Choosing an area is relative to the neighborhood ambiance one would prefer.
For many decades now, Chiang Mai has welcomed millions of travelers annually. Selecting where to stay isn’t an issue, mainly because there’s an abundance of guesthouses and hotels constantly popping up throughout the city. When it comes down to it, choosing an area is relative to the neighborhood ambiance one would prefer. If budget is an issue, it won’t be in Chiang Mai since lodging is extremely affordable. For example, I stayed at The Astra luxury condo next to the Shangri-La Hotel for USD $29/night during spring (reserved through Airbnb.) Not only did the condo come with a pool and a gym, it was also centrally located that I could walk anywhere in the city.
Here’s a helpful breakdown made for travelers, meaning that this list does not include EVERY neighborhood in Chiang Mai. Simply, the six areas below are what we think could captive a certain type of traveler.
Night Bazaar – Perfect for Short-Term Travelers
As one of the main attractions in Chiang Mai, the Night Bazaar stretches along a kilometer of vendors and street food stands. Open daily from 5 p.m. until midnight, the bazaar attracts every type of traveler. For short-term tourists, this is perfect because staying around this area means that you also have close access to many restaurants, wats, cafés, and shops. Unfortunately, Burger King, Starbucks, and McDonald’s are also at the palm of your hands. Hence, if you’re seeking for a local vibe then anywhere near the Night Bazaar probably won’t suit you.
Old City / Tha Pae Gate – Heart of the City
A deeply religious city, it’s no surprise that most people would consider Old City to be the epicenter of Chiang Mai due to the number of wats and popular landmarks in this area. Similar to the area surrounding Night Bazaar, you’ll find many shops, hotels, restaurants, and cafés here. The nearby public square often hosts local festivals, including: Loy Kratong lantern festival, Songkran water fights, Flower Carnival Festival and Makha Bucha Day. On every Saturday night, there’s live music here as well. Don’t forget the Chiang Mai National Museum located in this ‘hood!
Mae Ping Riverside – Local Markets Galore
Saying that you should stay around Mae Ping River might be unclear since the river essentially runs through the city, but let’s use Warorot Market as a reference. The Riverside neighborhood oozes a certain simple tranquility, particularly delivered through numerous local markets you can explore. Warorot Market is a massive one, and should be on your list but others include: Ton Lam Yai Market (flower market), Chiang Mai City Market, Fresh Fruit Market, Day Market, and even Chinatown! Use your Google Map to mark all the markets you want to venture along the Riverside, and you’ll find some pretty amazing local gems!
Nimmanhaemin Road – Upscale Shopping
Although Nimmanhaemin Road is considered as the most sophisticated area of Chiang Mai, we’re not sure if you’re visiting northern Thailand to be trendy. Although, if shopping malls and international name brands are up your alley, then Nimmanhaemin Road is your cup of tea. Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center is an upscale attraction here, featuring a cinema and many global brands. What’s great about this neighborhood though, is the plentiful galleries you can visit. Check out: Gallery Seescape which is a design shop, art galleries with breakfast and brunch café. Or, JOJO KOBE Art Gallery featuring prints from local and international artists.
Chang Phuak Gate – Less Tourists, More Local
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This chef, affectionately know as the Cowboy Lady, specialises in serving Khao Kha Muu (Thai-style stewed pork leg). She was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown series as the best pork leg in Chiang Mai if not Thailand. She easily stands out from the rest of the competition due to her unique headwear which shields her eyes from the light of her stall. I tried it the other night, and it was good, but I’ve had better around the city from dodgy little restaurants. There’s dozens of people crowded around her stall taking photos it just makes the whole experience a little less authentic and more like a sideshow ride. I like going to the places where the Thai people take photos of us dining with them which has happened on quite a few occasions here. In the words of Public Enemy, don’t believe the hype, follow your own path! #BeatTheGrind
Staying around Chang Phuak Gate – aka: Elephant Gate – might be away from tourists but it’s made for those who prefer to be around locals. You can find Chang Phuak food market full of food stands featuring northern Thai dishes. Needless to say, if street food is your obsession, then staying in this area is your daily treat!
Hang Dong – Expat Hub
If you plan on residing in Chiang Mai for a longer period of time, you’ll notice that many expats decide to move into Hang Dong area where Moo Baans are popular. Moon Baan is a gated community with houses that come with private swimming pools, even tennis courts. Not likely how most local Thais actually live, but Moo Baans have become a trend for those who stop renting apartments and decide to live in townhouses. Although, it’d be interesting to know that this area is also famous for wood carvings and antique stores.