Top Things To See and Do in Chiang Mai's Old City

Photo of Iona Proebst
30 January 2018

If you’re not keen to travel far there are plenty of exciting things to see and do within Chiang Mai‘s historic city walls. The ‘Old City’ is known for its cafes, restaurants and also its sightseeing options, read on to find out more!

Three Kings Monument

Historical Landmark
Map View
The Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, Thailand
The Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, Thailand | © Aliaksandr Mazurkevich / Alamy Stock Photo
Three Kings Monument is the district where the former rulers, the ‘Three Kings’, of Chiang Mai built their palaces. The founder of Chiang Mai, King Mengrai, along with King Ramkamhaeng of Sukothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao, worked together to build the city. Today, the sculpture of the Three Kings stands in front of the old provincial administration building (now the Chiang Mai City Art & Cultural Center) and is an iconic image representing Chiang Mai city.

Chiang Mai Art and Cultural Center

Map View
Arts & Cultural Centre, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Arts & Cultural Centre, Chiang Mai | © Tibor Bognar / Alamy Stock Photo
Located in the heart of the Old City next to the Three Kings Monument is the Chiang Mai Arts and Cultural Center. This museum is dedicated to preserving (and educating people about) the history and culture of Chiang Mai. Learn about local lifestyles, agricultural practices, hill tribe people, or venture into the section dedicated to regional beliefs and Buddhism. The permanent exhibits cover the time span from the early settlements all the way to the development of modern Chiang Mai. The Chiang Mai Art and Cultural Center is essential for those looking to deepen their knowledge of Lanna culture and heritage.

Thai massage

If you haven’t given a Thai massage a go yet, it is well worth a try and is a great way to relax your travel-weary muscles. The art of the Thai massage has been passed down through generations and dates back over 2,000 years. Thai massage is a little different to a traditional oil massage and one should be prepared to be contorted into various positions. Alternatively, The Old City’s spas also offer other treatments, including oil and foot massages for those who are looking for a more relaxing spa treatment. Pretty much every street has a massage shop so when you feel like needing a rest or some reprieve from the heat, make a beeline for one you like the look of. For something a little more luxurious head to Fah Lanna Spa just down from Wat Phra Singh.

Are you feeling flexible? | © Tara Angkor Hotel/Flickr

Bicycle tour

What better way to explore the Old City than by bicycle! The Bike Historic Old City tour gives you the opportunity to learn about the history and culture of Chiang Mai while visiting some of the city’s ancient temples. You’ll visit Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai’s oldest temple, the famous Wat Chedi Luang and stop at Thae Pae Gate and Sompet Market, a bustling hive of local activity. This tour is perfect for the whole family and will take you through the quiet backstreets (sois) at a leisurely pace.

Cycling is a great way to explore the Old City | © David McKelvey/Flickr

North Gate Jazz Co-op

The North Gate Jazz Co-op (North Gate) is a famous Chiang Mai institution frequented by locals and expats alike. This jazz bar is for relaxed social affairs and is a great place to meet or make new friends. Each night an enthusiastic crowd can be seen spilling out of the bar (sometimes across the road and onto the city wall!) jiving to a range of highly talented musicians. North Gate serves cheap drinks and regularly hosts charity and open mic events.

Temple tour

Chiang Mai was founded over 700 years ago and has been adorned with numerous temples by its famous three kings. Chiang Mai is home to over 3oo temples or ‘wats’, with some of the most significant located in the Old City, such as Wat Phra Singh. Located in the west corner, Wat Phra Singh houses the highly respected Phra Singh Buddha and a study centre for young monks. Wat Chiang Man, the oldest temple in the city, was part of the original structure of the city and has two sacred Buddhas made from crystal and marble. Wat Chedi Luang is also well worth a visit and features a replica of the original Emerald Buddha. You can either seek out a local tour guide to take you around the Old City’s temples or grab a map and explore the area yourself.

Magical Wat Phra Singh | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

Thai cooking class

Keen to learn how to make those delicious Thai dishes? Chiang Mai is the perfect place to do just that and even has local specialities that you simply won’t be able to get enough of, like the iconic khao soi. Chiang Mai has numerous cooking schools to choose from. However, Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School is one of the most reputable places in the Old City. This school offers both full- and half-day courses and includes a trip to a local market where you’ll be able to hand-pick your fresh ingredients.

Sticky rice or normal rice? | © Connie/Flickr

Monk chat

Immerse yourself in local culture by partaking in a monk chat. A monk chat is quite literally a chat with a monk where you learn about each other’s cultures and ways of life. Most monk chats are with young monks who are eager to practice their English. Wat Chedi Luang is conveniently located in the centre of the Old City and hosts monk chats daily between 9 am and 6 pm. Please remember to wear appropriate attire and adhere to temple etiquette.

Fun during a monk chat | © Connie/Flickr

Sunday Walking Street Market

The Sunday Walking Street Market stretches from Thape Gate all the way to Wat Pra Singh and spills down the side streets. This enchanting market is bustling with hill tribe crafts, homemade wares and delicious local food stalls. The Chiang Mai Walking Street Market has a captivating atmosphere and is the ideal spot to pick up souvenirs. The market takes place every Sunday from around 4.30 pm until midnight. It is advised to come early to escape the crowds.

The beautiful Sunday Night Market | © Christian Haugen/Flickr

This article was originally written by Lena Blos and has since been updated.

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