(click map to enlarge)
Chiang Mai may be a small city by most standards, but it's home to a wide variety of neighborhoods with their own unique flavor. Although the Old City and Night Bazaar are often referred to as 'downtown', the truth is that Chiang Mai doesn't really have a center and each neighborhood offers something different.
Nimmanhaemin (นิมมานเหมินทด์, sometimes "Nimmanhaeminda" or just "Nimman") is Chiang Mai's trendy spot. Close to Chiang Mai University and easily accessible from the Superhighway, Nimman is a constant parade of new restaurants, cafes, wine bars, art galleries and other upscale venues. Most of the action takes place on the side streets between Nimmanhaemin Rd and Srimangkalajarn Rd to the east. 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. While Nimman is quite far from the Old City and Night Bazaar (in Chiang Mai terms, anyway), it's always easy to find a songthaew or tuktuk to take you where you want to go.
Lang Mor ("behind CMU") stretches along Suthep Rd 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. The nightly food market along Suthep is possibly the biggest in the city and certainly has the most diverse 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 5000b 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 set. Though there are plenty of restaurants and a huge food market in Malin Plaza, Naa Mor is geared more towards 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. There are restaurants around the road that connects the Superhighway and Canal, but most of the area is small, leafy streets and detached houses.
There are many condo buildings to fit all price ranges as well as houses for rent by the owners. Houses can be a bit difficult to find, but your best bet might be to drive around looking for "For Rent" signs. Transport is not as easy as other places as Jed Yod is so spread out, but if you're willing to walk to a major road it's do-able.
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 (Rachadamnoen) is the busiest part, with an endless array of guest houses, boutique hotels, restaurants and coffeeshops. 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 our opinion most of the best spots are actually outside of it.
The winding lanes of north and southwest areas are quite low-key. There are many houses for rent, and surprisingly the prices aren't outrageous. 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 easy.
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 bike.
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 Rd. 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. The bazaar itself is a tacky, lame and overpriced assortment of souvenirs and crappy bars, but there are quite a few hidden gems like Street Pizza and Boy Blues Bar. If you're planning on staying in CM for a while, you don't want to live here.
Well-placed between Nimmanhaemin and the Old City, Santitham is an up and coming neighborhood with a lot of young people. 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 Rd can get noisy with traffic, but there are plenty of quiet backstreets.
Further south from Lang Mor and Suthep Rd 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.
What's your favorite part of Chiang Mai? Let us know at [email protected].