Top Things to See and Do in Chiang Mai Old City

Take a stroll through Chiang Mai's Old City streets and soak up the local atmosphere amongst markets and friendly faces
Take a stroll through Chiang Mai's Old City streets and soak up the local atmosphere amongst markets and friendly faces | © Yarvin Asian Journeys / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Iona Proebst
16 September 2021

The Old City of Chiang Mai is known for its cafes, restaurants and historic sights. Read on for our list of things to see and do inside the city walls.

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Three Kings Monument

Historical Landmark
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 and Cultural Centre – and is an iconic image representing the city of Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Art and Cultural Centre

Arts & Cultural Centre, Chiang Mai, Thailand
© 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 Centre, a museum dedicated to preserving – and educating people about – the history and culture of the city. 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.

Thai Massage at Fah Lanna Spa

Thai Massage at Fah Lanna Spa
Courtesy of Fah Lanna Spa / Expedia

If you haven’t had a Thai massage yet, it’s well worth a try and a great way to relax travel-weary muscles. The art of Thai massage has been passed down through generations over 2,000 years. It’s a little different to a traditional oil massage, so be prepared to be contorted into various positions. In the Old City spas you’ll find plenty of other treatments, including oil and foot massages. And for some proper pampering, head to Fah Lanna Spa just down from Wat Phra Singh.

Bicycle Tour with Grasshopper Adventures

Building, Sports Center
Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai, Thailand
© Fabrizio Troiani / Alamy Stock Photo

Is there a better way to explore the Old City than by bicycle? On the Bike Historic Old City tour, you can 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 hive of local activity. This tour is perfect for the whole family and will take you through the quiet backstreets at a leisurely pace.

Visit the North Gate Jazz Co-op

Bar, Pub Grub, Cocktails, Wine, Beer
The North Gate Jazz Co-op is a Chiang Mai institution frequented by locals – and expats. This jazz bar is for relaxed social affairs – 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.

Explore the Wat Chedi Luang with a Temple Tour

Buddhist Temple
Monks on the big meeting in Wat Phra Singh, Chiang Mai, Thailand
© Valerii Shanin / Alamy Stock Photo
Founded more than 700 years ago, Chiang Mai has been adorned with numerous temples, or wats, by its famous Three Kings and is now home to more than 3oo, with some of the most significant, such as Wat Phra Singh, in the west of the Old City. Home to the highly respected Phra Singh Buddha, it’s also a study centre for young monks. Wat Chiang Man – the oldest temple in the city and part of the original structure – has two sacred Buddhas made of crystal and marble. Seek out a local tour guide to take you around, or grab a map and explore the area yourself.

Try a Traditional Thai Cooking Class

Restaurant, Thai
Ingredients for cooking Tom Kha Gai. Thai chicken soup in coconut milk
© Vladimir Mironov / Alamy Stock Photo

Keen to learn how to make those delicious Thai dishes? Chiang Mai is the perfect place to do it – it even has local specialities like khao soi. There are numerous cooking schools to choose from, with the Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School one of the most reputable . Offering full- and half-day courses, it also includes a trip to a local market where you hand-pick your fresh ingredients.

Chat With a Thai Monk

Buddhist Temple, Ruins
Wat Chedi Luang
© Madeleine Deaton / Flickr
Immerse yourself in local culture by partaking in a monk chat, where you learn about each other’s cultures and ways of life. Most monk chats are with young monks who are eager to practise their English. Wat Chedi Luang, in the centre of the Old City, hosts monk chats daily. Remember to wear appropriate attire and adhere to temple etiquette at all times to show due respect.

Join the Sunday Walking Street Market

Market, Shopping Mall
A drink vendor pushes his cart through the Sunday walking street market.
© Jeff Cagle / Alamy Stock Photo
The Sunday Walking Street Market stretches from Thape Gate all the way to Wat Pra Singh – it even spills down the side streets. An enchanting market, where you’ll find hill-tribe crafts, homemade wares and delicious local-food stalls, it’s also the ideal spot to pick up souvenirs. The market takes place every Sunday from around 4.30pm until midnight – you’re advised to come early to escape the crowds.

This is an updated version of an article originally written by Lena Blos.

These recommendations were updated on September 16, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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