Chiang Mai is an amazing city that’s become one of the world’s most popular destinations for digital nomads and others looking to take advantage of its affordable lifestyle, exciting nightlife, great food, and safe streets. A newcomer will need to know where to live in Chiang Mai so they can get the most out of a stay in this vibrant city. There are many neighbourhoods to choose from so figuring out the best places to live in Chiang Mai might not be as easy as you would think! Luckily, we’re here to help you find the neighbourhood that’s the best fit for you.
Chiang Mai is a hugely popular city in northern Thailand and people come here to stay for a few months and often end up staying for years… or sometimes they never leave! The city has a sneaky way of sucking you in with its charms. If you’ve got Chiang Mai on your list of cities you want to live in then you’ll want to explore the pros and cons of each neighbourhood because figuring out where to live in Chiang Mai and which place is the best fit for you and your budget will make your stay there so much better.
If you’re planning a short stay in Chiang Mai, you can often negotiate a reduced monthly rate with a hostel or guesthouse. For people intending on staying longer, you’ll want to search for a house or apartment rental. This will be cheaper but it will also allow you to make yourself more at home, too. So take some time to read our guide on the best places to live in Chiang Mai and if you’re not sure after reading, it’s a smart idea to explore a bit by renting a few nights accommodation in different places to see which feels the best for you before you make your decision on something longer term.
This large area located north of the Old City is one of the most affordable parts of Chiang Mai but you won’t find too many places that cater to foreigners. That means you’ll have to travel elsewhere in Chiang Mai if you’re looking for restaurants that serve Western dishes. But that’s ok because there are plenty of street vendors and also a few large markets to load up on delicious Thai food instead.
Accommodation in this area is great value and you can find fully furnished apartments and other types of rentals. This area is popular with students.
If you want to mix your Thai experience up with a bit of Chinese flare then maybe a stay in Chinatown is for you. Chinatown is located in the area around Warorot Market, branching down nearby roads and along the riverbanks. The market opens early at 4am and you’ll find all sorts of interesting things here including cheap produce, wholesale items, fabric, cut flowers, herbal medicine, jewelry, clothes, housewares, and almost anything else you could imagine. Plus you’ll find lots of great Chinese food in this area if you’re looking for a change from Thai cuisine.
The area caters mostly to Chinese immigrants and Thais of Chinese descent but it would also be an interesting area for adventurous types who don’t mind a lot of hustle bustle. You’ll find a whole range of accommodation from budget guesthouses up to nicer hotels, but houses and condominiums for longer-term stays are a bit more difficult to find than in other areas of the city.
The area of Hang Dong is located south of Chiang Mai city and it’s home to several natural attractions including the Grand Canyon Water Park with kayaks and zipline and more, and the Chiang Mai Night Safari where you can see nocturnal animals doing their thing. You’ll also find the large and busy Ban Tawai market in this area which is a great place to find souvenirs and handicrafts.
Hang Dong is a large, beautiful neighbourhood with a nice mix of locals and foreigners and this is one of the better places to move to if you have a family. Hang Dong is a tranquil area where many expats choose to live in a large house with a garden that’s close to nature. You’ll get more bang from your buck out here than for places that are more central. You’ll probably need to buy a car to get around and take note that traffic can sometimes be a challenge.
Mae Hia is located in southwest Chiang Mai close to the airport. It’s an area more popular with Thai people than travelers and expats, but it’s getting busier with lots of different people. The proximity to the airport is handy if you do a lot of traveling. There’s a great choice of affordable and authentic Thai food here in small eateries. It’s also home to several beautiful temples, including Wat Ton Kwen which is one of the last remaining wooden temples. The Mae Hia Agricultural Basin is another main attraction of the area where locals go to relax and exercise surrounded by mountains, trees, and lots of birds.
If you’re into nature and don’t mind being one of the few foreigners wandering around, then Mae Hia is one of the best places to live in Chiang Mai. You can find rental accommodation in this area for a lot less than you’d pay closer to the city center.
Night Bazaar Area
Located along several blocks to the east side of the Old City, this part of Chiang Mai is a mecca for people who love to shop. From 7pm every night, this area springs to life and you can find almost anything you’re looking for (or didn’t know you were looking for!) in its maze of stalls. There are other markets located around the night bazaar including the Kalare Market where you’ll find a dizzying selection of local food stalls.
There’s a whole array of short term accommodation (from as low as $10 for a bed in a hostel dorm room all the way up to at a more upscale hotel) in this area and anyone who’s interested in nightlife, partying, and an overall exciting experience should consider a stay in this area but it’s more geared towards tourists, especially those who love to shop. You’ll mostly find more temporary accommodation here and if you’re looking for villas and condos you’ll do better to look elsewhere.
This area is often one of the first stops for new arrivals and it’s especially popular with digital nomads, expats, and anyone who loves nightlife. It’s considered to be quite trendy and upscale and it’s packed with malls, restaurants, cafes, and bars with an overall artistic vibe. Plus it’s close to Chiang Mai University so it has a great, buzzy atmosphere that comes where there are lots of students around. Some people might say it’s crowded and noisy, and others might say it’s exciting and vibrant!
Nimmanhaemin is located northwest of the Old City and it’s grown and expanded over the past 10 years as digital nomads have moved in and set up shop. It’s filled with laptop warriors by day in the myriad coworking spaces, and by night the bars are packed with those same folks looking to let loose after a day of work. If you’re a digital nomad or anyone who loves nightlife and wants to spend a fun few months in the city then this is one of the best places to live in Chiang Mai, but be aware that it’s also one of the more comparatively expensive areas.
Nong Hoi is an old and traditional Thai neighbourhood located in the southeast of the city. It’s home to the ancient Wiang Kum Kam temple complex and it’s an interesting area with plenty of weekly markets, temples, great food, and lots of small streets to wander around. This is where to live in Chiang Mai if you’d rather be among Thais. There are some foreigners living in Nong Hoi, but it’s still mostly made up of Thais which makes it one of the best places to live in Chiang Mai to practice your language skills. It’s a relaxing, serene area that’s great for families and people looking for good value accommodation in a chilled atmosphere but it’s probably not the place for you if you’re looking for nightlife.
The Old City is a 1.5 square kilometer area set within the walls and moats of the ancient Lanna capital city and it’s one of Chiang Mai’s most popular areas for backpackers. This is the oldest and most distinct area of the city and certainly one of the best places to live in Chiang Mai if you’re interested in culture and history. This area is home to more than 40 temples, some of the city’s best markets, and it’s compact and safe and easy to explore on foot.
It’s often the first place people arrive and stay because it’s easy to get around and there’s a lot of nightlife that’s oriented towards new arrivals. This means that there’s a huge choice of more temporary accommodation and you’ll find a whole range here from budget backpacker’s hostels all the way up to more upscale hotels. You’ll see plenty of tourists and first timers roaming the streets because the Old City is a great jumping off point for checking out the city. But if you’re planning on staying in Chiang Mai longer term you’ll find better value food and accommodation elsewhere, so be sure to explore and shop around once you find your bearings!
Outside the City Limits
If you’re looking for something cheap and peaceful then living a bit outside the city’s limits could be a great choice for you. Rent is way lower and you’ll get more bang for your buck if you’re looking for a larger house or villa. Sure, there will be fewer options for cafes, restaurants, and co-working spaces the farther out you go, but if you get yourself a motorbike then you’ll be able to zip around at will.
As the name would suggest, this part of Chiang Mai is set along the Mae Ping river which snakes through the east side of the city. It’s a lively and interesting area with sophisticated, chilled out restaurants, bars, and cafes lining the riverbanks. It’s a higher end area of Chiang Mai and prices reflect that but you’ll also encounter locals fishing, street food stalls, and Warorot Market where you’ll find Thai snacks and a seemingly endless array of fresh produce. Wander to the north side of the river and you’ll find antique shops, galleries, craft stalls, and textile and furniture shops. The area has a lovely, laid back feel to it and it’s a great place to explore, especially as a new arrival.
This is one of the best areas to live in Chiang Mai for families without having to go too far out of the city center. There’s a mix of accommodation types in this area and plenty of hotels and guesthouses to choose from in a variety of prices.
If you’ve had your fill of Chiang Mai city life and are ready to head out to the suburbs, then San Kampphaeng might be where to live in Chiang Mai for you. Located eight miles east of the city center, this area is close to nature and operates at a much slower pace. You’ll get a lot more for your money out here and it will give you a more authentic taste for what life is like in Thailand for Thai people. This area is great for families and anyone who craves outdoor activities more than nightlife. Depending where you settle, you could find yourself surrounded by farmland or forested foothills and it’s not exactly a mecca for shopping or eating.
It’s a much different vibe to life closer to the city center but it could be one of the best places to live in Chiang Mai if you want to get away from the hustle bustle and enjoy so nature and authentic life, while still being able to access the city along Highway 1317 which connects to the Outer and Inner Ring Roads and the Superhighway. Rental properties are more common in this area than hotels and hostels and you’ll find a wide variety of choices depending on your requirements and budget.
San Sai is a suburb located around 5 kilometers northeast of Chiang Mai city center. There’s a huge range of property types in this area and the prices are very affordable. Many housing developments have swimming pools and tennis courts. San Sai is located close to the superhighway so getting around the city is easy but it’s certainly not at the center of the action, so this might not be the best place to live in Chiang Mai unless you want a more suburban experience.
This quiet neighbourhood is located north of the Old City and it’s one of the best places to live in Chiang Mai if you want somewhere that’s a bit quieter with more of an authentic Thai vibe. It’s the sort of neighbourhood where you’ll find in-the-know expats who have been around for a while and the area is considered to be up-and-coming. You’re not likely to bump into too many tourists wandering around this area and you probably won’t see English on menus or hear it spoken much, so be prepared! With all that said, a ride into the Old Town is affordable or you could even walk.
While not known for its nightlife, Santitham has lots of great little cafes and street food stalls dotting the streets. This is a residential area and you’ll find lots of Thais hanging out at their local spots enjoying a meal or drink, so this makes a perfect area to come to in search of some of the most authentic Thai food. Santitham is also the location of the Muay Thai stadium so if you want a fun night out, start with a meal then see a fight and follow it up with some drinks at a local bar. Thanin Market (also called Siri Wattana Market) is another great place for food and you can also find almost anything else you might need here.
Tha Phae Gate
The Tha Phae Gate area is a good choice if you’re interested in having more of a quiet time. This is where to live in Chiang Mai if you’re less of a partier and want more of a relaxed, chilled experience. Hotels in this area are generally higher end so it’s not a popular spot for budget travellers, but apartments are affordable. While the evenings in this area of Chiang Mai might be a bit dull, it’s not so far to the Old City and the night Bazaar if you want some fun.
Wat Ket is one of the more low-key areas of Chiang Mai but it’s still worth a look, especially if you want a living experience that’s a bit more on the quiet side, or if you have a family. This area is located between the Superhighway and the Ping River and it’s transformed over the years into an active commercial district with many cafes, restaurants, shops, and different types of accommodation.
This area is less geared towards backpackers so if you’re on a budget and looking for cheap accommodation, this might not be where to live in Chiang Mai. But if you want a place that’s free of wandering tourist hordes (and if you love great seafood), Wat Ket could be the place for you! This area has a good selection of different types of residential properties at a range of budgets.
Chiang Mai, often referred to as ‘The Rose of the North’ is often near the top of global rankings for the best places in the world to retire and to travel to as a digital nomad. The city is filled with an eclectic mix of all types of people and you’re sure to have an interesting time living there, as long as you can figure out which are the best places to live in Chiang Mai so you can get the most out of your experience.
Whether you’re planning to visit Chiang Mai as a tourist or to move there for a longer period of time, where you base yourself will have a huge impact on your overall experience in the city. We hope this guide has helped you figure out where to live in Chiang Mai so you have the best possible time in this amazing city!