Chiang Mai – Thailand’s Second Largest City Busting The Myth!

Chiang Mai – Thailand’s second largest city busting the myth! (Still true in 2024?)

Keep hearing that Chiang Mai is the second largest city in Thailand? Read our article to find out the facts!

It may have begun life as a “New City” back in the late 13th century, but Chiang Mai didn’t actually make the cut for official city status until 1936. And, believe it or not, from 1972 to as recently as 1994, Chiang Mai was Thailand’s only city municipality making it the largest of its kind in the country!

 

Fast forward to today and many folk are under the distinct impression that Chiang Mai is the second largest city in the Land of Smiles. And that’s not just the perception among foreign travellers and expats either. Why, even the Thai government’s Public Relations Department and the Tourism Authority of Thailand boldly claim it is! So to set the record straight once and for all, Perfect Homes did some digging to find out exactly how the “Rose of the North” stacks up in size against all other cities up and down the country.

Taking a city’s administrative area as a measure, it probably won’t come as a shocker to learn that Bangkok’s 1568.74 square kilometre territory scoops the prize. In fact, the capital’s sprawling mega metropolis absolutely dwarfs Chiang Mai municipality’s humble 40.22 square kilometres. Or to put it another way, the city of Chiang Mai could fit into that of Bangkok a whopping 39 times! On top of which, Chiang Mai also lags behind nine other cities, namely Khon Kaen, Udon Thani, Pattaya, Sakon Nakhon, Chiang Rai, Surat Thani, Laem Chabang, Samui and Chaophraya Surasak.

Using December 2017’s population figures from the Thai government’s Department of Provincial Administration instead, Bangkok again eclipses its peers with a touch less than 5.7 million registered residents. With a head count of just 132,556, Chiang Mai trails in fifth position behind the cities of Nonthaburi, Pak Kret and Hat Yai.

Chiang Mai – Thailand’s second largest city  busting the myth! (Still true in 2024?)

So there you have it – contrary to popular belief, Chiang Mai isn’t Thailand’s second biggest city! As if to add insult to injury, Chiang Mai isn’t even the second-most visited city in Thailand. According to the latest “Top 100 City Destinations Ranking” by global market research and analysis giant, Euromonitor International, Bangkok leads the pack followed by Pattaya and, beating Chiang Mai to third place, Phuket island’s city.

Still, to many of us, size isn’t everything. Chiang Mai, with its small town feel, will always be the number-one spot in Thailand to work, rest and play!

Do you agree with our findings? Or perhaps you’re convinced otherwise and wanna pitch in with your own evidence? No matter which, we’d really love to get your perspective so please do leave us your comments below!

Join The Discussion

17 thoughts on “Chiang Mai – Thailand’s second largest city busting the myth! (Still true in 2024?)”

  • Phil

    Nonthaburi and Pak Kret are both basically the same place, and both are basically part of Bangkok.

    Have you ever been to Bangkok?

    Reply
    • lynne owens

      nonthaburi and pak kret aren’t “basically the same place” at all – they’re separate city muncipalities (thesaban nakhon) within the province (changwat) of nonthaburi….and while that’s regarded as part of the bangkok metropolitan area, the city proper of bangkok is something altogether different…so the question is have YOU ever been to bangkok?

      Reply
  • Adrian

    Pleased to hear that about Chiang Mai. I had my doubts about those claims I will say. I had heard 200k & 2 mill even. Give me small. Chiang Rai is a surprise

    Reply
  • gary snell

    you are obviously trying to sell “small”. do you really think the metropolitan population(the stat that matters!)of chiang mai is less than 133k. c’mon now!

    Reply
    • lynne owens

      …and where exactly in the above article does it state that the population count of metropolitan chiang mai is less than 133,000?! it seems patently obvious to me that the figures relate to thailand’s definition of a city (municipality) not a metropolitan area…not that it bears any relevance to the article (which talks only about city size), but the population count of metropolitan chiang mai is estimated to be around one million people

      Reply
  • steven

    Saying Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second city is not based on SIZE it is the capital of the North and Thailand’s second city. Size, isn’t everything.

    Reply
    • Perfect Homes (Chiang Mai Properties)

      You keep telling yourself that Steve! 😉

      Reply
    • mike

      chiang mai will ,,one day,, be the true second biggest city in thailand,,the rose of the north now that burma is opening up finally to reveal its secret beauties to the world ,,,cmx will need a new runway in a year or so…………….

      Reply
  • Terence McManus

    No mention of Samut Prakan which has been identified as the No 2 following Krungthrep.It also has a nice wee airport of its own.

    Reply
  • Tiago

    Not.
    They consider Chiang Mai City just a tiny part of the urban area that Chiang Mai really is. The real urban area that comprises Chiang Mai has more than 500 thousand people at least (some sources put it around 1 million people). People who live in these sorrounding areas consider they live in Chiang Mai City as well. The problem here is that you believe in the official administrative divisions, not in the local and “real” perception. For Thai people, Chiang Mai is their second City, that is it.

    Reply
    • Dave

      That is true. While other city *cores* have a larger population than Chiang Mai, the ‘greater city’ area of Chiang Mai makes it much larger … and if you want to argue that other cities ‘greater’ area should also be considered, you need to take into account that other cities (besides Bangkok of course) are in areas where the overall population is not as large, or not as concentrated (Chiang Mai and surroundings are squeezed into a valley, whereas other cities are not so constrained, or just simply have less population in the province/region in which they reside to draw upon.

      This gives Chiang Mai a different feel, a city of around 1 million (bigger than San Francisco or Vancouver) but because of it being 700 or so years old and not ‘planned’, any street you go down it feels like your in a small Thai village, but you can also drop in to any of its’ several modern malls and you feel like you’re back in what we westerners would call a real city! Chiang Mai just feels so different than any city I have ever been in, and I love it.

      Reply
  • Mikey

    Nonthaburi and Pak Kret both just seemed to be part of the BKK metropolis so in my mind I can’t classify them as separate to Bangkok. Am sure though they started as sepatate villages, but like all world cities they just amalgomate with each other to make a greater city. I thought that the greater metropolitan area of Chiang Mai had around 2 million? I guess it all gets down to how you define a city. Everyone has differing definitions.

    Reply
  • Rock

    Pattaya City is closest to the meaning of second city of Thailand. There’s many municipalities in Thailand but Bangkok And Pattaya are only two self governed districts of Thailand. No matter what pattaya isn’t the second biggest city (Nonthaburi and Pak Kret rank those tops and yes Thais claim they are a part of greater Bangkok) but it has special laws as same as Bangkok does while other don’t . Governors of Bangkok and Pattaya are voted directly from registered residences. More than that, Pattay is annex of Thai Port, LCB and the third largest international airport by capacity- UTP (will succeed DMK soon after upgrading plan). This is frequent reason of being second city, the portal city, correct?

    Too bad Thai gov doesn’t seem to make it clear why they don’t promote the official second city of its own. Chiang Mai was considered as second city before Pattaya was formed with special laws in 1979.

    So if you asked Thais, part of them might answer you “Pattaya” because they all know this city has special level out of other cities in thailand.

    Reply
    • Perfect Homes (Chiang Mai Properties)

      Thank you for your information it is very interesting.

      Reply
  • Benedikt Schwarzacher

    I think Hat Yai is commercially very inportant and in regards to tourism ( short visitors from Malaysia) it can compete with some cities in Thailand.

    Reply
  • Daniel

    Measuring by metro area population would probably be the best statistic

    Reply
  • Jonathan G.

    Chiang Mai is in fact yes, the second largest city of Thailand per population. The official numbers only represent parts of Muang Chiang Mai Municipality, which obviously means a very small number. Looking at the real city area defined by the local government (From Hang Dong to Mae Rim and Suthep to San Kamphaeng) the population of Chiang Mai is officially close to a million, if not already more. No other city has this many people in their city area. Measuring and taking into account only the part of Muaeng would be as ridiculousas taking only the city of London and Rattanakhosin Island as the official population number. So yes, Chiang Mai is factually the second largest city in Thailand.

    Reply

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