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Thailand is a country that is very close to our hearts. We love the pristine nature, warm locals, rich cultural heritage and vibrancy of the cities.
You can find all of this and more in Chiang Mai, located in Northern Thailand.
Chiang Mai is famous for being home to the Lantern Festival, where thousands of lanterns float in the sky at one time, as well as being the birth place of Khao Soi, the home to some of the most beautiful and ancient temples in the country, and elephant sanctuaries.
There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai, you will find it hard pressed to be bored of the options available to you.
But if you’re not sure what to do in Chiang Mai on your visit, here is a list of all the most exciting and unmissable attractions in the city.
- Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting?
- Things to Do in Chiang Mai
- 1. Take a Thai Cooking Class
- 2. Visit The Buddhist Temples in The Old City
- 3. Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
- 4. Check Out the Saturday Walking Street Market
- 5. Shop at Warorot Market
- 6. Take Part in The Lantern Festival
- 7. Take Part in Songkran Festival
- 8. Eat the Local Thai Food
- 9. Watch a Muay Thai Fight
- 10. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary (An Ethical One)
- 11. Get A Thai Massage
- 12. See the Sticky Waterfalls
- 13. Take a Day Trip to Chiang Mai's Grand Canyon
- 14. Relax In San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
- 15. Go Hiking In Doi Inthanon National Park
- Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
- Getting to Chiang Mai Thailand
- Final Thoughts on Things To Do In Chiang Mai, Thailand
- More Thailand Travel Tips
- More Southeast Asia Travel Tips
Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting?
Chiang Mai was one of the first places we visited after taking that step into the unknown world of travel blogging and it’s one of our favourite travel destinations.
It has a laid-back vibe that attracts people of all ages, from young digital nomads and families to retirees seeking a new and exotic lifestyle.
Chiang Mai has so much going for it, the city is full of life, the locals are friendly, it has an ancient culture with all the modern conveniences and the food is to die for!
Chiang Mai is also also a gateway to majestic mountains and breathtaking vistas that stretch out to the horizon. Chiang Mai is nestled within a fertile valley surrounded by these magnificent mountains.
Our first impressions of Chiang Mai were of friendly faces, we felt free to let down our guard and enjoy our surroundings without the fear of being hounded as we had in Bangkok in Thailand.
Strolling within the moated Old City walls, we discovered ancient Buddhist temples. We walked through tropical gardens filled with the fragrance of incense and the rhythmic hum of Buddhist chants.
Inside the temples golden Buddha’s shimmered with an ethereal glow, a breathtaking sight filled with beauty.
Food stalls and small restaurants lined the streets, the smell of exotic spices filled the air making our mouth’s water. Strange dishes bubbled as broad smiles invited us to sample local delicacies.
Exploring small alleyways, we kept an eye open for motorbikes that quickly zip down the lane.
Thick ropes of black electrical cable are tangled from pole to pole and the streets were filled with a ramshackle charm that is distinctly Asian.
For all these reasons and for simply the vibe of Chiang Mai, we feel it’s absolutely worth visiting.
Things to Do in Chiang Mai
After staying in Chiang Mai for quite some time, we discovered a colourful city that is never boring, and the choice of activities is endless.
Below we have shared some of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai for visitors.
1. Take a Thai Cooking Class
Another way to discover Thai food is to take one of the Thai cooking classes.
I spent the day bonding with my daughter at a Thai cooking school, and we had the best time.
We visited the market to buy the vegetables and learnt the intricacies of Thai cooking.
We had such a fun day with a great bunch of people, a mix of singles, couples and families.
2. Visit The Buddhist Temples in The Old City
Chiang Mai has over 300 Buddhist temples or Wat’s as they are called in Thai.
They are all exquisite and many can be found within walking distance of each other in Chiang Mai’s Old City.
If you are interested in learning more about Buddhism, you can take part in Monk Chat at Wat Chedi Luang in the Old City. Not only will your curiosity be satisfied but you will also be helping the Monks to learn English.
Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most popular Buddhist temples to visit in the Old City and that is closely followed by Wat Phra Singh.
Both temple complexes are beautiful and well worth a visit.
My favourite Buddhist temple in the Old City is Wat Chiang Man, which is in the North East corner of the Old City.
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and the grounds are peaceful and quiet. My favourite feature is the Elephant Chedi, a large golden spire that is supported by carved elephants.
3. Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Of course, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which overlooks Chiang Mai from the heights of Doi Suthep mountain.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is more commonly known by locals as Doi Suthep.
The road up to Doi Suthep is curvy and busy so it’s advisable to take a tour. Many of the tours to Doi Suthep also visit a nearby Hmong hill tribe village.
4. Check Out the Saturday Walking Street Market
If you’re looking for things to do in Chiang Mai on the weekend, then a visit to the walking street market is a must.
Markets are the heart and soul of a city and the place to get a real insight into local culture.
The Saturday Walking Street Market is a fabulous places for picking up souvenirs, local arts and crafts, jewellery and clothing, as well as tasty street food.
If you’re not visiting on a Saturday, don’t worry, as there is a Night Bazaar which has a night market open every night of the week.
There is also a Sunday Walking Street Market too, but the Saturday one is more buzzing.
5. Shop at Warorot Market
Chiang Mai has many markets but Warorot Market would have to be one of my favourites. It’s the place where the locals go to shop, a jumble of small shops all housed under one roof.
It’s a fun place to explore, a rabbit warren of fabric, home wares, Buddhist items, clothing and jewellery, Thai snacks and fresh produce.
Warorot Market is steps from the Flower Market which is located next to the River Ping.
Just follow the heady scent of roses and jasmine and you will find the intricately decorated flower garlands and temple offerings which are given for good luck and to make merit at the temple.
Make sure to explore the streets around the market for even more shops.
If you like ethnic clothing and jewellery stop off at Thamel Souvenir, they have a rich range of avant-garde clothing and jewellery to choose from.
After shopping head upstairs to Thamel Coffee, a charming coffee shop, perfect for a coffee break or lunch.
6. Take Part in The Lantern Festival
The festival that is most famous in Chiang Mai is the Lantern Festival, also known as the Loi Krathong Festival or Yi Peng Festival, which takes place in November.
The Loy Krathong and Yi Peng Festival is a spectacular sight as intricately decorated flower baskets called Krathong are placed into the river to give thanks to the River Goddess.
Chiang Mai celebrates with Buddhist religious ceremonies, beauty contests and parades.
The grand finale is the release of thousands of Khom Loy lanterns into the night skies of Chiang Mai.
7. Take Part in Songkran Festival
Another Festival that shouldn’t be missed is Thai New Year or Songkran as it is known in Thai.
The Festival is held in April in one of Chiang Mai’s hottest months and is considered one of the largest water fights in the world.
Songkran is also the time to visit the temple to make merit. Buddha statues are paraded through the streets and lovingly sprinkled with water to be cleansed for good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
During the day, locals and tourists join in the fight as water pistols, super soakers and buckets of ice cold water, are squirted or thrown onto anyone passing by.
It’s impossible to stay dry and it’s easy to join in the holiday spirit as everyone lets their hair down and has a good time.
What I love most is the mischievous look on the children’s faces, it’s a magical time for them and they have so much fun.
8. Eat the Local Thai Food
And of course, don’t forget to fill your stomach with Thai food because it’s a popular pastime in Chiang Mai.
Whether you’re looking for breakfast in Chiang Mai, lunch, dinner, or a tasty snack, you will find restaurants are open all through the day and there is always someone eating.
If you are eating out in Chiang Mai you are in for a real treat, the choice of cuisines and dining styles are seemingly endless.
While visiting Chiang Mai, be sure to try the signature dish, Khao Soy (Soi), a spicy chicken noodle soup made with coconut milk, which is simply delicious. Chiang Mai is famous for its curries, so be sure to try a Massamam Curry while you’re there too.
For something quick and easy, try a Pad Thai, or Pad See Ew if you prefer soy sauce flavors.
If you have a sweet tooth you can’t go past Mango and Sticky Rice.
For those who like cheap and cheerful, stop off at a street food stall, there are so many to choose from and each sell a different variety of dishes.
Look out for the stall that has the most locals waiting to be served – these usually sell the most delicious meals and you can be assured that the food is fresh!
Food markets are also another cheap option
If you want affordable food, a favourite spot of mine is the Chiang Mai Gate Market at the bottom of the Old City moat.
Best time to visit the market is in the morning and evening and you can either sit down with the locals or grab a takeaway meal. The market is a wonderful place to try Thai food while soaking up the local atmosphere.
There are heaps of small restaurants throughout the Old City and Night Market area, most have a selection of Thai and Western cuisines and some have vegetarian and vegan options.
A favourite for healthy and tasty food would have to be the Dada Café in the Old City.
If you are looking for an incredible food experience in Chiang Mai, one of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai would have to be B Samcook Home 16. The restaurant serves a range of Asian fusion dishes which are beautifully presented.
B Samcook Home 16 is in a small lane just south of the Old City.
9. Watch a Muay Thai Fight
If you’re looking for things to do in Chiang Mai at night, then head into the Old City to catch a Muay Thai fight.
Muay Thai is an ancient martial art that has been a part of Thai culture for centuries.
The vibrant atmosphere, filled with anticipation and electric energy, creates an unforgettable experience like no other.
Chiang Mai boasts renowned stadiums like Thapae Boxing Stadium, conveniently located near the iconic Thapae Gate.
These venues showcase thrilling fights featuring skilled fighters who battle it out each night.
10. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary (An Ethical One)
It’s no secret that Chiang Mai is home to dozens of elephant sanctuaries but not all of them are ethical.
If you want to see Asian elephants, the best place to do that is by visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
These sanctuaries provide a haven for elephants who have been rescued from the tourism and logging industries, allowing them to live a life free from cruelty and exploitation.
An ethical sanctuary allows visitors to witness these gentle giants roam freely in their natural habitat, but without interfering.
Ethical sanctuaries, such as Elephant Nature Park, do not allow tourists to ride, bathe, or play with the elephants.
By supporting ethical sanctuaries, you contribute to the preservation of these magnificent creatures and help promote sustainable tourism practices.
11. Get A Thai Massage
Indulging in a traditional Thai massage is a great way to connect with the local traditions.
Immerse yourself in centuries-old healing techniques passed down through generations.
The benefits of Thai massage go beyond physical relaxation. This ancient art form helps improve circulation, releases toxins, and relieves muscle pain.
It’s a holistic therapy that restores flexibility and range of motion while promoting overall wellness.
But what truly sets Chiang Mai apart is the authenticity and skill of its practitioners.
Their intuitive touch and deep understanding of the body create a unique and undetectable experience, leaving you rejuvenated in both body and spirit.
12. See the Sticky Waterfalls
One of the more unique tourist attractions in Chiang Mai is the Stick Waterfalls.
The Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls beckon visitors with their enchanting allure.
This natural wonder, sourced from a mineral spring, boasts crystal-clear and refreshingly cool waters that flow year-round.
The unique feature of these falls lies in its limestone composition, allowing visitors to climb them barefoot without slipping.
Surrounded by a verdant forest floor adorned with moss, the Sticky Waterfalls offer a truly immersive experience in nature.
13. Take a Day Trip to Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon
Escape the heat and embark on a thrilling adventure at Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon.
This hidden gem, also known as Pha Chor, offers an unforgettable experience reminiscent of its famous counterpart in the United States.
With its turquoise waters and towering cliffs, it’s the perfect place to dive into nature’s embrace.
Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping cliff jumps or simply want to bask in the stunning scenery, the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai is the perfect blend of natural beauty and adventure.
14. Relax In San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
Fancy rejuvenating in the warm springs of nature? Then pay a visit to San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, nestled amidst the verdant hills of Chiang Mai.
This hidden gem offers a tranquil escape from the bustling city, inviting visitors to soak in its hot mineral streams.
Surrounded by an idyllic park setting adorned with shade trees and flowers, this well-maintained sanctuary is a haven for relaxation.
Immerse yourself in the warm waters, renowned for their soothing properties, and let your worries dissolve away.
The experience is well worth the minimal entrance fee of 100 baht per person, offering a serene respite and a chance to connect with nature’s healing power.
15. Go Hiking In Doi Inthanon National Park
Immerse yourself in the wonders of Doi Inthanon National Park, an area known for its lush jungles and mountains, just outside of Chiang Mai.
This captivating destination offers a myriad of adventures for nature enthusiasts and thrill-seekers alike.
Explore the park’s dense jungles, where you can embark on exhilarating treks through scenic trails.
Discover hidden waterfalls cascading down moss-covered rocks, offering a refreshing respite from the tropical heat.
As you traverse the park’s breathtaking landscapes, keep an eye out for vibrant bird species that call this place home.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Most people visiting Chiang Mai either stay in the Old City or the Night Market area.
These are great areas to be in as you will get a good feel of what makes Chiang Mai tick.
The areas are filled with attractions and within walking distance of each other.
Getting to Chiang Mai Thailand
Chiang Mai is 702 km (435 miles) north of Bangkok, the capital of Thailand.
There are a few ways to get to Chiang Mai, you can take a bus or train, but most people usually fly or take the night train.
The night train should be booked at least a week in advance since it’s a popular budget way to get to Chiang Mai. If you miss the train, I highly recommend you fly.
The flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai International Airport takes a little over an hour and they leave from both Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport.
Just be aware that the airports are 48 km (30 miles) from each other and it can take hours to get between airports in Bangkok traffic.
Check which Bangkok airport you are flying into and make sure your connecting Chiang Mai flight leaves from the same airport.
There is a free shuttle bus between Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang International Airport but give yourself plenty of time between flights to make up for the traffic.
Phuket and Krabi also have direct flights to Chiang Mai so consider adding Chiang Mai to your next Thailand itinerary.
Final Thoughts on Things To Do In Chiang Mai, Thailand
I have only scratched the surface of what to do in Chiang Mai Thailand, there is so much more to see and do in the surrounding villages and mountains.
Chiang Mai is a destination that offers something for everyone, it’s your choice as to how laid back or adventurous you want your trip to be.
One thing for sure, after a visit to the region you will fall under the spell of Chiang Mai in Thailand.
More Thailand Travel Tips
If you need more inspiration for your Thailand trip, check out these other guides…
- 19 Helpful Tips for Tavelling to Thailand with Kids
- Bangkok city guide
- Things to do in Phuket in 48 hours
- Visiting an Akha Hill Tribe Villiage in Chiang Rai, Thailand
More Southeast Asia Travel Tips
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