Chiang Mai is a perfect escape from the big bustling cities of Asia. Low rise, with little traffic, and a beautiful old town, it’s a place of beauty and culture. Here’s my guide on where to stay, what to eat and where to shop.

Handy Hotels

On my most recent visit to Chiang Mai I stayed at the Rachamankha hotel within the Chiang Mai moat. It’s right next to the most famous temple in Chiang Mai, Wat Phra Singh, and just a few hundred metres from Chiang Mai Gate Market, where you can buy loads of fresh fast food straight off the grill or out of the wok.

Rachamankha is designed in a way that fits the Northern Thailand Lanna architecture and is set within grounds that are big enough to provide the illusion that you’re far away from anywhere.

If you want to stay right in the middle of the old town, I recommend staying at The Rachamankha or Tamarind Village hotels. They’re both serene, have a wonderful sense of Northern Thai service and borrow from the local Lanna architecture. Close to cafes, temples, bars and markets, you’ll get a great base that’s just a short bicycle or tuk tuk ride from the best that Chiang Mai has to offer.

Previously I’ve also stayed at the Anantara Chiang Mai (formerly The Chedi) and this is beautifully set on the Mae Ping River, just a kilometre or so from the old town. It’s a stunning hotel with a beautiful blend of the contemporary and the colonial, and holds a special place for me as I was married there!

Shopping two ways

There are many talented tailors in Chiang Mai, and the big bonus is that–unlike in the south of Thailand–they’re mostly not the type to hassle you on the street to get suits and shirts made etc. I know this because I had some custom dresses and jackets made for my bridesmaids and groomsmen at my wedding, and I used a local named Maross who is in the old town near the corner of Bumrungburi and Sarmlarn Road, and does a lot of work for Thai celebrities. And he has a cute little miniature schnauzer named Som Chun who will keep you company while you get measured up!

The other way to shop in Chiang Mai is to do so in air-conditioned comfort by visiting Central Airport Plaza, where you’ll find Thai department stores like Robinson etc. It won’t be the most cultural shopping experience you’ll find in Thailand, but it’ll help you escape the heat and there’s also a cinema there if you feel like tuning out for a couple of hours. Not bad for local people-watching also!

Chiang Mai Gate Market

This is a perfect example of how South East Asians live, how the streets are part of their every day life. They’re at the heart of the exciting atmosphere Westerners crave. Grab a fresh som tum (green papaya salad), grilled river prawns and a fruit juice from one of the stalls or a cold beer from the nearest 7/11 – all up it should set you back a few hundred baht or 10 Aussie dollars. I always advocate eating from street food stalls, especially if you’re eating from the grill or a wok – the food is cooked fresh and heated over flames in front of you, and I can’t remember ever getting sick from eating this way – contrary to popular belief!