The two-square-kilometre original city plan forms a near-perfect square, bounded on all sides by a moat and towering brick walls (of which only the corner bastions remain for the most part). A charming network of narrow lanes bisected by a four broader avenues lead to 33 historic Lanna temples and a legion of guesthouses, hotels, cafes, and restaurants.
Tha Pae Road/Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Between the Old City’s eastern gate and the banks of the Ping River, an amorphous conglomeration of streets lined with Shan-Burmese temples, hotels, guesthouses, tourist restaurants, and the famed Chiang Mai Night Bazaar spreads north and south of Tha Phae Road, until relatively recently the city’s most important tourist centre.
Wat Ket/Faham Road
Just east of Nawarat Bridge, a road running north along the Ping River changes names from Charoen Rat to Faham as it winds through what was the main centre for Westerners involved in trade and missionary work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, historic homes and shophouses have been converted into hotels, restaurants, clubs, and galleries.
Nimmanhemin Road and West
Extending from the Old City’s two western gates all the way to the foot of landmark Doi Suthep, west Chiang Mai forms a grid of modern lanes and streets that encompass Chiang Mai University, two modern shopping centres, the town’s oldest forest monastery, and Nimmanhemin Road, a neighbourhood exploding with galleries, cafes, wine bars, and boutiques aimed at well-heeled Bangkok Thais on holiday.
Red songthaew—small, dilapidated pickup trucks with two benches for passengers in back—ply the streets of Chiang Mai for B20 one way. Tuk-tuks and car taxis are also available at rates of around B200 per trip. To get around conveniently, many visitors prefer to rent cars (B1000 and up) or motorbikes (B150-250) from various rental shops around town.
The historic William Bain House, a legacy of the Borneo Company built in 1887, has been renovated and re-purposed by Bain’s descendants as part of a boutique hotel named for the 137 solid teak logs supporting the building above the ground in Lanna style. Sixty villas in classic Chiang Mai post-colonial style have been added to the compound, while the original house contains dining rooms, lounges, and a library.
2 Soi 1, Na Wat Ket Rd | 0 5324 7788 | snhcollection.com/137pillarshouse
In the middle of the fashionable Nimmahemin neighbourhood, local artist Torlarp Larpjaroensook has transformed a former two-story student dormitory into a funky boutique hotel brimming with quirky art-centred touches. Big circular windows let in light and project a 60s-70s retro feel, while wrought-iron stair railings, chandeliers, and window grills add a hint of the US Southwest. Vintage floor tiles have been sliced, diced, and refit in fresh new ways to create a variety of colour schemes for each room.
40 Nimmanhemin Rd, Soi 13 | 08 1594 6233 | facebook.com/TheArtelNimman
The brainchild of architect Ongard Satrabhandhu and interior designer Rooj Changtrakul, this uniquely Chiang Mai hotel, with its central quadrangle surrounded by brick-and-plaster-walled rooms fronted by full-length porticoes, is reminiscent of an ancient Lanna Buddhist monastery cloister. Authentic antiques decorating the interior hail from northern Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and southern China. The bar and restaurant combines a minimalist-industrial décor and boasts signed lithographs by Henry Moore and Robert Motherwell.
6 Rachamankha Rd| 0 5390 4111 | rachamankha.com
Sala Lanna Chiang Mai
Overlooking the Ping River in the historic Wat Ket neighbourhood, Sala Lanna follows the overall design concept for the Thai-owned Sala network with sleek, minimalist lines of wood and concrete. The 15 rooms and one pool villa, each with at least a partial river view, boast Lanna accents via rich local textiles and teak furnishings. Both restaurants, Sala Lanna Eatery and Italia, offer scenic river views, while the rooftop enjoys a panoramic view of town and river.
49 Charoen Rat Rd | 0 5324 2590 | salaresorts.com/lanna
Dhara Devi Chiang Mai
Spread over 52 carefully landscaped acres that intersperse exotic architectural forms with working rice paddies, huge banyan trees, towering palms, and tropical flowers, the ambitious Dhara Dhevi pays tribute to a time when the royal capitals of northern Southeast Asia were among the most magnificent in the world. Long a collector of Lanna, Shan, Burmese, Lao, and Thai Lü art and artefacts, the owner has filled the public areas of the resort with treasured objects from his collection, including antique Chiang Mai silverwork and Burmese lacquerware. Paintings and sculptures by local artists adorn the living spaces, while plush Persian-style carpets cover polished teak floors. Baby grand pianos are found in the more expensive villas.
51/4 Moo 1, Chiang Mai-Sankampaeng Rd | 0 5388 8888 | dharadhevi.com
Taking its name from the tamarind orchard that occupied the land on which the hotel was built—a huge 200-year-old tree on the grounds has been left intact—this comfortable hotel in the very middle of the Old City offers a quiet retreat from busy streets.One- and two-storey wings built in tropical colonial style, each elegantly decorated with Lanna-inspired art and furniture, face the three spacious courtyards.
50/1 Ratchadamnoen Rd | 0 5341 8896 | tamarindvillage.com
Modern Thai recipes showing Chiang Mai influences are served in 137 Pillars House’s elegantly renovated Borneo Company offices. Menu highlights include Gaeng Hung Lay Gae (northern dry curry, slow cooked lamb shank, and edamame) and Miang Yum Ped Nuea Pou (crispy shredded duck and crab salad with cantaloupe, shallots, and Shiso leaves)
2 Soi 1, Na Wat Ket Rd | 0 5324 7788 | snhcollection.com/137pillarshouse | daily breakfast, lunch, and dinner
This relatively new spot 20 minutes out of town occupies a sizeable white house on the Ping River, where a former Dhara Dhevi chef who cooks up French and Italian dishes with subtle Thai twists. Choose from tablecloth-clad tables in a semi-formal indoor dining room or more casual sofa settings found on the outdoor terrace and on the sprawling lawn.
90/9 Moo 3 San Phi Sua Rd | 0 5311 0732 | davidskitchenat909.com
Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant
A simple dining room of wo
oden tables adorned with fresh flowers is the humble setting for Chiang Mai’s most highly praised vegetarian fare. Weekly specials are marked on a chalkboard menu, but you can’t fail with massaman curry, cashew tempeh, and crispy banana-flower salad washed down with a papaya-lime smoothie. Portions are large.
Nimmanhemin Rd, Soi 10 | 08 3581 1689 | facebook.com/AnchanVegetarianRestaurant
Connoisseurs of kai yang, Isaan-style grilled chicken, rave about cook/owner Chavalit Van’s version, which uses vertical spits to slowly roast the lemongrass-and-garlic-stuffed birds on a wall of charcoal. Fill out the traditional Isaan meal with a plate of spicy green papaya salad, a basket of sticky rice, and a cold Singha.
9/1 Sam Larn Soi 1 | 08 0500 5035
The Service 1921 Restaurant & Bar
The well-restored former British consulate, part of the Anantara Chiang Mai, occupies a tranquil spot of the banks of the Ping River. Here the kitchen serves contemporary Thai, Szechuan, and Vietnamese cuisines cooked by native chefs for each. The décor has a British secret service theme, from the file-folder style menus to the spy peephole on the entrance to the private dining room accessed via a secret bookshelf door in the library. This is one of the coolest and most interesting openings in recent memory.
Charoen Prathet Rd | chiang-mai.anantara.com | 0 5325 3333 | daily lunch 11.30am-2.30pm, dinner 6pm-11pm, Asian light bites 11.30pm-1.30am
In a town with more coffee shops per capita than anywhere else in Thailand, the two branches of Akha Ama stand out. Beans are sustainably farmed by 20 families—mostly Akha and other hilltribe minorities—in Mae Suay district to the north, and then carefully roasted in-house to produce blends and single-estate coffees across an impressive range of strength and complexity. Choose your preferred method of caffeine delivery from espresso, Aeropress, French press, or pour-over. Delicious cakes and muffins, baked fresh every day, are also available.
Wat Phra Sing branch: 175/1 Ratchadamnoen Rd | 08 6915 8600
Santitham branch: 9/1 Hussadhisewee Rd, Soi 3 | akhaama.com
One of the oldest neighbourhoods in Chiang Mai is an area extending from the east bank of the Ping River around Wat Ketkaram (known as “Wat Ket” or “Wat Gate” for short). Originally the only structure of significance on this side of the river was a tall stupa called Phra That Ketkaew Chulamani, erected in 1428 to house a Buddha hair relic. As the Lanna kingdom’s walled and moated city of Chiang Mai to the west flourished, the residents eventually established a monastery around the stupa in 1578-81 and today it’s considered one of the 10 holiest stupas in northern Thailand, particularly for worshippers born in the Year of the Dog on the Chinese calendar.
Of many well-known, well-touristed temples in Chiang Mai, this gilded 14th-century cloister perched 1676 metres above the city on Doi Suthep should not be missed. If you’d rather not slog up the 306-step naga-lined staircase, take the elevator-like tramway for B50. To avoid crowds, arrive around 5pm and stay through sunset, when the chanting of resident monks generates a peaceful environment.
0 5320 6835 | daily 7am-7pm
Five kilometres south of town stand the excavated ruins of Chiang Mai’s first city site, founded by the Mon in the 11th century and later sacked by Burmese invaders. Stroll among the brick remains of seven temples, and visit Wat Chedi Liam, one of two additional temples still functioning.
Doi Mon Jam
At the heart of the Nong Hoy Royal Project, this humble peak offers surprisingly majestic views across the Mae Ping Valley. After touring the project’s strawberry fields and grape orchards, stop at the open-air dining room for herb teas, natural fruit juices, and Thai fusion cuisine prepared using farm-fresh produce.
22/8 Moo 7, Mae Ram, Mae Rim |0 5381 0765 | thairoyalprojecttour.com | daily 8am-7pm
Local and interanational artists (including such names as Mark Jacobs and Isaac Mizrahi) have painted hundreds of whimsical designs on resin elephant sculptures in several sizes to produce Elephant Parade, a collection sold here to benefit the Asian Elephant Foundation. Striking original-design scarves, handbags, and other accessories are also available for purchase.
154-156 Charoen Rat Rd | 0 5324 6448 | colourfac.com
Sop Moei Arts
Named for a district in the Salween River basin, Sop Moei Arts helps Pwo Karen villagers market their arts and crafts in novel ways. Traditional basket shapes morph into fruit bowls, handbags, wine-bottle holders, and other items of daily use. Bamboo and wood interwoven with colourful fabrics produce sumptuous wall hangings.
150/10 Charoen Rat Rd | 0 5330 6123 | sopmoeiarts.com
Sirote Jiraprayoon, former director of Thailand’s ubiquitous Asia Books, runs this independent bookshop on Nimmanhemin, conveniently close to Ristr8to for those who need caffeine with their literature. The stock emphasizes oversize titles on art, architecture, and graphic design, along with a small but well-selected fiction collection.
11 Nimmanhemin Rd, between Soi 1 and Soi 3 | 09 1071 8767 | Mon-Sat 10am-9.30pm
Wualai Walking Street
Wualai Road has been Chiang Mai’s centre for traditional Lanna silversmithing for over a century. Every Saturday evening the street closes to vehicles and fills instead with vendor stalls offering silverwork and other handicrafts. Bands pound out Thai folk music from rustic stages while neighbourhood grannies hawk local snacks.
Every Saturday, 5pm-midnight
Ratchadamnoen Walking Street
Along Ratchdamnoen Road, stretching west from Tha Phae Gate through the heart of the Old City, this lively, crowded market replaces the Night Bazaar as the premier shopping draw in town every Sunday evening. As at Wualai Waking Street, the emphasis is on local handiwork, but here you’ll also see crafts imported from Nepal, China, and elsewhere.
Every Sunday, 5pm- midnight