As Chiang Mai means ‘new city’ in Lanna dialect, it’s enjoyably ironic that its first incarnation, a four-walled, small but mighty metropolis, is now known as the Old City. Demarcated by a moat, four gates, and some surviving stretches of wall, the old city is the primary destination for pilgrims and tourists alike. The streets offer a high density of excellent cafes and envelop over 50 temples, so you’ll no doubt see an orange-robed monk walking the streets within minutes of your arrival.
It’s a great place to live for party animals and health fanatics alike, and getting around is completely manageable by foot or on the back of a bicycle if you aren’t tempted to join the legions and hire a motorbike or moped. On weekdays you’ll no doubt be looking for good places to work and the old city is the top location for these spots, with three excellent coworking spaces. Alt Chiang Mai is a coworking and co-living space that hosts great events including talks, workshops, yoga, and ice bath mornings, and there are two Punspace coworking sites—one near Tha Phae Gate and another in the north of the old city.
If you prefer to work in cafes, you’re in the right place here too. Cafe de Thaan Aoan has a fantastic Thai menu, lovely hosts, solid WiFi, air-conditioning, and plenty of outlets to go around. Into the Woods also has the hallowed three (WiFi, AC, and outlets) as well as ideally-sized tables and chairs that make for a comfortable working environment and excellent homemade cakes. A tiny gem, tucked away on a side alley is My Secret Cafe in Town, which has less in the way of electricity sockets but the cool staff and the delicious noodle salad make up for it.
Enjoy your downtime at one of the world-class sessions at Yoga in the Park, open most days in Nong Buak Haad Public Park, or take a massage at Wat Pan Whaen, where the Thai Massage is known amongst locals to be the best (read: most intense) and have a stroll around Wat Phantao, Wat Phra Sing and Wat Chedi Luang, three of the most stunning in the area.
You’ll be truly spoiled for choice food-wise. Vegans love Rad Rabbit Vegan Pizza, Vegan Society, and Good Souls. Brunch fans know Sunray’s Breakfast & Brunch is the place to be. For a fancy evening meal check out The House by Ginger, whose Thai dishes are only matched by Chef Tao’s Thai Cuisine, and for the leafiest environment in the old town, take your coffee and cake break at Fern Forest Cafe. Khunkae's Juice Bar has a lengthy menu of freshly-pressed juices to cure all ailments. Chai Restaurant (ไชย เรสเตอรอง on GoogleMaps) is the most gorgeous, retro spot in town but you’d never know it’s there unless you walk past it.
While nightlife is not what it once was, there’s a great scene at North Gate Jazz Co-op, where the owners/musicians play alongside internationally booked artists. Wine lovers will enjoy CRU 2nd floor wine bar and cocktail fans should get to Nophaburi Bar, which gives a Thai twist to classic cocktails. The highlight of the week is walking the Sunday night market, which spreads across the length of Rachadamnoen Road and sells food, arts, crafts, and clothes.
Lucie Grace is a British freelance writer, based in Chiang Mai. She lived in India throughout 2020 and 2021 and misses it daily. You can read her bylines in The Daily Beast, Fodor’s, The Independent and The Times.
Stay on top of the latest digital nomad trends with new posts every week