A city known for its ancient shrines and temple complexes and a pristine mountain setting, Chiang Mai often featured listings for the top holiday destinations in Asia. But what many seem to forget is that the city's appeal has only grown in recent years and while it continues to offer a rich cultural heritage waiting to be explored, there is so much more that you can do during your trip here. Outside the historic walled city, which is home to some of the city's oldest and most stunning temples, lies the prospect of a more contemporary vacation. Ranging from the vast shopping districts, to chic urban enclaves, to underrated hill stations in the suburbs, Chiang Mai has an endless list of options and you are limited only by your imagination.
Chiang Mai is known for its bustling crowds and the ever lively atmosphere, but no two neighbouring areas in the city are quite alike. Every single district has its own distinctive vibe that in turn draws vastly varying crowds. It then becomes an important decision to pick your ideal neighborhood for a comfortable stay. And we are here to help with just that. Here, we have listed some of the best neighbourhoods of Chiang Mai and what they might have in store for you!
The walled yesteryear city centre of Chiang Mai will give you a nice insight into the cultural heritage of the hill town. This part of the town is all that existed before the city's planned expansion and is guarded by the famed Phae Gate. You are bound to run into one of the quintessentially eclectic (a nice mix of Burmese, Sri Lankan and Lanna Thai heritage) temple complexes at every turn. And that's a pretty good deal for travellers looking explore the city; you will be in city centre all throughout your stay, you do not have to spend too much on local travel as it's a rather compact neighborhood and considering the sheer number of sites in the area, you are likely to never run out of places to explore.
The neighborhood is also the heart of the city's daily activities and you will find yourself amidst the bustling crowds from the get go. From going around shopping in the busy market streets to attending live events and fairs in the crowded public squares, there will come a point when you begin to feel one with the local population. And that's really the best way to surrender to the vibrant city. And while it is easy to walk from one location to the other within the walled city, do not miss out on catching a quick ride on one of the many songthaews for the most local of experiences. The area is all for home-grown eateries and inexpensive restaurants so the cuisine, as local as it is, blends well in the milieu of the neighborhood.
The old city is easily accessible through the extensive road network and is rather close to the international airport. Getting a taxi from the airport is the most comfortable option, but the public transport in the area isn't too shabby either. Cheap accommodations dominate this part of the city, making it a perfect place to choose for backpackers and people travelling in bigger groups.
A little south of the old walled city is Chiang Mai's riverside neighborhood, conveniently named as Riverside. And the appeal of the district is pretty much in tow with the city centre, with the added perks of a stunning waterfront. The old-world charm, as just mentioned, has bled into many parts of the present day Chiang Mai and the laid-back restaurants and small eateries of the Riverside area are a testament to the same. The local administration has developed the area from the ground up and have looked away from.big international brands in favour of smaller businesses and locally run restaurants and homestays. That inturn has helped the are retain the offbeat appeal.
Many of these establishments are concentrated around the immediate waterfront, which boasts of some of the city's best restaurants and bars that offer great views of the Ping river. The market streets in the area are also popular for food stalls selling a nice range of Thai snacks including the phad thai rice noodles and fresh barbeque chicken, other than the inexpensive clothing stores. Tranquil parks and green spaces in the area offer a nice change in scenery and are a great way to get away from the crowds without having to travel too far out of the city centre. End your day with a nice walk along the banks of the Ping river, where you can also grab a quick snack from the street vendors.
The Mahidol Road directly connects the Riverside district to the International Airport, making it one of the most easily accessible parts of the city. And while budget hotels and homestays remain the norm, you should not have too much trouble finding a mid-range hotel or resort in the vicinity.
A trip to Chiang Mai brings with it the prospect of a great outdoorsy vacation and while the city centre might not offer you many exciting walking or lush surroundings, you don't have to look too far for these experiences. A little of the central districts of Chiang Mai lies the village town of Hang Dong. A scenic setting and relatively lower tourist footfalls in the area ensure that you get your quaint and tranquil vacation without missing out on any of the rich heritage of the region. The village town is known for its wood industry and the town's eponymous marketplace is a good starting point for your trip. Beautiful handicrafts and wood carving of Thai symbols are just the perfect souvenirs to take back home, and you will not find any better stores than the ones in Hang Dong.
The village, much like most other parts of Chiang Mai, has its own set of temple complexes that will easily draw your attention with their stunning facades. The Wat Phra Singh, also known as the Gold Temple and the Wat Khong Khao are amongst the must visit. And as promised, the outdoors in Hang Dong are a treat for anyone. You can get a rental bike for local travel and also explore the walking trails in the foothills around the village. There are a few spa resorts and a water park which has an artificial canyon and a small lake that makes for a picturesque setting to spend an afternoon at. The food you will find in the marketplaces and around the village is rather simplistic, but as authentically Thai as it gets.
Hand Dong is around 15 kilometres south of the International Airport. A taxi ride, although a little expensive as compared to other means, should get to your hotel or resort in about 20 minutes. Finding a nice resort is your best bet, but there are a few surprisingly good cottages and homestays in the area as well.
Tugged away into the northeastern corner of Chiang Mai is the business area of Night Bazaar. One of the most famous market streets in all of Thailand, this is a shopper's paradise in the truest sense. Stalls selling clothing merchandise line up most of the road and offer you more options than you can rummage through in an entire lifetime. Feel free to drive a hard bargain with the salespeople as that has become the norm around the area. But that's not all that the market area has to offer as many international brands and food chains have also sprung up around the main thoroughfare, really rounding up the appeal of the Night Bazaar.
Although quiet during the daytime, most of the area comes alive late in the evening. Street vendors selling the best snacks and curry noodles are a major draw and you will be able to get your hands on all sorts of street food all in one place. A walk along the brightly lit riverside, which is always hosting a live music event or a fair more often than not, is the perfect way to spend an evening in the vicinity. That's not to say that the neighborhood has a dearth of activities to go through during daytime. This part of the city is home to some of the best shopping malls and entertainment centres, with the Halal Street Hilal Town and the Pantip Plaza being among the top choices both for locals and tourists.
This part of the city is a little outside the conventional central district, but is by no means difficult to access. Night Bazaar is well connected to most major parts of Chiang Mai through road and taxi and bus services run throughout the working hours. As a major tourist attraction, the area has attracted some of the top names in the hospitality business. As it stands today, Night Bazaar is home to some of top luxury hotels in the city.
Just north of the airport is Chiang Mai's district of Nimmanhemin Road or simply Nimman Road. With a university campus on site, the area had a large number of students living in the vicinity. The development of this part of the town as a more urbane entertainment centre was only natural and as such, Nimman Road has come to be known for its lively nightlife and artsy appeal. Many art galleries and upscale boutique stores have come up in the area, making it stand out in an otherwise traditional city. Some of the most frequently visited amongst them are Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders and the Minimal Gallery, both of which are very unique in their appeal and definitely warrant a mention.
To go along with the appeal of the neighborhood, there are the neighbourhood's many chic cafes and some very popular coffee shops. European cuisine dominates the menu but there are places that serve the best portions of Thai noodles as well. The innovative coffee shops, most of which serve a nice range of beverages made from home-grown beans, have developed quite a following even amongst non-residents. The Chiang Mai university campus is open for visitors and boasts of some of the city's best gardens and parks. Bike rentals are available for in-campus use and it makes for a nice afternoon outing. The nightlife is vibrant and most establishments stay open late till the wee hours. Some high-end bars and pubs are known to host popular music events and live performances.
Situated in the western part of the city, Nimman Road is just north of the airport making for a fairly straightforward travel. You will find a nice range of staying options, ranging from the hostels and budget hotels to the luxury brands.
That's our complete list of neighborhoods in Chiang Mai. Take your pick and get packing for your next trip, traveller!