Planning a trip to Chiang Mai for the first time and wondering where to stay? Look no further, we have gathered all the information you need when planning your Chiang Mai trip.
This guide includes all the coolest neighborhoods and best areas, as well as the how’s, who’s, where’s and why’s for any type of traveler.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
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Chiang Mai is the largest city in Northern Thailand. Formally the capital of the mountainous Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai was founded in 1296, so it’s no surprise that the ancient walls and ornate Buddhist temples carry vestiges of centuries past.
The motes that surround the Old Town now create a cultural hub for adventurers and travelers. It is filled with an ambiance of wonder and spirituality that is pivotal to the colorful hill tribes within the reaches of the bustling city.
Not only is Chiang Mai the land of devoted misty mountains and saffron-orange donned monks, but it’s also a wonderful playground for adventurous and inquisitive travelers. As well as wanderlusters wanting to delve into the real ebbs and flows of life as a local in this ancient city.
The sights are amazing, the food is marvelous, the handicrafts are astonishing, the culture is astounding. Chiang Mai truly has it all. Read on to find the best areas to stay in Chiang Mai to get everything you are looking for from your call to adventure.
Best area to stay in Chiang Mai
Although the province of Chiang Mai is relatively large, most of the activity for visitors is centered around the Old City. This makes navigating your way around relatively simple.
The Old City is a square-shaped, historic part of the city surrounded by a moat and ancient walls that speak tails of its primordial past. It’s also the navigational focus point of the City and gives an informal structural understanding of the map of Chiang Mai.
Each area has something different and special to offer, so it’s important to highlight the purpose of your trip and what aspects are most important from an individual perspective. Whether that’s meeting people, access to transport (fairly important if you’re not quite ready to hit the busy streets on a scooter), culinary delights, tourist attractions or yoga, meditation, and spiritual upliftment.
Many first-time visitors focus their attention on the Old City and Nimmanheamin areas due to their compact conveniences in transport and closeness to major tourist hotspots, but there are more remote areas further afield.
The Old City is the backpacking hub of Chiang Mai, whilst trendy Nimman offers a more modern experience with good Wi-Fi spots, trendy restaurants, and pumping nightlife.
Santitham is a nearby area that’s gaining more traction as it is close to both Nimman and the Old City, with easy access to transport and a bit more of local flair. Riverside lies along the Ping River and is a bit more laid back than the city’s bustling hubs, as well as within reach of the major tourist attractions.
The Night Bazaar area and its surrounds offer many boutique hotels and popular luxury hotels and are popular for people who love to shop. The accommodation is a bit more pricey and the streets hum at night with the shopping frenzied crowds. There are also some great bars and restaurants in the area.
Other areas like Jed Yot, Wat Get, Wat Umong, and Wat Pong Noi offer more of an authentic vibe further from the crowds of tourists. These mainly offer residential properties with less access to public transport, so are better options if you have been to Chiang Mai before and are going to be staying for a while. Perhaps even making yourself a homely Thai village base.
Further afield on the mountainside are the northern suburbs of Doi Saket, Sansai and Mae Rim. These are popular among Thai families and expats and offer access to nature and the city, but with some peace and quiet from the daily hustle and bustle.
Absolute best places to stay in Chiang Mai:
So, what are the best places to stay in Chiang Mai, and why are they the best?
1. Old City
This is the most popular option, and if you’re only in Chiang Mai for a short time and looking to do all the tourist attractions and sightseeing, it makes the most sense. There is a plethora of hostels, guesthouses, and accommodation options for every budget. You’ll also have the easiest access to transport and travel agents to book your next outing or destination from.
From the Old City, you’re able to walk to many places of interest, and there’s heaps of street food to experience for the inexpensive backpacker-style trip. It’s also the major starting point for people exploring the expanse of the northern Thai city.
Points of interest nearby include the 14th-century Wat Phra Singh and the 15th-century Wat Chedi Luang, adorned with carved serpents and rich in history. Walking down any street in the Old City is an exploration of art and culture, and you’re likely to come across many of the little hidden gems the city has to offer.
We recommend making the Old City your base if you’re a first-time traveler on a budget, looking to meet other backpackers and experience the bustling markets, ancient temples and quaint cafes with endless opportunities for a massage or a cold beer.
Nimman is another popular area for travelers, specifically digital nomads. Contrasting the cultural aesthetics of the Old City, it’s a modern, vibrant and trendy area. With many restaurants, quirky attractions and vibey nightlife without the hoards of tourists and close to the University.
Expect to find coffee lounges, rooftop bars, street food and more modern roads with scattered bars and boutique shops. Accommodation options are a bit more pricey than the Old City, with many B&B’s or Condo’s depending on the length of your stay. Access to the Old Town is super easy with lots of transport around, and many temples and iconic points of interest.
We recommend staying here if you’re looking for a quieter place to work or relax during the day, and vibrant nightlife and dining options right on your doorstep. The Old City is a short Tuktuk away, so tours and outings can also be arranged easily. If you’re spending more than a couple of days in Chiang Mai, Nimman is a great base for all of your needs.
Santitham is on the outskirts of the Old City alongside Nimman and is also a very convenient and budget-friendly area with a more authentic Thai atmosphere and accommodation options. Staying here, you’ll get a real sense of Thai life and have access to closeby markets, street food, bars, and dining spots.
The large student population means there’s a youthful vibe and it’s a great option if you want to embrace the Thai culture with fewer tourists and more authentic living atmosphere, while still being conveniently close to both the Old City and Nimman.
We recommend staying here if you’re looking for longer-term accommodation and don’t want to be a part of the masses of tourists and backpackers that the Old City attracts. Accommodation is available for long term rentals when inquiring at the many Condos in the area.
4. Night Bazaar
The Night Bazaar is a shopper’s dream, open from 6pm every evening and seeing hundreds of visitors each and every night, it boasts tonnes of stalls offering everything you could possibly ask for. There are also western restaurants and bars to dine and drink, as well as street food and live music venues open until the early hours of the morning.
If shopping for authentic and inexpensive Thai products and handmade crafts is what you’re coming here for and you don’t mind the bustling crowds, there are luxury resorts and hotels nearby and further along the Riverside that are suitable for families and still close to the Old City.
We recommend staying here if you’re traveling with your family and intend on spending a lot of your time shopping and dining out on the Ping River.
The mountainside area includes several neighborhoods and offers a much more peaceful, away-from-the-hustle-and-bustle type of stay, with much closer access to Chiang Mai’s beautiful countryside and misty mountains.
The accommodation types are much more family-friendly, offering village type residence in authentic Thai neighborhoods with a calm, everyday living type of atmosphere. Although dining options are not as plentiful, there are still options available and easily accessible shops and spas.
We recommend staying here as one of the best places to stay in Chiang Mai for families, or for a specific purpose and want to stay in a house in a village and are comfortable getting around on a scooter or are looking at hiring a car.
Chiang Mai should be put on any travelers bucket list, and as we have seen here, has something to offer to literally everyone. We hope that this guide has helped in your decision making on where to stay in Chiang Mai!