Chiang’s Mai’s Nimman is a fantastic neighborhood with funky shops, great restaurants, a nice coffee culture and a chill vibe.
We’ve been to Chiang Mai a few times and we always wish we could stay longer. A beautiful city in mountainous northern Thailand, it’s popular with tourists, expats and digital nomads like us. Known for affordability, delicious northern Thai cuisine, a co-working-friendly coffee culture, and its many markets, it’s also a chill place perfect for relaxing or resetting after the grind of continuous travel. Situated on a river a few hours from a national park, there are many outdoor activities to enjoy, as well as some great day trips for longer stays. The Chiang Mai Nimman neighborhood is the perfect place to start.
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Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is November through February. The weather is cooler and dryer, ideal for many outdoor activities. Also, the flowers are in bloom and there are more festivals to enjoy. January is considered to be the busiest month with the largest influx of visitors.
The worst time to come to Chiang Mai is March through May. It is hot during this time, but it is also “burning season,” which is when farmers in the region burn their leftover crops. It fertilizes the fields, but also makes the air smoky and hazy. However, the famous Songkran Water Festival is in mid-April, so it might be worth the risk.
Best Neighborhoods to Stay In
The top five best areas to stay in are:
- Old City – The most central and historic area, with ancient temples, museums and old city gates and walls. This is the best (and most central) place to stay if it’s your first visit to Chiang Mai or you want to be near all the action and attractions.
- Nimman – The trendiest area of Chiang Mai Nimman is popular with expats and digital nomads. More sophisticated but pricier than other areas.
- Night Bazaar – Just east of Old City, this area is dominated by the city’s largest night market and offers lots of restaurants and a vibrant night life.
- Riverside – This is a quieter area with scenic views of the River Ping, just across the river from Night Bazaar.
- Santitham – Northeast of Nimman and more affordable, Santitham is a quiet but more remote neighborhood gaining popularity with visitors.
Why You Should Stay in Nimman
Officially known as Nimmanhaemin, Nimman is a hip, chill area with lots of coffee shops, restaurants and hotels, plus boutiques and markets. It’s comfortable and easy to navigate while still being within walking distance to other areas of Chiang Mai you might wish to explore. We like it because it’s quieter and less crowded than other neighborhoods.
Hotels in Nimman
- Budget-Friendly Option: Nord Studio
Comfortable studio with a modern Scandinavian aesthetic, perfect for couples, families. Ideal for digital nomads, with excellent wi-fi and a large table for working. Even better, it’s adjacent to popular Beast Burger, which serves up delicious burgers and has a nice airy rooftop. On the other side of Nord Studio is Muse, a lovely salon with one-hour Thai massages for 300 baht (about $8.50).
- Splurge Option: U Nimman
Large luxury hotel near the big Maya Mall with a bar, 24-hour gym, rooftop pool, and complimentary breakfast buffet served in its airy modern restaurant. Also located next to One Nimman, a popular night market and its weekend White Market.
While Chiang Mai is pretty walkable, sometimes you need to get somewhere faster. The two best options for getting around Chiang Mai are:
- Grab (rideshare app similar to Uber) – These are generally 100-150 baht, ideal for two or more people, and best if you need to get straight to your destination quickly.
- Songthaew (Red Truck)– At 30 baht (93 cents) per person, this is the best option, especially if you’re traveling solo. Simply flag down the driver and tell them where you’d like to go. If they say yes, hop in the back. You’ll be dropped off in the order that works best with the other customers in the truck.
Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Go to a Street Market
This is a fun and great introduction to the Thai culture, with shopping and live music, and the plentiful street food is cheap and delicious.
- Night Bazaar – Open every night in the Old City, it includes the Kalare Night Bazaar and the covered Anusarn Market (perfect for when it’s raining.)
- Weekend Walking Street Markets – On Saturdays, the market sets up on Wualai Road and on Sunday along Ratchadamnoen Road in the Old City (both are from 4 pm-midnight).
- White Market – A much smaller market at One Nimman, open from 3 pm-10 pm Friday-Sunday, you can avoid the traffic of a commute if you’re staying in Nimman. There are permanent food stalls in the back, open every day.
- Coconut Market – A beautiful location in an old coconut grove in northeast Chiang Mai, open 8-2 on the weekend. Quiet and peaceful.
Visit Some Buddhist Temples
Chiang Mai’s history as a cultural and religious center is evidenced by its hundreds of elaborate Buddhist temples scattered around the city. Among the most popular are Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang.
Don’t miss iconic Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple on the mountaintop (5,499 ft) above the city. Climb the 306 steps or take the funicular to the top, then explore the temple (one of the most beautiful in Thailand) and its surroundings. (Be sure to remove your shoes and cover your knees and shoulders before entering any temple.)
Get a Thai Massage
A specialty in Thailand, characterized by compression, acupressure, and passive stretching, an hourlong Thai massage typically costs less than $10. Available everywhere – check Google ratings to find the best one near you.
Explore the Old City Walls
When ancient Chiang Mai was built in 1296, the city was surrounded by brick gates, walls and a moat, some of which still remains today.
Take a Food Tour or a Thai Cooking Class
If it’s your first visit to Thailand, this is an easy and terrific way to be introduced to a vast array of local dishes and ingredients. We did the evening course at Aromdii Cooking School (3pm – 8pm) and it was really fabulous. We started at a market, where we learned about different fruits and vegetables and picked up fresh ingredients. Then we went to their open-air kitchen and made four dishes, including Thai coconut soup, spring rolls, pad thai, khao soi, plus mango sticky rice. We even made a curry from scratch. It was one of the best meals we had here, and it only cost 800 baht per person (about $23). It fills up so book early!
Where to Eat
There is no shortage of great food around Nimman. Here are some of our favorite places to eat in the Nimman area.
Breakfast or Brunch
- Stoic – We popped in here for one of their delicious crepes with fresh strawberries and whipped cream.
- Always Loaf U – Pastry chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu puts out incredible pastries. We loved the pain au chocolat and ham and cheese croissant. Nice coffee too.
- On the Bread – We enjoyed a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs and fruit here.
- Manifreshto – Nice place with lots of breakfast and sandwich options as well as smoothies and fresh juices. Only knock: drip coffee but no fancy drinks like cappuccino, but you can bring your own.
- Fresh Break Café – Friendly service and fresh food with a healthy twist. Some Western breakfast options like pancakes; I had a delicious Greek omelet with feta.
- Café Rosemary – A small but cute breakfast place with nice eggs, tasty avocado toast, coconut juice in a coconut, and a great cappuccino.
Our favorite coffee place was Roast8ry. Not only was it among the best coffee in Chiang Mai, but they have won awards for their latte art, which is exceptional. There are three locations but the flagship store on Nimmanhemin has lots of seating and is popular with the laptop crowd.
Lunch or Dinner
- Khao Soi at Kao Soy Nimman – Try Chiang Mai’s signature dish, khao soi, a spicy coconutty noodle dish, at this highly-rated and popular spot. Here it is served with a wide variety of meats and seafoods, plus a vegetarian option.
- Sanmai Ramen – We are always on the lookout for a good ramen and this place had great reviews and did not disappoint. Not only was the tonkotsu broth rich and the chashu flavorful, the pork gyozas were fresh-made and came covered with a crispy veil you had to break through to get to them. Also, ice-cold Asahi on draft.
- Blackitch Artisan Kitchen – A very special 12-course tasting menu for lunch or dinner that’s still affordable and casual. This Michelin-recognized restaurant showcases fresh and often rare ingredients from all over Thailand. Read our post detailing our experience!
- Beast Burger – Fast, casual lunch or dinner. Really good burgers (we recommend Avocado Jalapeno and Juicy Lucy) with great fries, tater tots and sweet potato fries.
- Nara – Upscale Thai restaurant adjacent to the U Nimman Hotel specializing in seafood and Thai dishes. In addition to gorgeous cocktails, we had summer rolls, spicy minced chicken with basil (krapao), chicken fried rice with a river prawn, and green chicken curry. It was all delicious.
- Ginger Farm Kitchen – Bright well-lit space with nice cocktails and delicious Thai food. We had tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup), pad thai, steamed whole sea bass with spicy lim sauce, and mango sticky rice. Multiple locations around Thailand.
Day Trips from Chiang Mai
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
Don’t miss a chance to see and observe beautiful Asian elephant herds in their natural environment. There are many elephant sanctuaries to choose from, but not all are ethical. These are three of the best:
- Elephant Nature Park
The first elephant sanctuary ito specialize in elephant care. It is a rescue and rehabilitation center with over 100 elephants living in a safe, caring and natural environment.
- Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
An ethical and sustainable eco-tourism project caring for injured or rescued elephants.
- Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES)
BLES is a small sanctuary for rescued elephants. They are dedicated to allowing elephants to live in a safe and natural environment that encourages them to rediscover their true identity as elephants.
Go to Doi Inthanon National Park
Nicknamed “The Roof of Thailand” and one of the most popular national parks in Thailand, Doi Inthanon is about a two-hour drive from Chiang Mai. It is known for its waterfalls, cloud forests, and villages of indigenous Karen and Hmong peoples. You’ll want a car or guided tour to best access the park.
I took this day trip with Get Your Guide and it was awesome. They will pick you up and drop you off at your centrally-located hotel, which was very convenient. It included transportation to Chiang Rai (about three hours each way so it’s a long day), plenty of time for photos and exploring at the White Temple, a stop at a hot springs, a visit to the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet, a short boat ride on the Mekong River, a visit to a museum on the opium trade, and a leisurely lunch at a nice jungle restaurant that served a variety of Thai specialties family-style. All for only 2,400 baht (about $63!)
Mae Sa Waterfall Hike
Get out of the city – take a rideshare to Mae Sa and enjoy a nature-filled hike to Mae Sa Waterfall. Your work will be rewarded with a picturesque multi-level waterfall and plunge pool for swimming – perfect on a hot day.
Climb a “Sticky Waterfall”
Take a rideshare (or tour) to Nam Tok Bua Tong (“Sticky Waterfall”), where the mineral-rich natural spring water has coated the rocks with limestone, resulting in incredible traction. The rocks look slippery but you can climb them easily with bare feet. A great way to spend a half day.
Summary: Chiang Mai Nimman Neighborhood
Scenic and rich in history, Chiang Mai is a must-visit city when in Thailand. Staying in the Nimman neighborhood is an ideal base for exploration of Chiang Mai. It has lots of cool hotels, restaurants, and shops, while still allowing easy access to the best sights and activities in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand.