A Chiang Mai Old City Travel Guide
I was going to do a Chiang Mai travel guide, but decided I’d make it a more specific Chiang Mai Old City travel guide instead.
For those who don’t know, the Old City in Chiang Mai is like the heart of the city, it is in the centre, surrounded by a moat, filled with beautiful temples, and also surrounded by partially ruined walls from back in the 14th century!
The easiest and most effective way to navigate the Chiang Mai Old City travel guide is to use the table of contents above, otherwise keep scrolling and see what you see.
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These two elephants were best friends, but they were cursed never to be able to set their eyes on each other for eternity … or until such time as someone decides to redo the hedges.
(Shot with the Sony A7R III using the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4).
Chiang Mai Old City Travel Guide Part 1 – Things To Know Before You Go
What is a Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is considered by people to be the capital of the north. It is much different from the southern parts of Thailand like Koh Lanta or Railay Beach, here it is more about the history, the temples, the mountains and the city itself.
“Chiang Mai” means “new city”, it was founded in 1294 and replaced Chiang Rai as the capital of Lan Na which the region was called at the time.
It was fortified with a defensive wall and a moat to protect it from nearby threats.
These days Chiang Mai is a haven for digital nomads, travellers often come here and stay for quite some time, or choose to rent apartments, live here for 6 months and work remotely.
It has a touch of a hipster culture in some areas.
128,000 people (the larger metro area has 960,000 people).
40km² – City municipality.
1.6 km² – Old City.
Longest Length Point to Point:
2.2km diagonally across Old City.
310 metres above sea level.
Where is Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is in the north of Thailand, it is 580km as Dumbo flies to Bangkok.
240km due east is the border to Laos. 130km due west will get you to the border of Myanmar.
Chiang Mai Old City is a square shaped portion of the city that is right in the centre. The majority of the tourist sites are within the walls, as well as a lot of hostels, restaurants and bars.
What’s The Weather Like in Chiang Mai?
The weather in the north of Thailand can sometimes be cooler than what is normally experienced in the majority of Southeast Asia. Especially at night time and in the mornings.
The best time to come to Chiang Mai is between November – January.
Although it is dry up until April, if you come in late January through to April then you will be visiting during the burning season. The smoke from nearby rural areas, in Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar, will gather in the valleys that hold Chiang Mai.
The smoke comes from natural fires, as well as fires lit deliberately by farmers, it gets trapped in the valleys for months until the rains start in May and clear it all out.
This also effects Pai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.
I have visited during burning season, you can still do it but it is not healthy. All of those pretty sunsets you imagined are pointless during this time, you won’t see the sunrise or sunset clearly.
For a rough guide of all the months combined;
Average Rainy Days:
December – February average the least with 1 day.
August averages the most rain days with 22.
Note that from December – February, minimum temperatures can average as low as 12°C.
That might not sound bad but it can get chilly, if you are riding a scooter you will suffer from wind chill, especially if you go up the mountains.
How Long Should I Stay in Chiang Mai?
This is a difficult question to answer, I feel like this is one of those cities where you get out what you put in.
For the sake of brevity I will assume that you are on a larger trip, covering all of Southeast Asia.
Firstly, if this is the case, then I suggest either visiting Thailand twice, or getting the extended 60 day visa. By default Thailand will offer only 30 days for a visa on arrival.
If you visit twice, then you can spend one visit in the north and western regions visiting: Chiang Rai, Pai, Chiang Mai, Thi Lo Su waterfalls and Kanchanaburi.
The second visit can be in the south and on the islands such as: Koh Lanta, Khao Sok, Koh Phi Phi, Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan, Ao Nang and Railay Beach.
If you have 60 days in Thailand, I recommend spending 7-9 days in Chiang Mai.
If have 30 days in Thailand, then I recommend spending 5 days in Chiang Mai.
Some of the artwork in these temples is as beautiful as extra chips at the bottom of your McDonald’s bag.
(Shot using the Sony A7R III using the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4).
How to Get to Chiang Mai?
*The following is an excerpt of a more detailed post that explains how to get to Chiang Mai in greater detail.
Chiang Mai has an international airport. The options of flights here are very large with such large variances in price that they can’t be listed.
As an example of where you can fly from direct (this is not the extensive list);
- South Korea
Other endless flight options are available with transfers in Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore being the major airports of the Southeast Asia region, and likely transfer points.
If you are coming by bus, then there are only really 2 departure points that are worth talking about here. Bangkok, and on the off chance, Chiang Rai.
The reason I say this is that most people who visit Pai and Chiang Rai in the north of Thailand generally come through Chiang Mai to get there in the first place.
But there may be those who fly straight to Chiang Rai to avoid travelling back over themselves by doing the bus journey in both directions.
The rest usually come from Bangkok.
To buy bus tickets there are two ways to do it.
- Use 12go.com or another online booking website such as busonlineticket or easybook.
- Buy directly through the bus station.
The advantages of 12go are that you are guaranteed a seat on the bus, you can book from the comfort of the hostel, and it is just easier in general.
12go is one of the essential apps for travellers to have. You will be told which station the bus is leaving from in an email as well as well as be given a map to the bus station.
It is cheaper to book direct with the bus station, but if you plan on booking on the day of departure you run the risk of not getting a seat, especially on the bus and departure time that you want.
The amount of money that you can save can be anywhere from ฿20-100 for a bus ticket.
To workaround this, you can visit the bus station before your departure date. But then you have to take into account the cost of the journey to and from the bus station, as well as your time taken to get there and whether it is still worth it.
I have used both methods. If I am riding around visiting tourist attractions on a scooter then sometimes you might be passing the bus terminals, so it is easy to pop in and get your own ticket for a few days time.
If it is too much hassle though and the bus terminal is far out of town, then I use 12go. I have not tried easybook or busonlineticket so can’t comment on them.
CHIANG RAI – CHIANG MAI;
($6.50 US, $9.50 AUD, £5 , €6).
3 hours 30 minutes.
BANGKOK – CHIANG MAI;
฿550-950 (depending on class of bus and booking method).
($18 US, $26.50 AUD, £13.75 , €16.25).
I carry all of my camera gear with me in the bus, to avoid having it ever leave my sight. For reference sakes this is an X-class bus from Chiang Rai, the bag is packed out at over 600mm tall and about 300mm deep including the straps.
The train is an easy way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. Although surprisingly it is slower than the bus option.
When catching a train you can take one during the day, with seats only, or an overnight train with places for sleeping. This can save money on accommodation for one night, but is more expensive than a non-sleeper train.
I will outline both options here so that you can weigh them up. Perhaps you want to see the countryside and would rather travel during the day?
I personally would rather sleep on the train. If you do the journey in both directions then you can try both.
Bangkok – Chiang Mai
The following prices are the online prices. Tickets are cheaper if bought at the train station by up to ฿250. The advantage of buying online is that you guarantee yourself a seat. This is a popular route and sleeper beds often sell out.
There are 5 trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai per day, each with a different duration which is shown in the 5 toggles below. Click on them for information.
14 hours 20 minutes.
13 hours 5 minutes.
13 hours 5 minutes.
14 hours 10 minutes.
Sleeper – 1st Class
($62.25 US, $91 AUD, £47.50 , €56.50).
SLEEPER – 2ND CLASS
($32.75 US, $48 AUD, £25 , €29.75).
SEATS ONLY WITH AC
($29 US, $42.75 AUD, £22.25 , €26.50).
*Price and conversions are done at the time of publishing and are subject to change.
BOOK YOUR TICKET TO CHIANG MAI HERE
How Expensive is Chiang Mai?
The north of Thailand is much cheaper than the south of Thailand. In the south, especially on the islands, the prices are somewhat inflated if you don’t bother to look around.
In the north you won’t need to look as hard to find good value for money.
The costs of scooter rental and food is generally cheaper. If you are within Chiang Mai Old City, you can get around for less than ฿40.
Very good hostels, as rated by Booking.com, will go for as little as ฿100/night.
What Is The Currency?
As part of Thailand, you will be using the Thai Baht here (฿).
At the time of writing the conversion rate is;
- $0.03 US
- $0.05 AUD
Alternatively, 1 of each of the above currencies respectively will give you;
Only ฿60 entry for incredible sites like this at Wat Chedi Luang. You can also see this structure as the feature image of this Chiang Mai Old City travel guide.
(Shot using the Sony A7R III using the Sony FE 16-35mm f/4).
Chiang Mai Old City Travel Guide Part 2 – Things To Know Once You Arrive
How to Get to Chiang Mai Old City?
Arriving By Plane
*The following is an excerpt of a more detailed post explaining how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the airport.
Once you land you’ll be wanting to get a SIM card in my opinion (I went with Truemove but they’re all the same).
Get the app called Grab. We won’t need it just yet, but you should be prepared for the rest of your travels.
Don’t link your credit card to Grab, always pay cash. That way if you cancel a ride for the driver not being on time he will not be able to charge you.
Grab is the way you will get around in Southeast Asia, when a scooter is not a viable option. The ability to pay cash helps to split between friends, and having the app also lets you know the price of a journey so that if you do take a taxi you won’t be ripped off.
When coming from Chiang Mai airport to Old City, Grab won’t be necessary. As you’re exiting the airport arrival doors you will see the following stalls on your left.
Use the stall on the left where the guy is standing.
The difference? Airport taxi offer a fixed price of ฿150 for anyone going to Old City, or nearby to the downtown area.
Taxi meter will charge ฿120 or so, but they add a ฿50 fee on there which makes them more expensive for no reason. The cost is minimal mind you.
- Instant departure.
- Direct route to accommodation without other passengers to drop off.
- Heaps of room for all of your bags.
- Clean air and airconditioning.
- Not as cheap as the options listed below.
Songthaews, the red cars that you see above, are a form of shared taxi.
฿40 is all that it will cost, unless you get one by yourself (which defeats the purpose and you can just get a taxi).
You will sit in the back along the bench seats, with your bags at your feet. The cost is cheaper than a taxi because the ride is shared by a number of people.
- An experience you may want to try at some point.
- You might be in for a long journey if the songthaew has to drop off 8 people at different locations and you happen to be last.
- Not as comfortable on the wooden bench seats.
- If you have a lot of bags, it will be hard to fit them in somewhere. This was annoying for me, who travels with a lot of camera gear, as well as a separate bag for my clothes (and tripod).
- Open to the air, which can be warm, as well as polluted during the burning season (late January – April).
Tuk tuks will cost more than a shared taxi, but you will get the advantage of being taken directly to your door without dropping others off.
They will ask for ฿150, but you should get it for ฿100.
If they don’t budge, take a taxi for the same price. I can’t see any advantage to the tuk tuk, besides the novelty, or for those who wish to smoke.
- Direct drop off to your hostel.
- Novelty factor.
- Can smoke cigarettes if you can’t wait the 10 minutes without one.
- Less comfortable.
- Open to the air.
- Little room for bags.
- Not that much cheaper than a taxi.
The airport is now serviced by a public bus route, as of 2018.
The bus, called the Blue Bus will follow the paths seen below. The bus itself will be coloured blue. The lines in red and yellow are the ones that are relevant to getting from the airport to Old City.
*The map below and the associated lines relate to the blue coloured buses only.
The airport is the southwest corner of this map. Although the bus is referred to as the “blue bus” due to its colour, the line of the bus is R3 (red) and R3 (yellow).
The difference is that R3 (red) goes clockwise, while R3 (yellow) goes counter clockwise.
Both buses run from 06:00 – 23:30.
฿30 is the cost of a ticket.
- Cheapest option available.
- Very little room for large bags when full.
- May have to wait around for the bus.
- Slowest and least direct method, which will involve walking the final steps to your hostel.
Arriving by Bus
*Click here for a far more detailed post about how to get to Chiang Mai Old City from the bus terminals, including imagery and bus routes.
The good news here for the sake of my fingers is that all of the methods outlined above also apply to the bus terminal. Including the expected costs, to within a few baht.
The bus terminal is of an equal distance to the centre of Old City as the airport is. Only while the bus terminal is on the northeast side, the airport is on the southwest.
The only thing you will need to keep in mind is that if you decide to take the blue bus from the bus terminal, it will not be the R3 line that you need. It will be the R1 line.
The blue bus route that serves the bus terminals where long distance buses will drop you off is bus route R1. You can see the route it takes in the image above, instead of the yellow and red line, it is the purple and dark green line.
An alternate bus option
I didn’t want to include this in the airport section to avoid confusion, but there is another type of bus that people can take. It is separate to the blue buses, whose buses are full sized, and blue.
These other buses will be half sized, minibuses (not minivans) that hold about 20 people and follow one of three fixed routes: B1, B2 and B3. The bus stops are listed below.
These buses only cost ฿15.
I don’t recommend waiting for these buses if they are not there when you arrive.
They are often not on time, they are subject to change schedules without notice, and their bus stops are hard to find.
Ignore all the written schedules at bus stops because these aren’t kept up to date.
I only write about it here so that if you happen to see one as you are exiting the bus terminal, you can hail it down if you want. It is easier and far more common for people to get a songthaew, Grab, taxi or Tuk Tuk.
Below are the 3 bus routes. I have bolded the stops that are inside Old City, as well as the railway station incase you want to go there or are arriving by train.
All 3 bus routes depart from the bus terminal 2. Only B1 and B2 go to Old City.
- Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade)
- Tung Hotel Road
- Chiang Mai Railway Station
- Charoen Mueang Road
- Sanpakoi Market
- Nawarat Bridge
- Tha Phae Gate
- Klang Vieng Junction
- Chiang Mai Police Station
- Phra Sing Temple
- Wattanothaipayap School
- Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital (Suan Dok Hospital)
- Chiangmai Neurological Hospital
- Ton Payom Market
- Chiang Mai University Side
- Gate Intersection
- Chiang Mai Phucome Hotel
- Chiang Mai University’s front gate area
- Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna
- Chiang Mai Zoo
- Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade)
- Kaew Nawarat Road
- Dara Witthayalai School
- McCormick Hospital
- The Prince Royal’s College
- Nakorn Ping Bridge
- Warorot market (Kad Luang)
- Chiang Mai Religion Practice Center Junction
- Tha Phae Gate
- Yupparaj Wittayalai school
- Chiangmai Vocational College
- Chiang Mai Technical College
- Phra Singh temple
- Northern School for The Blind
- Fort of Ku-Hueang
- Buak Haad Park
- Chiang Mai Gate
- Wua Lai Road
- Airport Junction
- CentralPlaza Chiang Mai Airport
- Chiang Mai International Airport
- Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 2 (Arcade)
- Central Festival Chiang Mai
- Thepanya Hospital
- Tesco Lotus Khamtieng
- Muang Chiang Mai Stadium
- Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1 (Chang Phuak Bus Terminal)
- Chiang Mai Rajabhat University
- Khuang Singh Junction
- Chiang Mai International Convention and Exhibition Center
- 700th Anniversary Stadium
- Chiang Mai Government Center
Arriving by Train
*I have written a dedicated post all about how to get to Chiang Mail Old City from the train station that explains everyhting in great detail.
For those of you who arrive by train, you can forget all about the RTC “blue bus”, because none of the routes for the blue bus pass the Chaing Mai Railway Station.
Luckily though, the municipality buses, the “minibuses” so to speak, have one bus that will drive past the train station and then head into Old City.
The bus route that you will need is B1.
I strongly recommend getting a songthaew, tuk tuk, taxi or Grab.
Prices from Chiang Mai Railway station to Old City will be the same as they were for the airport and the bus terminals. The station is roughly the same distance from Old City.
The buses are inconsistent in their time keeping. I only write about it for the sake of presenting all options, but it is rarely if ever worth waiting for the bus
How to Get Around in Chiang Mai Old City?
If this is your first time in Chiang Mai then I suggest just walk everywhere. The longest you will need to walk is about 2km in any given direction and you will reach the limits of old city.
This is the best way to spot places to eat, random temples you would otherwise never see, and also places you might like to rent a scooter.
If you want to get a songthaew (the red cars) then you can simply wave one down and hop in the back, go anywhere within Old City and pay ฿20-40 when you get out.
If it doesn’t stop it might be full or have some other reason. Don’t worry because they’re everywhere. Don’t ask the price, just hop in and tell them where you’re going.
When you get out if it is more than ฿20 they will tell you, otherwise ฿20 is standard for really short journeys.
A scooter in the north of Thailand is cheaper than those in the south. Expect to pay ฿150/day for a good condition 110cc scooter or an older 125cc.
Prices range from ฿100-250/day depending on size and quality. You will not need a 125cc to see Wat Phra That Dou Suthep, it is an easy ride.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Old City?
You can’t really go wrong here. The Old City region is quite small and if you really wanted you could walk everywhere. I think the central to northeastern regions are more interesting.
You do not have to stay in Old City, but it is the best spot to be if you want to be central to the majority of the tourist attractions.
It allows you to walk almost everywhere and save the scooter hire for the days you really need it. Like when you decide to ride up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
For those who want to be “cool” then check out Nimmanhaemin. It is where the university is, where a lot of digital nomads decide to hang out, and where the nightlife is.
I found Green Sleep Hostel to be very good and almost exactly in the centre of Old City.
In fact, I have stayed in 3 hostels in Chiang Mai and you can read about them here;
- Green Sleep Hostel (visit their website)
- The Cabin Backpackers Hostel (visit their website)
- Kampor Hostel
The top 2 I can definitely recommend, while the Kampor is good, it is not as good as the others.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai has plenty of places to eat. More than you will ever need.
In the map below I have listed the places where I ate during my time here. These are not all reccommendations.
Clicking on the name of them will give you a little insight into my thoughts on the places, mostly good, some average to bad.
A few of my favourites from the map below are;
Sun Rays breakfast and brunch (southwest of map).
Good Thai Food for Cheap
Teng Nueng (most northwest of map).
WEstern Styled Dinner
Euro Diner & Bar (northeast area of map).
The Hideout (furthest northeast on map).
I Love Coffee More Than Life Itself! Where Should I go!?
Try the coffee at Sun Rays Breakfast & Brunch that is listed above as one of my favourite places to eat. The lady who made the coffees made them perfect every time and she made a good double shot.
Also, head to Akha Ama Coffee which is almost smack bang in the middle of Old City. The only issue I had was that they only made single shot coffees.
The cost was only ฿50 though, so I would normally sit down inside and avoid the heat of the day ordering two coffees and people watch.
Where to do Laundry in Chiang Mai Old City?
If you are looking for a great place to do laundry in Chiang Mai then I suggest you head to PloySiam Laundry in the southwest of Old City.
If you Google it you will find it. This lady was awesome. Most importanlty for me is that she will line dry all of your clothes, which for me is essential given how my shirts are merino wool.
She spoke good English, the clothes came back smelling nice, they were done on time and she seems super nice.
It costs ฿50/kg.
I Need to Lift Weights, Any Good Gyms?
Chiang Mai is a large city, so naturally you have a lot of options with gyms. Some are walking distance and others you might need a scooter. My favourites were outside the Old City.
I think the best gym for most people will be O2 gym. There is no website to link to but they are 500m outside the southeast corner of Old City.
Another option that is more high class, with newer equipment, is ABSolute Gym. This gym is 200m outside the northwest corner of Old City.
The only time I recommend ABSolute is if you are in Chiang Mai for a week or more and get a longer pass. The daily pass is an absolute ripoff in any gym, in any country.
O2 gym is spot on with their pricing and what you get for it, don’t let the no aircon fool you, the fans do a good job and you’re here to sweat a bit anyway.
I also tried a third gym called Harris Fitness Centre, which is inside Lotus Hotel on the 6th floor. It is so much easier to go to O2 though.
Neither gym offers towels so you need to take your own, or you’ll be wiping down a lot of equipment.
฿60 protein shakes.
No aircon, lots of fans, no free water.
Massive floor space with a huge variety of machines but in older condition.
฿85 protein shakes.
Air-conditioning and free water refills.
Smaller floor space but brand new equipment and large selection of machines still.
Things to do in Chiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai is home to some of the most amazing temples in Thailand, this is the major attraction. These temples date back from 500-800 years ago and house relics over 1000 years old in some cases!
In Chiang Mai Old City the idea is that you walk around the city itself is part of the attraction. You will find some cool night-markets on the Sunday.
During your walks the amount of temples you will see will blow your mind, but the best ones are;
- Wat Chedi Luang.
- Wat Phra Singh.
- Wat Chet Lin.
- Wat Chiang Man.
Then the following two which are outside the city walls up in the mountains;
Besides the temples there are a lot of things in the surrounding areas that are common to the majority of Thailand, things like: muay thai classes, yoga, massages, cooking classes and elephant sanctuaries.
Try out Karen Tribe Native Elephants for a unique experience if you can afford it.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep sits to the west of Chiang Mai in the mountains. The sunrise views here are somewhat ruined by the burning season smog.
(Shot with the DJI Macic 2 Pro).
- If you are a guy and want a haircut or a beard trim then check out Open Barber. It’s a cool place, with some good old school music playing.
- If you are flying out of Chiang Mai and need to check out of your hostel, then you can go to Chiang Mai Plaza for the day. They store your bags for a small fee and have a free shuttle service to the airport.
I can’t really think of much else that hasn’t been covered in the Chiang Mai Old City travel guide already, so I will leave it there for now.
That is a lot of information for everyonen to take in, so I hope you enjoyed.
The Browne Town.