Wondering where to stay in Chiang Mai? A first-time adventurer to Thailand will likely have the urge to head straight for Bangkok, but seasoned visitors will tell you that Chiang Mai holds far more treasures with which to reward travellers who venture there.
Shopping for antiques, learning about and sampling the tasty cuisine, and enjoying the best massages in the country are just a few of the fantastic cultural experiences on offer, as well as festivals and safaris to enjoy and perfectly-preserved ancient temples to explore.
The areas surrounding the city are also intact, having repelled the growing cosmopolitan culture of Thailand’s central areas, meaning you can visit local tribes and learn of their traditions first-hand.
Staying in Chiang Mai is also a less daunting experience thanks to its moderate size and incredible affordability. Those travelling on a budget - as many who venture to Thailand are - can still find some more mid-range and luxury accommodations.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai For First Time Visitors - Contents
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
Although quite big overall, most of the accommodation spots are very central making it very easy to get from one area to another.
Buses make it easy to get around but overall Chiang Mai is a very walkable city and with plenty of cafes and stalls to stop at along the way, you’ll find yourself very much enjoying taking a stroll around the different areas of the city.
Seeing a city like Chiang Mai from a bus window almost seems a shame, so if you’re pretty energetic and up for a good walk every day, try to stick to walking. You’ll find so many places to explore and photograph along the way, and cafes to duck into for a recharge.
First-time visitors may prefer to stay in Old City where the history really comes to life around you and you can get lost in the throng of people exploring the many temples and markets.
If you prefer a quieter stay then one of the surrounding areas will offer a more local experience and an abundance of nightlife or nature-based options.
This comes down to what kind of a traveller you are: is it the history you’re after? The food, nature, the art scene? The deeper into the Old City you venture, the more incredible history and architecture you’ll find, but the further you’ll be from hikes and natural adventure.
It’s worth noting that you should book your accommodation as early as possible if you’re heading to Chiang Mai during a festival period, particularly the November Lantern Festival since it books up incredibly quickly. Get in quick to book the best accommodation.
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Chiang Mai area map
Chiang Mai Old City
Scenic historical centre full of attractions
A truly picturesque neighbourhood, the moat forms a perfect square at the heart of the city. There’s a wide range of accommodation here and you’ll have no problem finding somewhere to stay.
Why stay in Chiang Mai Old City
Everything you imagine when you picture a trip to Thailand, the Old City is packed with temples, markets, and galleries and is surrounded by the remains of a 700-year old fortress - you’re literally walled in with the most historic aspects of the city.
The Old City is particularly suited to those looking for budget or mid-range accommodation as it has far fewer up-market or resort style stays on offer.
Centrally located and the most commercialised area of the city, It’s easy to reach every other part but can get congested as a result.
Ideal for first-time visitors to Chiang Mai who want to be absorbed by the history and bustling life in Thailand.
Things to do in Chiang Mai Old City
- Chat with a monk at Wat Suan Dok temple or Chedi Luang temple
- Get lost in one of the weekend night markets
- Check out the Three Kings Monument, the iconic image which represents the city
- Learn about local life at the Lanna Folklife Museum
- Visit Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in Chiang Mai
- Go shopping in Somboon Market
- Take pictures at the dazzling Wat Phra Sing, one of Chiang Mai’s most ornate temples
- Wander through ancient history at the remains of Wat Chedi Luang built in the 1300s
- Deepen your knowledge of Lanna culture and heritage at the Art and Cultural Center
- Enjoy a traditional Thai massage
- Listen to a night of jazz at the North Gate Jazz Co-op
- Master Thai Cuisine at Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Old City
Chiang Mai Riverside
A calmer up-market stay with trendy riverside dining
Just ten minutes outside of the city centre, Riverside feels like a different world offering a laid-back alternative to the busy streets of Old Town.
Why stay in Chiang Mai Riverside
With beautiful views of the River Ping and waterside restaurants, bars, and cafes to enjoy this is the easiest way to have a tranquil up-market holiday while still being within walking distance of the all the attractions and Night Bazaar area.
Most of the accommodations are luxury-resort style but there are still plenty of options if you’re looking for a cheaper stay.
It can be a little quiet here if you’re used to being in the centre of the action but it does provide an elegant stay that still very much preserved the understated Thai charm.
Things to do in Chiang Mai Riverside
- Decorate an elephant souvenir statue or see celebrity designed giant statues at the ethical Elephant Parade House
- Visit Wat Ket Karam, a Buddhist temple in the heart of the neighbourhood
- Enjoy the exhibitions and art space (as well as coffee, and pastries!) at Cannonball Gallery and The Meeting Room Art Café
- Choose from 50 kinds of tea from across the globe at Vien Jomm On Teahouse
- Drink the night away or take an evening cruise at The Riverside Bar and Restaurant
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Riverside
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Bustling night market and shopping area for exciting evenings
If you’re looking for a never-ending party or shopping spree during your stay in Thailand, this is one of the liveliest areas in the city.
Why stay in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Late night discos, bars, and of course, the must-visit daily Night Bazaar. This huge market full of delicious street food, souvenirs, and drinks is known to be the most famous in Thailand and with good reason.
It’s also the oldest market, stretched for over a mile, including side streets that are also packed with stands and stalls. It can take several hours to explore the whole market so this will keep you busy for most of your evening and being based in the area means you can visit at your leisure.
During the day, the market magically disappears and becomes a road lined with accommodations, bars, and restaurants again.
The neighbourhood is in a great location with easy access to both the Old Town and the Riverside area. It gets very crowded and has few cultural attractions of its own but provides a great base for a fun evening after a day sight-seeing. Don’t forget to haggle!
Things to do in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
- Pick up some traditional good at the bazaar-like spices, hand carved soaps, bamboo kitchen utensils, and jewellery
- Visit Anusarn Market at the end of Chang Klan Road for more food stalls
- Catch live muay thai boxing or a cabaret performance
- Get templed out visiting Wat Sri Dornchai, Wat Chang Kong, and Wat Ubokut
- Take pictures at Art in Paradise 3D museum
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Trendy, upbeat shopping paradise
For a more sophisticated and modern slice of Thai life, try this small area just to the West of the Old City.
Why stay in Nimman Road
It couldn’t be more different from the historical centre, being full of trendy boutique stores, shopping malls, fine dining, and a buzzing nightlife scene including some of the city’s biggest and most famous clubs.
Home to The University of Chiang Mai, there’s a youthful and upbeat vibe here which makes for a very exciting stay if you’re a younger person looking to blow off steam and make the most of your nights as well as your days.
It’s close to the airport which makes it convenient but it can get noisy and does lack some of the old charms which many will be interested in seeing, particularly for first-time visitors to Chiang Mai.
Things to do in Nimman Road
- Catch a movie then chill on the rooftop of Maya Mall
- Visit the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders
- Spot rare flowers at Huay Kaew Arboretum
- Check out the artwork at Minimal Gallery and Jojo Kobe Art Gallery
- Go café hopping in this coffee hub
- Join a meditation class at Wat Suan Dok
Where to Stay in Nimman Road
Natural paradise for a relaxing getaway
A family-friendly area and an ideal location for nature enthusiasts - the real rugged and wild green nature that so abounds in Thailand, more than anywhere else on Earth.
Why stay in Mountainside
The beautiful mountainside area is tranquil and lush, has plenty of natural attractions to visit, including national parks, waterfalls, and dense forest. There are enough restaurants, cafes, and marts that you won’t be struggling to find a good place to sample the local cuisine, even whilst being slightly removed from the city.
It takes roughly thirty-minutes by car or bus to get to the centre of the city, which is worth bearing in mind if you’d like to spend a lot of time visiting the various attractions the city has to offer.
Still, the journey will feel relatively short considering the environment you’re in, with so much to gaze at as you journey into and out of the main city.
Staying here is a great way to experience life with the local people - whose culture is so rich in food, fashion, and natural beauty - and to be able to enjoy the perfectly balanced mix of nature and city that makes a holiday in Thailand so special.
Things to do in Mountainside
- Visit and help out at one of the ethical Elephant sanctuaries
- Play golf at Lanna golf course
- Hike through the national parks and visit the waterfalls
- Clamber up the stairs to the picturesque Doi Suthep Temple
- Explore the ancient temple of Wat Umong
- Have fun with the animals at Chiang Mai Zoo
- Climb Doi Inthanon, the highest point in Thailand
Where to Stay in Mountainside
Conveniently located trendy student area with a cafe and nightlife culture
Known as the trendiest area of Chiang Mai and with a huge student population, Saintitham is in a perfect location to explore the Old City’s historical attractions and enjoy the buzzing nightlife of Nimman.
Why stay in Santitham
Students around the world seem to have a knack for picking the most fascinating areas in which to live.
There’s also a thriving LGBTQ community-based in Santitham and a gay bar and club scene that draws a lot of people to the area. It’s the place to be if you want a more positive and progressive clubbing environment (and who doesn’t?).
There’s a real café culture here as well, so it’s certainly one of the best areas in the city for simply sitting back with a coffee, reading a book and people-watching.
What all this amounts to is a vibrancy to the area that exists in both night and day. It caters for daytime coffee drinkers and partying night owls.
With an abundance of accommodation options, mostly budget and mid-range, and plenty of local dining options to top it all off, this is a great way to be right in the heart of the action but escape the main throng of tourists in Old City.
If you’re looking to have fun and relax, feel like one of the young locals, and avoid the at-times suffocating touristy areas, Santitham is the perfect area for you.
Things to do in Santitham
- Browse the artworks at Three Owls Gallery
- Visit Wat Santitham, a temple with a more local vibe
- Grab lunch at Thanin Market
- Learn more about the city in Chiang Mai National Museum
- Go on a tour of the many street stalls
- Try out some local sports at Muang Chiang Stadium