Chiang Mai in northern Thailand is among the most beautiful places in Thailand. The city is famous for its gorgeous mountain landscapes, surrounded by tropical jungles and forests, and intricate ancient Buddhist temples, which are among the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Asia. Visiting Chiang Mai and its outstanding temples are among the best things to do in Thailand. And, here’s the ultimate guide to the best things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand.
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BEST EXPERIENCES AND TOURS IN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND:
Chiang Mai: Elephant Care at Elephant Retirement Park (the most popular tour)
From Chiang Mai: Doi Inthanon National Park Full-Day Tour (the most popular day trip from Chiang Mai)
From Chiang Mai: White Temple & Golden Triangle Day Trip (a popular day trip from Chiang Mai)
Adventure Hot Air Balloon Ride in Chiang Mai (the cooliest tour)
BEST HOTELS IN CHIANG MAI THAILAND:
Na BaanYa Chiang Mai (BUDGET)
Sireeampan Boutique Resort and Spa – SHA Extra Plus (LUXURY)
WHAT IS CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is one of the most beautiful cities in Thailand.
The city of Chiang Mai is the capital of the Chiang Mai province, the largest city in northern Thailand, and the second-largest city in Thailand.
Chiang Mai means New City in the Thai language. The city was founded in the 13th century as the new capital city of at-that-time powerful Lanna Kingdom (Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields), whose previous capital was Chiang Rai.
Chiang Mai is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand and one of the most historically and culturally significant cities in Thailand. It is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Cities. Nowadays, Chiang Mai is also one of the typical stops along the Banana Pancake Trail.
WHAT IS CHIANG MAI KNOWN FOR
Beautiful Chiang Mai is known for its over 300 Buddhist temples, gorgeous mountains landscape, lush greenery, nearby jungles, fabulous local northern Thai cuisine, elephant sanctuaries, and a large digital nomad community. Chiang Mai is one of the largest digital nomad hubs in Asia.
The well-known nickname of Chiang Mai is ‘the Rose of North’.
Chiang Mai is also famous as a center of Thai handicrafts (like wood carving, silverwork, and pottery work), and a center of renowned traditional Thai massage schools.
WHERE IS CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is on the Ping River in the Thai highlands in northern Thailand.
Chiang Mai is 467 miles (752 km) northwest of Bangkok, 114 mi (184 km) southwest of Chiang Rai, and 81 mi (130 km) southeast of Pai.
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai is well-connected with many domestic and international destinations.
Chiang Mai International airport serves the city. Many airline companies have flights to Chiang Mai, like Thai Airlines, Bangkok Airlines, Thai Air Asia, Air Asia, China Airlines, Korean Airlines, and Lao Airlines.
Chiang Mai is well-connected with Luang Prabang in neighboring Laos. An 8-hour slow boat ride between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang is among the most beautiful boat journeys. There are also direct bus lines between Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang.
Chiang Mai is well-connected with neighboring Myanmar (Burma). The Mae Sai – Tachileik border crossing, 155 mi (250 km) north of Chiang Mai, is a frequently used border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. Thai Air Asia, Myanmar National Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Smile connect Chiang Mai and Yangoon in Myanmar. A flight between Chiang Mai and Yangoon lasts an hour and 20 min on average.
Chiang Mai is well-connected with many domestic destinations, among which Bangkok and Chiang Rai best.
Chiang Mai and Bangkok are well-connected by direct flights, trains, and buses. Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai are well-connected by bus lines.
Chiang Mai is a 4-hour bus ride from Chiang Rai. Chiang Mai is a 10-hour bus ride from Bangkok.
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG MAI FROM BANGKOK
The fastest way to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is by plane. There are several direct flights a day between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. A direct flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai lasts only 1 hour and 15 minutes.
The most scenic way to get to Chiang Mai from Bangkok is by train. A train ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai lasts about 13 hours.
The least expensive way to get to Chang Mai from Bangkok is by bus. A bus ride between Bangkok and Chiang Mai lasts about 10 hours. A bus ride is cheaper than a train ride.
AIRPORT IN CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai International Airport is 2.5 mi (4 km) southwest of downtown Chiang Mai.
It has domestic and regional International flights. Thai Air Asia (a Thai low-coast airline) connects Chiang Mai with Bangkok, Phuket, Pattaya, Krabi, Surat Thani, Hat Yai, and Khon Kaen. Besides that, Nok Air connects Chiang Mai with Bangkok and Udon Thani, and Thai Smile connects Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
In addition, Bangkok Airlines connects Chiang Mai with Bangkok and Koh Samui.
And Thai Lion Air connects Chiang Mai with Bangkok and Pattaya in Thailand and multiple destinations in Indonesia, Malaysia, and China.
Air Asia, HK Express, China Airlines, Korean Airlines, Lao Airlines, Myanmar National Airlines, Scoot, Thai Airlines, and VietJet Air are some of the many airline companies that have flights to Chiang Mai Airport.
WHERE TO STAY IN CHIANG MAI THAILAND
Na BaanYa Chiang Mai (BUDGET) – This lovely 3-star hotel comes with a garden, a terrace and free bikes! And fabulous breakfast!
Makkachiva (MID-RANGE) – This beuatful 4-star hotel is in the heart of Chiang Mai, and near Chedi Luang Temple, Chiang Mai Gate and Three Kings Monument. You will evertyhing about this hotel: From its location, design and decoration to fantastic breakfast.
Sireeampan Boutique Resort and Spa – SHA Extra Plus (LUXURY) – This 5-star Thai-style resort has an outdoor pool and a spa wellness centre. The resort is 4.4 km from Chiang Mai Gate.
BEST TIME TO VISIT CHIANG MAI THAILAND
Chaing Mai is in the Highlands of northern Thailand have a more moderate climate than southern Thailand. Chaing Mia has three distinctive seasons: a cool (Nov-Feb), hot (Mar-Jun), and wet (Jul-Oct) season.
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is during the cool season, from November to February. The cool season is the high tourist season in Chiang Mai. Daily average temperatures are around 82 F/28 in the cool season. The best months for visiting Chiang Mai are December and January for the pleasant air temperatures.
The average daily temperatures in the hot season in Chiang Mai go around 95 F/35 C. Also, during the hot season, farmers burn rice fields to prepare the soil for the next crop. So, the air gets polluted with burning.
The monsoon season in Chiang Mai goes from July to October, with the peak in August and September. The monsoon season is the off-tourist season in Chiang Mai which comes with discounted accommodation.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN CHIANG MAI THAILAND
Let’s get into 15 of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
1. Explore the many temples of Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is home to an abundance of beautiful temples, each with its own unique history and architecture.
Temples throughout Thailand are beautiful but the temples in Chiang Mai are particularly impressive. The stunning temples are the top attractions in Chiang Mai.
Some popular temples to visit are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh, and Wat Suan Dok, but there are many more too. Temple-hopping is among the top things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand!
2. Shop at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
Another great thing to do in Chiang Mai Thailand is to go shopping at the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar.
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a must-visit for anyone looking for unique gifts, souvenirs, and local handicrafts. You can also indulge in delicious street food while shopping. Street food is a great option if you are backpacking Thailand and want to save money on food. However, Thai street food is not only budget-friendly. Above all, it is a top delicious food. And unlike the rumors, you aren’t guaranteed to get food poisoning.
3. Visit the ancient city walls and moat of Chiang Mai
The ancient city walls of Chiang Mai were built in the 14th century, over 700 years ago, to protect the city from invaders.
The walls, which are over 1 km long, are made of brick and feature four main gates. The moat, which is over 4 km long, surrounds the walls.
Although not quite the Great Wall of China, the walls and moat offer a great place for a leisurely stroll and a chance to learn more about the city’s history. Visiting at sunset allows for particularly beautiful photos with the colorful sky in the background behind the walls. Strolling the walls at sunset is among the best things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand.
4. Go on a jungle trek
Chiang Mai is surrounded by mountains, forests, and jungles, conveniently making it a great place for jungle treks.
Thailand offers many opportunities for jungle treks, but Chiang Mai is one of the best places in Thailand to go trekking. You can hire a guide and go on a trek to see elephants, monkeys, and other wildlife. A popular trek is in the Doi Inthanon National Park, which also offers one of the most impressive views in all of Thailand. Trekking in the Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand. Check out this Doi Inthanon National Park Full-Day Tour from Chiang Mai.
5. Take a traditional Thai cooking class
One of the most authentic things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class.
Thai cuisine is famous for its bold flavors and specific preparation methods. Taking a cooking class is a great way to learn more about Thai food and also Thai culture. You are able to take classes and learn how to make traditional dishes such as tom yum soup, and green curry, and who could forget pad Thai?
In this Authentic Thai Cooking Class and Farm Visit you will learn how to make them!
6. Stakeout at Chiang Mai Night Safari
Chiang Mai Night Safari is a unique animal park that allows visitors to see exotic animals at night.
The park is open from 6:30 PM to 10:30 PM and offers visitors the opportunity to see animals such as lions, tigers, and leopards in a natural setting, at night. There are different zones within the park and each zone has its own set of animals and activities too. Seeing the exotic animals on the Chiang Mai night safari is one of the unique things to do in Chiang Mai.
7. Explore Chiang Mai through a bike tour
A bike tour anywhere in the world is a great way to see the city and its surroundings and Chiang Mai is no different.
You can join a guided bike tour and have a local guide show you around the city. A huge perk of taking a bike tour over a walking tour is that you are able to cover more ground. Join this Sightseeing Night Bike Tour and enjoy night rides while exploring Chiang Mai Thailand.
Another option is to rent a bike and explore the city on your own.
8. Swim at Mae Sa Waterfall
If you are a fan of the outdoors, Mae Sa Waterfall is a beautiful waterfall located just outside of Chiang Mai, about a 40-minute drive away.
The waterfall is surrounded by jungle (remember, Chiang Mai in Thailand is a great place for jungle trekking) and it’s a popular spot for swimming and picnicking. You can also hike to the top of the waterfall for a panoramic view of the surrounding area, which is absolutely beautiful.
9. Hike at Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is a beautiful national park located just outside of Chiang Mai.
Again, it’s about 40 minutes away by car. The park is known for its hiking trails, waterfalls, and stunning views of the city. Hiking in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand. Visitors can hike to the summit of Doi Suthep-Pui, which offers yet another beautiful panoramic view of the city and surrounding countryside. The park is also home to a number of different species of birds and butterflies which you can spot during your hike.
10. Take a day trip to Chiang Rai
If you are doing a trip across the whole of Thailand, Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai normally fall in the same part of the trip as they are so close together.
Chiang Rai is a city located about a two-hour drive from Chiang Mai. The city is known for its world-renowned Chiang Rai temples, such as the White Temple, and its vibrant local culture. Visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai and see some of the most bizarre temples in Asia! Check out this Chiang Rai temples tour from Chiang Mai.
You can also explore the nearby Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet. It’s a unique spot! On this White Temple & Golden Triangle Day Trip from Chiang Mai you see both places in one day!
11. Take a Thai language class
Similar to the cooking class, another authentic thing to do in Chiang Mai Thailand is to take a Thai language class. Learning the local language is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and make the most of your trip. You can take a Thai language class while in Chiang Mai to learn the basics of the language and improve your communication skills. Be warned though, Thai is a pretty tough language to learn.
12. Have an elephant experience
Chiang Mai is known for its elephant conservation efforts.
Visit an elephant sanctuary or camp and learn about elephant conservation and take an elephant trek. There are lots of options to choose from as there are lots of sanctuaries near Chiang Mai.
Make sure to do your research though, some aren’t as ethical as they advertise. Check out Chiang Mai: Small Group Ethical Elephant Sanctuary Tour (Get Your Guide)
13. Take a hot air balloon ride
One of the most amazing and memorable things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a hot air balloon ride.
A hot air balloon ride over the city and the surrounding countryside offers a unique perspective on the area. You will be able to spot the ancient city walls and moat, temples, tropical landscapes, and jungles from above. It’s an unforgettable experience! Join this Adventure Basket Balloon Ride in Chiang Mai to bring the lifelong memories of Chiang Mai back home!
14. Educate yourself at Chiang Mai National Museum
The Chiang Mai National Museum is a great place to learn about the history and culture of Chiang Mai. The museum has a wide variety of exhibits, including artifacts from the ancient Lanna kingdom which ruled northern Thailand nearly 1000 years ago. You can also find traditional textiles and Buddhist art.
15. Enjoy a night at Hawker Market
And last but by no means least is the Hawker market. Hawker market is a popular night market in Chiang Mai where you can find a variety of street food and local snacks. It’s similar to the Night Bazaar but so different at the same time. The market has a great atmosphere and is a good place to try a variety of local delicacies. You can also find traditional handicrafts and souvenirs to take home as a reminder of your trip.
Things to do in Chiang Mai: Conclusion
And there you have it, 15 incredible things to do in Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a beautiful part of Thailand, and it’s not short of things to do. No matter how long you spend in Chiang Mai, you are guaranteed to have a great time. Whatever you choose to do, whether it’s a jungle trek or a hot air balloon ride, Chiang Mai offers an amazing stay. Hopefully, you’ll have a great time there. Enjoy your trip to Chiang Mai!
This post was written in collaboration with Josh Band from A Backpacker’s World. Josh loves to write about backpacking all around the world. From Southeast Asia to Europe, and everything in between, Josh loves to explore and spend as little as possible while doing so. Who doesn’t love budget traveling, right?