Our pick of the crop
Chiang Mai is a large city and popular with visitors, so it comes with a huge range of accommodation options. The large choice of highly commendable places can be bewildering, so here are our top picks.
You'll find literally thousands of hotels in Chiang Mai listed on online travel agents like Agoda, Booking and AirBnb, so if you don’t find anything to your liking in our selection, do browse their collections. Be sure to check, in particular, location as properties are often far-flung and you'll end up spending a significant amount of time (and money) getting into the downtown area if you stay at one of these places.
For convenience’s sake and allowing perhaps for just a short stay in town, we’ve concentrated our options mainly in the downtown and Old City areas of Chiang Mai. Whereas in former times you could designate two or three areas of Chiang Mai as “hotel” or “guesthouse” areas, they’ve now spread right across town, though there is a large concentration within the Old City walls and the area between the moat and Ping River. As well as holding many of the town’s tourist sites, these leafy quiet lanes are attractive settings for smaller size hotels and lodge or inn-style establishments.
The generic four-star and smattering of five-star hotels are still mainly to be found in the night bazaar quarter and upper-end of Loi Kroh, and spreading south along the river. Many more of the newer three-star to four-star generic hotel style choices are found around the ring road or Superhighway. These are not a comfortable walking distance to downtown.
The old style cheap and (if lucky) cheerful variety, where basic rooms at knock down rates were offered in exchange for often insistent “buy a trek here” pressure are firmly on their way out. The old-style three-day trek where you would ride an elephant, raft down a river, smoke some opium with colourful villagers peaked many years ago. Today a lot of visitors are just coming to hang out in Chiang Mai, browse the lively markets, take a few photos of the old temples, test the myriad coffee shops, perhaps do a cookery course and have a spa treatment. At worst it’s a stop-over on the way to Pai or the Lao border crossing at Chiang Khong.
Consequently these days there’s at least as much emphasis by hotel and guesthouse owners on making money on rooms and board as from selling tours and treks, so room rates have increased. With more competition, pools and fancy Lanna-style decor have become important selling points even in the lower budget and flashpacker ranges.
While prices remain competitive compared to those on the Thai islands, they can be relatively high compared those of smaller and less popular northern Thai towns such as Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Nan. Though decent low budget choices are increasingly limited, flashpacker and midrange boutique-style options proliferate. In certain parts of town such as Nimmanhemin—popular with the recent and massive influx of Chinese tourists—every soi now has two or three fancy boutique guesthouses where only a few years ago you’d be hard pushed to find any at all.
When it comes to budget accommodation, for friendly, homely atmosphere, facilities and overall value for money Ma Guesthouse takes a lot of beating. With only a handful of rooms, you might miss out, and if this is the case, walk around the corner to the also excellent Diva. Both have central locations. A bit further flung and nudging into the flashpacker bracket, Ban Narai River Guesthouse is an excellent affordable riverside hangout. There are many other backpacker-style guesthouses, especially in the southeast corner of the Old City.
With another couple of hundred baht to spend Awana House, falling between upper budget and lower flashpacker price categories would be our clear first choice. Moving up the range a bit it is difficult to choose from a host of flashpacker to midrange choices, with perhaps tranquil Galare and its riverside location topping the lower rungs of the flashpacker ladder and Raming Lodge more towards the upper end. The latter is a good option for night owls and has plenty of rooms, so you have a decent chance of obtaining one during busy periods. Some good online booking discounts are available.
If we were after a quiet, relaxed stay in the midrange we'd plump for Twenty Lodge’s delightful garden or Vieng Mantra’s good value for money and central location next to bars and restaurants if we were more in more of a party mood.
Four-star and up hotels cover a very wide spread of room rates, so in this upper end our main criteria would boil down to how much dosh we wanted to spend on accommodation. Even if we’d won the national lottery we’d still be a bit loathe to spend $1,000 a night on a room; four-star comfort, services and decor along the lines of The Rim would suffice for us. If you do want to splurge then 137 Pillars in town or the Four Seasons Resort out in the hills are both seriously luxurious.
Based in Chiang Mai, Mark Ord has been travelling Southeast Asia for over two decades and first crossed paths with Travelfish on Ko Lipe in the early 1990s.
Our top 10 places to stay in and around Chiang Mai