Chiang Mai old city
Chiang Mai Old City is filled with hundreds of examples of religiously affiliated architecture, a world-class sightseeing destination where the past and the new world coexists beautifully together.
Enforced protection measures to protect the architecture of the city guarantee that no high-rise development will take place within 93 meters of a cathedral, the Ping River, and city walls. That has been a useful measure for the most part.
Chiang Mai is a town steeped in history and rich culture, while still a vibrant, cosmopolitan community, attaining the balance between preservation and development.
It is defined by its 600-year-old moat surrounded by fractional walls, which signify the Old City boundaries. Within the moated region, there are several of the three hundred plus temples in the city, which serve as useful sources for the fascinating history of Chiang Mai.
There is a range of informative visits to be made outside temple hopping that will expand your knowledge, not only about the city center but also about its inhabitants.
Chiang Mai’s powerful sense of belonging accounts for its mysterious character in broad proportions.
This is a community firmly rooted in its own distinct culture, adopting a distinctive dialect, food, design, and dress style.
Chiang Mai is well recognized for its misty mountains and modern architecture, but what makes it a secret jewel in Northern Thailand is the abundance of things to do in Chiang Mai Old City!
Chiang Mai Old City is filled with ancient temples and historical museums and provides rich cultural experiences.
It also proves it is a one-stop shopping spot, offering fantastic street food, massage parlors, cooking classes, and excellent Old City tours!
Chiang Mai Old City tours
Among the many museums and educational centers that can be visited here are the Lanna Folklife Museum, Chiang Mai Art and Cultural Center, and the Chiang Mai Historical Center that boasts the rich history of the region.
Take a tour of the Tribal Museum in the villages of Northern Thailand that pays tribute to the vibrant tribes. Tour Three Kings Memorial, a style epitome devoted to the town’s leaders.
Temples such as Wat Suan Dok and the brightly illuminated Wat Chedi Luang provide an opportunity to meet and meditate with the monks. Shop for souvenirs at Sompet Market and Sunday Walking Lane, and gorge at sumptuous street food throughout the area.
Whether you choose to walk around the city or go on a bicycle tour, make sure you appreciate the elegance of it all, and learn why Chiang Mai is nicknamed the North Rose.
Chiang Mai old city history
Mangrai built Chiang Mai in 1294 or 1296 on the site of a more former city of the Lawa people called Wiang Lopburi. In his book, The Hill Tribes of Northern Thailand, Gordon Young describes how a British Burma Wa leader told him that the Wa, a group closely related to the Law, once existed in the Chiang Mai Valley in’ sizeable settlements.’
While Lan Na’s capital Chiang Mai replaced Chiang Rai, Pha Yu enlarged and reinforced the area and built Wat Phra Singh in honor of Kham Fu, his father. The dictator was named Chao.
The town was enclosed by a moat and a protective wall since the Bamar people’s neighboring Taungoo Dynasty was a constant threat, as were the Mongolian Empire’s forces, which only decades earlier had captured most of Yunnan, China, and in 1292 invaded Chiang Hung’s surrounding the Dai Kingdom.
The city lost significance with the fall of Lan Na and was occupied in 1556 by the Taungoo. In 1775, by an arrangement with Chao Kavila, Chiang Mai officially became part of the Thonburi Kingdom, after Thonburi king Taksin helped drive out the Taungoo Bamar.
Subsequent counterattack of Taungoo contributed to the fall of Chiang Mai between 1776 and 1791.
The current municipality dates back to the 1915 established sanitary district. On 29 March 1935, it was elevated to a borough, as published in the Royal Gazette, section 80 of Book No. 52. On 5 April 1983, the area was expanded to 40.2 km2 (16 sq mi), replacing just 17.5 km2 (7 sq mi).
Chiang Mai was the location of the Chiang Mai Initiative in May 2006, which was negotiated between the Southeast Asian Nations Association and the “ASEAN+3” countries.
Chiang Mai was among the three Thai cities bidding to host the World Expo 2020 proposal by Thailand.
In the end, the Thai Parliament selected Ayutthaya to apply for international competition.
Chiang Mai was awarded the title of Artistic City by UNESCO in early December 2017. Chiang Mai was on the provisional list for admission to UNESCO World Heritage in 2015. Chiang Mai was one of two Thailand tourist destinations on TripAdvisor’s 2014 “25 Best Attractions in the Country” list, where it sits at number 24.
Chiang Mai old city walking tour
This walking guide to Old City Chiang Mai will help you pick the best bits of this beautiful city. Many of the main attractions are within a very short distance of each other, and the Old City area’s narrow streets make navigating between them difficult.
The peaceful scenery and the cooler temperature make visiting Chiang Mai Old City on foot, with this page as your reference, extremely enjoyable and satisfying.
Instead of sending you an identical itinerary, we split down the Old City into three parts instead. It means you won’t have to go for sights you’re not involved in traveling long distances.
By demanding marathon-runner strength and stamina standards, each path can be accomplished within a day. All you need is to select the points you’re interested in, mention their positions, and join the dots.
For the central area, around Rachadamnoen Avenue, a walking guide to Chiang Mai Old City is especially helpful. Many of the city’s major attractions, including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao, and Wat Phra Singh, are within minutes of this route.
The Three Kings Monument is situated just north of the bridge and has three museums around it.
Through getting a ticket for all three museums in one, you can save a bit of money. If you are visiting Chiang Mai Old City on a Sunday, make sure to keep any energy left over for the Walking Street market at night, which runs Rachadamnoen Road all along.
Chiang Mai Old City’s southern part is a relatively quiet and peaceful location.
This includes Suan Puak Haad Park, which is the only parkland area within the walls of the region. Just on the south of the walls is Wua Lai Road, where the impressive Wat Sri Suphan is to be located.
Often known as the Silver Shrine, it remains somewhat of a hidden gem for obvious reasons, with many people missing it in lieu of the more significant, more famous places. Wua Lai Road itself is host to the second big weekend night market in Chiang Mai-the Wualai Walking Street every Saturday.
Chiang Mai Old City’s northern part is relatively quiet, although there are some sights to see and do. If you’re searching for something more immediate, you’re more likely to find it here.
The major Wat Chiang Mun complex is the biggest must-see, but it is worth going out of your way for the smaller Wat Lok Molee.
Just across the moat from there is Khao Soi Khun Yai–said to be the best place to try the famed Chiang Mai curry noodle dish.
At the end of a day of walking and playing, don’t forget to stop at Fah Lanna Spa for a soothing foot massage.
Chiang Mai old city hotels
Chiang Mai Old City’s best hotels adopt a trend of traditional Lanna-style architecture, beautiful interiors, and perfect Thai hospitality, and our collection is really the best of the best.
This area is trendy with Chaing Mai tourists, particularly those who want to immerse themselves in the town’s fascinating history.
In reality, staying here with so many beautiful temples and museums scattered around may feel like witnessing history first-hand.
If you’re dreaming of a dream hotel in Chiang Mai full of elegant sloping roofs, silk sheets, ornate decoration and lush gardens in Thai theme, our selection of Old City’s most elegant hotels would definitely not be disappointed.
Actually, with this dynamic guide, we will be up to date with the relevant info on the best places to stay.
Rachamankha Hotel is one of the Members of Relais & Châteaux
Rachamankha Hotel in Chiang Mai is one of those locations that just take your breath away.
The design concept puts together the imagination of some of the country’s best architects and designers, with so many antiques in the halls and apartments, a walled fortress in the middle of the city’s old town.
Every room has a different experience to it, some a touch of the 19th century from China, with bright cherry red pops and ornate lanterns, others with beautiful silk drapes.
The designs and fittings, teak day beds, wicker chairs, and large polished lamps can please art lovers suitably.
Offering a stay at Baan Hanibah, you’ll be centrally located in Chiang Mai, just a 4-minute walk from Tha Phae Gate and a 7-minute walk from Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center.
Data station and tea/coffee services are accessible in a common area.
Makkachiva in Chiang Mai (Old City) is a 5-minute walk from Wat Chedi Luang and an 8-minute walk from Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center.
It offers free newspapers in the lobby, a 24-hour front desk, and baggage storage facilities.
A roundtrip airport shuttle is accessible at an additional cost (on request).
Thai Akara – Lanna Boutique Hotel
Located in Chiang Mai (Old City), Thai Akara-Lanna Boutique Hotel is a 10-minute stroll from Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center and Tha Phae Gate.
It provides a computer room, dry cleaning and laundry facilities, and a 24-hour front desk.
Green Tiger House
With a stay at Green Tiger Hotel, you will be centrally located in Chiang Mai, within a 15-minute walk from Chiang Mai University and Wat Phra Singh.
The facilities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and multilingual employees.
Arte House is part of that funky and elegant group of boutique hotels that attracts you from the get-go.
Located in Chiang Mai, it has been built similarly to bed and breakfast with a lot of focus on a unique style that is noticeable all over the location!
From the crafted nameplate hanging on its front gate, to the rooms that display lots of personal, quirky flair.
Offering stunning and fashionable guestrooms, each unit comes with an option of either a queen-sized bed or a pair of singles-just be sure to mention your selection to the front desk before checking in.
BED Phrasingh Hotel – Adults Only
With a stay at BED Phrasingh Hotel-Adults Only in Chiang Mai (Old City), Wat Phra Singh is a short walk away, and Chiang Mai University is a 9-minute walk away.
Services include 24-hour front desk, cargo storage, and a safe deposit box at the front desk.
Tamarind Village is situated in Chiang Mai and has its name, thanks to the fact that it is surrounded by large tamarind trees.
The hotel is just minutes away from the local night bazaar and plenty of riverside restaurants serving local dishes.
There is also a famous Sunday Walking Road that takes place right in front of the hotel. There are several sights to see, and they are within walking distance.
Some of these attractions are WatChediLuang and Tha Pae Gate.
There are 45 rooms (all non-smoking rooms) that have absolutely everything you can ask for. Every room has an unusual style that mixes glamor with tribal designs.
Located in Chiang Mai (Old City), Pingviman Hotel is a 15-minute walk from Chiang Mai University and Wat Phra Singh.
Amenities include a conference center, a dry cleaning/laundry facility, and a 24-hour front desk. A shuttle service from the hotel to the airport is available on request.
Chankam Boutique Hotel
Guests staying at Chankam Boutique Hotel are in the heart of Chiang Mai, a 10-minute walk from Chiang Mai University and Wat Phra Singh.
Dry cleaning/laundry facilities, a 24-hour front desk, and a safe deposit box are offered at the front desk. Free parking is available on site.
Old city Chiang Mai restaurants
Chiang Mai’s Old Town is filled with places to eat, varying from high-quality vintage restaurants to generous portions of street food for nothing more than great European cuisine.
Catering to all budgets and tastes is commonly seen as a perfect place to eat out, with most of the locations featuring both indoor and outdoor spaces, most of which are cozy establishments with initial design ideas.
It’s also a perfect place to find lean food with many of the coffee shops that only buy fresh organic produce from the market that day.
The atmosphere of the riverside, the romantic interiors, and delicious Thai dishes are what hold the diners coming back to the Antique House.
Overlooking the Ping Bay, the alfresco dining terrace provides a calming, casual atmosphere.
The first branch in the city center (Charoen-Prathet Avenue, opposite Wat Gate) is located inside an old teakwood building, providing a traditional northern Thai ambiance with low tables and ceiling fans.
This humble shop-house restaurant is the spot to go for the best Indian food in town.
While the interior decor is nothing to write about at home, the food can leave you wanting to come back again and again.
The menu includes a wide range of Indian, Muslim, and Thai fares, including Tandoori food, masalas, curries, dal, and a selection of bread.
Asma will not miss the price and quality of food.
Beccofino restaurant Chiang Mai
Bringing the taste of Napoli to the North of Thailand, a native Italian cook, Angelo Rotelli takes great pleasure in making baked delicacies and pizzas in his custom-made wood-burning pizza oven at this popular restaurant.
Guests can choose to dine inside the picturesque design of the Venetian wall or on the outdoor terrace overlooking the tree-lined street. It’s worth checking out the regular appetizer buffet.
Cafe de Naga Chiang Mai
The in-house bakery offers newly baked pastries and homemade jams.
The restaurant offers a range of freshly baked goods, treats, freshly brewed coffee, salads, a number of smoothies, and homemade ice creams. It also provides an impressive array of foreign classics, popular Thai dishes, and local flair.
Specialties included famous curry noodles, Vietnamese spring rolls, roasted duck curry, and sweet sticky rice with fresh mango.
Visitors should also remember that the café has free Wi-Fi making it an ideal place to relax and hang out.
A cute restaurant set among the bars of the Loh Kroh district, its French-trained chef, Marco, can be seen in his kitchen, making magic happen.
The foods feature tapas and typical French cuisine, including roasted zucchini salad, pan-seared red snapper, and duck breast with sautéed apples, escargot, tuna carpaccio, and shrimp biscuits.
The wine list goes perfectly with the textured plates.
The adjustable closing hours are the great draw of this restaurant. After a great meal, you are welcome to sit down and finish a few bottles of wine in a comfortable atmosphere.
Chocolate candles or feel someone like that?
Chocolate Reality, as you might think, is all about chocolate and the different products that can be produced from a dedicated cocoa plant.
In addition to these innovative desserts, you can get combinations of chocolate cakes and drinks, the owner’s signature development is a chocolate heart cake that is a sweet, fluffy pastry packed with chocolate, drenched in cranberry sauce and served with a peach and blueberry side.
El Toro serves an extensive range of tortillas and sauces prepared every day, along with tacos, nachos, guacamole, burritos, enchiladas, tostadas, flautas, Tostitos, fajitas, quesadillas, and chimi-changers, eaten with fresh salsa and lettuce.
Definitely, a way to go if your brain feels more significant than your stomach; no wonder, a frozen margarita bottle will see you leave the establishment perfectly’ borracho.’
Juicy 4 U
Both juices and sandwiches are freshly prepared at the Tasty 4 U, vegetarian restaurant and juice bar.
Quite common among travelers who enjoy some healthy food and food that hasn’t been in a frying pan for the past 20 minutes.
What is important to note about this location is that it is known to have the best veggie burger in Chiang Mai.
Beautiful workers and bright décor make this an excellent place for breakfast or lunch.
Khan Toke Dinner at Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center
While not a must-do, you might want to seek a khan toke dinner at least once in Chiang Mai.
At the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center, the set-up is exceptionally intricate–from the exquisite teakwood space furnished in the ethnic Lanna theme to the round teak tray holding nine side dishes to the floor seating set-up–all built to re-enact the initial khan toke encounter.
The cultural series, including indigenous hill-tribe dances, finger-nail dances, and folk music events, will complement the dining experience.
The atmosphere of a renovated bungalow allows for a romantic setting where fresh pasta and salad dishes can be enjoyed.
Some of the kitchen staff educated in Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, so anticipate the food to be up to scratch.
The salads contain Caesar salad with cos lettuce, croutons, crispy bacon, and parmesan cheese and roasted chicken.
Try a pasta dish for something more nutritious; the panne arrabbiata is particularly useful.
This is the spot to go if you want to have a big dish while holding the calories down.
The Salad Idea offers a large selection of organic dressing salads, lightweight with wholesome products that are hydroponically raised and free of pesticides.
The drink menu includes good coffee and a variety of fruit-based smoothie beverages.
Owned by two women, the concept of cafeteria sparked after their father was afflicted by cancer and then returned to his health through a radical change in his diet, and the girls developed their culinary skills with his awareness and with the Salad Theory.
The Salsa Kitchen
Regular visits to the local market ensure that all the products produced at the Salsa Kitchen are as fresh as possible.
With its walls in that all-too-common Chiang Mai color, the restaurant is dry, well lit, and reasonably priced. It’s the kind of place you would love to go with a group of friends, sharing some of the ice-cold margaritas dishes and pitchers.
The menu includes regular sandwiches, salads, and enchiladas, as well as a selection of ribs and steaks.
U Chiang Mai
Part of the U Chiang Mai Hotel, choose from an outdoor terrace with a view of Ratchadamern (the core of the walking street market) or an air-conditioned interior that is just as nice, mainly if you’ve been walking through the market before dinner.
The menu comprises of local cuisine cooked using traditional methods and served in the finest style of Thai hospitality–with a smile.
Past guests of this hotel are dreaming about a’ kiss at first sight ‘ encounter with Villa Duan, a location with a bottomless charm.
The café is a perfect place to sit and lounge on a Sunday at Walking Street Market, to come here for dinner or just a drink is a fantastic opportunity to sit back in the lovely courtyard area and enjoy the steady stream of shoppers flowing about.
This is the true gem of Chiang Mai, wonderful in every sense of the word.
The menu includes all Thai and Foreign dishes cooked with new and organic ingredients.
Week End Market Food and Dining
The Weekend Market sees street vendors come out in their flocks offering noodles, Pad Thai, kebabs, spring rolls, and Thai sweets, this is some of the best food you’ll find in Thailand, and understandably so, the cheapest!
Around Nimmanhaemin Road is a region that is particularly suited to the epicurean needs of the expatriate group.
French bakeries, European boutique-style food shops, and pizza bars dot the streets while the Huay Kaew Road has a wide variety of Asian and Western food shops.
The common practice in Thailand is to serve food at night venues, mixing nightlife, and dining.
So many locations you would expect to be more for an after-dinner cocktail are also likely to be where you can dine while having fun.
Closer to the walled city, there is also a good selection of dining options that will please the taste buds at the end of the evening.
The menu offers a variety of traditional Chinese foods, including dim sum, barbecued suckling pig and fried Beijing duck, as well as more unusual concoctions for the creative palate, such as steamed chicken legs with chili sauce, Mexican abalone, Japanese scallops and fish maw in a rich broth.
Prices are high, but the nature of the food makes it worth it.
What to do in old city Chiang Mai at night
Chiang Mai nightlife can be whatever you need it to be, as the city offers a wide range of drinking and dancing choices.
Live music outlets, though, have the advantage for the most part. Riverside drinking is a famous pastime, with residents and visitors bringing a chilled drink and some good company down the Ping Shore, while the live band entertains with traditional blues, jazz, and rock tunes–a highlight of any visit to Chiang Mai.
The Nimman Road area has come out as a popular spot for the younger crowd, in particular the Monkey Club, where live music and great food go hand in hand.
There are a plethora of backpackers and hotel bars within the walled city that appeal to a number of budgets, from inexpensive and cheerful to boutique-chic.
As with the rest of Thailand, there is a fairly high concentration of reggae bars where cheap beer, cushion-laden floors, and chilled-out rhythms allow for a comfortable evening.
There are a few good places to go to in Chiang Mai’s Old Town, hidden away from sub, so there are guesthouses playing host to a backpacker group that is generally a drink or two-party.
It has a more relaxed feel than the Riverside or the Night Bazaar, but it still has the opportunity to meet people, enjoy a few cocktails, and a pledge of live music.
Fringing the Old Town, there are busy bars with pool tables and big TV screens showing sports events and the occasional Rasta shop, where the atmosphere is simply laid back with cushioned floors and cheap beer.
Chiang Mai Saloon
Catering to the American audience, this is an old-west-themed beer and burger bar. The food is good, and the servings are American in nature. Fifty-five baht margaritas are among the many specialty cocktails.
After opening half a dozen highly successful branches in Bangkok, it was only a matter of time before HOBS (or’ Home of Beers’) made its way north.
The company kept it very much the same as in the city, with a fashionable venue (inside the swanky Kantary Terrace shopping mall), live music, and, true to its label, a very long menu of beers from around the globe.
Expect to pay 200-350 for alcohol, which is usually the cost at which imported brews are to drink in Thailand.
Definitely a spot to go if you like elevated seating, this rooftop bar is the kind of place you can get trapped in for hours, it’s so cool, with gentle breezes and friendly staff.
You can either relax, chat and not get overwhelmed by overbearing songs. Enjoy your time in a spacious social area, perfect for dancing and meeting people.
We were known to show movies on busy weekdays. John’s bar is a long-term favorite of Chiang Mai’s residents and ex-pats.
Of course, being an Irish pub, they’ve got Guinness on the bottle and a nice open beer garden to enjoy.
Expect a good crowd at this vibrant pub that sits behind John’s shop, right in front of Moon Muang, south of Thapae Street.
Visitors should also remember that the pub is known to have one of the best burgers in Chiang Mai–a sobering thought.
Chiang Mai National Museum
The Chiang Mai National Museum is a national museum in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand. This illustrates the history of the Kingdom of Lanna with explanations in both English and Thai.
The museum is situated in the area of Wat Chet Yot, in the northwestern region of Chiang Mai. It is managed by the Ministry of Fine Arts of Thailand.
The Chiang Mai National Museum was founded by the King of Thailand in 1973 and contained a number of exhibits on the past of the town of Chiang Mai and the history of the Lanna Kingdom.
The museum is also a significant educational hub for the protection of art and culture in the North of Thailand.
The Lanna Kingdom used to control northern Thailand, and Chiang Mai was its last capital (the first being Chiang Rai).
The Lanna empire joined to join Siam in 1775, but the common perception of Chiang Mai and his men is that they are Lanna first and Thai second.
The Chiang Mai National Museum was designed with traditional architecture and featured a stunning multi-story Lanna-style building.
There are a variety of exhibits inside, including the history and art of the Kingdom of Lanna and how the city of Chiang Mai has evolved since the rule of Siam (now named Thailand).
The entrance to Chiang Mai National Museum is 30 Baht and is situated next to Wat Jed Yod.
The Tribal Museum is a 5-minute drive from the Chiang Mai National Museum and has the same opening hours, so many people mix their trips to both museums.
Lanna Folklife Museum
The Lanna Folklife Museum is a fascinating museum full of exhibits on the life, history, and culture of the Lanna people, of northern Thailand in general.
The museum (also known as the Lanna Heritage Center) is situated opposite the Three Kings Monument in the middle of the old town and is built inside the former municipal court of Chiang Mai.
The hotel has been restored and now appears like a white colonial-style building, and considering the outside, and the museum offers a lot of details on the history of the city in English, Thai, and Chinese.
Inside the Lanna Folklife Museum, there are 18 separate exhibits demonstrating how life was in the past.
Although there are not many historical artifacts in the museum itself, there are informative scenes of everyday life with wax dolls dressed in traditional costumes.
The museum has two levels, but it’s still very small in size, so normally an hour will be enough to see everything and take pictures.
Tickets cost 90 baht for adults and forty baht for children, and this museum is included in three museum passes, costing 180 baht for adults and 80 baht for babies.
Chiang Mai Historical Centre
The Chiang Mai Historical Center is a museum in the region that portrays the history of the city, in a modern and uniquely exciting way.
Compared to the National Museum in Chiang Mai, the Historical Center is conveniently located in the city center and easy to find right in the center of Chiang Mai Old City, opposite the Three Kings Monument.
The building was designed in Lanna style and is surrounded by a shaded garden area.
The Historical Center is a wonderful place for children with plenty of interactive exhibits and wax models depicting traditional life in the Kingdom.
There are different language choices for those who are unable to speak English or Thai, and the details are short and concise.
There is a collection of ancient temple ruins in the basement, which were actually found during the construction process and inserted into the core.
The Chiang Mai Historical Center costs 90 Baht for adults and 40 Baht for children, although there is a week-long pass for three separate museums accessible for 180 Baht for adults and 80 Baht for children, which can be obtained at the center.
Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre
The Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center is situated right in the middle of the Old City, just behind the Three Kings Monument.
The center is located inside the old provincial government hall in a renovated building dating back to the 1920s.
For anyone interested in the history of Chiang Mai, the Arts and Cultural Center is full of information and documentation on the heritage of Chiang Mai.
There are many different exhibits in the center, including portraits, old objects, maps, and an amazing audiovisual showcase detailing Chiang Mai’s past from the early settlers to the modern-day region.
There is even a tiny version of the traditional wooden town.
The Arts and Cultural Center was set up as part of the City Hall’s effort to establish a means of learning about the heritage and culture of Chiang Mai.
They needed the history to be both open and responsive to tourists and citizens of Chiang Mai, and so far, the Arts and Cultural Center has been good in doing so.
There is a mixed pass costing 180 Baht, which gives you access to the Lanna Folk Life Museum across the path from the Three Kings Monument.
Chiang Mai old city temples
Chiang Mai was founded more than seven hundred years ago and has been decorated with various temples by its prominent three rulers.
Chiang Mai is host to more than 3oo temples or’ wats,’ some of the most prominent of which is situated in the Old City, such as Wat Phra Singh. Located in the western section, Wat Phra Singh is home to the highly respected Phra Singh Buddha and a research center for young monks.
Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in town, was part of the city’s original structure and had two holy Buddhas constructed of crystal and marble.
Wat Chedi Luang is also worth a visit and includes a reproduction of the original Emerald Buddha.
Since there are around a dozen temples inside the city’s moat-surrounded center, it can be hard to find out which ones merit a look or a pass. Luckily, we did the heavy work for you.
These are the main temples in the old town of Chiang Mai.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang’s huge chedi (pagoda) was designed between 1385 and 1402, during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma, the 7th monarch of the Mengrai dynasty, and is a distinctive feature of the Chiang Mai skyline.
At its height, the chedi was 60 meters across the square base and 80 meters high and was once host to the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most sacred religious artifact.
Damaged by the earthquake of 1545, the chedi’s height is limited to almost half of its original size, yet it is still an impressive building.
In 1992, the Fine Arts Department completed restoration work around the chedi, bringing back the naga (water serpent) stairs on each of its faces and the majestic elephant sculptures decorating the foundation.
However, the actual work on the chedi itself was never quite complete, leaving it in its present state.
On the grounds of Wat Chedi Luang, there are several structures of great cultural significance, including the city pillar, the main warn housing the famous Buddha image, and a giant gum tree guarding the entrance to the temple.
According to ancient Lanna’s assumption, the city pillar is installed in the epicenter of the region, to represent the center of the universe that was the Lanna Kingdom in the past.
The city’s pillar shrine is one of the three gum trees thought to protect the city from all ills. Legend has it that if this tree ever fell, there will be a great disaster.
For significant Buddhist holidays, such as Visakha Buja, Wat Chedi Luang is where worshippers assemble for the evening candle procession.
A separate pulley system allows tourists to leave offerings and prayers at the peak of the chedi during the day.
The temple is situated on Phra Pokklao Road and is easy to find, as the chedi is one of the tallest buildings in the old town.
Wat Bupparam is one of the most popular temples in Chiang Mai and has a heavy Burmese presence from the past.
Located on Thapae Hill, 500 meters from Thapae Gate, the old gateway to Chiang Mai Town, Wat Bupparam has a strong historical significance.
Thapae Road used to be the path merchants would take when they entered the city, and so many Buddhists would have stayed at this amazing temple.
Wat Bupparam was originally built in 1497, but the stupa was restored in the Burmese style in 1958 with four big lions around the foundation to defend it.
The temple has a mixture of Burmese, Thai and Lanna styles with a spectacular Teak mirror mosaic on one of the towers, but is best known for its majestic Teak Buddha image in the main temple space.
There are two levels inside the main hall. There are some impressive murals on the ground floor of modern religious architecture, one of which was crafted by a prominent Thai artist as his university thesis.
The mural shows the old rituals of Lanna for each of the twelve months of the year.
Sometimes a monk sits on the first floor waiting to give blessings to the guests. In return for a blessing and a necklace, you are typically expected to offer a gift to the temple.
Outside, the garden area has some interesting Disney statues that were donated as a gift to the temple.
Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is an attractive wooden temple with a painted garden area.
Sitting next to the iconic Wat Chedi Luang, the temple is often neglected but worth a visit.
Particularly when the most popular religious complexes in the region are overwhelmed by tourists in the high season.
As you join, the central prayer hall is on your right, and a walkway on your left leads you to the stupa on the east.
The prayer hall is constructed of dark teak wood, and inside is a golden image of the Buddha. The prayer hall was restored when the teak trade was at its height, and the timber was a gift to the Buddha.
There’s a pool, bamboo clusters on the road, and a Buddha portrait seated under a Bodhi tree as you head to the rear. Often there are a number of white prayer flags, too. Sometimes this region is lit based on whether there is an up-and-coming holiday or a full moon.
Throughout services, the monks will also relax by the pond and perform, and in the evenings, it’s beautiful.
Next to the back is a wide stupa built as well as a well-tended garden area. You’ll even see monks planting occasionally.
Wat Phra Sing
Wat Phra Singh is probably the second most venerated temple in Chiang Mai after Wat Phra The Doi Suthep.
It houses three major buildings, the main attraction of which is the elegantly decorated Lai Kam assembly hall and its preserved murals portraying the lives of locals hundreds of years ago.
Located inside the old town wall, at the western end of Ratchadamnoen Street, the temple’s distinctive Lanna-style roofs and glittering viharn (assembly hall) welcome guests.
The walled-in temple complex is popular with tourists and worshippers all year round and is usually packed during the Thai New Year’s Festival (Songkran) in mid-April.
Established in 1345 and restored at the beginning of the 19th century, the Lai Kam assembly hall at Wat Phra Singh is a fine example of the Lanna temple architecture.
It includes high-rise wing-shaped roofs as well as exquisite carvings of wood and stucco inside. Within, there is Phra Singh (Lion Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image of the elegant’ Lion’ type, thought to be inspired by the Sukhothai and Indian Pala types.
Each Songkran, each resident of Chiang Mai, will welcome Phra Singh to a formal parade around the city’s main streets for the practice of bathing.
Other fascinating features of the Lai Kam assembly hall include wall murals depicting scenes from the local way of life and common folklore stories and elaborately gilded round columns, windows, and wall panels behind Phra Singh.
Besides Viharn Lai Kam, the larger central assembly hall (Viharn Luang) houses a 15th-century Buddha image made of copper and gold.
Viharn Luang is a fully restored building based on the original site. While spectacular, the interior decorations are much less lavish than those inside Viharn Lai Kam.
The library (Haw Trai), situated on the left side of Viharn Lai Kam, is another building worth visiting. Set on a stone base, displaying exquisite stucco characters, the red-colored wooden hall includes Buddhist scriptures.
A visit to Wat Phra Singh offers you a fascinating insight into the art and architecture of the Lanna Temple.
Most of the buildings have undergone a variety of upgrades but still maintain their initial look. If you’ve got half a day, this temple is definitely worth checking out.
What is there to do in Old Town, Chiang Mai?
Tour Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders
The Museum of Insects and Natural Phenomena in Chiang Mai is a strange array of critters that must be seen to be believed.
Any spare surface on Srimankalajarn Road (a few streets off Nimmanhaemin Lane, west of Chiang Mai Old City) is paved with beetles, butterflies, stick insects, stones, fossils, and seashells. The result is like stepping into a huge kaleidoscope of brightly colored carapaces.
The museum is a labor of passion, built over a half-century by Dr. Rampa Rattanarithikul and her friend, Manop. Dr. Rampa began collecting and storing mosquito specimens as part of her research with the malaria control program in 1959.
She officially identified 13 new species of mosquitoes, and the list now contains descriptions of all 459 known species of mosquitoes in Thailand.
The Museum of Insects and Natural Wonders opened in 2002 and included specimens of over 10,000 animals, each deliberately and respectfully selected by Dr. Rampa and Khun Manop.
The old couple is usually around the museum and very enthusiastic about their research and their collection, happy to talk about each show at length.
Visit Suan Buak Haad Park
Suan Buak Haad Park is Chiang Mai’s most popular park with plenty of grassy areas to kick back and relax.
The park is situated in the southwest corner of the old town and is the only natural area within the moat. Suan Buak Haad Park has three wide ponds in the center with a walking path around the ponds and short bridges to get from one side of the park to the other.
Close to the center of the park is a coffee shop with Wi-Fi and air conditioning. They sell coffee, tea cakes, and fruit smoothies, starting at the age of 40 Baht.
There are plenty of tables and grassy areas to sit and relax in the afternoon sun.
You will hire ten bamboo mats to sit on vendors all over the area, and most vendors do sell fresh coconuts and bottled water.
There are many activities going on in Suan Buak Haad City.
Every evening at sunset, a community of Thai takraw players gather to knock around a tiny bamboo ball, and the park hosts a party of Acro yoga a few afternoons a week.
Both are open to the public, and if you see any of the organizations, you may ask to join.
Visit Tribal Museum
Can’t you tell the Akha from the Hmong? Do you think Yao’s just a big guy who plays at the NBA?
Then you need to visit the Tribal Museum of Chiang Mai. Recently moved from its site on the Chiang Mai University campus, this museum is now located in a new, three-story building in Ratchamankla City.
Everyone planning to visit the many hill tribe villages surrounding Chiang Mai would definitely benefit from a visit to this museum.
Here you can see masks, instruments, and crafts from all the big northern hill tribes, as well as regular slide shows that tell the stories of these vibrant and unusual cultures.
Visit Fern Forest Cafe
Fern Forest Cafe is situated on a small residential street in the old town of Chiang Mai. It’s not immediately obvious when you walk past, with a sign covered in the trees, which makes you feel like you’ve come upon a well-kept secret.
The coffee seems to be quiet on the weekdays and the Thai preference in the early evenings and on the weekends, but the mood is always comfortable.
The café offers a wide selection of desserts in the three refrigerators at the front of the café, several basic sandwiches, and breakfast foods, as well as tasty local coffee.
Open from 8:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., and Fern Forest Cafe can be located at 2/2 Singharak Soi 4. From the north end of Singharak Street, walk straight ahead, and before you enter Ratwithi Road, there is a sign to Fern Forest Cafe on your left-hand side.
At first sight, Fern Forest Cafã© seems more like a leafy garden and a family home than a café, until you get a taste of the tasty cookies and the small bar that used to be the building’s shop.
To your left is a tiny covered terrace surrounded by plants with a couple of chairs, but the best seats are to the right on the stone veranda, among the fountains that offer this cafe its name.
The plants provide plenty of shade to the low tables and chairs, and the natural theme of the garden is amplified by the bright Lanna cushions.
It’s simple anywhere that you could spend longer than you had expected. Free Wi-Fi is available; just ask the friendly staff, but keep in mind that their English is pretty poor. There’s a selection of good books and magazines, too.
People come here for great coffee and tasty desserts, as well as a lovely garden. With three refrigerators full of dessert options, it can be difficult to make a decision.
Visitors enjoy carrot cake, but we’re fans of easy and tasty banana and walnut bread (80 baht) and cinnamon toast eaten with ice-cream.
This manages to balance lightness and sweetness well. For something warm and sweet, seek the dark chocolate and raspberry cake; the gently tart fruit takes away the rich flavors and matches the fragrant Earl Gray tea.
Although the desserts are a highlight, there is a good selection of sandwiches if you like something delicious.
The drink menu is also made of sweet treats: fruity ice-teas, delicious chocolates, and new juices. Yet their coffee is what they’re really proud of.
The beans are cultivated by the owner of Doi Saket and have a strong, rich flavor. One thing to keep in mind if you’re sitting among the plants is that you can also get an unexpected insect business.
Fern Forest Cafe is one of those locations that take you away from the busy city and makes you feel renewed and comfortable. Attach great desserts and beverages to the mix, and you’ve got a winning combination – it’s a disappointment that more tourists haven’t suggested this brew.
Get a massage
After a long walk and a day ride, why don’t you have a spa session in the old town of Chiang Mai?
When you stroll down the old town of Chiang Mai, you will come across a range of massage parlors offering a variety of massage packages.
Typically 1-hour massage costs about 150–250 THB depending on the venue and kit you chose.
How big is the old city of Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai Old City is one of the top tourist destinations. It’s about a square mile. Centuries ago, the old town was surrounded by walls and moats to defend it from its surrounding enemies.
Enjoy touring outside the Chiang Mai city