On the east side of Mae Ping in Chiang Mai is the Wat Ket neighbourhood. Home to enterprising locals, foreign missionaries and Chinese traders who brought wares via the waterway, traces of this neighbourhood’s past still show through in today’s numerous boutique hotels, riverfront eateries, eclectic shops and nightlife venues.
Wander the banks along Mae Ping in Chiang Mai to discover old world charm, shopping, restaurants and local watering holes © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
While first-time visitors to Chiang Mai may stick to the better known parts of town, such as the Old City and Nimmanhaemin area, Wat Ket deserves to be discovered. Head toward Charoenrat Road between Nakorn Ping and Narawat Bridges to explore on foot, where you can spend an afternoon stopping into local shops, picking up souvenirs and treating yourself to dinner and drinks along the river.
The Elephant Parade House organisation raises awareness for Asian elephant welfare with artistic elephant statues © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Paint a miniature elephant souvenir at Elephant Parade House
Elephant lovers should make a beeline for Elephant Parade House, just off Kaew Nawarat Road, where visitors can paint a 15cm elephant statue souvenir. Decorating one of these miniatures not only gets you a unique and personalised gift, but a portion of sale proceeds also supports elephant conservation efforts. Not the artistic type? You can purchase an Elephant Parade replica in varying sizes here and still contribute to this social enterprise. Otherwise, simply browse through the exhibition of elephants, some standing 1.5m high, painted by artists and celebrities from around the world. Life-size elephant statues also make appearances across the globe every year since 2007, with exhibition tours drawing an estimated 100 million visitors worldwide. Unleash your crafty and creative side with this ethically-minded cause.
Buddhist temple Wat Ket Karam gives visitors a glimpse into Thai history © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Step back in time at Wat Ket Karam
Built in the 1400s, Buddhist temple Wat Ket Karam is the heart of the neighbourhood. Its leafy grounds are graced with a decorative temple, chedi, monks’ quarters and even a small museum hosting a collection of historic artefacts and photos from the area. One of the best ways to reach Wat Ket Karam, and the district in general, is by walking across the footbridge from Wororot Market on the west side of the river to the east side. The picturesque pathway brings you straight into the temple property.
Explore both sides of Chiang Mai's Wat Ket riverside district © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Get cultured at Cannonball Gallery and The Meeting Room Art Cafe
Designed primarily as a meeting and gallery space for local creatives, you’ll find Cannonball Gallery and The Meeting Room Art Cafe in a traditional wooden house along the river, filled with paintings, books, jewellery and more. The venue installs a new exhibition every two weeks, giving young artists and craftspeople a platform for their work, and regularly hosts workshops and events, such as open mic poetry nights. Come for the art, mingle with locals and enjoy pastries and coffee all in one building.
Dine on traditional Thai or Western meals surrounded by foliage at Woo Cafe in Chiang Mai © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Refuel and refresh at Woo Cafe
One step into the flower-filled Woo Cafe will make you forget the heat and busy streets outside. Serving up a varied menu of Thai and Western favourites, from Chiang Mai’s famous khao soi noodles to grilled cheese sandwiches with pesto, the spacious cafe is an excellent place to recharge among hundreds of fresh blooms and eclectic decor. See a coffee mug or candle holder you like? Chances are you can find it in the attached home goods shop for purchase. The cafe is also known for its enticing selection of cakes and an upstairs art gallery.
Add to your tea collection at Vieng Joom On Teahouse
Along with an elegant atmosphere, Vieng Joom On Teahouse offers an impressive selection of up to 50 kinds of premium tea from around the world. Stop in at the colourful shop, which you’ll easily spot by its pink exterior, to discover a new blend or stay to savour a sweet treat and carefully-brewed beverage in the bright and cheery salon. If the calming, atmospheric vibe inside the teahouse isn’t your thing, you can also take your tea outside for Mae Ping waterfront views.
Pick up natural products at Botanic Pantry
Dedicated to preserving and promoting natural wellness through traditional Thai herbs and treatments, Botanic Pantry features an interesting selection of products, such as all-natural tooth powder and oil-pulling mixtures. The small-batch concoctions make for unique Chiang Mai gifts, complete with minimalist packaging that is more reminiscent of a hip Portland trading post than a northern Thai shop.
Join Chiang Mai locals for a meal and a tipple at The Riverside Bar and Restaurant © Alana Morgan / Lonely Planet
Wine, dine, dance and cruise at The Riverside Bar and Restaurant
The Riverside Bar & Restaurant, a favourite among travellers, expats and locals since 1984, is a Chiang Mai institution and one of the few places in town with a licence to serve alcohol until 1am. The mix of cultures continues with the menu, offering typical Western and Thai dishes – try the fragrant red curry with duck and lychees – and live bands play local and international hits every night. Make your experience even more memorable by reserving a spot on the restaurant’s nightly dinner cruise. Departing at 8pm, guests can order off the usual menu (at an additional charge), then appreciate their candlelit meal during a 75-minute ride along the river.
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