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Discovering Chiang Mai’s Old City: The Best Cultural, Outdoor, and Culinary Experiences

Article by Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah

Posted: April 7, 2023

Chiang Mai’s Old City is a cultural and historical hub that attracts tourists from all over the world. As the former capital of the Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai has a rich history and a distinct culture that is reflected in its many temples, art galleries, and traditional crafts. In this article, we’ll explore the best things to do in Chiang Mai’s Old City, from walking tours to cultural experiences, outdoor activities, food and drink, and accommodation.

Exploring the Old City

The best way to experience the Old City is on foot. The city is easy to navigate and has a compact layout, making it perfect for a walking tour. A great starting point is the Tha Phae Gate, which was built in the 13th century as a defence against the invading Mongols. From here, you can follow the moat that surrounds the Old City and explore its many temples, markets, and historical landmarks.

Some of the key locations and landmarks to visit include Wat Phra Singh, one of the most revered temples in Chiang Mai, and the Three Kings Monument, a bronze statue that commemorates the three kings who founded Chiang Mai. Other notable sites include the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center, which showcases the city’s rich history and culture, and the Lanna Folklife Museum, which displays artefacts and exhibits from the Lanna Kingdom era.

Cultural Experiences

Chiang Mai is known for its rich culture and traditions, and the Old City is a great place to experience this firsthand. One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture is to visit the many temples and religious sites in the city. Some of the must-see temples include Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Chiang Man, and Wat Phan Tao. These temples are not only beautiful but also steeped in history and tradition.

In addition to the temples, the Old City is home to many art galleries and museums that showcase the region’s art and culture. The Baan Tawai Village is a great place to explore traditional crafts and buy souvenirs, while the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar offers a wide range of products, from handmade crafts to designer clothes.

Outdoor Activities

For those who love the great outdoors, Chiang Mai’s Old City offers many opportunities for outdoor activities. There are several parks and gardens in the city, including the Buak Haad Park and the Nong Buak Haad Public Park, which are great places to relax and enjoy the scenery. The Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is a great place to hike and explore the natural beauty of the region.

Another popular outdoor activity in the Old City is cycling. There are several bike tours that take visitors through the city’s many temples and markets, giving them a unique perspective on the city’s culture and history. For those who prefer a more leisurely ride, there are also bike rentals available for self-guided tours.

Chiang Mai, Thailand old city ancient wall and moat.

Food and Drink

Chiang Mai is famous for its street food and local cuisine, and the Old City is no exception. Some of the must-try dishes include khao soi, a northern-style curry noodle soup, and sai oua, a spicy sausage made with pork and herbs. There are also many restaurants and cafes in the Old City that serve both traditional and international cuisine.

Night markets are a great place to sample the local food and drink. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is one of the largest night markets in the city and offers a wide range of food and drink options, from traditional Thai dishes to international cuisine. There are also many food stalls that sell local snacks and desserts, such as mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream


If you want to stay in the heart of the Old City, there are many hotels and guesthouses to choose from. Some of the most popular options include the Rachamankha Hotel, a luxurious boutique hotel that is known for its traditional Lanna architecture, and the De Lanna Hotel, which offers comfortable rooms and a rooftop pool.

Staying in the Old City has its advantages, such as being close to the many temples and cultural sites, as well as the night markets and restaurants. However, there are also alternative accommodation options outside the Old City that offer a more tranquil and serene environment, such as resorts and villas in the surrounding countryside.

Things to Do Nearby the Old City

While Chiang Mai’s Old City is a fascinating destination in its own right, there are also many things to do and see in the surrounding areas. One of the most popular activities is to visit the Doi Suthep temple, which is located on a mountain overlooking the city. The temple is a sacred site for the local people and is known for its stunning views and intricate architecture.

Another great activity is to take a cooking class and learn how to make traditional Thai dishes. Many cooking schools offer half-day or full-day classes that include a visit to the local market to buy ingredients and a hands-on cooking experience.

For those who are interested in volunteering, there are many opportunities to get involved with local organisations and make a difference in the community. GVI offers volunteer programs in areas such as education, wildlife conservation, and community development. Volunteering is a great way to experience the local culture and make a positive impact on the community.

Chiang Mai’s Old City is a fascinating and enchanting destination that offers something for everyone. Whether you’re interested in history, culture, food, or outdoor activities, the Old City has it all. From its many temples and cultural sites to its parks, gardens, and outdoor activities, the Old City is a must-visit destination for anyone travelling to Chiang Mai. With its wide range of accommodation options, from luxurious boutique hotels to peaceful resorts, the Old City offers a unique and unforgettable travel experience.

By Petrina Darrah

Petrina Darrah is a freelance writer from New Zealand with a passion for outdoor adventure and sustainable travel. She has been writing about travel for more than five years and her work has appeared in print and digital publications including National Geographic Travel, Conde Nast Travel, Business Insider, Atlas Obscura and more. You can see more of her work at petrinadarrah.com.
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