Top 10 Things To Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Top 10 Things To Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Called as the ‘Rose of the North’, Chiang Mai is located 700km north of the capital city of Bangkok (BKK) and is considered as the second (2nd) largest city in Thailand. However, it only has 200,000 people compared to BKK (which has 9 million) — so, you can imagine how a lot of tourists would prefer to travel here on a holiday especially if they’re looking for a laid-back Thai adventure. (Things to do in Chiang Mai)

After all, with its rich culture, bustling night scene, friendly locals, and natural heritage, there truly are so many activities to easily fill your itinerary with!

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Where to Stay in Chiang Mai?

Come and check out my list of the ‘Best Hotels in Chiang Mai’ which features the top recommended choices for cheap to luxurious accommodation choices.

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Pre-Travel Guide for Chiang Mai

CURRENCY: ฿ (Thai baht) in which $1 = ฿31~ baht (or Php 51~).

Where to get the best flights deals to Thailand?
My go-to platform for grabbing the best flight deal is Skyscanner. But of course, it’s always good practice to first research the budget airlines that exist in the country that you’re currently staying in because they could have rock-bottom prices that are not often visible in the above flight search engines. (For example, in the Philippines, budget airlines like Cebu Pacific and AirAsia have great deals and promos that often set ticket prices at just about $1!).

Take note that Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is the nearest airport to the city and it handles both domestic and international flights. If you ride a taxi, it will take you 10 to 15 minutes to get to Chiang Mai’s city center and it should cost a flat rate of ฿160 baht for up to 5 passengers for airport taxis or a rate starting from ฿40 baht + ฿50 baht service fee for metered taxis. You can also opt to ride a tuktuk/songthaew (for ฿50 to ฿60 baht per person) or the bus (for only ฿20 baht — look for bus number 9 or 4).

What I would suggest is to just book a private transfer for a more hassle-free experience. (It becomes a great option too if you’re traveling together with a lot of people so that the cost is a lot leaser).

How can I get in to Chiang Mai?
By plane. If you’re coming from Bangkok, there are about 16 domestic airlines that will take you to CNX in 70 minutes; alternatively, there are several international carriers that will take you directly to CNX.

By overnight train. You can catch a train from Bangkok’s station in Hua Lamphong to get to Chiang Mai (takes about 14 to 16 hours, starting at ฿280 baht per person) or you can ride an overnight train (starting at ฿900 baht). I recommend taking the overnight train that arrives late because it gives you the chance to see varying landscapes on the way.

By bus. There are a variety of buses that leave Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal and they offer varying choices of price, comfort, and speed. Just take note that price usually starts at ฿400 baht.

What are the best accommodation choices in Chiang Mai?
BudgetThe Dorm / Mid-RangeDusit Princess / LuxuryShang-ri La Hotel
For a complete list, go here.

To search for other accommodation options at the best prices, I suggest checking out Agoda and Booking.com. (If you’re rather interested in renting affordable yet comfortable houses or apartments, always check AirBnB).

How can I go around Chiang Mai?
Commuting around Chiang Mai—as well as in other parts of Thailand—is usually done with the help of songthaews and tuk-tuks. To differentiate between the two, it’s best for me to show you this photo:

Songthaew and Tuktuk Thailand Image from: http://americanexpatchiangmai.com/

At this point, it helps for me to point out that you can rent a motorcycle. This is actually the best way to go around Chiang Mai if you don’t want to go through the hassle of haggling with songthaews and tuk-tuks.

Where to rent bikes? They’re everywhere, really. You can just ask your hotel where the nearest one is, but it’s said that KPD Car Rent and Mr. Mechanic are good ones. Also, depending on the kind of bike that you want to rent, it can range from ฿150 to ฿500 baht per day. And still depending on the kind of bike, you may be required to give a deposit ranging from ฿2,000 to ฿10,000 baht (or even higher). Never leave your passport with them if they may happen to ask you so. Prices will also change (higher) if you are going to avail a package with insurance; without insurance usually means that if anything happens to you or the bike, you are going to shoulder or fix it.

Songthaews. As you can see they’re bigger and for a reason — it’s because it’s a shared taxi and best for long distances; meaning that if you’re going to a faraway place and you’re lucky to be able to come along with other people going towards the same way, then your fare’s price can go down.

Tuk-tuks. The are obviously smaller and cramped, specialized per se; so not advisable for long distances. Songthaews and tuk-tuks will cost you ฿20 baht (per person) if you want to go to certain parts within the city of Chiang Mai. Outside of Chiang Mai is a different topic though because this is where you’ll have to apply the art of haggling, much like how you have to do it in other parts of Asia. But usually, an ideal non-tourist-trap rate is ฿100 baht per person, roundtrip, on a songthaew (usually to parts like Mae Sa or Mae Rim).

Metered taxis: These have a ฿30 baht basic taxi charge when you flag them down on the streets; then again, they’re not usually seen on Chiang Mai streets.

Should I get a visa to visit Thailand?
If you’re NOT a citizen of any of Thailand’s exempted countries, you are then required to avail a visa beforehand (or you can also get a exempted). If you’re from the Philippines, you can enter Thailand with just your passport and you can stay up to 30 days if entering via an international airport (or 15 days if entering through a land border checkpoint from a neighboring country such as Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia).

Helpful Thai phrases
Hello (informal): Sa-wat-dee
Hello (formal, speaker is man): Sa-wat-dee khráp
Hello (formal, speaker is a woman): Sa-wat-dee khá
Thank you: Khop khun
Yes: Chai
No: Mai chai
Goodbye: Laa kon
Goodbye (informal): Sa-wat-dee
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Excuse me (to beg pardon): Kho thot
I’m sorry:  Kho thot
Is there someone here who speaks English?: Tee-nee-mee krai poot-pa-sa Angrit dai-bang?
Help!: Chûai dûai!
Cheers!: Chai yoo!

Things to Do in Chiang Mai

So, in no particular order, here are 10 things that you should absolutely do and shouldn’t miss in this Thai haven:

#1: Visit Buddhist Temples
Wat Phra Singh Things to Do in Chiang Mai

This capital is FULL of ancient Buddhist temples called as ‘Wats’ dated way back to when Chiang Mai was originally founded (1296) and today, there are around 200 of them in and around the city in which some are still in use—not only by Buddhist monks but of Thai people as well. Over the years, these temples have survived and it proves that the original builders possessed great talent in putting it up, and that the succeeding artisans have done well in maintaining it too. (It is said that different Kings have left their ‘mark’ by building these structures.)

Surely, it would be impossible to visit all 200 temples, but here are a number of wats that you must visit!

  • Wat Sri Suphan is commonly known as the ‘Silver Ubosot Shrine’ in which it has a special chapel (ubosot) that is made of silver, nickel, and aluminum (as Rupi silver and Hang silver are rare and expensive). This was done to exibit the work of the nearby Wua Lai silver-making community. Located at Wualai Road, it’s best to visit here on Tuesdays/Thursdays/Saturdays between 5:30PM to 7:00PM since they hold a ‘Monk Chat’ now and then.
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  • Wat Chedi Luang is located in the old city near Prapokkloa Road and was ordered to be built by King Saen Muang Ma in the 14th century to house the ashes of his father. The Emerald Buddha was placed here in 1468 but was moved away after an earthquake that made the temple’s upper section fall off. (The Emerald Buddha is now at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.)
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  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or commonly called as Doi Suthep is near the top of Mount Suthep (which translates to ‘Doi Suthep’ in Thai) and is the most popular Wat in Chiang Mai. If you want a guided experience to this temple, I highly suggest booking a tour.
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  • Wat Phra Singh is one of the most beautiful temples in Chiang Mai, helped preserved due to several renovation efforts. Notable will be the main temple building’s intricately decorated building that seemingly shines bright in the day.

TIP: As seen in the photo above, releasing floating lanterns into the sky is a typical thing done in Chiang Mai especially since Buddhists believe that it symbolizes letting go of misfortunes — and if you also make a wish when you release it, such will come true.

There is a huge celebration for this called as Yee Peng (Lantern Festival) and the best place as to where it is held is at Mae Jo University. Alternatively, an event especially catered to tourists is also set up every year with tickets costing about $100 (including full meal, transfers and 2 lanterns). Locations and dates for this are usually announced in November with the event held at the end of the month.

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#2: Witness Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon National Park

Nicknamed as the ‘Roof of Thailand’, this is one of the most popular national parks in the country. Within this expanse is Doi Inthanon which is Thailand’s highest mountain and also a part of the Himalayan range.

Apart from the picturesque trails, villages, farms, waterfalls and viewpoints dotted all over the park, you will also love the view from the summit which is at 2,565 meter altitude. You can reach this only by car but you could also hike from the parking area. Don’t forget to drop by the two chedis on the main road 5km south from the summit which are called as Phra Mahathat Naphamethanidon and Nophamethanidon.

To get here, you would typically transfer from one songthaew to another — this is why I would rather recommend that you take up a guided Doi Inthanon tour to save yourself the time and the hassle. Otherwise, entrance fee is 300 Baht for foreigners and 50 Baht for locals.
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#3: See the Natural Heritage: Come to Mae Sa Waterfall
Mae Sa Waterfall Chiang Mai

There are various things that you can choose from: caves, farms, gardens, etc. Though one of the most well-known natural sights would be Mae Sa Waterfall!

This is in the Mae Sa Valley of Chiang Mai and closes at 5PM with an entrance fee of ฿30 baht ($1) for Thai people and ฿100 baht ($3) for foreigners. We managed to only pay ฿30 baht since we were travelling along with some Thai friends that we met in our trip… or that maybe, we just look like Thai people anyways. Haha! (Oh, there’s also a ฿20 baht for parking).

It will take you 30 minutes to get here from the city; and again, you will need a songthaew for this (to know what a songthaew is go to the bottom of this page) or just rent a motorcycle if you’d like. Usually, songthaews are willing to drop you off to nearby attractions if you’re going to the Mae Sa or Mae Rim areas (we paid ฿100 baht per person, roundtrip, and visited 4 different attractions).

Local Thai people usually go to Mae Sa Waterfall to hang out, swim, and do picnics; so you can do the same too! (It follows that if you don’t want to hang out with the ‘crowd’, go here on weekdays).

*** There are shopping and food stalls near the car parking and before the start of the waterfall tiers.
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#4: Meet Elephants at a Sanctuary
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

In case you don’t know, Thailand’s elephant tourism subjects these gentle giants to cruel training in order to allow people to ride or play with them. A simple Google Search will lead you to a lot of material and proof as to how the elephants are treated badly — this is why I highly suggest that you refrain from supporting businesses who offer these kinds of services.

Nevertheless, you can still enjoy the company of Thailand’s elephants through legitimate and ethical sanctuaries such as that of the Elephant Nature Park. As a park, they aim to protect and care for mistreated elephants that have been rescued from logging and tourism companies. They don’t do rides or tricks on the elephants, but you can be with them through walks, feeding, bathing time, and even during plays in the mud.

TIP: You can also check out the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for a similar experience.

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#5: Chiang Mai Night Safari
Chiang Mai Night Safari Park

Wanna get close to other native animals in the region as well as other types of African wildlife? Then come and experience Chiang Mai Night Safari Park — a unique endeavor where you can get a closer look at the animals via a fully-enclosed tram ride.

The tour will last an hour and it will truly be a thrilling memory! Otherwise, trail tours are also available in the morning along with other shows and attractions.

NOTE: An alternative will be the Chiang Mai Zoo Aquarium.

Meanwhile, please also take note NOT to visit places like Tiger Kingdom as they are not ethical places.

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#6: Visit the Night Markets and Shop!
Sunday Night Market :  Things to Do in Chiang Mai

Pick and wear your most comfortable footwear ladies and gents… it’s time to hit the markets of Chiang Mai!

Scattered all over the city, this is an activity that you shouldn’t skip as it’s the PERFECT opportunity to see the locals and even a great way to witness the different crafts and livelihood that the Thai people have in these parts. You get to shop for cheap and fresh stuff too!

With the number of markets around Chiang Mai, it could get really dizzying so I came up with this map to help you all out:

[ Click on the colored lines to see the kind of markets on these streets; it’s best to put it on full screen so you can see the list of markets ]

In here you can see that Chiang Mai city has a square-like part smacked in the middle. This is actually it’s old walled city surrounded by a moat as it originally was in 1296. All the surrounding areas outside this box have slowly grown/built over the years, making up the whole of the city as it is today.

The original moat is still in use but currently, parts of the old wall have already broken down: Tha Pae Gate is one of the iconic parts of this wall that is still intact.

The most popular and busiest night market of them all is the Sunday (Walking St.) Market, which as the name goes, only happens on Sundays from 4PM till midnight. It is a stretch from Tha Phae Gate all the way down to Rachadamnoen Road (the pale blue line on the map; inside the square/old city) filled with hawker shops that sell VERY cheap stuff.

But since we arrived in Chiang Mai on a Monday and have stayed for only 5 days, we didn’t get the chance to see this. However, there are still a LOT of other night markets available for us and our best picks for this were Warorot Market (blue line on map above the yellow line) and the Night Bazaar (purple line on map).

As for our pick on the hippest place in the city, it would be Nimmanhemin Road (pink line on top part of map) which was full of interesting modern shops and restaurants!

Going to these day and night markets is easy: just hail down a songthaew or tuk-tuk, say the road/market’s name and they’ll know it. Fee for this is just ฿20 baht (less than $1) since it’s just within the city. (To know what a songthaew/tuk-tuk is, click this.)

If you have extra time, then travel outside of the city to check out San Kamphaeng (for authentic Thai silk and lacquerware) or Bor Sang (for hand-painted paper umbrella craft) and then Ban Tawai (for wood carvings and furniture).

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#7: Eat, eat, eat — Thai ‘Street Food’ is the Best! 
Night Markets

While you’re walking around Chiang Mai’s Night Markets and shopping avenues, don’t hesitate to open your senses to their culinary delights!

Want a guided food tour? Book here!

Thai food is surely famous for their spicy dishes, but they also have a wide range of gastronomic selections that could suit your palate. I say, take some courage and order a small sample of something, ANYTHING (even the exotic insect dishes!) — especially when you see a lot of local Thai people lining up to a stall get their order.

Some of the things that you should absolutely try is their popular Khao Soi (egg noodle curry), satay, curries, pad thai, quail eggs with coconut, and more!

Thai Cuisine is known for its balance of the three to four fundamental taste senses in each dish or the overall meal: sour, sweet, salty, and bitter.

If eating is not enough, then why not try and learn how to make some popular Thai food dishes, right? I suggest that you try taking a cooking class from a local.

READ: Where to Eat? The Top 10 Chiang Mai Street Food Dishes!

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#8: Explore Tribal Villages
Karen Long Neck Tribe

If you’re looking for a more immersive experience, why not visit some of Chiang Mai’s tribal villages and meet locals in order to learn more of their history?

There are 2 places that I can recommend for this namely…

  • Karen Long Neck Tribe Tour: Found near the border of Myanmar is the Karen long neck tribe and they are famous worldwide for their custom in which women wear brass coils around their necks to create the appearance of a longer neck (apart from the belief that the rings will protect them from danger, the more that a woman can wear, the more beautiful she is perceived to be). They also wear these coils on their arms and legs.
    • To learn more about their lifestyle and history, you can partake in a half-day guided Karen tour which will also enable you to visit Wat Pha Lat at the famous Doi Suthep.
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  • Doi Pui Tribal Village and National Park: Doi Pui is the highest peak in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park and amongst its beautiful terrain, the Hmong Tribal Village is one of the most sought-after attractions in the area. After all, a tour to this village will give you an idea of their hill-tribe lifestyle. One interesting part of their history is that they used to cultivate opium poppies for a living until they turn into agricultural farms instead.

TIP: As an alternative, you can go on a journey called as the  Golden Triangle Tour where you can go to where Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet. This is a fun one-day tour where you get to visit a lot of interesting natural spots, tribes and temples along the way.

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#9: Lay Back and Relax
Chiang Mai Massage Spa

Of course, a trip to Chiang Mai is NOT complete without a trip to a spa to get that much needed pampering session after all the touring you’re going to do. After all, the traditional Thai massage is an amazing experience and it will truly be memorable for you! For this, come check out the ‘Let’s Relax Spa‘ establishment.

Otherwise, if you’re after a different kind of relaxation, how about a leisurely ride on a hot air balloon? This will be an hour-long flight as you get to witness once-in-a-lifetime panoramic views over the whole of the city.

Rather into food? Go and check out Shangri-La’s Afternoon High Tea service where you can enjoy a wide array of sweets and pass the time away in a luxurious setting.
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#10: Do Adrenaline-Pumping Activities
Zipline :  Things to Do in Chiang Mai

End your trip with one of the best tings to do in Chiang Mai — an exhilarating activity in the outdoors! There are a number of things that you can choose from and they are not limited to…

  • Flight of the Gibbon: Go through thrilling wire ziplines, sky bridges and abseiling in a magical rainforest!
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  • Jungle Flight Zipline Adventure: A 3-hour jampacked activity filled with zipline and treetop activities of your preference.
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  • Dragon Flight Zipline: Held near the mountains of Doi Saket, the camp has obstacle courses, canopies, skybridges, ziplines and so many more.
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  • Rafting: Held in the roaring Mae Taeng river, you’ll be rafting through waterways filled with stunning nature.
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  • Thapae Boxing Stadium: Witness authentic and fierce Muay Thai boxing matches in Thailand’s first ever Muay Thai stadium!
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  • ATV Buggy: Choose from a 150cc ATV up a mountainous incline or a 1500cc off-road buggy through a lush rainforest and off-road terrain (for more experienced drivers).
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Booking Essentials


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Overall

Things to Do in Chiang Mai

I hope this helps make the most of your Chiang Mai itinerary — enjoy!

How about you?

  • What do you think of these things to do in Chiang Mai?
  • Which activity would you like to try the most?
  • Or have you done any of these before? How was it?

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33 comments

  1. Great article!

    Many people go to Thailand to visit Bangkok and Phuket, however they miss the best part, Chiang Mai! The Mae Sa waterfall is my favourite among all, It is a very relaxing place, perfect for a picnic!

    You are so lucky to get to know Thailand from the locals, best source!

    Reply
  2. Thank you for this insightful post! When I was in Chiang Mai (or basically anywhere in Thailand), I always had leggins in my backpack that I would just quickly put beneath my skirt, so I could enter the temples. When not wearing them, I used them as extra protection for my camera inside my backpack :)
    Either way, I found it an incredible city and will gladly keep your tips in mind for the next time!

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  3. Did a 6day trip to BKK, Ayutthaya and Kanchanaburi. Next stop will be Chiang Mai! Thanks for the detailed tips.

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    1. Awesome to hear! Hope this post helps you plan out your Chiang Mai itinerary

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  4. I'm so happy I came across this post. My fiance and I are going to Thailand in June and I've been slowly getting a list together of things to do when we go to Chiang Mai. This is perfect!

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    1. That's great to hear! I dearly hope this helps :D Enjoy your trip!

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  5. Thank you for sharing top 10 tips.

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    1. You're welcome! I hope it helps you :)

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  6. Thanks for such an informative post! I'm hoping to travel to Thailand this summer. I've been to southern Thailand and looking forward to going to Chiang Mai. Visiting an elephant sanctuary has been very high on the bucket list and I've been looking for a reputable company. I'll have to check out Patara Elephant Farm!

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  7. Great tips. I'd be happy to see the night market.

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    1. Thanks; I think you'll love it! :)

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  8. WOW! What a lovely and informative post on Chiang Mai. I have yet to visit Southeast Asis, but your post makes me want to go. I love the elephants and tigers, but the food photos are what really get me going! I am pinning this post to my Pinterest board.

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    1. Thank you Howard! I'm glad you found this post helpful :)

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  9. This is a part of the world I know nothing about. I thought the serpent staircase was so beautiful, as were the temples. There's so much history and art here!

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    1. Hey Ana, thanks! You should definitely try and explore more of Asia soon!

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