Chiang Mai has recently joined the UNESCO Creative City Network in the Crafts and Folk Arts Category.

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