Chiang Mai is Thailand’s second largest city and served as capital of the ancient and powerful Lanna Kingdom. It’s a very charming city which attracts many expats and visitors with its exceptional high living quality and value for money. Chiang Mai offers a great blend of modern and tradition: you can find high-end shopping malls and cinemas next to local markets and temples, eat at a stylish restaurant one day and at a food stall the next. The city has a fascinating cultural heritage with hundreds of Buddhist temples, shimmering golden stupas and mesmerizing Buddhist festivals like Loi Krathong.
Chiang Mai is by far not as busy and chaotic as Bangkok. Its compact size makes it easy to get around town, public transportation comes in form of Tuk Tuks, Songthews (taxi buses) and regular taxis. If you feel for an escape, you can head 20-30 minutes outside the city and find yourself surrounded by mountains, forests and waterfalls. With ready furnished apartments, low living costs and the hospitality of the Thai people, it’s no wonder that people fall in love with this city and eventually stay longer than they intended to.
Nimmanhaemin Road is a chic and vibrant area which stretches about 1km and attracts especially younger and trendy crowds with affection for fashion, coffee and art. Young Thais love to stay here due to its close proximity to Chiang Mai University, while others simply love the cool vibe and atmosphere. Many of the city’s most exclusive boutiques and shops can be found on Nimmanhaemin Road.
Prices for apartments and hotels are above the average from other areas in Chiang Mai with rental prices from 10.000 THB onwards. Have a look at hotels / apartments which are not direct located on the road, but on the countless alleys leading from Nimmanhaemin Road. Those are cheaper with monthly rentals starting at 6000 THB.
There is an abundance of coffee shops, bistros, bars, clubs and restaurants on Nimmanhaemin Road. Whether you’re looking for typical Thai dishes or craving for tapas & tacos – rest assured you will get it here. Another highlight you will soon notice is the artistic flair everywhere: huge mosaic pictures depicted on walls, colourful shop windows and independent boutiques selling fascinating self-designed art pieces and clothes.
While some people may say Nimmanhaemin Road might be too westernized already, others love it’s quirky and artsy style. Come around, sip a Vanilla Latte at one of the coffee shops and see it yourself!
Thapae Gate (The Old Town District)
The Old City is the most historical part of the town and a fantastic place to stay if you want to discover temples and other historical places like the famous ‘Three Kings Monument’ or Wat Chedi Luang. Chiang Mai’s old town is located within a square surrounded by the remains of the old city wall, as well a canal that runs around the square.
The area around Thapae Gate is well known for its budget friendly accommodations. Most of the popular guest houses and hostels can be found in the small roads leading from Thapae Gate with daily rates starting as low as 200 THB / night for dorm rooms. There are many small boutique and design hotels if you’re looking for more comfort. Not many expats are living within the direct surrounding of Thapae Gate, but most of guest houses and hostels offer you cheaper rates if you commit to stay for a few weeks.
The area makes it ideal to explore on foot and is famous for its many small side-streets, restaurants, second hand bookstores, antique –and handicraft shops. The bustling Sunday Walking Street Market is fabulous if you want to get unique local crafted souvenirs and to try delicious samples of northern Thai cuisine. Loi Kroh Road is (in)famous for its night clubs and eccentric Ladyboy shows at night, but offers plenty of –sometimes overpriced- dining possibilities during the day. Many shows, exhibitions and festivities are often held at Thapae Gate. Another colourful and bustling place is ‘Warorot Market’, a huge indoor market in Chinatown, easily to reach by foot.
Tips: if you want to try incredible northern Thai food, head over to Aroon Rai, a restaurant which is famous for its curry dishes, especially its signature dish, Khao Soi.
Staying around Thapae Gate is perfect if you wish to stay for a few days or a couple of weeks, as the area makes it very convenient to discover by foot or bicycle and gives you dining and entertainment possibilities around the clock.
The Ping River or Mae Ping originates at Doi Thuai in Chiang Dao and flows all the way down through Chiang Mai city and the provinces of Lamphun, Tak and Kamphaeng Phet to the confluence with the Nan River at Nakhon Sawan.
Many of the city’s top hotels and condos are located on both sides of the river. People who are staying here are looking for a more tranquil surrounding yet with the comfort of being close enough to the city. Monthly rentals start at 10.000 THB for a furnished 45sqm condo.
You can find many great restaurants among the river banks, serving both, international and Thai cuisine. For a unique and romantic experience: try the dinner cruise, where a set menu of mouthwatering northern Thai dishes is offered while slowly cruising down the Ping River.
Staying around the riverside will be perfect for you, if you’re looking for an upscale area and scenic surrounding without the buzz of the city.
The Night Bazaar area is often considered as downtown Chiang Mai and located between the east side of the Old City and the above mentioned Ping River. It’s among Chiang Mai’s most favoured places, as many attractions are quickly reachable from here.
Lots of mid-range hotels can be found around the Night Bazaar area. As this place focuses more on catering tourists, you won’t find many apartments around and is therefore more recommendable if you plan to stay not longer than 10-12 days.
The area is one of Chiang Mai’s most popular shopping areas with a daily night market (hence the name) as its centrepiece. You can further find a myriad of art and craft shops, restaurants and bars, food stalls and basically everything what your heart desires. Staying around the Night Bazaar puts you within walking distance to Thapae Gate and the Ping River.
A great location to base and explore the rest of the city with many interesting places located in walking distance. If you plan to somewhere further, taxis, Tuk Tuk or Songthews can be found at every corner.
Just off from Chiang Mai Gate lays Wualai Road, the old silver-making district of Chiang Mai. It’s located about 15 minutes by walking from Thapae Gate and less than 10 minutes driving distance from Chiang Mai airport.
Planning to stay longer in Chiang Mai, want to live central but on a budget? Wualai Road is the best place. On the road itself or within its surrounding are many apartments, extremely affordable to get. Monthly rentals start from as low as 4500 THB for an apartment of 25-30sqm, without sacrificing on any comfort. Planning to stay just for a few days? Many apartments can be also rented daily for an average rate of 500-600 THB.
Every Saturday afternoon, the road turns into the Saturday Night Walking Street, which is comparable to, but smaller than the Sunday Night Walking Street. Many people prefer the atmosphere over the Sunday market, since it’s more comfortable for strolling around. As mentioned above, Wualai was once famous for producing silver craft items and you can still see a few traditional workshops around.
Get up early and visit the morning market at Chiang Mai Gate where you can watch locals buying food and goods and see monks collecting alms and offering prayers. The same area turns into a dynamic night food market by 17:00 with lots of different food stalls around.
Wualai Road is the perfect option if you just arrived and plan to stay longer in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai is a great place to get started as an expat in Asia as it combines the familiar with the exotic. There are many opportunities for foreigners, especially in the educational sector. The city is also for a holiday always worth a visit, whether for the cultural point with its many temples and historical sites or if you’re seeking for more adventurous activities such as trekking, hiking and climbing.