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Chiang Mai Old Town Things to Do & See (+ Map)

Chiang Mai Old Town Things to Do & See (+ Map)

Olly Gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler for 6 years. I visit every place I write about & share real tips, photos, & advice from my trips.

From ancient temples to vibrant night markets, here are the best things to do in Chiang Mai’s Old Town on your first visit.

Chiang Mai, once the heart of the Lanna Kingdom and now the cultural epicenter of Northern Thailand, is a top destination in Thailand. Many visit Chiang Mai for its natural beauty and fun day trips to waterfalls, nearby mountains, and an ethical elephant sanctuary. However, there are so many reasons why you should explore the Old Town as well.

Amidst its compact streets and moated walls, you’ll discover over a dozen ancient temples (wats) and a unique blend of traditional Thai cuisine, bustling markets, and a lively, modern cafe scene. After spending a month living in Chiang Mai Old Town, I’m here to prove to you that the heart of Chiang Mai beats strongest within its ancient walls!

Girl walking around chiang mai streets with temples and motorbikes

1. Wat Chiang Man

Chiang Mai goes by many names, and one of the most common is the City of Temples. There are over 300 temples in this city, and just over 2 dozen of these are within Chiang Mai's Old Town walls in an area spanning just under 1 square km (0.38 sq mi).

Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and in my opinion, the most beautiful. Founded in the 13th century, it is renowned for housing two significant Buddha images: the Crystal Buddha and the Marble Buddha. Entrance to Wat Chiang Man is free but I recommend visiting early in the morning to beat the crowds.

Girl walking through wat chiang man temple in chiang mai old town, thailand

2. Old City Walls

If you look at a map, you'll notice Chiang Mai's Old Town is (almost) a perfect square. The town is surrounded by a moat and its famous Old City Walls which span 1,800 by 2,000 meters, marking where the ancient city once stood.

Chiang Mai's Old City Walls date back to the 13th century during the reign of King Mengrai, the first King of the Lanna Kindom. He built it to protect his new city against potential invaders.

These days, one of the best things to do in the Old Town is to walk the perimeter of its walls. Along this route, you'll discover some ancient ruins and restored sections, and many picturesque spots perfect for photography, serene parks, and street vendors selling everything from savory snacks to handmade crafts.

Old city walls in chiang mai, thailand

3. Sunday Night Market at Tha Phae Walking Street

Every Sunday night, the street leading from Tha Phae Gate transforms into a bustling marketplace that stretches from the wall to the heart of the Old Town. This is where you can get your hands on almost anything, from local arts and crafts to some of the best street food you've ever tasted.

The vibe here is electric but very busy. Almost too busy where, especially during the peak season, you'll struggle to make your way through the crowd!

For this reason, I recommend visiting around the late afternoon to avoid the peak crowds and enjoy the cooler evening air.

Tip: Make sure to try local delicacies like Khao Soi and mango sticky rice from the food stalls.

Busy streets in chiang mai night market

4. Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh is a standout temple in Chiang Mai's Old Town, known for its Lanna architecture and for housing gold & copper Buddhas, ancient manuscripts, and previously, the Phra Buddha Sihing, one of the most important Buddha images in Thailand now moved to Bangkok.

The temple complex is free to explore and includes several structures from the main viharn with its stunning murals to the golden chedi. Furthermore, it's a great spot to watch monk activities and listen to their daily chants.

Girl visiting temple wat phra singh, chiang mai old town

5. Old Town Thai Cooking Class

If you're looking for an authentic Thai cooking experience in Chiang Mai's Old Town, I recommend booking a cooking class! There are a few to choose from in the city, but I particularly like the tour that includes a visit to the local markets as it taught us which ingredients to look for.

This cooking experience is also outside in a traditional Thai kitchen and we got to cook 6 dishes in total!

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6. Cafe Hop in Chiang Mai

I mentioned Chiang Mai as the City of Temples. However, its second nickname is the City of Coffee.

The high altitudes and mountains surrounding Chiang Mai make the region one of the best places in Southeast Asia to grow Arabica coffee beans. This, combined with the influx of digital nomads and expats has resulted in a booming cafe scene– one of the most vibrant, diverse, and delicious I've experienced in Asia.

Walk around Chiang Mai Old City and you'll discover some amazing cafes on almost every street. I made an effort to visit over a dozen, and here are my favorites within the Old Town Walls.

  • Inner Cafe - great coffee and delicious brunch
  • My Secret Cafe in Town - a not-so-secret trendy spot with good coffee and a resident cat
  • Akha Ama - a popular cafe with an iconic industrial interior close to Wat Phra Singh. Try their brewed coffee.
  • Cafe de Thaan Aoan - decent coffee & delicious local Thai dishes with very generous portions.
Motorbikes and a girl sitting at a cafe in chiang mai, thailand

7. Wat Lok Moli & Wat Rajamontean

While many travelers visit popular temples like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chiang Man (rightly so, you should), many miss out on some of the other beautiful hidden gems like Wat Lok Moli & Wat Rajamontean.

Wat Lok Moli is located just across the Old Town Moat at the North gate to the Old Town. It's known for its large Lanna-era stupa (chedi) and historically housed the ashes of several Mengrai Dynasty kings.

Wat Rajamontean is another beautiful temple just across the moat bridge from Wat Lok Moli. It features a large sitting Buddha statue and beautifully detailed Lanna-style murals.

Girl at wat lok moli temple, chiang mai
Wat lok moli
Traveler visiting wat rajamontean, chiang mai
Wat Rajamontean

8. Chiang Mai Old Town Night Markets

Chiang Mai's Old Town is home to several walking streets that transform into vibrant night markets after dark. Here, locals and tourists can explore stalls selling everything from handmade crafts to delicious Thai street food.

While Tha Phae Sunday Markets are the most well-known, here are some more worth checking out.

  • Saturday Walking Street (Wualai Market): Local market near the Chiang Mai Gate in the south on every Saturday evening and specializes in handmade goods from local artisans, with a particular focus on silverware and traditional Northern Thai crafts.
  • Night Bazaar: A daily market located on Chang Klan Road, which is outside the Old Town but worth mentioning as it offers a wide variety of goods from clothing and accessories to souvenirs and electronics, along with food stalls and sometimes live entertainment.
  • Chang Puak Night Market: Situated near the Chang Puak Gate on the north side of the Old Town, this market is famous among locals for its wide range of affordable and delicious street food, making it a must-visit for foodies!
Busy night markets in chiang mai, thailand

9. Historic Center & Local Restaurants

The historic center of Chiang Mai is a landmark for the Old City's rich history featuring several monuments and museums including the Lanna Folklife Museum.

However, what I didn't expect to find on my first visit was that this area is also a culinary hotspot, especially on Intrawarorot Road beside the center.

Here, you'll find some really high-quality and local eating spots. My favorite is Kiat Ocha, renowned for its Thai-style Hainan Chicken & Rice that it has been serving since 1957.

Man eating at a local restaurant in chiang mai

10. Try Khao Soi

After traveling extensively throughout Thailand, I can confirm that Northern Thai food is one of the most delicious in the country! If you try one local dish, make sure it's Khao Soi.

This iconic dish is a rich, creamy coconut curry noodle soup, traditionally served with a chicken drumstick and topped with crispy noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, and lime.

The best places to enjoy Khao Soi are often small, local eateries scattered throughout the Old Town, where the recipe has been perfected over generations. I recommend just walking around until you find a local spot. Or, ask your Tuk Tuk driver– they know best!

Traditional khao soi dish in northern thailand

11. Train Muay Thai

Looking to get into shape and learn a new skill? If you've been traveling in Thailand and haven't tried Muay Thai yet, make sure you do in Chiang Mai!

There are four gyms within the Old Town walls offering classes for beginners and current fighters including:

  • Dang Muay Thai
  • Chiangmai Muay Thai Gym
  • Lan Po Muay Thai Gym
  • The Bear Fight Club

The art of eight limbs is Thailand's national sport and an incredible martial art. I've had the privilege of training Muay Thai in many regions of Thailand and even fought Muay Thai in the south. While not as renowned as Bangkok, Chiang Mai still produces some of the country's best gyms and fighters.

Olly gaspar muay thai hand wraps in thailand

12. Somphet Market

Somphet Market is a vibrant, local gem tucked away in the Northeast quadrant of Chiang Mai's Old Town. It's smaller than some of the city's more famous markets but packs a punch with its authentic Northern Thai vibe.

Here, you'll find a colorful array of fresh produce, spices, and ready-to-eat snacks, making it an ideal spot for foodies looking to explore the local cuisine. Plus, it's the only traditional wooden-beam market building in the city!

Tip: This market is particularly known for its variety of ingredients essential for Northern Thai dishes, offering everything from fresh herbs to exotic fruits. It's a great place to grab ingredients if you're planning to take a cooking class or just want to try some Thai cooking.

Fresh tropical fruits

13. Wat Chedi Luang

Another must-see temple when on Chiang Mai's Old City temple hop is Wat Chedi Luang. Constructed in the 14th century during the reign of King Saen Muang Ma, Wat Chedi Luang is easily the most famous in the city and is located near Wat Phra Singh.

This temple is famous for once being the home of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most sacred religious icon, before it was moved to Wat Phra Kaew (Bangkok) in the 15th century. These days, you can see a jade replica in its place, as well as the city pillar (Lak Mueang) of Chiang Mai in a small pavilion to the left of the entrance.

Tip: The entrance fee for this temple complex is 50 Baht per person

Wat chedi luang, chiang mai

14. Yoga at Nong Buak Haad Park

Chiang Mai has always been a green city. And even its founders made sure to include natural spaces within the city walls.

Nong Buak Haad is a decent-sized park located in the southwest corner of the Old Town. With open, green spaces, a large pond, and some playgrounds, it's a great place to visit after a long day of walking between the temples and other notable attractions.

If you want to do yoga in Chiang Mai, this is a good place to do it. There's even an active AcroYoga community that meets here daily at 4:30 pm in the afternoon.

Tree and pond at nong buak haad park

15. Food Stalls & Thai Street Food

When in Thailand, eat as the Thai do. Walking around the Old Town on any given evening, you'll come across a myriad of different food stalls serving up delicious dishes like Khao Soi and Sai Oua, a flavorful northern Thai sausage.

For the best street food in Chiang Mai's old town, head over to the Night Bazaar.

Food stalls in chiang mai, thailand

16. Tha Phae Boxing Stadium

Tha Phae Boxing Stadium is the most popular Thai boxing venue in Chiang Mai and is conveniently located near the Tha Phae Gate near the eastern wall.

This venue is famous for hosting regular Muay Thai fights with skilled fighters from Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and beyond. If you're interested in watching a match, fights are held every day except Sunday from around 9 pm until midnight. You can buy tickets at the stadium.

Muay thai in thailand

17. Three Kings Monument

The Three Kings Monument is usually included on most Old Town walking itineraries. This isn't due to its beauty, but because of its historical and cultural importance to the city.

The statue is of the founders of Chiang Mai City: King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai; King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai; and King Ngam Muang of Payao.

You'll likely pass this monument when exploring the attractions and fun things to do in Old Town Chiang Mai since it is located smack bang in the Historic Center at Three Kings Square, directly adjacent to the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center.

Three kings monument in chiang mai

18. Tha Phae Gate

Tha Phae Gate is the most famous of the iconic gate landmarks in Chiang Mai. It's the main entrance to the Old Town from the east and was historically the main entrance although in those days it was made of wood.

Today, Tha Phae Gate is a cultural hub in Chiang Mai and the main focal point for many events, festivals, and of course, the starting point for the famous Sunday Walking Street markets.

Tuk tuk at tha phae gate, chiang mai

19. Eat at Aroon Rai

If you're looking for a real, authentic Thai restaurant in the Old Town, don't look past Aroon Rai. This is one of the first places Anthony Bourdain ate in his famous series "A Cook's Tour" and “where everything is supposed to be good".

This restaurant is as traditional as it gets in terms of its vibe and the curries are infinitely better than that fancy restaurant you've been eyeing off. If you haven't tried Khao Soi yet, try it here!

Traditional northern thai dishes

20. More Ancient Temples

While I've already mentioned some of the big-name temples like Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang, there are dozens more temples to discover.

If you haven't got your temple fix, I recommend two ways to delve deeper. One, get lost in the city, wander through the winding streets and simply stumble upon many hidden temple gems. Or, two, opt for a guided walking tour where a local will explain the sites to you.

Traveler exploring temples in chiang mai old town, thailand

Here are a few more temples within the Old Town's walls that shouldn't be missed:

  • Wat Sri Suphan - Known as the Silver Temple, it's entirely covered in silver, from walls to roofing, showcasing incredible craftsmanship. (just outside the city walls to the south).
  • Wat Pan Tao - A beautiful example of a teak wooden temple, adjacent to Wat Chedi Luang. Stands out with its traditional Lanna architecture and tranquil pond.
  • Wat Umong Mahathera Chan: Smaller and less frequented but provides a peaceful retreat with its unique Buddha statues and detailed murals.

21. Jump in a Tuk Tuk

Forget Grab, the best way to get around the Old City is to jump in a Tuk tuk. This isn't just the cheapest and easiest way to get around, but it lets you see the city from a local's perspective.

Tuk Tuk drivers know Chiang Mai like the back of their hands. Ask them for the best local places to eat, the most beautiful temples, and the best traditional Thai massage, and they'll whisk you away to corners of the city you'll never find in a guidebook or travel blog.

Traveler with a tuk tuk in thailand

Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai Old Town

Once you've explored the Old Town, make sure to check out the broader region. I recommend renting a motorbike and exploring the countryside, visiting hot springs and waterfalls like Mork Fa or the sticky waterfalls, hiking the Monk's Trail to Doi Suthep, or driving the famous Mae Hong Son Loop to Pai.

Below are the top 3 picks for tours that explore Thai culture, beautiful nature, and one that will leave your tastebuds tingling.

Wat rong khun tour

1. Chiang Rai Temples Small Group Tour

A day full of exploration to the incredible nearby Chiang Rai and its mindblowing temples. You'll want to have your camera here!

From chiang mai doi inthanon national park day trip

2. Doi Inthanon National Park Day Trip

Visit the highest point in Thailand at Doi Inthanon National Park. Explore waterfalls, nature, and incredible views, and learn about local culture in a hill tribe village.

Night market street food tour, chiang mai

3. Chiang Mai Evening Street Food Tour

This small tour ticks all the boxes for deliciousness. Sampling different foods from two different night markets. Your tastebuds won't want to leave.

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the capital of the Northern Thailand tourist trail and a huge Digital Nomad hub. This is the reason why I'm always drawn back to this city. As you might expect, there are some excellent accommodation picks in and around the city, from unique boutique hotels and luxury chains to vibrant backpacker hostels. Below are three of the top places to stay for various budgets.

Por thapae gate chiang mai

1. POR Thapae Gate Luxury

With over 700 reviews this is the ultimate luxury hotel located 200m from Tha Pae Gate. The hotel provides an outdoor swimming pool, free bike rental, and an exceptional breakfast.

Outdoor swimming pool at rimping village, chiang mai

2. Rimping Village Mid-Range

Just a 10-minute walk from the Night Bazaar this hotel offers a large outdoor swimming pool, an on-site restaurant, and spectacular outdoor seating areas. Away from the crowds, this is a perfect place to unwind and relax.

Green sleep hostel, chiang mai

3. Green Sleep Hostel Budget

Situated in the heart of Chang Mai this hostel boasts a fully equipped kitchen, co-working space, communal area, and comfortable beds. A top pick for backpackers wanting a cheap and comfortable stay.

Chiang Mai Old Town Map

As promised, here is a useful map that you can use to plan what to do in Chiang Mai Old Town. I've pinned all of the attractions and points of interest mentioned in this blog post and organized them by type.

Old town chiang mai infographic map, thailand

Tip: Click on the photo of the map above and it will load on your Google Maps app. You can save it by clicking the grey star at the top, which will add it to "Your Places" on your Google Maps account. This way, you have a handy digital app on the go with all the best places to visit pinned– just refer back to this article (or bookmark it) for the explanations!

More Thailand Travel Blogs

I hope that my travel guide to what to do in Chiang Mai's Old Town has helped you plan your travels to this amazing Northern Thai city.

Got any more recommendations or updates for this blog? Let me know in the comments, I reply to every single one! Otherwise, read more from my Thailand travel guides below.

Hidden beach, railay beach

Plan Your Thailand Accommodation

Still in the planning stages of your trip? Perhaps you're booking on the fly. The below accommodation guides will help you plan where to stay in Thailand.

Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure traveler from Australia. I’ve spent the last six years traveling the world full-time, sharing my first-hand experiences & photography in over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. I visit every destination I write about to bring you unique travel itineraries, epic hiking routes, fun tour ideas, travel & photography gear ideas, & interesting places to stay.

I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.