Chiang Mai is the mystical and history-rich hub of northern Thailand. It’s the second largest city in the Land of Smiles and offers something completely different to Bangkok. Nestled under the jungle-covered mountains that run along the border with Burma, it’s a place laden with golden Buddhist temples and ancient gatehouses that date back to the old centuries of the Lanna Kingdom. It’s also become a major hub for digital nomads, who seek out cool condos amid neighbourhoods that brim with vegan eateries and independent cafés. Nearby, some of Thailand’s best national parks are awash with waterfalls and elephant sanctuaries.

Airbnb in Chiang Mai could be your ticket to a whole pad Thai full of awesome rentals. Traditional timber-built cottages with leafy gardens are on offer in the UNESCO-attested heart of the city. Sleek condos with beautiful pools and state-of-the-art gym facilities pepper the periphery. Meanwhile, the surrounding countryside offers eco stays and hostels on the cusp of bird-squawking hills and monkey-swinging forests.

In this Airbnb guide to Chiang Mai:

Is Airbnb legal in Chiang Mai?

Strictly speaking, Airbnb in Chiang Mai – like in the rest of Thailand – is not entirely legal. The 2004 Hotels Act says that only registered establishments like resorts and hostels can offer short-term bookings of less than 30 days. The reality is that the platform runs pretty much as normal on the ground. There are still thousands of listings to pick from up in the northern hub, from old school cottages in the historic center to chic condominiums in the buzzy digital nomad districts.

There have only been a few verified reports of the law being enforced against Airbnb, and those have ended with fines for the owners, not the travelers. You might find there are warnings against short-term lettings visible in the lobby of certain accommodations, and it’s generally considered wise to stick strictly to in-house Airbnb rules – no parties, no loud events, no smoking inside. Overall, it’s probably also a good idea to do a little research before you book and double check the situation with your host.

Where should I stay in Chiang Mai Airbnb?

Chiang Mai might be the second-largest city in Thailand but it’s a whole different beast to Bangkok. Here, little pockets of ancient architecture sit pretty in the Old City (1), before giving way to areas like Chang Klan (2) and the sleepless Night Bazaar (2), which is where you’ll want to go for haggling and shopping after hours. On the flip side of town is the hipster enclave of Nimmanhaemin (3), the mainstay of the city’s digital nomad community, mirrored down on the Mae Ping by the chilled neighborhood of Riverside (4). An alternative to all the above could be Ban Kang Wat (5). That’s a creative splinter of Chiang Mai that awaits under the mountains a little to the south.

Old City
Sunday Market in the Old City

Old City

Pros
  • Really atmospheric
  • The top sights right on the doorstep
  • Fantastically characterful Airbnbs on offer
Cons
  • Always busy with locals and tourists
  • Might be a little cramped

The Old City is the epicentre of Chiang Mai. The most historic and culture-rich district in town, it sports the filigreed tops of the beautiful Wat Chedi Luang and the shimmering stupa of the Wat Phra Singh. But it’s no museum piece. The Old City is also lived-in and bustling with energy. You’ll see Chinese veggie cookhouses spilling onto the streets. There are pockets of beer bars that swing with life until the early hours. There are cultural centers and art galleries galore. The distinct Lanna-style architecture of this area means you can score some authentically northern Thai Airbnb in the form of timber-built townhouses with creaking floors and porches.

Chang Klan & the Night Bazaar

Chang Klan & the Night Bazaar

Pros
  • You’re right in the action for the Night Bazaar
  • It’s an affordable area
  • Lively nightlife
Cons
  • Can be busy
  • Not the same level of luxury as other areas

The sub-district of Chang Klan runs southwards along the Ping River from the end of the Old City. A little to the north is the famous retail mecca of the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. It’s one of the town’s must-visit spots. Starting at 5pm each evening, it offers up thousands of stalls selling everything from knock-off fashion tees to traditional Thai handicrafts and – of course – taste-bud-tingling street food. Chang Klan proper, meanwhile, has its own boutique shops, a few strips of tacky expat bars, and an array of Airbnb condos and apartments that tend to be on the more affordable side.

Nimmanhaemin
The side streets of Nimmanhemin Road are very good for walking with little car and motorbike traffic. © BLUR LIFE 1975 / Shutterstock.com

Nimmanhaemin

Pros
  • Really vibrant local crowd
  • Awesome cafés and eateries
  • Airbnbs are super modern and stylish
Cons
  • A little pricy
  • Not inside the historic Old City

Nimmanhaemin has ridden the digital nomad wave and transformed into one of Chiang Mai’s – nay, Thailand’s – hippest and most energetic districts in the last 10 years or so. It spreads over a few blocks to the west of the Old City en route to Chiang Mai University, all brimming with stylish Japanese udon restaurants and more coffee shops than you can count. You’ll be sharing the streets here with a creative young crowd, who also happen to like a drink or two after dark – venues like Infinity and Prohibition take care of that. Airbnbs usually take the form of uber-cool urban flats with polished concrete interiors, Scandi furnishings, and on-site pools.

The Riverside

The Riverside

Pros
  • Serene spot by the water
  • Great bars that aren’t often visited
  • Good access to the Night Bazaar
Cons
  • Not an overload of good Airbnb
  • It’s a little far from the popular districts

A neighborhood of understated luxury and calm, the Riverside runs parallel to the waters of the Mae Ping as it slithers like a snake around the houses on the eastern half of the city. There are four bridges linking it to the Old City and the Night Bazaar quarters, so you’re never out of touch. However, the Riverside also offers up its own array of teahouses and coffee spots, which open onto breezy decks on the leafy banks. With a little more space to spread out, the Airbnbs in these parts can tout extra square metreage and often come in the form of entire houses or villas with gardens.

Ban Kang Wat
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Ban Kang Wat

Pros
  • Quirky and interesting place
  • Out-of-town location for peace and quiet
  • Proximity to nature
Cons
  • You’re quite far from the main attractions
  • Not the widest selection of Airbnb in Chiang Mai

It might not be in the thick of the action, but Ban Kang Wat has its own quirky vibe. A self-proclaimed artsy enclave of independent galleries, painting workshops, yoga studios and cookery schools, it enjoys a leafy and green locale on the south-western side of town. It’s about 20 minutes’ driving from here to the Old City. However, that remoteness means you get to settle in the shadow of the mountains, amid streets that but up to the forest-covered slopes of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (an amazing temple surrounded by a nature park!).

Best Airbnbs in Chiang Mai

Best Airbnb apartment in Chiang Mai

Luxury Apartment @ the Astra Near Night Bazaar

Luxury Apartment @ the Astra Near Night Bazaar

A classic Thai condo apartment with a stunning modern look, this luxury pad offers a place near the lively Night Bazaar. The interiors are clean-look and minimalist, with cushiony sofas and a flat-screen TV. The piece de resistance? Just check out that rooftop pool and gym facility, which boasts sweeping panoramic views across the whole of Chiang Mai. Nice.

Best Airbnb house in Chiang Mai

Villa Nittra Singharaj

Villa Nittra Singharaj

There is loads to love in this immersive Old City residence. Fronted by a small garden and a covered porch, it soon opens into a symphony of wood-carved pillars and timber floors that creak and curl around a tight-knit interior to provide cosy living spaces that hearken back to the ancient era of the Lanna kings. The dining room is particularly special, with its cuckoo clock and curious trinkets.

Best Airbnb for families in Chiang Mai

Cloud House

Cloud House

You’d be hard pushed to find a more home-away-from-home sort of Airbnb in Chiang Mai than the lovely Cloud House. Situated by the chilled bars of the Riverside district, it’s got a whole load more space than a lot of rentals in the city, including a sprawling grass garden and al fresco patio area. Inside, there are four separate bedrooms with sleeping arrangements set up perfectly for the whole crew.

Best Airbnb for large groups in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Rabbit Villa

Chiang Mai Rabbit Villa

There’s a touch of the Spanish casita to the grand and inviting Rabbit Villa. On the southern outskirts of the city, it’s got good links to the airport and a more relaxed setting than its compadres in the downtown. Out font, you can enjoy a garden with a plunge pool and a dining terrace. Inside is a large kitchen for nights of practicing your Thai cooking all together. This one sleeps up to 16 in total.

Best Airbnb for budget stays in Chiang Mai

Salee Hostel

Salee Hostel

Salee is one of the new breeds of high-class boutique hostels popping up all over the Land of Smiles. Not your run-of-the-mill budget spot, it’s got industrial-chic interiors that fuse painted chipboard with polished concrete. The bargain rooms are in multi-bed dorm spaces, while communal areas ensure there’s always a space to share your backpacking tales with other travelers.

Is Airbnb cheaper than hotels in Chiang Mai?

No matter how many baht you’ve got left in the travel budget, you can usually rest assured that there’s both a hotel and an Airbnb in Chiang Mai to pick from. This is one of the main draws of northern Thailand, after all, not to mention a major hub for digital nomads. The upshot? There’s everything from swish condos with super-fast WiFi to luxury resorts waiting for the honeymooners. Generally speaking, an Airbnb will cost a little less than a fully-fledged hotel in Chiang Mai, especially if you manage to score a weekly or monthly discount (which can be up to 50% or more!).

Pingdoi Hualin Boutique Hotel

Of course, a hotel offers something a little extra in terms of service. Just take the highly rated Pingdoi Hualin Boutique Hotel. There, daily room cleaning, cooked breakfasts, a stunning outdoor pool, and lobby bars all add to the pull. And there’s a prime location on the edge of the Old Town, which is perfect if you only have a couple of days to see the main Chiang Mai sights.

Chiang Mai magnetises travelers to the mist-haloed northern hills of Thailand. It fizzes with life in its Night Bazaar and offers glimpses of centuries-old history, creating a place that’s unlike anywhere else in the Land of Smiles.

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