Chiang Mai is a surprisingly international city given that it’s a provincial capital far away from any beaches. Part of its charm is the old city, which is surrounded by a moat and fortress wall. It’s also considered as the cultural capital of Thailand, and the city is filled with beautiful Buddhist temples (Wats).
This guide is written for short-term visitors in mind. Chiang Mai is popular with digital nomads who tend to spend a month at a time or more there, so these suggestions don’t apply as much. If you are planning to staying long term it is still a good idea to get something short term and have a look around before committing to something long term.
The old city is where all the action is for a casual visitor. The area is easily defined by the city wall and moat which forms a square around the city. Inside the moat is the old city which is distinctly low rise and – apart from a few cross roads – the traffic is not overly crazy. Indeed, some lanes are so quiet throughout the day it feels like you are in a small country town.
Each side has a main gate in the middle of the wall, with the East Gate (Tha Phae Gate) being the most popular area with accommodation options.
Hostels and Guesthouses
There are lots of options for budget accommodation, and if you are coming from Bangkok or the Thai islands you will be pleasantly surprised with how much cheaper it is here. Around the East Gate and streets that lead from the eastern moat there are numerous guesthouses without online booking presence where you can walk in and get a room.
I am familiar with Chiang Mai so I have on occasion just turned up without a booking, but when I am new to a place I usually like to book a room first.
There are lots of cheap places online now so there is no real advantage of showing up, but to give you an idea of the accommodation available here are some guesthouses I have stayed at that aren’t online.
– Supreme House: 400 baht for a double fan room.
– Jungala House: 250 baht for double fan room.
– Jonadda Guest House: 250 baht for double fan room.
Another cheap guesthouse I’ve stayed which has online booking is the Banwiang Guest House.
Search all hotels in the Old City.
The old city has a good selection of mid-range boutique hotels, many of which have pools and are tucked away in peaceful gardens. As there are height restrictions there are no boxy chain hotels here.
The 5 Star hotels in Chiang Mai are located outside the old city, but there are a number of 4 Star boutique hotels to choose from.
The 4.5 Star Bodhi Serene Chiang Mai Hotel is the highest star-rated hotel in the old area.
Nimmanhemin refers to Nimmanhemin Rd (sometimes written as Nimmanahaeminda Rd) which is northwest of the old city. Nimmanhemin itself is a busy thoroughfare where the Route 11 Superhighway abruptly ends and funnels traffic into this road. Off Nimmanhemin there are lanes that are filled with cool cafes and boutique stores that wouldn’t out of place in Bangkok. This is definitely the coolest place in Chiang Mai, and it is also the epicenter of the digital nomad scene.
If you are a new visitor or only staying a few days in Chiang Mai then I would stay in the old city. Most of the tourist sites are around there, and the bulk of the travel agencies are around there for onward travel.
I would recommend Nimmanhemin if you have been to Chiang Mai before and want to experience the modern arty side of the city, or if you are hunting for an apartment rental in the area.
Hostels and Guesthouses
There aren’t as many budget accommodation options here, and if you are looking for a cheap guesthouse with a private room then I would stay in the old city. If you are a hostel person then there are quite a few good choices here that reflect the boutique-style of the Nimman area.
Yuan Hostel on Lane 7 is one if the best-rated hostels in the area.
Nimman Zone Suk is a small hotel with a guesthouse feel.
Another good place to look is on Airbnb. I found a room on Nimmanhaemin Soi 9 which was ideal for a few days. If you haven’t used Airbnb before you can get a free credit here.
The BEDGASM Poshtel x Cafe @Nimman is probably the ultimate hipster name for a Nimmanhaemin hotel.
Chalnatt Hotel is another hotel that has a distinct arty Nimman vibe.
Yantarasri Resort feels like a beach hotel and is conveniently located off Nimmanhaemin.
Akyra Manor Chiang Mai offer modern 5-star suites.
This covers the area between the eastern wall of the old city and the Ping River.
I’ve spent several months in Chiang Mai yet I have never stayed in this area, and I am always surprised with how busy it is when I go there. Most of the luxury 5-star level hotels are in this area.
Hostels and Guesthouses
Soi Sabai Guesthouse is located between the old city and the night market area, so you are splitting the difference if you like both areas.
Strips the Poshtel is a modern hotel/hostel hybrid with dorm rooms and private rooms available.
Hotel Montha is one of the best-rated 3 Star hotels east of the Tha Pae Gate.
Most of the luxury hotels in Chiang Mai can be found in the Night Bazaar and Riverside area, with a few resorts further out in the hills.
Anantara Chiang Mai Resort is not far from the market area, situated on the Ping River.