We stayed at Micasa Hotel which is about half way between the East gate and the night market. We liked the staff and the room, the location was perfect, and it was 700baht/night ($20US). We explored the old city and liked the SE quarter the best because of the endless food, shops, temples. The area between the city and the night market is pretty great too.
The night market is really fun. Be sure to bargain, but don't get a headache over it... it's just a buck or two. There's multiple grades of quality on many items. For instance, while looking at soccer jerseys I discovered there's 3 grades. As soon as you see grade A, there's no going back. My negotiation started at 900 each and ended at 450 each. But then I went back the next day and got a third for 400 since I was a good customer - lol. Same thing goes for watches... there's 3 distinct grades, and once you've seen the good stuff you would never buy the chinese stuff again. Actually, if you're looking at Rolex, there's an A+ grade that's pretty amazing. I saw a German guy picking out an A+ Rolex to replace his real one which had been stolen, and he was stoked! I didn't watch the negotiation, but I know it started at $250US. If you're just buying a wood carving or t-shirt please remember to have fun with the price and try to get a good deal without cutting into the vendor's profit too much... it should feel like a win-win and not a fight to the death,
There's a Sat Night market inside the wall starting at the East Gate that is so big I can confidently say there's no way you can walk the entire thing. It's huge, and it's packed with people! You will be dumbfounded, I kid you not.
One thing we noticed is there's so many mixed couples who visit CM. Has anyone else noticed this? Not that it's a big deal for us, but we're the only mixed couple for a hundred miles in rural Oregon and it was neat to see all the other color-blind couples out there. My wife is Mexican and it was funny that so many locals would walk up to her and start talking in Thai and she could often wing it with smiles and grunts and gestures without anyone noticing... lol.
CM is a nice balance between Bangkok and Chiang Rai - it's kind of cosmopolitan but not too small town. I get the feeling they're feeling some growing pains with the increase of Chinese tourists lately, but they're working through it pretty well I think. Another kind of interesting thing we noticed is an almost total lack of fellow Americans visiting CM. Everyone we met was either European, Chinese, or Korean. I could be wrong, maybe they're all on tour buses or something, but we only met 2 or 3 other US couples (and I'm happy to say they were very cool).
The Coffee Club at the East Gate has awesome coffee and dessert-for-breakfast. The little local restaurant right across from there is cheap/yummy for breakfast/lunch. It's hard to find a bad meal in CM, actually. psa - Make sure the beer mug is dry before you pour your Singha into it...
I would hope that nobody would ever do the Tiger Kingdom thing and perpetuate that situation, but if you're the type that would do that then nothing I say would make a difference. (if you look at the advertisement with the tiger cub sitting on the laughing lady and squint just a little it looks like she's screaming... lol) Similarly, there's really great elephant parks and manhout training places (Chang Siam was really good), and really horrible elephant ride places with the painting pictures and playing soccer for the tour bus hordes, so please choose wisely.
If you're in the market for some ink skip Bangkok and come to CM as there's a bunch of really talented tattoo artists. Look around and choose your artist carefully, they each have their own style. The one safety thing you want to watch for is: they all use fresh needles, but make sure he pours the ink into a small reservoir and draws with that. Common sense, right?
The locals are so awesome and the town is really cool. I really hope you enjoy your CM holiday as much as we did. I know this rambled, but thank you for reading it.