One of the most enjoyable ways to explore the old city in Chiang Mai is on foot, and this walk takes you along narrow, winding lanes and through tranquil temple compounds as you cross from the northeast to southwest corner. It’s best to go in the morning, when the sun sparkles on the east-facing temple facades and the heat is not yet too oppressive. Dress appropriately for temple visits, meaning no exposed knees or shoulders, and wear a hat or carry an umbrella to shield you from the sun or rain.
Begin on the outside of the moat at the northeast corner of the old, walled city. Facing Sri Phum bastion, with its amazing warped brickwork, walk southwards beside the moat, then cross to the inside of the moat at the first road and continue walking south. After a few steps you’ll be at the entrance to Somphet Market at Moonmuang Soi 6, where vendors of flowers, fruits and tempting snacks set up their stalls.
Turn right into Soi 6, then right in to Ratchaphakhinai Road. After a few steps, you will see Wat Chiang Man on your left. This is the oldest temple in the city and dates back to 1296. Take a look at the temple’s main features, then leave by the side gate to the south of the compound, turn right, then left into Prapokklao Road.
Walk about 100 metres to the traffic light, then cross the street to take a look at the Three Kings Monument, set in a large, open square and the Arts & Cultural Centre, located in a shuttered, colonial style building behind the monument. Continue walking south down busy Prapokklao Road to the corner of Ratchadamnoen Road, where there is a shrine to King Mengrai, the city’s founder. Here a bell-shaped memorial is surrounded by tiled panels depicting scenes from his life. According to legend, he was struck down by lightning somewhere near this spot in 1317, at the age of 79.
Cross the road heading south on Prapokklao Road, and almost immediately on your right you will see the dark-wood walls of Wat Pan Tao. Walk on a few steps and turn right into the compound of Wat Chedi Luang, site of the city’s largest stupa. Walk round behind the stupa and go out the back (west) gate of Wat Chedi Luang, turn right on to Jhaban Road and then left on to Ratchadamnoen Road. You will pass the police station on the corner on your way to Wat Phra Singh, which stands prominently at the western end of Ratchadamnoen Road, reflecting its importance among local temples.
Leave Wat Phra Singh by the back (west) gate. Turn left and head straight south along Ratchamanka Soi 9. At the end of this lane, turn left and after a few steps go right into Wat Muen Ngern Kong, one of the city’s lesser-known temples. Look for a narrow alley on the south side of the temple and follow it between back gardens and out to a quiet lane.
Turn right here and follow the lane to the left as it winds its way southward, crossing several other lanes. You may be totally templed out by this stage, but soon on the left you will see a very unusual, stepped brick chedi in the compound of Wat Phuak Hong, which has seven rounded tiers containing Buddha images in niches and dates back to the early 16th century.
Continue walking south a few steps until you see a gateway leading into a park on your right. This is the back entrance to Buak Haad City Park, which is the only public park anywhere near the centre of Chiang Mai. At weekends it can get crowded, but on a weekday it is usually quiet and relaxing. Take a stroll until you find a convenient bench, where you can reflect on your stroll, during which you will have learned much about this historic yet vibrant city.