First Time in Chiang Mai Old City - What To Do

Chiang Mai Old City Survival Guide

So it’s your first time in Chiang Mai Old City – what are you going to do first? For an ancient city, there’s still a lot going on in the heart of Chiang Mai, with dozens of things to see and do, loads of great restaurants and bars and seemingly endless accommodation choices. It can be a little daunting and disorientating for someone planning their first ever trip here.

Fortunately, our Chiang Mai Old City survival guide is here to help. As with any survival situation, it’s all about covering the essentials, so we’ve broken down the important aspects of your stay to just the absolute priorities. In each area, we’ve suggested the three places we think that you simply have to visit so that you get the best possible experience of this fascinating part of Thailand.

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Chiang Mai Old City at a Glance

Hidden behind a moat and 700-year-old fortress walls, Chiang Mai Old City is still the heart of this ancient city. It is very popular with backpackers and can become a little crowded with them, especially around festivals like Songkran and Loy Krathong. Even so, it’s a must-visit place during your first time in Chiang Mai, thanks to its amazing temples and markets. Old City's central location makes it a good starting point for exploring the whole of Chiang Mai and its nearby attractions.

  • Huge range of hotels, restaurants, bars and markets
  • Many temples, museums and galleries
  • Compact and easy to walk around
  • Mostly budget-friendly
  • Conveniently centrally located
  • The roads around the moat are often congested
  • Hardly any large resort-style accommodation
  • Can be quite noisy, especially around the weekend markets

Things You Can Do in Chiang Mai Old City

Chiang Mai Old City is practically an attraction in itself, and a gentle walk around the narrow streets will take you around many of the major temples, beautiful historical buildings and fascinating museums, all while enjoying the delightful atmosphere. If you’re an adventurous thrill-seeker, you’re probably in the wrong part of town. However, for those who love their history and culture, you’ll find it in spades during your first time in Chiang Mai Old City. If you see nothing else during your stay, be sure to check out these fantastic spots.

  • Tha Pae Gate

    Tha Pae Gate is one of the most famous landmarks in Chiang Mai and is part of the crumbling city wall which once acted Read More»

  • Wat Chedi Luang

    Wat Chedi Luang

    Built sometime between 1385 and 1402, during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma, 7th ruler of the Mengrai dynasty, Wat Read More»

  • Lanna Folklife Museum Chiang Mai

    The Lanna Folklife Museum is an interesting museum full of exhibitions about the lives, history and culture of the Lanna Read More»

Best Places to Shop in Chiang Mai Old City

The shopping scene in Chiang Mai Old City mostly revolves around the two weekend street markets. Wualai Walking Street is held on Saturdays and is technically just outside of the Old City, near the South Gate. Meanwhile, the Sunday Walking Street starts at Tha Pae Gate and extends almost right through the old city. Apart from these massive and extremely popular night markets, the stand-out stores in Chiang Mai Old City are small local crafts stores. If you like shopping, you’ll love visiting these three places during your first time in Chiang Mai.

  • Sunday Walking Street Market

    Sunday Walking Street Market

    At Sunday Weekend Walking Street, Chiang Mai comes to life in a vibrant spectrum of art, crafts, music and food – with Read More»

  • Wualai Walking Street

    Wualai Walking Street

    Wualai, the Saturday walking street, is a lively and fun night market that takes place in Chiang Mai just a short walk Read More»

  • Ginger & The House Shop

    Ginger & The House Shop

    Shopping can be lots of fun, but nowhere is it more cheery than at The House, where Thai brand Ginger display their Read More»

Best Places to Go at Night in Chiang Mai Old City

The nightlife in Chiang Mai Old City is extremely mixed. Within this relatively small part of town, you can find nightclubs, backpacker bars, live music venues, wine bars and more, though admittedly not a massive number of each. Being a backpacker-friendly part of Chiang Mai, prices are generally low and the atmosphere is mostly laid-back. The area maybe won’t suit the hardcore party animals, but there are plenty of places for those looking to unwind after a busy day exploring. The following are our absolute favourite places to spend the evening in Chiang Mai Old City.

  • Zoe in Yellow - Chiang Mai

    Zoe in Yellow is the number one party venue for every traveller under 35 years old in Chiang Mai. It is a bar with a

    Zoe Read More»

  • THC Rooftop Bar

    THC Rooftop Bar

    THC Rooftop bar is the original rooftop bar in Chiang Mai offering views of Chiang Mai's old city and Doi Suthep Read More»

  • 10 Best Night Spots in Chiang Mai Old City

    10 Best Nightlife in Old City

    The Old City in Chiang Mai is best known for its refined culture and relaxed ambiance during the day, but at night the Read More»

Great Restaurants We Like in Chiang Mai Old City

The dining scene of Chiang Mai Old City takes its cues from its unique settings, with many of the finest restaurants set in beautiful historical buildings. Traditional Thai flavours are the most frequently found, though other world cuisines are available. The following are our picks of the must-try places to eat in Chiang Mai Old City. We’ve included one a beautiful setting, one place noted for its super-healthy food and one which is a fantastic cultural experience.

  • Dash Restaurant and Bar

    Dash Restaurant and Bar

    Dash Restaurant and Bar in Chiang Mai draws in big crowds even though it is located down a small lane in a quiet part of Read More»

  • Dada Kafe Chiang Mai

    Dada Kafe

    Dada Kafe in Chiang Mai is a favourite amongst visitors and it’s not just because they have a list of fresh fruit Read More»

  • Khantoke Dinner at Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center

    The Khantoke Dinner at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center is based around the traditional Thai dinner and dancing show. Read More»

Hotels in Chiang Mai Old City We Recommend to Our Friends

When it comes to picking somewhere to stay for your first time in Chiang Mai Old City, there is certainly no shortage of choice. Almost every little side street has a few budget guesthouses and hostels on it. Bigger, more comfortable resorts are a little harder to find, but there are some and, set in beautiful old Lanna-style buildings, they’re something pretty special. When our friends and family ask us where they should stay in Chiang Mai Old City, we suggest one of the following options, depending on their budget.

Tamarind Village

Tamarind Village is located in Chiang Mai and it got its name thanks to the fact that it is surrounded by imposing tamarind Read More...

Bodhi Serene Chiang Mai

Bodhi Serene Chiang Mai can be found in the spectacular walled Old City.The hotel reveals to its guests beautiful Lanna designs Read More...

BED Phrasingh Hotel - Adults Only

With a stay at BED Phrasingh Hotel - Adults Only in Chiang Mai (Old City), you'll be steps from Wat Phra Singh and 9 minutes by Read More...


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