The Old City Moat in Chiang Mai

One of the most beautiful parts of Chiang Mai is the moat surrounding the old city, especially for anyone who enjoys going for a stroll.

The old city of Chiang Mai, which dates back to 1296, originally had a large wall surrounding it. The wall, in turn, was surrounded by a moat. Although most of the wall has now disappeared, the moat remains. When I was studying in Chiang Mai, I crossed the moat every morning when I left the old city to go to school, and I crossed it again every evening when I returned to my hotel in the old city.

Each side of the moat is about 1.6 kilometres, so if you walk all around, it is a walk of 6.4 kilometres. It doesn’t sound like much, but in the daytime, it can be sweltering, and as you very seldom have a cool breeze in Chiang Mai, but instead have all the traffic, it can be a very exhausting walk, especially if you are not used to the heat.

The area around the moat is quite busy, with major roads on either side of the moat. These roads are the primary access into and around the old city, so they are active during the day. On the outside, the traffic runs clockwise around the old city, and inside the moat, traffic runs counter-clockwise around the old city.

I recommend you walk around at least some of the Chiang Mai old city moat. The early morning and evening are the most comfortable times to walk around the city. The light tends to be golden during these times, so the old city and moat become very picturesque. But during the day, the ancient canopy of trees surrounding both sides of the water provides welcome shade so you can go for a long walk, even on the hottest days. Or a nighttime walk is also delightful as the temperature is cooler and there is light on the old walls.

The old moat surrounding Chiang Mai, Thailand during the Lantern festival

The streets on either side of the moat have plenty of street vendors and many small cafes and restaurants to enjoy a meal or drink. I lived on the west side of the old city, and my absolute favourite breakfast spot for Thai Congee was just north of the Suan Dok gate, so I trekked to that spot every day.

The most beautiful part of the moat is the east side near the Thapae gate, between the southeast and northeast corners. This section has the most street life, and the main square outside the gate is where many festivals and other functions occur.

The best time to visit Chiang Mai to see the moat is the week leading up to and the weekend of the Lantern (Yee Peng) festival. During this time, many beautiful decorations are set out in the moat and on the surrounding sides, so at night, the moat is a visual wonderland.

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