While Chiang Mai is a relatively small city, it still is home to a number of different areas and neighborhoods each with their own look and feel…and that go well beyond just the Old City and Nimmanhaemin where tourists and digital nomads congregate. Though they are central areas, I’ve read several posts that only highlight these two main spots and dismiss everywhere else.
If you’re just starting out in the city or living here for a few months, staying around the Old City or Nimman will be the most convenient, however if you’re planning to stay longer, get out of your comfort zone a bit – there are plenty of areas to choose from!
Nimmanhaemin (also called “Nimmanhaeminda” or just “Nimman”) is Chiang Mai’s trendy neighborhood. Close to Chiang Mai University and easily accessible from the Superhighway, Nimman is filled with a variety of restaurants, cafes, wine bars, art galleries and other upscale venues. While it’s a consistent go-to spot, all the shops and restaurants you see today could easily be gone tomorrow as places open and close at a head-spinning rate. (It’s not uncommon through Chiang Mai to go to one of your favorite places for lunch and have it be…gone.) Take time to wander through side streets between Nimmanhaemin Road and Srimangkalajarn Road where most of the action is. New condominiums are popping up like weeds and real estate prices are some of the highest in the city, but it’s still easy to sublet a place for a reasonable rate and there are plenty of boutique hotels around that are great for a weekend getaway.
The Old City is undoubtedly Chiang Mai’s tourist epicenter, but large parts of it are still quiet and laid-back. The east side (Thapae Gate) and the central east-west road (Ratchadamnoen) are the busiest areas, with an endless array of guesthouses, boutique hotels, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s also home to the largest concentration of temples in CM and likely in all of Thailand. The Old City has everything you need, but in my opinion most of the best spots are actually outside of it.
The winding lanes of the north and southwest areas are quite low-key. There are many houses for rent, and surprisingly the prices aren’t outrageous. For apartments however, you’re really only be able to find ‘serviced apartments’ which are essentially long-term hotel rooms with a refrigerator. Although the Old City suffers from a lack of sidewalks like everywhere else in Thailand, it’s easily the most walkable part of Chiang Mai and finding transport is never a problem – all drivers will assume you’re a tourist though. To get lower rates, speaking a few words of Thai can go a long way…
Lang Mor (meaning “behind CMU”) stretches along Suthep Road west from the Canal to the mountain. It’s sort of a budget Nimmanhaemin – there are a ton of restaurants, cafes and bars, but they cater to the CMU student set and are much, much cheaper then those just one road over. The nightly food market along Suthep is possibly the biggest in the city and certainly has the most diverse, and some of the cheapest, set of offerings.
Housing options are everywhere but they’re mostly student apartments. This is a good place to look for reasonable accommodation if you’re on a budget, but if you can spend more than 5,000b a month there isn’t much here. Being close to the university, it’s easy to catch a songthaew.
The north side of CMU along Huay Kaew is popularly referred to as Naa Mor (“in front of CMU”) and also caters to the CMU crowd. Though there are plenty of restaurants and a huge food market in Malin Plaza, Naa Mor is geared more toward clothes and cosmetics than Lang Mor. There are a few upscale condo buildings on Huay Kaew and cheaper options further north in Chang Khian. Like Lang Mor, it’s fairly easy to find a songthaew or tuktuk to take you where you want to go.
Named after the biggest temple in the area, Jed Yod is a relatively quiet, residential part of the city with a range of condo buildings and homes. Houses can be a bit difficult to find, but your best bet might be to drive around looking for “For Rent” signs (“rent” is เช่า in Thai). There are restaurants around the road that connects the Superhighway and Canal, but most of the area is small, leafy streets and detached houses. I lived in this area for a year and loved it. I really appreciated the neighborhood vibe and felt like I was truly living in Thailand, something that can get lost when you’re in other areas.
Transport to and from the area is not as easy as other places as Jed Yod is fairly spread out, but if you’re willing to walk to a major road it’s do-able. Of course having your own set of wheels is easiest (just make sure you know how to ride a motorbike in Thailand).
Wat Ket (“Wat Gate” in older spellings) is the area between the Ping River and the Superhighway, home to some of Chiang Mai’s oldest missionary institutions. It includes Charoenrat Road, which follows the river and has plenty of riverside restaurants, bars and art galleries. The rest of the area doesn’t have much to offer tourists other than the bus and train stations and it’s not very attractive to foreigners who don’t work at one of the nearby schools, but there are often nice detached houses for rent. Transportation can be a problem without a motorbike.
I really like this somewhat historic area and there are plenty of local food options where you won’t find many other foreigners, as tourists often don’t make it past going out on Charoenrat Road. There are also several charming boutique hotels in this area including Hotel des Artists Ping Silhouette and Sala Lanna which are lovely, especially if you’ve visited the city before, are honeymooning or enjoying a little staycation in Chiang Mai.
The area south of the Old City is usually referred to as Wualai, although it also includes the neighborhoods of Thippanet and Haiya. It’s a maze of small, confusing streets with several hidden gems and on Saturday the walking street market sets up on Wualai Road. Like other residential parts of the city there are some great houses to rent, and closer to the Old City are a few large apartments that rent monthly.
Contrasting with the Old City’s budget backpacker angle, the Night Bazaar caters to the more upscale tourist set with hotels like Le Meridien and Shangri-La. The bazaar itself is mainly a lame and overpriced assortment of souvenirs and bars, but there are quite a few hidden gems like Boy Blues Bar. If you’re planning on staying in CM for a while, you probably don’t want to live here.
Well-placed between Nimmanhaemin and the Old City, Santitham is an up and coming neighborhood becoming more popular with a lot of young people and expats. It includes Kad Thani, the city’s most mind-boggling fresh market, as well as many recently opened bars and restaurants. Santitham is a very accessible place to live and has apartments and condos to suit every price range. The main areas along Santitham Road can get noisy with traffic, but there are plenty of quiet backstreets and wide range of accommodation options (and coffee!).
Further south from Lang Mor and Suthep Road are the temples of Wat Umong, Rampoeng and Pong Noi. While they’re about as far from the city as you can get and still be in it, the area retains a Thai village charm that has largely disappeared from the rest of Chiang Mai. Many tasteful housing developments and condos are scattered throughout the backstreets. Living here without your own wheels is largely impossible, but you’ll be rewarded with an atmosphere you can’t really get anywhere else in CM.
Of course, Chiang Mai is much, much more than just what surrounds the Old City. To the south and southeast of Chiang Mai city are the districts of Hang Dong and San Khampaeng which are home to a number of schools and large housing developments. If you’re living on your own, you probably won’t want to be out here, but families can appreciate the space and more value for their money.
To the north of Chiang Mai City are the districts of Mae Rim, Sansai and Doi Saket. Again, these “suburbs” are more popular with families, retirees and expats who have been here for a while. You can rent multi-bedroom houses for less than 10,000 baht/month (about $285 USD) complete with gardens and car parks. There are some really beautiful areas to live, but it can take a while to get in and out of the city – traffic seems to be getting worse every month, especially if you drive a car.
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
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In my humble opinion Hang Dong is where it’s at! We’ve been living here for a year and love it. The people are friendlier than in the city center, and there are less tourists and few traffic jams. The neighborhoods are very old school Lanna and we have great markets, although they are smaller than in the city center. There is also the perfect mix of expats and locals and we have a great variety of restaurants. Although I wish we had a few more Indian restaurants in the area lol!
thanks for the post Elizabeth,
i am thinking about buying a home in chaing mai, however i am not sure of which area in chaing mai to choose from … i read your post and see many opportunities in the hong dong area.. which do you prefer ?
i am from LASVEGAS Nevada and need the comforts that the USA has to offer.. if youu would be so kind to help me find a good area to settle in i would appreaciate any help ..
My wife of 10 years is Thai still citizen. She is from Buriam but we lived for a few months in Chang Mai which I prefer. We now live 10 years in Coeur d’Alene ID but getting too cold for my 75 year old bones. We are looking to move to Thailand. She would spend 50% of her time in Buriram where she has family and the rest In Chang Mai. I have $6000/month retirement which I would use to qualify for permanent Thai Visa. We would buy a house under her name. Would you recommend Hang Dong for my circumstances? Thanks Ron K
I would like to bring my young family to CM, and Hang Dong sounds great. Where can I get more info on this locale? I’d love to talk to folks like Elizabeth who are living there now. Cheers!
Hi Ray, I’ve been living in Chiang Mai Hang Dong area for a little over a year now and I find it to be easy living at its core. You have various options in regards to international school, Shopping and restaurants. I live in a Moo Baan (gated community) in close proximity to a local thai market, Big C supermarket, HomePro (home improvement store), Movie thater, some foreign restaurants and several other convenient sopping centers where you can run errands. I don’t have to leave my neighborhood to do much else, but am about a 15 minute drive to the old town.
Hang Dong is a mixture of foreigners and Thai. Although most people rave about some of the best Thai restaurants being in the city, There are a lot of great thais restaurants in Hang Dong too. I’ve eaten my way around Ching Mai and when you compare pricing, portion size, and taste, the outer eats of Chiang Mai are probably some of the best as they are cleaner, most of the time, and geared towards Thai taste buds and not foreigners. Again, Foreign food options are also available.
Hi Elizabeth, Im trying to find an area near the Panyaden School. Looking for a condo or housing where there are onsite or nearby facilities such as fitness centres, restaurants and some shops. Do you have any tips? what is transport like? Do I have to drive? Thank you!
Hello Soraya. We are planning to enrol our boy in Panyaden too. Looking for something not expensive near yoga or fitness centre. Would prefer not to need a car. Any recommendations? Are you happy with Panyaden?
If we are a family with a 5 yr old which area do u suggest for a short stay if we’d like to be close to eating places and bazaars?
A map showing the neighborhoods would be very useful.
Using my humorous lack of Thai, I tried finding a couple of the neighborhoods.
But no one understood.
Perhaps Lat/long coordinates to the center area would be easy to insert.
Best of luck.
Loved wandering through Santitham while staying in Chiang Mai for a month! Found one of our favorite noodle shops, Kadnomsen, just by walking around. We stayed in Nimman, but kind of think we would have liked Chiang Mai even more if we stayed up in Santitham. Great post overall!
I like that area as well – more of a neighborhood feel but still a lot of options!
Thanks so much for this great post. Heading to Chiang Mai in October and this was exactly the kind of info we needed. I think we might be leaning toward Santitham now. Do you know if it’s a good neighbourhood for bringing a laptop to a café and working?
Literally everywhere. Santhitham has plenty of cafes!
Santitham sounds fantastic. We want to relocate and have our son attend Panyaden international school. Would it still make sense to stay in Santitham? I would love to be in a happening place.
Santitham would be about a 30-minute dive to Panyaden with no traffic so a bit far. I think a lot of people who work or have their kids attend Panyaden tend to live on the south side of town or toward Hang Dong for easier access.
We are looking to move to Thailand as a retiree for approx. 6 months of the year (the cold months in England!). We loved Chiang Mai when staying there for a holiday and the idea of slightly cooler Northern living appeals to us more than the humid southern islands.
We have heard quite a lot about slash and burn policy however and are concerned about the reports of smog covering CM for weeks at a time. The houses we have seen that we really like are in Mae Rim and thereabouts, but we don’t want to commit to moving there and then find that the air quality so near to the mountains causes us problems.
It would be interesting to hear opinions of people living there please.
Hi Sue – you will get a wide range of opinions on the ‘smoky season’ in Chiang Mai which happens from February until the rains come in April/May. The truth is that the severity of the smoke and poor air quality changes every year and even day by day and affects everyone differently, so you really won’t know how it will bother you until you’re in it. If you’re really concerned about it though, it’s probably best to avoid Chiang Mai during that time.
17 Comments on Where to Live in Chiang Mai – Different Neighborhoods