Having reached Sri Phum corner on our last Chiang Mai city walk and continuing in our auspicious clockwise direction, we’re going right into the thick of the action with a stroll along the old city’s eastern wall and moat. This takes us past the old backpacker area of Somphet, Tha Pae Gate — Chiang Mai’s equivalent of, say, Piccadilly Circus — and Loi Kroh Road (the naughty bit!) Bearing in mind the contemporary centre of Chiang Mai has shifted somewhat towards the east with the Tha Pae banking stretch, the Worarot commercial area, Chinatown and the famous night bazaar all on the river side of town, the eastern stretch of old city wall has found itself nowadays smack bang central. This is the busiest section in tourist terms and much of the interior and exterior sides of the old city ring road are lined with guesthouses, cafes, bars, restaurants, massage parlours, bike hire, internet joints and so on.
Other than the touristy bits there are also a few wats, albeit of admittedly limited interest, Somphet market and of course Tha Pae Gate itself — the best preserved and most spectacular of the old city’s brick gates — and, naturally, there’s still plenty of good Thai street food to be found.
The exterior, clockwise road is called Chaiyapoom Road and the interior, old city side is known as Moonmuang Road. Heading south there’s a series of little sois leading off to your left which wind their way through the maze of narrow lanes between Chaiyapoom and Worarot. There are quite a few good accommodation options in this up and coming part of town which is both centrally placed and relatively quiet.
The main arteries cutting through this labyrinth are firstly Chang Moi Road leading down to Chinatown/Worarot market, Tha Pae Road taking you down past cafes, souvenir shops and Chiang Mai’s main banks to Narawat Bridge and thirdly Loi Kroh Road which kicks off with the city’s main ‘hostess bar’ strip before passing a clutch of restaurants, bars and hotels on its way to link up to the Chiang Klan night bazaar. In between is an eclectic collection of cafes, bars, guesthouses, bike hire shops, DK Bookstore and even one of Chiang Mai’s few go-go bars, Spotlight.
This is probably Thailand’s tamest ever go-go bar so if you’re travelling with your grannie and she’s always wondered what a Thai go-go bar is like, this is the one to take her to. Also good along this strip is The Riva on the corner of Chang Moi which has some decent live music in the evenings and the Chiang Mai institution Mike’s Burgers. Mike himself is long departed for pastures new but they do still knock up some of the best burgers and hotdogs in town if you’re feeling like a change.
Meanwhile over on the old city side there’s good noodle and street food to be found at Somphet market as well as some excellent juice bars, while the numerous narrow lanes leading off behind the market take you into the traditional backpacker quarter (including one of our favourites, Chiang Mai Blue House.) The main artery leading into the city is Ratchadamneon Road, where the Sunday walking street market takes place, located directly opposite Tha Pae Gate itself and closely followed as you walk south by Ratchamanka Soi 2, which contains several tempting spots for a bite or a drink.
All in all, this is not exactly the most scenic of the four sides of the old city for a hike, but it’s probably the busiest and with the best choice of eats and drinks, so still worth including in your walking itinerary.
By Mark Ord.