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Chiang Mai’s newest ‘tourist attraction’, Khlong Mae Kha is a waterside village that has recently been transformed to a new night market area that is themed like a Japanese town.
After years of neglect and an area previously better known for its pollution rather than pretty shops and stalls, Khlong Mae Khas has had somewhat of a rebirth, after millions of Baht were invested in the area, to clean up the canal and improve living conditions for local residents in return for not dumping sewage and rubbish into the water stream.
Although people have lived in the Khlong Mae Kha canal area for years (and acting as a vital water source for Chiang Mai), it was recently ‘reopened’ as both a new local market and tourist destination shortly before the Loy Krathong 2022 festivities.
We visited Khlong Mae Kha Canal in mid November 2022, a couple of weeks after its official launch and took a stroll along its banks, just as many of the shops and food stalls were opening.
Here is what we discovered at Khlong Mae Kha, one of the newest things to do in Chiang Mai:
What is Khlong Mae Kha?
Khlong Mae Kha is a residential development along a river area with many local residents. Previously the area was home to lots of unofficial / squatter residences and Chiang Mai City Municipality wanted to clean up the area. A 1km stretch of the Khlong Mae Khas has now been cleaned up, with colourful plants and flowers planted and two new Japanese bridges (with lanterns) installed.
The Chiang Mai City Municipality plan to clean up further stretches of the Khlong Mae Kha waterway over the next few years, investing millions into the transformation of the area, and hopefully making it a tourist destination.
What to expect at Khlong Mae Kha
The riverside village at Khlong Mae Kha is (slightly) Japanese themed and full of stalls, shops and street food stalls along with the occasional bar and sitting area.
Many of the Khlong Mae Kha residents have converted the outsides of their dwellings to become shops, restaurants or cafes – whilst it is meant to be Japanese themed, we found the vast majority of the businesses and shops to be selling Thai souvenirs or food (think elephant pants, pad thai etc).
Lots of nostalgic Japanese themed decor and lanterns can also be found pasted to the walls at Khlong Mae Kha.
One of the best things to do at Khlong Mae Kha is to walk over the lantern filled bridges (there are two orange bridges, one at either end of the newly transformed Khlong Mae Kha). They proved to be particularly popular with photographers and Instagram wannabes – on our visit there was also a large bamboo style jetty adorned with flowers which looked kinda cool (albeit a bit rickety).
Khlong Mae Kha riverside village and walkways were quite peaceful compared to other parts of Chiang Mai as no cars or mopeds are allowed along the canal – so it is a calm and safe place to browse and enjoy dinner. On our visit, most stall holders were very laid back allowing us to browse or read menus without hassling us.
What stalls are there at Khlong Mae Kha?
Most of the non-food stalls at Klong Mae Kha sold typical Thai souvenirs (not Japanese) like purses, postcards and pants although some stalls also had traditional hill tribe craft items.
What food stalls and cafes are there at Khlong Mae Kha?
Most of the food and drink establishments at Khlong Mae Kha were selling typical Thai food or western food like pizzas and burgers – many Khlong Mae Kha food and drink places were street food stalls without seating areas. We saw one sit in cafe / coffee shop plus one sit in Japanese bar area that sold Kirin beer.
When is Khlong Mae Kha open?
Khlong Mae Kha riverside village is available to visit 24 hours a day but the main food and market stalls are open from 3pm to 10pm daily (7 days a week). Please remember this is also a residential area so please be respectful of the locals and their homes at all times.
Is it worth visiting Khlong Mae Kha riverside village?
That said, if you’ve been to Chiang Mai before and fancy somewhere new to visit, Khlong Mae Kha is a quirky addition to the Chiang Mai tourism scene and has been warmly received by local people. When we visited (November 2022), a lot of the Khlong Mae Kha Japanese village area was still work in progress and it appeared much was still to be added and opened.
Khlong Mae Kha is also a nice opportunity to buy crafts plus food and drink from local people, many of whom have turned their own homes into shops and street food stalls. Overall, we admired and enjoyed the entrepreneurial atmosphere of Khlong Mae Kha and we hope the area finds it feet and blossoms to become a joyful Japanese themed village and shopping area.
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