Thapae is one of Chiang Mai’s most popular areas – it’s here where most travellers usually get their first taste of Chiang Mai. While the square around Thapae Gate is mainly used for various markets and events, the surrounding sois are home to accommodations of all types – you can find anything from guest houses over hostels to splurge hotels. This vibrant area is 24/7 busy and offers a wide array of activities, ranging from shopping over sightseeing to clubbing. The best way to get started here is to slowly dive into the atmosphere; visit cafés, restaurants and boutiques around, talk to fellow travellers and shop owners. People are very open-minded and willing to give any advice. Here is a list of must-see places and activities around Thapae:
- Thapae Gate
When people talking about Thapae Gate, they usually refer to the large square surrounded by reconstructed brick walls as well a large gate which was the eastern entrance to the city. The square is now used for markets and as popular venue for markets and shows.
Location: east of the Old Town
- Thapae Muay Thai Stadium
A trip to Chiang Mai (or Thailand in general) wouldn’t be complete without watching a Muay Thai fight. Many local, and even a number of international fighters, competing against each other here. The fights are popular here and Thapae Stadium is a trusted venue for real Muay Thai fights in Chiang Mai (some smaller venues have staged fights where the winner is chosen before).
Location: Opposite Thapae Gate, next to Top North Hotel. Open: from 20:30, fights start from 21:00.
- Sunday Night Market
Sunday Night Market or Sunday Night Walking Street is a major market which takes place within the Old City, starting from Thapae Gate, along the length of Rachadamnoen Road and its many side roads. Similar to the Saturday Night Market, the road are completely closed for traffic. Starting every Sunday around 16:00, it gets quickly busy around sunset, when the market comes really alive with buskers and entertaining bands and performers. Vendors showcase their mainly artistic items here, made from materials such as wood, ceramic, silk, alloy and others.
- Tattoo Studios
Many tattoo artists set up their studios around Thapae Gate and its surrounding roads. While there is a good selection to choose from, make sure you research wisely, as every artist has its own certain style. Also make sure they’re hygienic as some are not really. Here’s a number of well-reputed tattoo studios around Thapae Gate:
Sam Tattoo –near Night Bazaar
Naga Crew Tattoo – 73/1-2 Loi Kroh Road
Déja Vu Tattoo – Chiang Moi Road, near Zoe’s
Best Sure Tattoo – three branches in Chiang Mai and one in Bangkok
Open: varies, from 10:00/12:00 – midnight.
- Wat Buppharam
This temple was built at the end of the 15th century during the reign of King Muang Kaeo of Lanna. Wat Buppharam features a mixed style of Lanna and Burmese design which is very common among temple in Chiang Mai. The temple’s complex is home to two viharns (ordination halls), an ubosot, a Dhamma hall and a white pagoda with a golden spire.
Location: Thapae Road, 750m from Thapae Gate Open: daily, 06:00-17:00
- Wat Mahawan
The style of Wat Mahawan and its surrounding buildings reflect as well a beautiful mix of Burmese and Lanna architecture. Aside the temple, you can find the so called Ho Trai Library here, a dark teak wooden structure which now serves as residence for the temple’s abbot. Originally, the temple housed copies and scriptures of Buddhist teachings known as Tripitaka. Just behind the main virharn is a wonderful white coloured, Burmese style chedi.
Location: 300m east of Thapae Gate Open: daily, 10:00-20:00
- Dining around a golden pagoda
This one brings dining to a whole new level: during Sunday Night Market, the square next to the beautiful gilded ‘Sareerikkatartsirirak Pagoda’ is transformed to a large sitting area where food vendors sell everything from typical Thai dishes to kebab and biryani.
Location: Rachadamnoen Road. Coming from Thapae Gate, roughly 150m into Rachadamoen Road on the left side. Open: Sundays, from 16:00-midnight
- Aroon Rai
Aroon Rai is one Chiang Mai’s leading restaurants when it comes to authentic northern Thai cuisine. The restaurant operates since 1957 and has no further branches. If you’re around here and fancy for typical Thai food, that’s the place to go! Try their signature dish Khao Soy (45 THB): it’s one of the region’s most popular dishes, served with delicious chicken and crispy egg noodles in spicy curry. Further dishes include Sai Oua (northern Thai sausage) or Som Tam (spicy papaya salad).
Location: south of Thapae Gate. Open: 11:00-22:00
- Second Hand Book Shops
The digital age lets many of us forget the importance of paperback books. Numerous locals and expats opened second hand book shops in Chiang Mai, whereat you can find a good number of these located on several sois around Thapae. One great book shop is called ‘The Lost Bookshop’ (34/3 Ratchmanka Road) and offers thousands of used books in excellent condition: whether you want a Mark Twain, Hunger Games or Lonely Planet, you can find it here. Most books range between 200-400 THB. And once you finished you’re book, you can return and get 50% from the price you paid reimbursed (given that the condition is the same).
- Loi Kroh Road
Loi Kroh Road is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous roads, mainly known for its cheap accommodations, pubs, massage parlours and go-go bars. It has some sort of sleazy reputation due to the bigger number of go-go bars and soapy spas here, but this number makes up only a small part of Loi Kroh Road. The rest is home to some great dining spots, from Irish pubs over Tex-Mex to French, ‘real’ spas and numerous souvenir shops. Loi Kroh Road is also connected to the Night Bazaar area.
Location: just south of Thapae Gate, easily in walking distance.
- Warorot Market & Chinatown
Although not really comparable in size with other vibrant Chinatowns like in Bangkok or New York, Chinatown Chiang Mai still has its own unique character. The quarter’s centrepieces are two multi-storey shopping centres known as Warorot Market and the lesser known Ton Lomyai Market on the opposite. Many locals and expats referring to Warorot mostly talk about the entire Chinatown district.
Both shopping centres feature dozens of stalls and shops; the ground areas sell mainly food while the upper floors consist of shops selling clothes and household items. There is a large market around both centres plus an adjacent flower market near the Ping River which, when all combined, make up Chiang Mai’s largest market area. From fruits and veggies over ceramics, watches, electronics and handicrafts, you most likely find what you’re looking for!
Location: end of Chiang Moi Road, near Ping River. Open: 05:00-18:00 Warorot/Ton Lamyai; 05:00-23:00 the market area.