Best Areas to Stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Knowing where to Stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is easy. Anywhere within the city walls or near them is perfect! Okay, even though that’s true, we’re laying out the city for you to clarify it.
Chiang Mai dates back to 1296 and is surrounded by mountains. I was glad to see mountain skylines again instead of only city ones. Once the Lanna Kingdom’s capital, Chiang Mai remains an important religious center.
The Old City has around 300 (or 175, depending on what you read) temples in just under one square mile (1.5km square.) I don’t even know how many Buddha statues and elaborate carvings that equals. But I’m sure it’s in the thousands. It’s all the glittery, shiny happiness you can possibly imagine!
We stayed in Chiang Mai for about six weeks, from the end of November 2022 through early January 2023, and got a pretty good feel for its layout. Of course, from a tourist’s perspective! We stayed in four hotels in different parts of the city to get a feel for the vibe in each location.
Although the city is small, switching neighborhoods took us to new places. Read on to see our favorite places to stay in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai’s Layout
Before you decide where to stay in Chiang Mai, it helps to get a feel for the area’s “attractions,” temples, and markets.
The best places to stay in Chiang Mai are
- Old City
- West Gate
- South Gate
- Rice Barn and Rooms
- Honorable Mention: Nimmanhaemin
We stayed in the Old City at Viang Luang Resort. It is half a block from Wat Chedi Luang, where you should go for a Monk Chat. We use booking.com to find hotels because they are often cheaper than the hotel itself. And we’ve also used agoda.com with good luck too.
This Old City location is perfect for going to the Sunday Walking Street, just a block over. There are so many temples, restaurants, street food joints, and shopping within minutes of the hotel.
We traveled for six months, and this hotel was a splurge for my birthday weekend. The rooms are large and comfortable, the swimming pool is small but Instagram-worthy and the breakfast is delicious.
Viang Luang cost us about USD 60/night, which is excellent for a 4-star hotel. But as you’ll see below, we usually pay around USD 30/night. And that’s how we stretch our travel budget out for so many months.
What is the Sunday Walking Street?
Let me clarify if you’re as confused about all the night market and walking street names as I was before knowing where to stay in Chiang Mai!
Sunday Walking Street and Tha Phae Walking Street are the same. The street closes to vehicle traffic from around 5:00 pm till midnight. Vendors set up tables and booths from the Tha Phae Gate (West) almost to Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan.
Temple parking lots become street food markets with live music. Locals sell handmade crafts and souvenirs. Every price is negotiable (except food), and you will find amazing things you never knew you needed.
Chiang Mai Gates
There are four gates to the Old City. There were walls around the city at one point, but they’re gone now. And the gates aren’t actual gates, but rather the brick portion of the wall to which a gate was once attached.
From each gate to Old City center is about a ten to fifteen-minute walk. It’s easy to walk everywhere or catch a tuk-tuk within minutes.
Chiang Mai North Gate: Chang Phuak Gate, aka White Elephant Gate
The North Gate has a nightly market with many food stalls. For example, you can get the Anthony Bourdain-famous sweet pork and rice from the Lady with the Cowboy Hat. It’s delicious, and we had it a few times.
Pro tip: Don’t wait in her super long line. Instead, make eye contact with one of her servers, who are busily rushing back and forth. Then sit at one of her tables. They’ll come to take your order and bring the food to you.
Besides the night market, we didn’t spend any time in this area, but we saw many hotels that would make great choices.
Chiang Mai South Gate: Chiang Mai Gate
We stayed outside the South Gate at Mhonsa Hotel for about ten days. Honestly, our room had a funky smell, which we didn’t love. But we smelled the same thing throughout the city when we were out and about. So it somehow just concentrated in our room. Other than that, the location, breakfast, and staff were excellent.
The South Gate also has a nightly food market. We liked it better than the North Gate (except for the Cowboy Lady’s pork), but that might be because we became more familiar with it.
A massive building behind the market was once a covered market, but only a few stalls were open. We don’t know if it was a Covid-casualty or why the vendors are mainly gone. But it seemed a little sad.
Saturday Walking Street
On Saturdays, this area is bustling with the Saturday Walking Street, Wua Lai Walking Street. Many of the same food and handcraft vendors share their wares at both Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets. But it’s fun to experience the different vibes of the two locations.
We enjoyed this area and were lucky to stay over two weekends, so we learned to get the Walking Street around 4:30 pm as vendors set up. Way fewer people, but you could still buy food and trinkets.
Introvert tip: Go to the Walking Street Markets early to avoid crowds. 🙂
Chiang Mai West Gate: Tha Phae Gate
This is the most “happening” gate, with a large event area on the outside of it. For example, we went to an enormous street party here for New Year’s Eve. People lit giant lanterns that floated up and filled the sky like fireflies. It was an incredible sight to see.
Bands played at the West Gate for several days before New Year’s, and people were everywhere. I mean everywhere!
We stayed a bit further west of this gate in the Night Bazaar area but could walk to this gate in about ten minutes. So it was a perfect location.
We took a tuk-tuk when going into the center portion of the Old City, not because of the distance but the heat. Thailand is hot, ya’ll. I’m not sure if I’ve said that yet in this post. SE Asia is hot. I mean, sweat down your back in the morning kind of Louisiana-in-the-summer hot!
Anyway, we stayed at the Night Bazaar Inn. It’s loud at night, but our room was set up perfectly, so you heard the market music in the bathroom (outer wall) but not really from the desk or bed. We had a balcony to look out over the market, which was fun.
I would definitely stay here again. It’s not luxurious but clean, and there’s a small pool for hot afternoons. The staff is accommodating, and the location is excellent for the Night Bazaar and Warorot Market.
Chiang Mai East Gate: Suan Dok Gate
We didn’t stay or visit the East Gate, but it looked like another great area on drives past.
Our daughter and son-in-law stayed in the Riverside area on their honeymoon some years ago. It’s a lovely area, and their hotel was dreamy. They stayed at the Ratilanna Riverside Spa Resort and loved it.
But they thought the only downside was taking a tuk-tuk rather than walking wherever they wanted to go. There are many beautiful hotels near Riverside, and they’re close to the riverboat tours.
Rice Barn and Rooms
This is our absolute favorite place to stay for relaxation, downtime, and excellent company. We fell in love with Al and Nok at the Rice Barn and Rooms, about six miles from Chiang Mai.
We now consider Al and Nok our friends after staying with them. And they just helped us with a mailing fiasco, so even more love is headed their way! Three months after we mailed a box home, it returned to the Chiang Mai post office it started from.
I emailed Al, and they went and took care of it right away; hopefully, getting our box on its proper way now! For a minute there, I considered a (very long) day trip from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Chiang Mai just to get the damn box. But Nok saved the day!
Anyway, Rice Barn and Rooms are exactly what the name says. It’s a homestay with two converted rice barns and several beautifully furnished rooms.
We booked a rice barn for as many days as it was open. And then we stayed for another week in a regular room because we loved our time there so much.
Two rice barns now have bedrooms upstairs and kitchen/living areas downstairs. We booked the smaller barn (only one available), which was like rustic luxury.
We cooked our meals in the kitchen, which was appreciated after a couple of travel months. And we lounged in the living area, drinking coffee in the morning and cold beer at night. We played Pictionary from our phones (Google it for drawing prompts) at the large kitchen table and loved being outdoors in their garden setting.
Things To Do at Rice Barn and Rooms
Across the street is a delightful coffee shop, where they also fed us Pad Thai, fried rice, and the most delicious homemade brownies ever. We sat playing Connect the Dots and sipping icy cold Thai milk tea.
We quickly caught a Grab car to the nearby Kad Farang Village for groceries and a weekend outdoor market (like a farmer’s market, with fresh vegetables and prepared dishes.) Next door is an outlet mall for shopping, although it’s not the best mall in Chiang Mai.
Other guests used their Rice Barn stay as the hub of their entire Northern Thailand visit, getting picked up for ATV excursions and elephant sanctuary visits. Then, it’s a quick ride to explore temples and markets in the Old City.
But as “digital nomads,” we work some days and then explore. Rice Barn was perfect for our laid-back work days. I enjoyed working in the shared kitchen so the dogs would come to visit me. We met other travelers who we shared meals and laughter with.
If we ever make it back to Chiang Mai, and I hope we do since it’s one of my favorite SE Asia cities, we’ll book our time here with Al and Nok. The Rice Barn is a little slice of garden heaven.
The Nimman area of Chiang Mai is ex-pat central. Although we also met a ton of ex-pats at the Night Bazaar area. We spent no time in this area except seeing the new Avatar movie on Christmas Day.
We went to the MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center, a vast mall with an excellent food and restaurant court, and the movie theater. This was a great place for shoppers on a hot day! So escape from the heat for a little while, yes, please!
While we didn’t stay here, many tourists do, so I’m sure you’ll find a great hotel in this area of Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Markets
Here is a quick overview if you’re trying to decide where to stay in Chiang Mai based on markets.
Some Major Shopping Malls:
We’re not huge mall shoppers, but we do enjoy it occasionally. It’s fun to see global stores and some well-known American names too.
- MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center
- Central Chiang Mai
- One Nimman
- Pantip Plaza
I’m sure there are many more, so check out Google Maps.
Local Markets and Shopping
Visiting local markets is our kind of shopping, so it’s what I’m more familiar with.
- Warorot Market
- Streets surrounding Warorot, I’m not sure if there’s an official name, but we wandered down alleys and bought the most beautiful Karen Tribe handicrafts.
- Night Bazaars within a few blocks of each other: Kalare Market, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Ploen Rudee Market, Pavilion Night Bazaar, Halal Street Weekend Market (just wander around in this area for market after market of good food and live music every night.)
- Walking Streets
- JJ Market
- Old City shops
- Temple shops – you’ll find many souvenirs and alms packages for the monks.
Check out Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, too.
Chiang Mai Temples
If you want to stay in Chiang Mai near the temples, stay in the Old City close to Wat Chedi Luang. From there, you’ll be surrounded by temples, monks, and old-world beauty. It is peaceful and chaotic, all at the same time.
Check out more awesome places in Thailand.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai FAQs
Answers to some of my most frequently asked questions before visiting Chiang Mai.
How Many Days Is Best To Stay in Chiang Mai?
Four or five nights is best to stay in Chiang Mai. That will give you a good overview of the city. So, time your holiday to be there over a weekend to go to the Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets. If you only have two or three days in your schedule, stay in the center of Old City over a weekend.
Why Is Chiang Mai So Famous?
Chiang Mai is famous primarily for its vast number of temples and orange-clad monks. The Old City is very walkable, with temples, markets, street food, and foot massages.
Is Chiang Mai a Walkable City?
Chiang Mai is a very walkable city. It’s about one square mile (1.5 km-squared). So you can walk from one gate to the middle of Old City in 10-15 minutes. The square Old City has the remains of its city walls and a water-filled moat surrounding it. Beyond the four main gates, there are other bridges and entry points.
What Is the Main Area of Chiang Mai?
The main areas are Old City and the Thae Phae Gate (West). Outside the Gate is a prominent event gathering place (like New Year’s lantern lighting.) Every Sunday, the street between the Gate and the middle of town closes to cars for a street market. It extends almost to the Suan Dok Gate (East) and should not be missed.
What Is the Hipster Part of Chiang Mai?
Nimmanhaemin Road is Chiang Mai’s hipster area. Many ex-pats live here, so there are Western food choices, shopping malls, and apartments for rent. To be honest, we drove through this area several times but didn’t spend any real-time here, mainly because we’re not hipsters. Haha.