There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai is situated in the North of Thailand and is an extremely interesting city that integrates the old with the new. I have recently left the Chiang Mai after living there for a month and can’t express enough how many things to do in Chiang Mai there are, day and night!
Everything is accessible by scooter, Tuk Tuk, or rót dang ( the famous red trucks!) They also have Uber now, so getting yourself around this list of things to do in Chiang Mai will be a piece of cake!
Let me explain a bit about Chiang Mai…
First of all, right in the heart of Chiang Mai within the square moat lies the Old City. Full of culture and history this is once all that existed of Chiang Mai. You can experience the Lanna Kingdom that once existed through it’s beautiful temples, proud monuments and aged architecture.
Outside the moat, Chiang Mai exists as a modern haven for digital Nomads, backpackers and holiday makers with it’s diverse cafes, modern co-working spaces, huge shopping malls and exciting nightlife; every evening you will be sure to find something happening, be it night markets, gigs or shows.
All the while Chiang Mai is decorated by the stunning backdrop of the mountains in Doi Suthep.
This list of things to do in Chiang Mai has something for everyone – I hope you get the chance to experience them all!
1. Explore the Old City
The thing you must absolutely do in Chiang Mai!
Golden Wat Phra Singh…
One of the first things to do in Chiang Mai is explore the old city. You can still see remnants of the wall that once surrounded the old town and the moat proudly remains. Within the Old City will find the many incredible temples that make Chiang Mai famous. My favourite to explore were the incredible Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Sing. Make sure you remove shoes and cover up your shoulders and knees when visiting temples. I found the best way to do this was with a sarong to quickly drape over my shoulders and loose fitting trousers that I could pull on easily over my outfit, this way I didn’t get too hot walking around all day in the Chiang Mai sun!
I recommend following a walking tour to make sure you don’t miss any of highlights! We used one from the Big Boy Travel blog which gave us a real feel for all that the Old City had to offer. In addition it had great info about each site, and the map was clear to follow. The tour takes 5 hours in total, but it’s easy to miss some of the stops if you need/ want to make it shorter!
The old City is a popular place to stay, with many hostels and hotels located here. If you are wondering Where to Eat in Chiang Mai, the Old City also has great restaurants, cafes and bars to visit too!
2. Learn to cook Thai food
My Favourite thing to do in Chiang Mai
Zabb – E – Lee cooking school…
A visit to Thailand is not compete without learning to cook some signature Thai dishes and this was one of my absolute favourite things to do in Chiang Mai during my stay here. After lots of research, I chose the Zabb-E-Lee cooking school and had the best day learning to cook fresh spring rolls, coconut milk soup, Massaman curry and Mango Sticky rice! My Chiang Mai cooking class post explains more! Learning to cook Thai food is sure fire way to ‘wow’ your friends and family at home! In fact, I have had many requests for dinner parties already for when I return to England!
3. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
Ok no, THIS was my favourite thing to do in Chiang Mai!
The amazing elephants at the Elephant Nature Park
Before travelling to Thailand, an elephant encounter had long been on my bucket list. For me, visiting animals in an ethical way has always been a priority, so this was high on my list of requirements when researching a place to experience elephants. Unfortunately, there are many tourist attractions that promote the unethical treatment of elephants; rides, treks, and shows to name just a few of these.
Thankfully, across Thailand there are a number of elephant sanctuaries, providing a safe environment for many animals that have been previously abused. These sanctuaries open their doors to tourists allowing us to experience elephants in an ethical way.
Elephant Nature park (ENP) is an incredible sanctuary in Chiang Mai. Since it’s opening in 1996, ENP has rescued a over 70 elephants, and is also responsible for homing hundreds of stray and injured dogs and cats. At ENP, there are no hooks and chains. Just freedom to roam and an inspirational amount of love and care from the volunteers.
Visiting the elephant nature park was my FAVOURITE thing to do in Chiang Mai. I had the most magical day and can’t recommend a visit enough! I explain more in my Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai blog post.
Please, please, please if you visit Thailand never pay to ride an elephant or pay to see an elephant perform anything that is not natural. We need to ensure this abuse comes to an end!
Thailand Travel Essentials
4. Markets, Markets, Markets!
It is no bother to find a souvenir of your trip to Chiang Mai, there are markets galore! Selling every type of food, handmade crafts, clothing and every trinket and nicknack you can think of! As well as smaller local markets here there and everywhere (we had one right opposite our apartment on Huay Kaew Road that was there every night), there are the main markets in the Old City which are a must-do in when visiting Chiang Mai…
When: Everyday from 7pm
Where: Thanon Chang Khlan
Saturday Night Walking Market:
When: Saturday from 6pm
Where: Opposite Chiang Mai Gate
Sunday Night Walking Market:
When: Sunday from 5pm
Where: Tae Pae Gate
5. Weekend Visit to Pai
The place for a chilled out weekend when in Chiang Mai
The White Buddha in Pai
Pai is a 3 hour drive from the city of Chiang Mai and it is the most stunning drive I have ever been on. We traded in our scooter and hired a motorbike for the weekend and it was totally worth it. Riding a motorbike around 762 curves through beautiful scenery was seriously breathtaking and something I won’t forget anytime soon. However, if you do not have experience in driving motorbikes then this is not the transport for you, the roads, however fun, can be extremely unsafe and many inexperienced drivers are subject to accidents. Good news is that it is super easy to get a bus there! So don’t panic, everyone can make it to Pai.
Pai is an awesome place, it is super chilled out and I guarantee that you will wish you stayed longer than you do! There are loads of things to do in Pai, my highlights were – Pia canyon, awesome bars, healthy cafes, the land split, waterfalls, visit the white buddha, walking market… there is so much! (Blog post coming soon on this!)
6. Take a trip to the Sticky Falls
The weirdest thing to do in Chiang Mai!
Feeling like Spiderman…
When we were told we could walk up a flowing waterfall without bother, I found it very difficult to understand, and I really didn’t get my head around it until I was actually walking up it! I have never experienced anything quite like it! The Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Tong Waterfalls) get their name from a mineral deposit that makes the surface of the rocks sticky. We were told that no algae sticks to the rocks, meaning that it isn’t slippery, but there was some in small patches where the water flowed less, so look out for them! Make sure you either leave your belongings elsewhere or bring a dry bag because you will get wet! It was such a awesome experience and something I’ve never even heard of before, so make sure you get yourself there! Just a short walk away there is Ched-Sri Fountain, a beautiful lake with the bluest, crystal clear water that is worth a visit too!
7. Visit Doi Suthep National Park
The most beautiful place to visit in Chiang Mai
Made it to the Peak!
Dos Suthep National Park provides the mountainous backdrop to Chiang Mai. Around a 40 minute drive from the city and you are in the National Park, the drive itself is beautiful! When you are in the mountains there is so much to do. First on the list is the visit to the Doi Suthep Temple, right on the mountain. The story is that in the late 1300’s, the King sent one of this White Elephants into the jungle, to find a new place to build a temple. The elephant climbed to the peak on Doi Suthep Mountain then trumpeted 3 times and refused to move on, giving the King the sign that Doi Suthep Temple was to be built there. The temple is stunning, with over 300 steps leading to it, and a golden pagoda in the centre. There are lots of stalls selling souvenirs and food, we even tried some crispy bugs from here! A visit to the Hmong hill tribe village, a stop at the Chiang Mai viewpoint and climbing to the Doi Suthep Peak are also on the list of things to do here!
I hope this has given you some ideas of what to do when visiting Chiang Mai. I would love to hear what you think, so leave a comment below!
Thanks for reading,
The Healthy Backpacker x
Booking Sites I Use
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