Looking for the best things to do in Chiang Mai? The largest city in northern Thailand has a lot to offer visitors for days.
Chiang Mai has so many beautiful places to eat, markets to see, temples to visit, and festivals to take part in its hard to go bored here. Keep reading for the best places to visit in Chiang Mai.
Things to do in Chiang Mai
Visit the Warorot Market
In many countries, markets are places where you’ll learn more about the native people and their culture than you will in a museum or at a crowded tourist site. Chiang Mai’s Warorot Market is one such place. Unlike a lot of the afternoon and night markets in Chiang Mai, this market opens bright and early.
You’ll find plenty of non-food items like clothing, jewelry, and silverware, but it may be the exotic fruit, vegetables, fish and spices that you’ll find most alluring. Like a lot of markets, the prices are not set in stone, and although you’ll stand out as a tourist, with a little friendly banter and negotiation, you may get a price not too far above what the locals pay.
Khum Khantoke Traditional Dance and Dinner Show
For those dedicated souls who like to utilize their time efficiently and kill two birds with one stone, the Khum Khantoke Traditional Dance and Dinner Show is one of the things to do in Chiang Mai that you won’t want to miss.
You’ll be seated below an ornate stage and dine on authentic Thai food while listening to traditional Thai music. You’ll watch groups of magnificently adorned dancers perform dances from the different regions and cultures found within Thailand’s borders.
If there’s a way to more thoroughly experience all that Thailand is in one unforgettable setting, good luck finding it. Check out their website for show times, prices, and online booking.
Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple
At more than a mile high, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple and the mountain on which it sits are the quintessential symbols of Chiang Mai. About 13 kilometers outside the city, the elevation at the top of the mountain will give you a magnificent view of Chiang Mai, and you’ll be amazed by the beauty of the temple that was built in the 13th Century.
Home to the White Elephant Shrine, like many temples from antiquity, this Buddhist temple has a bit of folklore that goes with it. Supposedly, more than 700 years ago, a monk had a dream in which he was told to go to the place where the temple now sits; when he did, he found a bone of Buddhism’s founder, Gautama Buddha.
Visit the Famous Long Neck Karen Tribe
If you’re still wondering what to do in Chiang Mai you should check out the unique long neck Karen Tribe. The Karen are groups of mountain people – originally from Myanmar – who fled to neighboring Thailand to escape conflict and persecution in their own country. One of the largest groups has settled near Chiang Mai, not far from the border between Thailand and Myanmar.
Famous for their dramatically stretched, gold hoop ringed necks, the striking Karen women are unforgettable. The trip to their village at Mae Rim will give you a fascinating glimpse into their everyday lives, and you’ll also be able to pick up some of their handmade decorations, which are beautiful, well-crafted and their primary means of helping to support their families. Though you can go on your own, it’s best to go with a guide who’ll act as an interpreter.
Visit the Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm
If you find the natural world as unusual and intriguing as culture and history, then the Orchid and Butterfly farm at Mae Rim is one of the things to do in Chiang Mai that you shouldn’t miss.
With thousands of orchids on display – and perhaps as many butterflies flitting about inside their picturesque enclosures – photo-ops won’t be in short supply.
There’s also a small waterfall, jewelry and gift shop, and a buffet if you need to replenish those expended calories before setting out on your next Thai adventure. Due to its closeness to Doi Suthep Temple, it may be wise to hit these places on the same day.
San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
The more I travel, the more I realize just how many hot springs there are in the world; with its San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, Chiang Mai is no exception. If you think that the last thing you’d want in a humid, sub-tropical climate like Chiang Mai’s is a dip in a hot bath, guess again – you’ll be surprised at just how soothing and refreshing it can be.
With traditional mineral baths and a swimming pool too, you’ll have ample opportunity to exercise and relax those muscles. If that’s not enough, massages are also available, and they even sell fresh eggs which you can hard-boil as you bathe.
The hot springs are located in a picturesque park surrounded by lush mountains. They can be packed on weekends, so if you go then, expect a crowd. There’s a small parking fee if you go by motorcycle and a park entrance fee too.
Wat Phra Singh
One of the top Chiang Mai activities is Wat Phra Singh. Founded in the 14th Century and considered by those in the know to be one of the most appealing and classic of the Lanna style temples, Wat Phra Singh is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous temples. Also known as the Temple of the Lion Buddha, it’s home to hundreds of monks who aren’t shy about mingling with the tourists who frequent their home.
For those of us who come from countries very different from those found in Southeast Asia, visiting temples like Wat Phra Singh can be an exotic and mesmerizing experience. Though it’s great to learn the history of these magnificent places, if your schedule allows, take a few moments to find a quiet and shady corner to relax and take it all in. You’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a different world.
Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon Water Park
OK, so a little disclaimer before we begin. Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon may not compare in size and scale with the more famous one found in Arizona, and it’s not a natural geological formation, but it is grand in its own right. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about what it is. It’s a great place where you can bump elbows with the locals, give your rusty or nonexistent Thai language some practice, and get some relief from the humidity and Thai sun.
If you’re game, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the views and recently improved facilities. Though previously a little-known swimming and cliff-jumping hole known mostly to locals, the area has been transformed into a modern, commercial enterprise, with lifeguards, slides, floats, boats and even life-vests. They’re open from 10 am to 7 pm and you can check out their Facebook page for more information.
Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls
If by some stroke of bad luck you didn’t get your fill of sun, fun, and water at the Grand Canyon Water Park, then perhaps a trip to Bua Tong Sticky Waterfall will do the trick. If you’re wondering how a waterfall can be sticky, pay close attention. Due to the high levels of calcium in the water, the rocks have turned a lumpy, porous, cream color, which makes them sticky, which in turn makes climbing up and down them much safer than it would be otherwise.
There are trails in the forest around the waterfalls too if you’d like to take a walk in the country. Due to its remoteness, you may want to consider packing a lunch and a few drinks and having a picnic. Though more than an hour from Chiang Mai, a trip to the falls may be one of the things to do in Chiang Mai that you’ll look back on most fondly. Rumor has it that the going rate for a songthaew – a mini pickup truck with covered seats in the back – from town is about 1,500 Thai Baht
Night Market or Bazaar
Shopping at an open-air market in a foreign country can be one of the most exciting things you can do on your trip. Where else can you hobnob with the locals, see and buy lots of amazing things – many of which you’ve never seen before – and engage in a little friendly banter with a person from a different culture with whom you can barely communicate? If this sounds like an adventure, then consider doing it at night, and it takes on a whole new meaning.
During the day, Chang Khlan Road is just a regular road, depressingly dotted with lots of the commercial icons you’ll see in your own country. As the sun goes down, however, the street comes alive with the hustle-and-bustle of anxious shoppers and vendors setting up their stalls. Street food is available too if you want to taste some cheap Thai eats.
Visit Wat Chedi Luang Ruins
Conveniently located in Chiang Mai’s center, the ruins at Wat Chedi Luang are famous because they were previously home to the Emerald Buddha, one of the most sacred relics of Thailand’s Buddhist majority. Though the Emerald Buddha now resides in Luang Prabang, Laos, you won’t miss it.
With construction of the temple starting in the 14th Century and lasting nearly a hundred years, you’ll be enthralled with its intricate wood carvings, detailed and colorful façade and the imposing, snake-headed Nagas that stand as protectors at each of its four corners. Touring the site in the evening will give you a particularly unique view as the temple is well lit at night.
Loi Krathong Festival
Experiencing this wonder of Thailand will take a fair amount of pre-planning on your part; the festival coincides with the Thai Lunar calendar, is celebrated for three days in November, and it varies slightly from year to year.
Loi Krathong Festival is celebrated all over Thailand, but Chiang Mai is the celebration epicenter, so book your lodging in advance if you can because accommodations fill up fast. Among other traditions, Thais set baskets with candles adrift on waterways around Chiang Mai, and candlelit lanterns are released into the air as a sign of respect to Buddha. The views of the lanterns against the night sky are a sight to behold, and something you won’t soon forget
Get a Massage from an Ex-Con
Yes, you read that correctly, in Chaing Mai, you can visit the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners and support Thai women while getting a strong massage. If a traditional Thai massage from a trained masseuse sounds strange, consider that you’ll be contributing to the productive livelihood of someone who’s probably genuinely trying to reform themselves.
There is more than one place to have this done, and supposedly, most of them are reputable establishments. If you’re worried about having your phone and wallet nabbed, keep them within sight during the massage. Many different kinds of massages are offered, and there are different prices for each, so ask first to get the one that sounds like what you’re looking for.
Visit the Lanna Folklife Museum & Three Kings Monument
Full of fascinating and educational exhibits about the history and lives of northern Thailand’s Lanna people, the Lanna Folklife Museum lies inside Chiang Mai’s old Municipal Court building, just across from Three Kings Monument.
Recently renovated and full of life-size mockups of traditional Lanna life, it’s a place the kids will get a kick out of, and they may learn a little something about a different culture too. While you’re there, take a few minutes to venture to the Three Kings Monument across the way. It’s near the walled city on the spot where Chiang Mai’s former rulers had their palaces. The Three Kings represent the founder of Chiang Mai -King Mengrai – a good friend of his, and another King from a kingdom that has long since disappeared.
Visit Bor Sang Handicraft Village
Located just a few kilometers from the old city, Bor Sang’s inhabitants are masters in the art of making paper umbrellas. Known for their quality craftsmanship and creativity, the umbrellas and those who make them are regionally famous, and they’re often used as symbols of Chiang Mai and its heritage.
Over the years, the craftsmen have created different styles and sizes of umbrellas and have even adorned some with more modern and abstract images; while they’re not traditional, they’re still very beautiful. You’ll not only get to see the finished products, but there will be craftsmen – and women – who are actively working on their umbrellas as you stroll along and take it all in. You’ll find it interesting and amazing just how much labor goes into each one they make.
Day Trip to Doi Inthanon
One of the best things do in Chiang Mai is take a day trip to Thailand’s highest mountain. It’s located just 37 miles from Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon is one of the most beautiful and busiest parks in all of Thailand. Although it’s under 40 miles away, it takes about two hours to get to considering it’s in the mountains.
Nevertheless, it’s still a fantastic place to visit just outside of Chiang Mai. It’s got plenty of nature around, and you can even hike to the biggest cave in the national park.
What to Pack for Thailand?
Travel Water Bottle
The tap water in Thailand is not safe to drink. To avoid buying plastic water bottles and contributing to our world’s plastic problem we like to use a water bottle that purifies water. See all of our favorite water bottles here.
If you’re visiting Thailand you will definitely want a pair of sunglasses. My favorites are made by Smith. The Chromapop lens technologyis like seeing the world with a fresh set of our eyes. They enhance contrast, reduce glare, and reflection for superb vision whole out on the water. We also love the style of the glasses for anyone who likes to live an active lifestyle.
Reef Safe Sunscreen
You will absolutely need sunscreen for your trip to Thailand. You can purchase it when you get there, but then you’ll be searching around for it and may pay a premium for a generic brand. Please consider spending a few extra dollars for reef safe sunscreen. The typical sunscreens like Coppertone, No Ad, and Banana Boat have many chemicals in them that will run off your body while swimming damaging the precious coral and marine life.
Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Thailand. Our favorite pocket-sized point and shoot camera for quick trips are the Sony RX100V. It takes fantastic photos and video and is the size of your palm. In fact, a number of street photos in this post came from the discreet camera.
To up your photography game, a bit consider the Fuji X-T3. We just bought that camera and find the images out of unbelievable. Check out our other travel cameras here.
We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. Travel insurance gives us that piece of mind that someone has our back should anything go wrong. World Nomads offers incredible flexible and great plans!
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