The Top 20 Things to do in Chiang Mai
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand, Chiang Mai has an incredible array of awesome things to see and do and you should definitely head here at some point if you’re in the country. With loads of stunning historical sites, beautiful architecture, and over 300 temples on offer, the city also has delicious Thai cuisine and a rich cultural heritage that visitors will absolutely love. This charming city lies on the banks of the Ping River and in the distant past was once the capital of the Lanna Kingdom.
Now, ancient traditions and cultures mix seamlessly with the increasingly modern face of Chiang Mai, and its magical street markets perfectly highlight the diversity of sights and sounds to be found in the city. We have called Chiang Mai home on three different occasions and have lived in the city for over year, it truly is our home away from home. It’s safe to say we know a thing or to about Chiang Mai. To help give you an idea of what you just have to see; here are 22 of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Must Do Things In Chiang Mai
1. Marvel at the incredible temple of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most famous temple in Chiang Mai. This stunning temple actually lies around thirteen kilometers away on the mountainside of Doi Suthep, overlooking the Chiang Mai. Dating back to 1383 AD, it is one of the holiest Buddhist temples in all of Thailand. The glittering gold that covers every surface certainly makes everything look very impressive. In the sun, the temple shines like a beacon and the beautiful architecture is breathtaking to behold. To reach the temple you’ll have to walk up a flight of over 300 steps which is lined by a serpent banister on each side. Although the temple is the main attraction, its one of the best views of the Chiang Mai from the top of the mountain is amazing and shouldn’t be missed. Definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
To get Wat Phra That Doi Suthep you can take a songthaew (a local form of public transport the little red trucks you jump in the back of) from Pratu Chang Phuak for 50 baht, though you may have to wait until it fills up. In other locations, watch out for drivers who may try and charge you a small fortune in Thailand for the journey. If you can’t find a reasonably priced songthaew see if there are any Uber drivers around and when they drop you off ask them if they would come back at a set time and agree on a price. It may be harder to get an Uber back down to Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep.
There are several Chiang Mai tours that visit Doi Suthep, click here to book online. There are bike tours, hiking tours, half-day and full-day Chiang Mai tours that all visit Doi Suthep.
2. Enjoy the magic of Chiang Mai’s Night Markets
There are a number of night markets that you are sure to stumble across in the city and they are always such a magical affair. Lights spring up from all the stalls, and in the semi-darkness, it’s lovely taking in the lively atmosphere. There is always stacks of good street food on offer. One of the most popular markets to go to is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar which is on Chang Klan Road and is open every night. One of the best night markets in Chiang Mai is the Saturday Night Walking Market and the Sunday Night Walking Street Market – *note that they aren’t on the same street. The Saturday night market is on Wua Lai Road and also called the Wualai Market. The Sunday night market is by Thapae Gate and on Ratchadamnoen Road for about 1 km you’ll have vendors galore. Get ready to haggle!
Chiang Mai Sunday Night (Walking Street) Market
On any given Sunday, you simply must head to the Sunday Night Market. It is absolutely huge and you will find a bounty of great souvenirs and local handmade products to take home, as well as a delicious array of Thai cuisine. The center of the old town is lined with stalls and you’ll see lots of street entertainers. It is a magical atmosphere and well worth spending a large part of the day here; it is open from 4 pm until midnight. There are many great, cheap places to eat, so make sure to keep snacking along the way!
Address: The market is centered around Rachadamnoen Road
3. Visit some of the Best Temples in Chiang Mai
As there are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai and its surroundings, it may be a little hard to visit all the temples in Chiang Mai. If you’ve got time when wandering past one of the temples which you’ll inevitably stumble across in the city, it’s always nice to stop by and have a look around.
The best temples in Chiang Mai and ones that you shouldn’t miss include Wat Chiang Man (Pictured Above – Oldest in the city), the breathtaking Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phra Singh (for its large golden Buddha statue). Words really can’t do justice to these amazing and ancient temples, and if you love historical sites and architecture, then Chiang Mai certainly is the place for you. Of all the things to do in Chiang Mai, visiting these special temples is one of the most memorable experiences.
- Wat Chiang Man address: 270 Ratchapakhinai Road, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200
- Wat Chedi Luang address: 103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai 50200
- Wat Phra Singh address: Located at the end of Rachadamnoen Road in the center
Related Article: Our Guide to the Best Temples in Chiang Mai
4. Get A Sak Yant Tattoo
One of the coolest souvenirs we have from all our travels is our Sak Yant tattoos we got in Chiang Mai. These aren’t just any tattoo a Sak Yant is tattoo done by a monk FREE HAND without a gun but instead a metal rod. Typically the monk decides what tattoo you get and where on your body it will go based on what protection you need. Typically Sak Yants are on the back, our tattoos are on our back shoulders. Nowadays, you can look at a book of designs and pick one you like or tell the monk what you’d like protection for (health, family, happiness, money, etc), how big you’d like it, and where you would like it on your body. We suggest going with this Sak Yant tour company, they organize everything and you’ll have a local tour guide that can translate for you. The monks won’t speak English so we highly suggest booking the Lanna Ink Experience here.
5. Relax with a soothing Thai massage
There are tons of massage parlors around Chiang Mai so why not indulge yourself? With so many options available to you, prices vary depending on what level of luxury you are after, though in general, they are very cheap. What is certain is that you will come away feeling refreshed, reinvigorated and ready to see more of what the city has to offer. Most Chiang Mai massage places charge 150-200 baht for one hour Thai massage and 180-250 for one-hour foot massage and 300+ for full body oil massage. There aren’t many places in the world you can get a one hour massage for only $5 an hour.
6. Go Wild at the Chiang Mai Ladyboy Cabaret Show
If you’re looking for a fun night out, then this is the place to head to. Every time we have friends or family visiting us in Chiang Mai we bring here for a fun night out. The ladyboys perform in a colorful array of costumes and dance and sing their hearts out. It’s wild and raucous and you’re sure to have a great time. The seats are first come first serve, we suggest getting there around 9 pm for their nightly 9:30 pm show. The 350 baht entrance fee includes a beer, beers inside cost 100 baht but they do have a “happy hour” where drinks are half off during the short intermission break.
NOTE: The men in the audience often get pulled into the show, if you’re shy don’t sit near the front. Don’t forget to the tip the waitresses and performers, we suggest 20 baht per drink and 100+ baht for entertainers tip jar. Read our complete tipping in Thailand article here.
Address: Chang Khlan, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50100
7. Ride around town in a Local Songthaew
If you’re looking to get around Chiang Mai easily and cheaply, then you’re going to want to use the songthaews. These are the red trucks with wooden benches in the back for passengers to sit on and they’re a lovely way to get around town. The drivers weave their way through the streets picking up passengers, and as there’s no set route, you may not get picked up if where you want to go is out of the way.
It’s typically 20 baht to go within the city and 30 baht at night, as a tourist they will most likely ask you for more. If you aren’t going far or are staying within the Old City and Nimman area just say EEE SIP (that means 20 in Thai). Typically when we speak Thai numbers they then wave us to head in. If you’re going further it will cost more, and it does cost more at night.
8. Take part in the Songkran Festival
One of the best times of year to visit Chiang Mai is in April, on the 13th the whole country celebrates the Thai New Year. One massive water fight takes over the city and it’s almost impossible for you to come away without being drenched. The throwing of water is symbolic in Thailand, they believe that it cleanses your sins and gives you good luck. It’s a really fun atmosphere and in Chiang Mai, the Songkran Festival usually lasts longer than in other places, so expect to be soaked for at least three days or more.
We lived in Chiang Mai for 3 Thai New Years and typically the water starts flying April 11-16th. No one is safe, don’t bring anything valuable outside without it being in a waterproof bag. If you want to part take in the fun make sure to buy your squirt gun in early April or as soon as you see them for sale. The closer to Songkran the harder they are to find and the more expensive they get.
9. Take a Thai cooking class
When in Thailand, it’s almost a given that you’re going to fall in love with Thai food. There are so many amazing flavors and dishes to try that you’re going to miss them when it’s finally time to head back home. In Chiang Mai, there are lots of different places that offer Thai cooking classes and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to learn that many of your favorite dishes aren’t too hard to recreate. It’s a lot of fun learning the cooking techniques, with the added bonus that you can use your new-found skills to impress your friends at home.
10. Watch a Muay Thai Boxing match
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. Thai boxing is an entertaining, if quite violent, sport to watch, and you’ll see people advertising upcoming fights throughout Chiang Mai. There a couple of stadiums dotted around the city and the lively atmosphere at the fights makes for an interesting experience.
11. Tear around town in a tuk-tuk
These three-wheeled vehicles are a great way to get around Chiang Mai. With the wind in your hair, riding in them feels liberating, and they’re a lot comfier than the Songthaews; just always make sure to agree on a price before starting on your journey. If you have a bunch of Chiang Mai attractions you’d like to visit try and get a half-day rate from the driver.
12. Don’t leave without trying Khao Soi
This delicious meal is a staple of Northern Thai cuisine and Chiang Mai is renowned for it. As such, you just have to try it. The coconut curry broth tastes amazing, as do the egg noodles and chicken within it. Accompanying the meal, you’ll be given a lime, some chilies, and some chopped shallots, which only increase the amazing mix of flavors.
One of the best places in Chiang Mai for Khao Soi is Khao Soi Nimman located off of Nimman Road on Soi 7, they offer 10 different Khao Soi variations starting at 65 baht.
13. Love cats?! Then Catmosphere is the place for you.
If you’ve ever been to a cat café, then you know what to expect here: cats, and lots of them! In this relaxing café, they wander around freely, coming and going as they please. If you´re missing your pet back home, these cats will help you to feel a bit better. With its laidback vibe, the Catmosphere is a great place to grab a coffee. There is no fee just a purchase is necessary. We suggest going right when they open at 10 am, they limit the number of people there and we also found the cats to be the most active in the morning.
Address: Huaykaew Road, Thesaban Nakhon Chiang Mai, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300.
14. Watch Sky Light Up With lanterns at the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng Festivals
In October/November of every year, the sky above Chiang Mai becomes a sea of light as thousands of lanterns are released into the air. It’s an amazing sight to see and the festivities take over the whole city. The day before Yi Peng takes place is Loi Krathong. Locals and tourists alike celebrate the night of the twelfth full moon of the year by releasing floating baskets with candles inside on the Ping River. It looks absolutely stunning seeing them all floating on the water, and taking part in these festivals is definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai. With floats, food, festive fun and fireworks too, you don’t want to miss this special time of year. Please only light off biodegradable lanterns both in the sky and down the Ping River.
15. Go Hiking in Doi Inthanon National Park
This beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park is named after the highest peak in Thailand and there are some fantastic hiking trails for you to explore. There are lots of delightful waterfalls to discover in the park, as well as some temples and caves which are hidden amongst the lovely landscape. This is a great option if you are looking to get out of Chiang Mai for the day, as it takes about an hour and a half to get there. You can book this tour from Chiang Mai for only $62.
16. Sit back and sip a Thai iced coffee
On just about every street corner in the mornings, you can find a vendor selling the deliciously sweet Thai iced coffee around the city, or pop into one of the many coffee shops in the Nimman area of town. They act as a refreshing boost and will cool you down on particularly hot days
17. Climb the Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
These distinctive waterfalls in Thailand look like nothing you’ve ever seen before and what’s amazing is that you can easily and safely walk right up them. The rocks aren’t slippery at all and walking up or down the cascades feels liberating out in the forest surrounding Chiang Mai. It is just over an hour to the falls from the city center. The easiest and cheapest tour is this private tour for only $35 that includes hotel pickup.
18. Bounce around Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
Located in an old quarry that has been filled up with water, this waterpark is great fun to visit as it has a giant inflatable obstacle course for you to bounce around on. The canyon is a beautiful place and is around twenty minutes outside of the city. It’s the perfect place to cool down on a hot summer day in Chiang Mai.
Address: 202 Moo 3, Nam Phrae, Hang Dong
19. Savor the Sticky Rice with Mango Dessert
This dessert is divine and once you taste it, you’ll find yourself looking out for it everywhere you go. Popular in Thailand, the sweet and sticky rice perfectly complements the fresh mango. Almost all Thai restaurants have it on the menu as well as street food vendors at night markets in Thailand.
20. Go on a Road Trip to The White Temple in Chiang Rai
Around two and a half hours outside of Chiang Mai is the incredible White Temple. Wat Rong Khun, as it is called, is dazzlingly white and looks stunning. While you may feel that you have already seen more than enough temples in Thailand already, the White temple in Chiang Rai is definitely worth the time and effort of getting there. The architecture is beautiful and the temple itself is one of the most famous in the whole of Thailand. The color white was used as a symbol of the Buddha’s purity and it certainly is impressive to behold. We suggest staying for sunset, the crowds thin out and it’s the perfect backdrop for sunset.
Address: Pa O Don Chai, Amphoe Muang Chiang Rai Chiang Rai 57000
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