Chiang Mai is an interesting city and province in Thailand. It has around 1 million people in the metro area and another 1 million in the rest of the province. While it is more spread out, it compares with Honolulu in terms of metro area population, and completely dwarfs it in terms of geographical area (more than 10 times the area). Chiang Mai province is two-thirds the geographic size of all of the Hawaiian Islands. It also dwarfs Hawaii in terms of the surrounding population which is nearly four times the size (there is a mere 300,000 population at best for all neighbor islands in the State of Hawaii).
In comparision, Thailand itself is more than 25 times the size of Chiang Mai province, and has an estimated 63 million in population. This is 20% larger in size than the state of California (about the size of France) and has about 70% greater population.
Many people compare Chiang Mai with Bangkok, which is something like comparing Honolulu with Chicago. As someone who recently lived in Honolulu for seven years, I find Chiang Mai comfortable in terms of pace and lifestyle.
Over the last four years, Hawaii has become extremely expensive for the working classes. The rent on my one-bedroom apartment more than doubled between 2005 and 2007. The middle class has acquired property and jacked up the rent on the working classes. The only reason there is not a mass exodus from the islands, especially Oahu and Maui is that many people living in Hawaii cannot conceive of living anywhere else (many have never lived anywhere else) and they cling to the islands with a multi-generational tenacity and resourcefulness which the pacific islanders in general are known for.
The differences? Well, Chiang Mai has rush hour traffic, as Honolulu does, but it can’t be described in the same sort of way…