Chiang Mai, which in fact means "New City," celebrated its 700th anniversary just a few years ago, in 1996. The city was founded as the capital of the kingdom of Lanna ("A Million Rice Fields") in 1296. Under King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai, Lanna unified several small kingdoms in the north, at about the same time that Sukhothai was established further south. King Mengrai founded many of the temples within the old city that are still important today.
The dynasty founded by King Mengrai lasted more than 250 years, until the Burmese captured the city in 1556. Burma held on to Chiang Mai for nearly 200 years, and to this day you can still see signs in Burmese as well as many other indications of Burmese influence. Towards the end of the 18th century, King Taksin, who regrouped the Thais in the south after the sacking of Ayutthaya, finally forced the Burmese out with the help of King Kawila of Lampang.
Chiang Mai was governed by a succession of princes who ruled the north under the protection of the Siamese king based in Bangkok. Late in the 19th century, Rama V appointed a high commissioner in Chiang Mai, but it wasn't until 1939 that Chiang Mai finally came under the direct control of the central government in Bangkok, at about the same time that the country was renamed Thailand.