There are lots of options for accommodation in Chiang Mai both long and short-term. There are also lots of articles online about where to stay. We did not read these articles at first. After we did, we found they were super informative, but to be honest, we’re kind of glad we didn’t because they may had led us in a different direction that wouldn’t have made for such a perfect second half of our stay.
If you’re heading to Chiang Mai and you do all your research before you go, you’ll probably find a the basic recommendation is to stay in Old Town at first to get a feel for the city, and if you’re there longer term you’ll probably want to head to Nimman. That may be a good idea for many, but we found Chang Puak area (north of the Old City) was perfect for us. If you’re in a similar boat as us, you may be well advised to consider our findings.
So to summarize our situation:
- We’re a family of 3 with a 4-year-old who we don’t mind sharing bed with if needed
- We were there for a month, with the goal of seeing what life would be like to live there, not just vacation
- We had one major criteria, a pool
- Our accommodation budget was tight: about 30$/day max
- We worked up our courage and rented a scooter while out there, which definitely made it much easier to live outside the Old City and still experience all action when we were up for it
We arrived late at night at Nordwind Hotel. There was no pool, but that was ok because it was only meant to be a place to sleep before heading to our main place of residence. The breakfast there was very good, and the room was nice and comfortable. I’d say the value for dollar there was excellent if the pool wasn’t important.
After our first night, we moved to pre-booked AirBnB place, the Prestige apartments, in Nimman. This place, as I think a lot of the airBnB places are, was an apartment that was rented by a nomad travellers on a longer term leases (a year). There are lots of options for cheap apartments in Chiang Mai if you’re willing to sign a longer lease, so some of these young nomad travelers rent yearly and then put it on airbnb. I guess they can fill up the room enough to make a small profit and also have a place to stay when they are in Chiang Mai.
Nimman is the trendy, expensive (that being a relative term) area. However, if you ask us, we didn’t see what all the hype was about. Yes, there are some nice coffee shops, a fun little night market, and a big expensive mall. But if you read my first impressions of Chiang Mai you can probably sniff out a bit of disappointment in my tone. It just didn’t feel like the relaxed little tropical town that I was expecting.
The Prestige was ok, but far from nice. It was not serviced (no cleaning staff), no breakfast, and although there was a pool we found out it later that we weren’t actually allowed to swim there because it was in a different building.
We decided to tour the city in search of something better. We mapped out about a dozen hotels from Nimman, Chang Puak (north of the Old City), throughout the Old City, and out towards the Night Bazaar. It was a LONG day with lots of walking. We found one place that could be acceptable in our price range in the Old City (Hotel M), but the nicer places within our price range were in Chang Puak.
We opted for the Opium Serviced Apartments, which was in the middle of the Chang Puak area. The rooms seemed nice, the pool was good, the price was right, and as a bonus the staff there seemed very nice and spoke perfect English.
We had booked for 10 days at the Prestige, but in hindsight we should have just cancelled and moved to the Opium sooner. The moment we got there everything changed for us. We went from being slightly dissatisfied and often grumpy, to wide-eyed and excited about every day. We found the area to be MUCH more suited to what we were looking for. More relaxed and local. Not in the center of town but close enough that we could walk to old town if we wanted. Fewer options for food, but the food was cheaper and more what we expected from Thailand (cheap smoothies and pancakes, a variety of street food, and friendly family shops). And the hotel was perfect! The staff was super nice, internet was good, breakfast was included, a perfect balance of privacy and guest community, and a great view of the mountain. If we ever move back (which I hope we do) we’ll definitely be headed for the Opium.
However, it fell apart when it came to that major criterium I mentioned above, the pool. The Pool had problems that were originally said to be fixed the same day, but after 5 days it was still not fixed and not wanting to risk another week with no pool, we moved down the road to Chang Puak hotel.
Chang Puak hotel in general was not as nice as the Opium, but had its benefits. The rooms were not as nice, the internet was not as good, and the general feel of the hotel wasn’t as homey (although the Owner was super friendly)! But the pool was amazing, and it was a bit closer to town and right around the corner from a night market.
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By the end of the trip we were in the interesting position of having too much cash left over, and I was absolutely dead set on spending it rather than converting it to another currency. So we opted for an expensive hotel near the airport for our last few days. It’s funny, I say expensive, but really it was about the price of the average run-of-the-mill motel in Canada at about 100CAD/night.
We chose the Singha Montra in the Chang Klan area (south of the Old City, near the airport), and it was our little taste of luxury. All the rooms are giant, extravagantly decorated, with great views, and have huge jacuzzi in them. We got upgraded to the signature room on our second night, which had an amazing wrap around balcony with the jacuzzi and shower outside. The staff treated us like royalty, and even packed a huge breakfast for us on the second morning because we had to go to the airport early.
I got a chance to walk around the neighbourhood a bit, and at first it seemed pretty sleepy… but we did find a massive mall within walking distance, and after dark some outdoor restaurants and pubs came alive, including a chinese BBQ restaurant which was delicious! I don’t think this is an area we will return to for longer term accommodation, but I’ll definitely be back for the BBQ!
So in summary, if you’re a small family looking for a place to hunker down in Chiang Mai for a month, I’d definitely suggest starting your search in Chang Puak area. The Opium is great, but even if you have a bit more budget and aren’t as dead set on a pool as we were, I’d be willing to bet this area would have some of the best options for your dollar and will give you a good mix of relaxation and Chiang Mai action.