Thailand

The ultimate city guide for Chiang Mai

My favourite place in Thailand? Chiang Mai for sure! This lively city in the north has a relaxed vibe and beautiful architecture. And nature with its jungle and mountains is just around the corner! You could easily spend weeks in this mountain city while travelling Thailand. In our city guide I tell you exactly why Chiang Mai is so amazing and what the must-dos are.

Chiang Mai | Thailand | The Orange Backpack
Chiang Mai | Thailand | The Orange Backpack
Chiang Mai | Thailand | The Orange Backpack

How to find your way in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is built in a very practical way, so it is almost impossible to really get lost. Around the old city is a square moat, easy to spot on every map of the city. Within these canals is the old town with its historic buildings. There are only low-rise buildings and only the many temple tops rise above the rest. There is no motorised traffic, which gives this old centre a totally different vibe from other Asian cities. It may be the second city of Thailand after bustling Bangkok, but here there is tranquility here you won’t find around Bangkok.

Once you leave the old city, the streets are busier. But Chiang Mai is still much unlike Bangkok there as well. And why you would leave the old town? Because there’s so much more than just the ancient monuments. Between the old town and the river to the east, you’ll find many equally beautiful temples and some cool markets. And to the west of the of the old town are temples as well ánd the best hotspots and coffee bars in town.

My best tip to find your way around Chiang Mai? Rent a bike! It is the quickest and most enjoyable way to see a lot of the city in day.

The most beautiful temples of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is known for its many, many temples. You can easily take two days to see all the sights. Is that a bit too much for you? Than I can recommend you to make a selection from the temples below.

Tip: At some temples there is the possibility to join a ‘monk chat’. The monks are talking with tourists to practice their English and tell you about their lives. At Wat Suan Dok, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Sisuphan, there are even special seating areas for this purpose.

#1 Wat Phra Singh. This is the most visited temple in Chiang Mai. It is the most beautiful temple of the city according to all travel guides. The details of the golden decoration on the façade are indeed very impressive!

#2 Wat Chedi Luang. After Wat Phra Singh this is the second most popular temple in the city. You might know it from pictures as the temple with the elephant statues on the south side. It is said only the one on the right is original, while the others are replicas. The temple itself looks a bit unfinished and that can be correct. The building is said to have been damaged by an earthquake and then never fully restored.

#3 Wat Phan Tao. Not far from the Elephant Temple Wat Chedi Luang is Wat Phan Tao. Unique for this one is that it’s almost entirely made of teak.

Read more:  My wish list for a third Thailand trip

#4 Wat Chiang Man. In the northeast corner of the square is this temple, the oldest of the city. The Crystal Buddha statue of this temple is said to be centuries old.

#5 What Sru Suphan (also written as Wat Sisuphan). This temple is located south of the old city moats, near the Saturday Walking Street market. The temple is also called the Silver Temple because of the shiny material of which it was built. That is not all silver though, there is some aluminium used as well.

#6 Wat Suan Dok. This is maybe not one of the most beautiful temples in town, but it’s very photogenic though. The white turrets right next to the temple and the mountains in the background are picture perfect. This temple is located west of the old town.

#7 Wat U Mong. West of the old town and at quite a walking distance, you can visit this jungle temple. It is different from the other temples in the jungle forest and with its underground tunnels.

Tip: rent a scooter or motorbike and visit Wat U Mong and Wat Prha That Doi Sutphen on the same day.

#8 Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. On top of a mountain right next to Chiang Mai is this amazing temple. From Chiang Mai, you can already spot this temple on the mountain top. When I visited the temple, the clouds were so low the temple was completely covered in them. A mysterious atmosphere!

More temples? Check our map at the top and bottom of this article!

The markets

Besides the temples, the markets of Chiang Mai are wellknown to travellers around Thailand. Everywhere in the city you can have amazing street food. Between the old town and the Chiang Mai Night Bazar many food stalls open their kitchens at the end of the day for you to have some typical Thai food right on the street. Are you afraid of getting sick from eating this street food? Make sure to buy food from a stand where it is prepared directly in front of you and preferably on a hot fire, so everything is heated well.

Also famous are the markets on the weekends. The road Th Ratchadamnoen is also known as the Sunday Walking Street. The street runs from the eastern Tha Phae Gate across the old town to Wat Phra Singh. On Sundays, the street gets filled at the end of the day with stalls selling souvenirs and food..

Saturday has its own market at the Saturday Walking Street. This market can be found on the Th Wualai, a street outside the old town starting at the southern gate Pratu Chiang Mai. As this market is slightly outside the old centre and less known than the one on Sunday, it is usually less crowded here.

Another market where you will hardly find any tourists? The flower market on the river east of the Old town. Nearby you will also have Talat Warorot, one of the oldest covered markets in Chiang Mai. It’s a bit of a maze, but luckily it’s just small enough to not get lost. At the edge of the complex you can buy fruit at the fruit stalls.

Read more:  The most beautiful temples in Bangkok

The Jungle and mountains in

Chiang Mai is located amidst the impressive nature of northern Thailand. So from Chiang Mai you have many possibilities to explore the jungle and the mountains! From waterfalls, caves and canyons to ziplines, multi-day hikes and the peaks of Doi Inthanon National Park. Some of these beautiful places can be reached from the city with a scooter or motorbike, but book an organised tour for a multi-day trek or a mountain climbing trip.

Chiang Mai is also known for its elephant parks in the area. Many so-called ‘elephant sanctuaries‘ attract hordes of tourists and are actually built especially for that purpose. So please read ahead to make sure you can determine whether a sanctuary is created for tourists or the elephants. This article by the Flemish travel blogger Charlotte is a good reading tip for elephants in Chiang Mai.

The nicest hotspots

Because Chiang Mai is so popular with travellers, it is bursting with the best restaurants and coffee bars. From street food and small shops with local curries to hip hotspots. On our hotspot guide map below, we have pinned the best tips for your! A selection of top tips?

#1 The Hideout. One of the most famous hotspots in Chiang Mai because of its great bagels and baguettes. It is just outside the city walls in the northeast corner.

#2 SS1254372 Cafe. The name isn’t easy to pronounce, so don’t try to ask directions to this hotpost. Just use our map to find this place, because this café is a must-visit. It looks like a kind of Hobbit hole with its round windows and lots of greenery. There are usually some art exhibits as well.

#3 Vegan Heaven. Vegetarians don’t have much to complain about in Asian cuisine in general, but certainly not in Chiang Mai. This restaurant serves the most delicious dishes in a vega(n) version.

#4 Catmosphere Cat Café. You have to walk for a bit to get here, but you will get a lot of cat cuddles in return. This cat café attracts travellers and expats, but only few locals. The café is outside the old town, in northwest of Chiang Mai.

#5 RK Cafe by Omnia. This super-hip place would not look out of place in a western city. Go here especially for the coffee.

#6 Cottontree Coffee Roasters. Another a spot for the perfect speciality coffee? Cottontree, northwest of the old town.

#7 The Barisotel (by The Baristro or by Guu). Okay, another last coffee tip. Or two actually, because in Chiang Mai you’ll find two of this hip coffee bar with its modern interior.

Tip: Looking for more coffee spots? In this blog we give you the ultimate coffee guide for Chiang Mai (including a free map)!

Read more:  The ultimate coffee guide for Chiang Mai (+ free map)

#8 Rustic and Blue. For instagrammable breakfasts this is your hotspot. From breakfast bowls to pretty pancakes, everything here is instagrammable. The interior itself certainly also.

#9 Cube No. 7. The design of this restaurant looks like a greenhouse meets hippie spot. This restaurant is especially popular with digital nomads in Chiang Mai we’ve been told.

#10 Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. After all these trendy places on our map, we want to highlight the best place for some local food. At the Night Bazaar, you can shop the best souvenirs, but this is also the best place for food stalls with authentic Thai food.

The best sleeping places

Then of course, there is a last important issue! Where should you sleep in Chiang Mai? A location in or near the central ‘square’ of the old town is the perfect base for your trip. Because there are many nice restaurants and hotspots a bit outside the old town, you probably come to Chiang Mai for its main sights. These are a few amazing hotels and hostels with a prime location!

#1 Patra Phrasing Boutique Hotel. This boutique hotel offers classic luxury, rooms with balconies and an indoor coffee shop. And it’s just 400 meters from Wat Phra Sing!

#2 Green Sleep Hotel. In this urban jungle, everything is equally beautiful and comfortable. There are private rooms and dormitories with enough privacy.

#3 Riverside House. This comfortable hotel is located east of the old town and right on the main river. One big plus of this hotel: it has a lovely pool!

Tip: book your stay via Booking.com, so you can cancel it for free until shortly before arrival. In this blog we give you tips on getting the best discounts on Booking (including a discount link).

#4 The Entaneer Poshtel. Wooden floors, high ceilings and a 9.6 rating on Booking.com. Yes, this hotel is perfect for your stay! It offers both beds in a dorm and a private room for a good price.

#5 Monkey Toe Guesthouse. This place is a must if you are looking for an affordable hostel with pretty interiors. The dorms are quite big, but the beds are a kind of private pods to guarantee enough privacy.

#6 Doi Doo Dao Hostel. Do you want to sleep in a hostel, but not in a massive dorm room? Doi Doo Dao is the perfect spot for you. There are both small dormitories and private rooms.

#7 About A Bed Hostel. Light, white and with a 9.6 rating on Booking. There are only dorms with 4 to 6 beds.

#8 Lanna Thaphae Hotel. For something more luxurious than an average hotel or hostel, you’re at the right place here. The bedrooms and bathrooms are spacious and beautiful. The hotel is located just outside the ‘square’.

Looking for more tips? Check out our complete selection of the best hotels and hostels in Chiang Mai:

We use some affiliate links on this page. Click here if you want to read more about this.