An Ultimate Chiang Mai Old Town Travel Guide

If you need a travel guide to Chiang Mai old town you are in luck. If you are thinking about visiting Chiang Mai for a vacation or as a digital nomad, you will spend a lot of your time in Old Town. This is where many of the best cafes, restaurants, 420 shops, beautiful Wats, night markets, nightlife, and many more things to do.

Behind Bangkok, Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand. You could spend months here and still not get to do everything. With this being said, it is still very affordable and has an overall calm atmosphere.

You may be wondering since the old town is filled with so much to do, how big is the old town of Chiang Mai? Well, it is smaller than 2 kilometers (1 Mile). If you wanted to spend a few days exploring you easily could do this without a car, or scooter. 

Another thing to keep in mind about getting around old-town Chiang Mai is the grab app. From here you order scooters and car rides and get food delivered to your hotel. It is very confident and easy to use. 

the river in the center of old town with a tuk-tuk riding by

An Ultimate Chiang Mai Old Town Travel Guide 2023

Chiang Mai Old Town History

Chiang Mai has an incredible history. Back in the 13th century, Chiang Mai was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The town was enclosed with moats and gate walls to keep the city safe from attacks. This was also a special place over the years for cultural and Buddhism learning. One of the best universities in all of Thailand is located in Chiang Mai.

In the 20th century, the city went through a major transformation and many of the walls and moats were filled in. You can see still the walls in the old town today as you drive, bike, or walk around.

How to Get Around Town

The old town is very manageable, it is essentially a big square. There are 5 different ways to get around and see the sites in the old town.

The first and more obvious one is walking around. The narrow streets of the old town are very pedestrian friendly and safe. Another route is to rent a bicycle. There are many shops around town where you can walk in and rent a bike for a day, a week, or even a month.

two people on a scooter in the Chiang Mai mountains

This is the same way with scooters. If you are thinking about exploring more than just an old town a scooter is the perfect choice for you. You can rent for just a few dollars a day and they are so much fun. Ask your host where ever you are staying they will more than likely help you get one.

The two last ways to get around is to hop on a tuk-tuk or a Songthaew, or a red truck. You will see both of these Thai vehicles all around the old town. The Songthaew is usually a set price and you can just ask the driver if they are going in the same direction you are and you hop on in. Be sure to yell when you are ready to get out, or they might not stop.

And the tuk-tuks are all around town as well. Be sure to set a price with the driver before getting in, it may save you a few Bahts.

Chiang Mai Old Town Things to do

Tours of Old Town

If you are looking for what to do in Chiang Mai’s old town the first thing to do is to take a tour. There are many different types of tours you could do. Or you could walk around yourself, it is not very big after all. 

Half-Day Old Town Cycling of Chiang Mai Old Town Tour

One of the best things to do in old town Chiang Mai is to tour the city on a bike. If you are a cyclist, or maybe just want to get a little workout in, Thailand is one of the best places for this. The drivers are chill and very considerate of cyclists. 
This tour of old town Chiang Mai includes a pick-up from your hotel, a private tour guide, stops along some of the best markets in town, a small lunch, and refreshments along the way. You will see many of the beautiful Wats while riding around as well.
This would be a wonderful way to start your trip because you can spot all the attractions in Old Town you want to go back to and spend more time at.
Book tour here:

What to Eat in Chiang Mai Old Town 

Eat Like a Local Tour

Thinking about trying all the best Chiang Mai old city food? This food tour would be perfect for you! In Thailand as a whole you will find street food on every corner. If you are new to this or want to learn more about it let the local guide help you.

Your local guide will take you off the beaten path and show you how to order the best food from the street vendors and restaurants in the area. Come hungry because, on this food tour of Chiang Mai old town, you will be able to try 15 different dishes!

Khao Soi, Northern Thai sausage, and freshly made noodles are a few of the crowd favorites. If you love to eat you have to give this tour a shot.

Book your spot now!

a group of friends on a food tour in Chiang Mai

Best Restaurants in Chiang Mai Old Town 

Next up is a list of where to eat in Chiang Mai old town. There are so many options from cheap street carts, food markets, and local Thai restaurants, with so much Western food thrown in. So don’t worry if you are traveling with a picky eater, or if you get that late-night craving for a pizza, you will for sure be able to find it. 

Here you will find most Thai restaurants, but click here to see all the best food in Chiang Mai! If you are trying an authentic Thai restaurant, it is a good thing to note that when you sit down at your table there is a pen and paper where you write your order down.

Try to peep what the locals are doing around you, or just ask, almost everyone in Thailand is incredibly kind.

a restaurant with Thai food

Khao Soi Khun Yai

First up is one of the best places to try Khao Soi. This is a famous dish from Northern Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, that is a creamy and slightly spicy curry soup made with coconut milk, and spices served with fresh and fried egg noodles on top. You can order it with freshly cooked chicken, beef, or pork. Chicken is the most popular choice.

Khao Soi Khun Yai is open every day at 10 am and they fill up fast! There is usually always a wait, maybe 10-20 minutes at the most. Try to come as early as you can because when they sell out for the day they are done. This can happen as early as 12:30 pm. The dishes are very affordable, and you might even find yourself ordering in seconds.

If you want to try authentic and delicious Northern Thai food then this is one of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai old town for you! Don’t forget to get there early, here is the address.

a group of people eating in Northern Thailand

Khao Soi Lam Duan

Next up is Khao Soi Lam Duan, and they are also known for its mouth-watering Khao Soi. Did you know that Khao Soi is considered a breakfast or lunch dish? That is why the best Khao Soi restaurants in Chiang Mai are only open during the day. Here they are open from 8:30 to 4:30, if they do not sell out before then.

Try the beef Khao Soi here, it is tender and very delicious. Other popular appetizers and things to order are the chicken satay, and their spring rolls to share for the table. You will love Lam Duan for the cozy atmosphere and kind wait staff. They do have a few options for children such as fried chicken or less spicy noodles. Just ask they will be more than happy to answer any questions.

Go grab lunch today! You will be so glad you did. 

a big yummy bowl of khoa soy

The House By Ginger

Here you will find one of the cutest restaurants in Chiang Mai old town. They are best described as a mix between a restaurant and a bistro with an overall cozy atmosphere. All of the dishes are plated beautifully and taste amazing.

A few things to order when you are visiting are braised pork, fried vegetables, or Salmon ceviche tacos. It is recommended to make a reservation or try popping in for lunch because it does get busy around dinner time. You are going to love everything you order at The House By Ginger!

Address to The Ginger House

The Riverside

The Riverside is where to eat in Chiang Mai old town! Here the view is almost as good as all the yummy food. Here you will find many Thai favorites like Penang curry, fried or fresh fish, and tom yum, and for dessert, they have some of the best mango sticky rice in town. There are also plenty of western dishes if you are feeling more inclined to grab a burger and fries. 

As you can guess Riverside has a beautiful view and is on the Ping River waterfront. One of the best times to visit is at sunset when you can see the lovely colors over the water.

The atmosphere here is so fun and you can dress it up or keep it casual. They also have live bands a few times a week and are a perfect place to sit back and relax.  At night the tables are lit with candlelight and the whole vibe is very romantic.

Check them out here they are one of the best places when looking where to go in Chiang Mai old town for dinner. 

Best Cafes in Old Town Chiang Mai

Fern Forest Cafe

If you are looking for one of the best cafes in Chiang Mai old city you have to check out the Fern Forest Cafe. You can sit inside, or out in the shaded garden. They have any type of coffee you can think of, and lots of Thai and international foods on the menu.

If you like dessert with your coffee the apple pie with vanilla sauce or the lemon cheesecake. For breakfast, the bagel with cream cheese and salmon locs is always a smash, or try a stack of fruity pancakes. If you check out Fern Forest on the weekend, you may even get to hear live music. Find them in the heart of Old Town here.

Iris Cafe Nimman in Chiang Mai is super trendy

One of the best coffee shops in nimman Chiang Mai is the Iris Cafe. It has lovely french touches. One of the best teas to try is the blue-flowered tea. This is a specialty in Chiang Mai and you can find tea flowers all over the city to purchase. Check out the Warorot Market to get some to take home.

a fruity drink at one of the cafes in old town Chiang Mai

On the menu, you will find Chinese and traditional teas. The hot chocolate masselows is also so delicious you would think you are sitting in a French cafe sipping on it. Order breakfast or lunch from the bakery but save room for the desserts. 

Be sure to check out the best cafe in Nimman Chiang Mai the Iris Cafe.

What to visit in Chiang Mai Old Town 

Accent Wats

an old wat in Chiang Mai

One of the first things to do when checking out what to see in Chiang Mai old town is to go and see all the beautiful Buddhist temples, known as Wats. These are important parts of Thai culture and many times are the center of the community. The Wats in Chiang Mai are simply stunning, and most of them are free-ish!

There are a few unspoken rules about visiting Wats. For the more touristy ones, you will need to cover up your shoulders and maybe even your knees. Throw a few lightweight cover-ups in your bag just in case. If the Wat is free to enter they will have places where you can make a donation. Leave any amount of money that you can afford, it goes to help keep the places clean and the monks fed.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang is in the center of Old Town. You can easily reach it from many of the hotels. If not, hop on a tuk-tuk and tell them where you want to go. Chedi Luang was built back in the 14th century, 1441 to be exact, and is one of the most famous landmarks in the old town.

You can visit every day from 7 am to 5 pm. The entrance fee here is 40 baht per person. They also have daily monk talks under a shaded tree every afternoon. If you have ever wanted to ask the questions of the world to someone, Wat Chedi Laung would be the perfect place!

a pretty old wat in the middle of old town Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh

Up next is Wat Phra Singh, it is in the center of town and you cannot miss it. The story behind Phra Singh, or lion buddha, is that it holds special powers. You can find the magical, giant golden buddha inside a beautiful building with an ornate roof. Be sure to check out the ancient artifacts and murals inside as well.

Behind the golden budda is a section of colorful lanterns, you can purchase and hang one yourself. You can make a wish, say a prayer, or just hang it up for fun, there is no pressure. This is one of the most famous and magical Wats in all of Thailand. 

The grounds are open from 7 am to 5 pm, and it is free to enter. Be sure to bring your camera, there is so much to capture.

a white wat with a pretty girl inside with a umibrella

Chaing Mai Thai Cookery School

One of the best ways to learn about Thai culture is to take a cooking class. At the Chaing Mai Cookery School, you can do just that. They have been open since 1993 and offer half-day, full-day, and classes for vegetarians.

The class is so much fun for even the most inexperienced chefs. You will make a few different staple dishes of Thailand. The chefs have a way of teaching that is very informative, but fun at the same time. You can take these skills and use them in your everyday cooking. Plus it might help you save a few bucks because then you can go to the local markets and buy fresh ingredients and cook at home.

a bowl of Thai food that was home made in cooking class

Learn Muay Thai

Another amazing thing to do in old town Chiang Mai is to try your hands, and feet, at learning Muay Thai. Also known as “Thai Boxing”, originated in Thailand and there are a few different places in the old town where you can learn.

One of the best places to learn is at Muay Thai Chaiya. Here the trainers are very professional, can work with any fitness level, and can communicate in English. You will never forget the time that you learned traditional Muay Thai on your trip to Chiang Mai! There are a few other gyms in the area but this is one of the most recommended for both beginners and experienced fighters.

two men learning how to Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai old town

Get a Sak Yant Tattoo

Made famous by celebrities like Angelina Jolie the Sank Yant experience is truly special. And in Chiang Mai, you can have it done for a fraction of the price you will find in Bangkok. Sak Yant loosely translates to “tattoo a yantra”, meaning you can choose from hundreds of ancient designs that can be customized to mean something personal to you.

In order to receive the spiritual blessings that come with getting a Sak Yant, it must be performed either by a Thai monk or Ajarn master. After your offering, they will ask you some personal questions and discuss the design with you before they begin.

a man getting a sad yant tattoo

The Famous Markets

Wua Lai Walking Street – Saturday Night Market Chiang Mai

The Wua Lai Walking Street is what to do in old town Chiang Mai on a Saturday. You can find all the homemade souvenirs and treats. A lot of the products are handmade and beautiful. If you are looking for comfy elephant pants this is a great place to grab a pair, or two.

You can also enjoy cheap foot massages, spend a few hours walking around, enjoy the variety of food stalls, and there is a big seating area available. If you are looking to eat Khao Soi this would be an amazing place to try it.

Sunday Market Chiang Mai Walking Bazaar

Everyone who visits Chiang Mai loves the Sunday Walking Bazaar.  has so many names, but it all means the same thing.
You can explore this walking street from 4 pm until about midnight. What makes this the best Chiang Mai old town night market is that it perfect for both food and shopping lovers. There is a rumor that nobody has made it through the entire walking street in one night, you should give it a try!
Some of the things to keep a look out for are beautiful paintings, handmade pottery, adorable elephant trinkets, totes, bags, and so much more. Try haggling a little when you find your perfect souvenir. This is definitely one of the best night markets in all of Chiang Mai. It only happens on Sunday nights and can get crowded.
old town Chiang Mai markets at night time with a women cooking food

Day Markets in Old Town Chiang Mai

The Warorot Market is one of the best markets to check out in the old town during the day. More specifically the market is located in the Chinatown district and is full of anything and everything you can think of. The outskirts of the market are full of life, shops, and locals.

Inside the market, you will find more food stands selling cooked, packaged, and fresh food for cooking. The fresh fruit and veggies are a bit cheaper at the stands outside than the indoor covered section. Be sure to walk around and check everything out, it is totally worth it.

Check out the entire travel guide to the Warorot market here! 

Best Massages Chiang Mai Old Town

Fah Lanna Spa – Old City

Head to Fah Lanna Spa for one of the best massages in old town Chiang Mai. Here you can enjoy a variety of different types of spa packages to fit your needs. They are a little fancy and higher priced than other places in Chiang Mai, but the atmosphere and quality make it worth it.
two women getting a massage in chiang mai

Women’s Correctional Institution

Another one of the best massages in old town Chiang Mai is at the massage parlor in Chiang Mai that is run by women prisoners. They are the Chaing Mai Women Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center and the Women’s Massage Center By Ex-Prisoners.

This is a wonderful rehabilitation program and it gives these women new skills for a better life. Be sure to head out there if you have time, but if not just walk down the street you are sure to find one. Thai massages are so relaxing and cheap that you will be incredibly happy you did.

Best Nightlife in Old Town Chiang Mai

Old Town Chiang Mai is one of the best places in the whole city for nightlife. There are so many different types of bars, live music venues, and dance clubs to enjoy. You have to check out some of the best rooftop bars.

Nophaburi Bar | Cocktail Bar Chiang Mai

The Nophaburi bar has the reputation of being the best cocktail bar in Chiang Mai. The vibes here are chill and laid back in a cozy Thai atmosphere. All of the drinks are tasty and made to order with fresh ingredients. The bartenders are friendly and not pushy, just like most people in Thailand.

The prices are a little higher than some of the other local places, but the quality of the drink speaks for itself. Do not hesitate to go to Nophaburi they are one of the best bars in Chiang Mai.

North Gate Jazz Co-Op

This famous jazz bar in Chiang Mai is one of the best things to do in the whole city. This small jazz spot is right in the heart of old town to the strip. They open up at 7 and the bands usually start around 8. This would be a great place to start your night out because you can find lively bars or food markets nearby. 

Where to stay and Best Hotels in Old Town Chiang Mai 

Anatara Chiang Mai Resort

When staying at the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort you will be right in the heart of the old town along the Mae Ping River. All of the rooms at the Anatara come with relaxing rain showers, teak floors, and stylish touches. There is also an in-house restaurant and an outdoor swimming pool.

You can walk to the Sunday market in less than 10 minutes while passing so many attractions along the way. Book a deluxe room with a garden view and you are going to love your time in this Chiang Mai old town hotel!

Check rates here:

the Chiang Mai old town
Credit: Anantara Hotel Via:

The Chiang Mai Old Town

Another great place to stay is The Chiang Mai Old Town Hotel. There is so much love about staying here. It has free bikes for all guests to use, and a restaurant that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

There is also a great fitness center and a beautiful shared garden. When staying here you will be in walking, or biking distance to Wat Phra Singh, Chedi Luang Temple, and all the best attractions in the old town of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Check rates here:

hotels Chiang Mai old town at night time
Credit: The Chiang Mai Old Town Via:

Here are a few more places to stay in Chiang Mai outside of the city! 

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