Chiang Mai is the second biggest city in Thailand. Chiang Mai is a perfect getaway to relax and escape the heat from southern and central Thailand. Nowadays a popular city for backpackers and travelers, Chiang Mai used to be the capital of the Lanna Kingdom. The majesty of the kingdom of the north can be felt immediately upon arriving to Chiang Mai.
A look at the map says it all: The city centre is called Chiang Mai Old City. This square area is small enough that visitors can explore it by foot or by bicycle. Making it an amazing place to discover.
POINT OF INTERESTS
Chiang Mai Old City is the number one place tourists want to see. It is approximately 1.5 square kilometers. In the past centuries the old city was an exotic place, buzzing with life, and protected by walls, soldiers and elephants. Several parts of the Old City remain untouched today. Walk through the brick walls, and you can truly feel a refreshing breeze of a once glorious and mystical past. In Chiang Mai the Old Town is where the action takes place.
Take a step back, relax, feel the energy of a place like no other. Chiang Mai Has its own pace. One it forged through hundreds of years of buddhism and valley life.
To enter the Old City of Chiang Mai, there are four gates. One on each side of the walls. Thapae Gate is the main gate, it lies on the eastern shore, facing the Ping river. This gate is the starting point for Chiang Mai Old City Tours. In the 1980 this gate was refurbished to its original shape. Therefore when you enter you will be in admiration for the traditional architectural style of Northern Thailand.
Sunday Walking Street
Every Sunday walking from this gate leads straight to the Sunday Walking Street. Every sunday from 4pm until midnight the street transforms into a buzzing evening market and food street party. A popular place for Northern Thai people and hilltribes to showcase their handicraft and art.
Tips: bargain is the name of the game here!
As the event gets going don’t be surprised to see street performers and entertainers joining-in. The street being closed to traffic it becomes a long playground for pedestrians vendors and artists. Old Chiang Mai Sunday market is a must visit when coming to thailand.
Lanna Folklife Museum
Located inside, to the left of the main gate, is the Lanna Folklife Museum. A white colonial building. Home to a recreation of life sized diaporama of what life used to be like in the times of the Lanna culture. Perfect starting point for an Old City tour, the museum entry costs are quite affordable ( 40 THB for children and 90 THB for adults) and make for a good start in this journey back through time.
Three Kings Monument
At the Old City’s Center you will find the Three Kings Monument. Which represents the 3 kings and founding fathers of the city: King Mengria, who found Chiang Mai, King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao. According to history, these are the three kings who constructed and built the Northern Thai city in the 13th century. This is an iconic image of Chiang Mai, thus around the city you may sometimes spot it in different forms and places.
Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural Centre
Just around the corner from the monument, you will find the Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural Centre. A museum which has been awarded in 1999 by The Royal Association of Siamese Architects, for its architectural design. The museum exhibits the city’s development and growth and explains how Chiang Mai turned into the modern city. Here you can see many historical and cultural artefacts from early Lanna Villages.
Most exhibitions include a mix of photos, maps, artifacts, interactive audiovisual shows. Making for a very interesting visit. Entry cots 180 THB and comes with a free access to the Arts and Cultural Centre, Lanna Folklife Museum and the Historical Centre. Walking straight from the main gate leads you to the West gate, called Suan Dok Gate.
To the north you will find Sompet Market on the street corner. Here many stalls, some of them selling fresh fruits and vegetables from the Thai farms. For those looking for an authentic Thai market, this is a must-visit. Completing the fresh fruits and veggies is a broad range of Thai snacks, hot dishes and healthy smoothies. The north gate: Chiang Puerk Gate lies ahead if you keep walking.
When entering the Old City from the Chiang Mai Gate (south gate), you reach the Wualai Walking Street Market (Saturday Market). Home to several traditional silver workshops. Wulai Rd was the old silver-making district of Chiang Mai. Like with the Sunday Market at the east gate, here you will find handcrafted artifacts, ornaments, statues. And of course, street food. Smaller than the Sunday Market, but still an excellent walk. The market starts around 4.30 pm and stops at 10 pm.
TEMPLES IN CHIANG MAI
Temples in Chiang Mai remain important places of worship for buddhists. With an intense monk activity among the more than 200 temples in Chiang Mai. In the Old City, you can find three main temples. Considered the most significant religious centres of Northern Thailand.
Wat Chedi Luang
This temple is unique. It was meant to store the ashes of King Saen Muang Ma’s father. Its unique architectural feature is a magnificent Naga staircase located on the entrance of the chapel. Once home to the most important religious object of the country, the Emerald Buddha, which has now been relocated to Grand Palace in Bangkok. Wat Chedi Luang was once destroyed by a natural disaster, then refurbished in the 1990s by UNESCO.
Wat Chiang Man
The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, which also contains the oldest Buddha statue in Chiang Mai. It purely reflects Lanna architectural styles. The annual rain festival, where locals pray to God during a religious ceremony, is held here every year on April 1st. The temple contains two famous buddhas: The White Emerald Buddha and the Marble Buddha. But access can be limited.
Wat Phra Singh
The ‘Temple of the Lion Buddha’ is a well known study centre for young monks. The name comes from its iconic lion statue, and you will find many smaller lion statues surrounding the temple. This temple plays host to many traditional festivals throughout the year.
THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG MAI CITY
Besides its wonderful museums and markets, Chiang Mai Old City offers several authentic types of activities to experience:
A Tuk Tuk Ride
Tuk-tuk is a small three-wheeled carriage traditional in Chiang Mai and in most of Southeast Asia. Exploring the old town by tuk-tuk gives you an authentic approach of moving around like locals. It costs around 150 – 250 THB per day depending on what you want to explore.
Chiang Mai is a very relaxing city. But after a long walk or a day of trekking a massage might just be what your body needs. As you walk down the Chiang Mai old city, you come across many massage parlour that offer a variety of massage packages. Usually 1-hour massage costs around 150 – 250 THB depending on the place and the package.
Northern Thai Cooking
Northern Thai food is very different from its central and southern counterparts. Different spices are used, and they are blended together in a very particular manner. Foodies and food junkies love Chiang Mai for the incredible food served here. Some of our favorite cooking classes in Chiang Mai include:
Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre
Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre was the first cooking school to open in Chiang Mai. Located just outside the Old City, the school lets you choose the dishes you would like to cook (they have over 70 dishes on the menu!). Each cooking class starts with a Thai market tour. To get familiar with the ingredients. The great thing with cooking lessons is that you bring back this knowledge with you when going home. And will be able to cook amazing dishes for your friends and family..
Taste from Heaven Vegetarian Cookery School
This restaurant and cookery school specializes exclusively in Thai vegetarian dishes. The restaurant opened in 2014, and the cooking school in 2016. Nan is the owner and teacher. He worked in high-end restaurants in Thailand and Australia. And will teach you unique vegan and vegetarian recipes based on your personal taste.
Sightseeing tours are source of great insights on the city’s daily life, past and present. They are a must do when in Chiang Mai, given the way the city is built. Sit back, relax and enjoy the beauty of the city. The tours range from a couple of hours, half-day to full day tours. Many tours include a tour of the entire Chiang Mai city, beyond the old town. Private Chiang Mai city tour > Provider: Sightseeing Chiang Mai
This provider offers a private half-day Chiang Mai city tour and the primary activity is sightseeing both inside and outside the old town. Therefore you will visit all of the most important wats including Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Chiang Mun and Wat Ched Yod. The trip includes hotel transfers, English-speaking guide and admission fees. What can be nicer than having someone explaining and organising your trip?
Segway City Tour
The best way to experience Chiang Mai city is with our certified guides whom will take you through the city safely from the vantage and comfort of a Segway. Let us show you the most famous temples, landmarks and markets. Glide along and enjoy the usually unseen backstreets with two guides per group to keep you safe and educate you on the old city and its history. 15 minutes to learn, any age can do it!
- 15 min safety briefing & warm up to make sure you’re comfortable and confident riding the Segway.
- Includes a delicious snack and drink at our favourite old city café.
- 2 guides to keep you safe, answer any questions you may have and educate you on the Old City and its history.
- The tour last for 2 hours and includes stops at three Kings Monument, Wat Chiang Man, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Pan Tao, Buak Had Park and Wat Chedi Luang.
Cycle through the old town
Provider: Grasshopper Adventures
Cycle the Historic Old City of Chiang Mai. An easy bike tour on the backstreets and small lanes inside the walls of Chiang Mai. The slow ride gives the biker an excellent opportunity to learn a bit about the long history and rich culture of Chiang Mai. This bike tour is good for families with young children.
On this bike tour you will visit Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai’s oldest temple. Admire the 700-year-old White Buddha at Wat Intakin. Cycle around Chiang Mai’s iconic Wat Chedi Luang. Pedal by the city gate at Tha Phae and wander the fruit and vegetable stalls of Somphet Market.
Explore the fantastic street food
Provider: Chiang Mai Food Tours
Join us as we bring you to experience “The Rose of the North” through the local eyes for its very raw taste, sight, sound, smell, and touch. On our award-winning food and cultural tours, we will visit several eatery legends, stop by the city’s amazing temples, and break the ice to interact with local characters. Our ultimate goal is to make you feel like being a local while you are in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Food Tour was created with our love and passion in food and travel. Born and raised in Thailand, our roots have always been firmly planted in Thai culture and culinary.