Chiang Mai is a large city located in the north of Thailand, about 700 kilometers from Bangkok. The city is located in the mountains between the many rice fields. There are a lot of things to do in Chiang Mai and it’s recommended to stay here for at least a few days. Although the city is very large, there’s a very nice atmosphere.
I ended up staying there for 4 whole days and never got bored. These are the top things to do in Chiang Mai
In this article I write about:
- Top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai
- Beste place to stay
- Best cafes and restaurants
- How to get to Chiang Mai
- Onward travel…
Top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand
1. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Chiang Mai has many Buddhist temples. The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most famous temples in Chiang Mai and also one of the most visited sights in the city. The temple is located on Doi Suthep mountain in the west of the city. To reach the temple, you must first climb no less than 309 steps. On both sides of this staircase there’s a beautiful dragon statue as banisters. Climbing the stairs is quite tough in the heat of Thailand!
The temple itself is very beautiful to visit, but the view from the mountain is also fantastic. Even wildlife spotting is possible … After me and my travel companions enjoyed the view, we saw a highly venomous black and yellow striped snake crawling. So do NOT touch!
The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep can be reached by Songthaew, taxi or scooter. Visit the temple as early as possible to avoid the crowds and heat.
2. Bua Thong Sticky Waterfall
The Bua Thong, or the Sticky Waterfall, was one of the coolest things to do in Chiang Mai for me. The minerals in the water leave a rough layer on the rocks, making it easy to climb the Bua Thong waterfall. And this waterfall is also in a beautiful area with fantastic views while climbing. A must-do! Read all about the Bua Thongs sticky waterfall near Chiang Mai here.
3. Cooking class
In addition to sightseeing in Chiang Mai, it’s also fun to roll up your sleeves and start making something by yourself. It’s highly recommended to follow a cooking glass! Thai cuisine is very tasty and how cool it is to be able to make such delicious dishes yourself. In Chiang Mai you have an unbelievable choice of different cooking courses.
During the cooking course I took, we first visited the local market where we were explained about various Thai products. Then we drove to the cooking school which was located at a beautiful location. We got an apron and a traditional hat and picked our own herbs from the garden. During the course we were allowed to choose from different dishes. Of course I chose the Pad Thai, but also the famous Massaman Curry and the Tom Ka Soup. We also learned how to make spring rolls and curry paste ourselves. Jummy!
4. Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon National Park is located about 60 kilometers from Chiang Mai. In the National Park you can do a trekking, visit waterfalls and visit two impressive stupas located on the highest mountain in Thailand! The Doi Inthanon mountain is no less than 2565 meters high.
I visited the National Park through a tour. I visited a village between the mountains and rice fields, the Sirithan waterfall, the Wachiratan waterfall, the highest point in Thailand and the two stupas on the mountain. Unfortunately, the weather was not quite that day, so the fantastic view was missing. But as far as I’m concerned, a visit to the National Park is definitely recommended.
Massage parlors are located in almost every city, and so is Chiang Mai! Here I took my first real Thai massage. I actually didn’t know that this massage can be quite painful… Do you like a firm massage? Then this is the massage for you. For me, it really took some time getting used to! But afterwards my muscles were completely loosened.
Don’t prefer a firm Thai massage? There’s so much choice in massage parlors that you can enjoy a relaxing oil massage without feeling bruised.
6. Muay Thai
Thai boxing, or Muay Thai, is a very popular sport in Thailand. In Chiang Mai you can attend real Muay Thai competitions or learn for yourself in the Muay Thai Gym. The matches are often between Thai boxers, but Western boxers are also regularly a participant. Check out the match, or perhaps participate yourself?
7. Night Bazaar
A visit to the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai cannot be missed when you visit this city. You can buy anything in this gigantic covered market. You can definitely stock up on souvenirs here! The costs are generally low on the market, but bargaining can certainly not hurt.
You can also go to the Night Bazaar for cheap street food and massages. The market is open from 6:00 pm to 12:00 am.
Nightlife in Chiang Mai is a lot quieter and modest than in Bangkok, even if it’s not very difficult. For the best nightlife, visit Old Town where there are nice bars and clubs and you will encounter many other backpackers. The many bars with live music are often recommended! You can also visit the Night Bazaar!
9. Ladyboy Cabaret
I never expected in advance that I would go to a Ladyboy Cabaret, but I’m glad I did! That night I laughed really hard and enjoyed all the songs and dance steps. You don’t have to worry that the Ladyboy Cabaret is a version of the so-called ‘ping pong shows’, because in addition to a rather heavy lap dance with one of the guests, it remained quite modest. But … leave the kids at home.
You can find the Ladyboy Cabaret in the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai. You pay 350 baht entrance per person with a drink included. Have your 20 baht note ready, because the waitress is expecting a tip, in her cleavage!
10. Elephant parks
In the vicinity of Chiang Mai there are many different elephant parks. In these parks you pay a tourist entrance, after which you often get a tour, feed the elephants and often are able to wash them.
I would very much like to warn and raise awareness before you visit such an elephant park. Elephants actually rescued from animal-unfriendly conditions live in some parks. But in many other parks, the elephants still live in an animal-unfriendly environment and are used day after day for the entertainment of tourists. You may wonder if an elephant likes to be washed by people every day … Please think twice.
Would you still like to visit an elephant park, take a look at this document from the Animal Welfare Protection. In “Appendix 1” you will find a list of locations in Asia with the best animal welfare conditions. Then visit an elephant park from this list.
Transportation in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a big city and it’s impossible to cover all the distances between the sights in Chiang Mai by foot. Many attractions in Chiang Mai are located outside the city walls. Most distances can be walked within the city walls. There are actually two most commonly used modes of transport in the city.
Everywhere you see them driving, the Songthaews. These large red pickups with two rows of benches in the back are the most used transport between the sights in Chiang Mai. For a ride within the city you pay about 20 baht. It’s also possible to rent a Songthaew for a whole day for a fixed price. Convenient to various places of interest in Chiang Mai and beyond. Agree the price in advance and pay the driver afterwards. Negotiation is recommended!
In addition to the Songthaews, Grab is the most commonly used. This Southeast Asian variant of Uber is extremely popular and very cheap. You can easily book a ride for a fixed price via your mobile. With Grab you can also rent a taxi for a few hours. As with the Songthaews, this is ideal if you want to visit multiple sights in one day. The number of people does not matter for the price. You pay by car.
Beste place to stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is very big. The city can be divided into the old center which is located within the city walls and the districts outside the city walls. The best place to stay in Chiang Mai is without a doubt within the city walls as far as I’m concerned.
There’s more than enough choice of ho(s)tels, guesthouses and Airbnb apartments. For example, a nice hostel in Chiang Mai is Hostel By Bed. It’s super clean, they offer free water and have bunk beds and double beds in dorms. They also have private rooms.
Doi Doo Dao Hostel is also very popular, especially among the Dutch backpackers. The hostel is known for its super friendly owner who can arrange nice discounts on various activities. It has dorms and a double room and staying overnight is very cheap.
The best cafes and restaurants in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai you can really get some great food. It’s full of good Thai restaurants, but there are also a remarkable number of good Western restaurants. There’s a lot of vegetarian choices in Chiang Mai.
After a week of Thai food, I was craving for some good pizza. I ate some super tasty pizza at By Hand Pizza Café. The pizzas haven’t gone unnoticed because it can get very busy. So be on time to guarantee a spot!
Are you ready for delicious Western and also vegetarian or vegan dishes? Then visit Goodsouls Kitchen without a doubt. Here I’ve eaten delicious healthy food several times. The food makes you happy, but the price is at a western standard. But you can do that sometimes, right?
How to get to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is easily accessible by (night) train from Bangkok and from Ayutthaya. Try to go for train number 9 which arrives in Chiang Mai at 7:15 AM. This is a new comfortable night train. This night train departs Bangkok at 6:10 PM and Ayutthaya at 7:44 PM. Try to book this train in advance on the reliable 12goasia website.
Chiang Mai also has an airport, making the city easy to reach from, among others, Bangkok and Krabi, but also from other cities and countries.
Onward travel from Chiang Mai…
After Chiang Mai you travel on. But where are you going?
From Chiang Mai it is very nice to continue traveling to the northern mountain village of Pai in Thailand. Travel this route by minivan, songthaew, taxi or scooter. The route is only suitable for experienced scooter drivers. As far as I’m concerned, Pai is highly recommended because there are plenty of nice sights in the area. This is the village to enjoy a scooter around through the beautiful surroundings.
It’s also possible to travel from Chiang Mai to the city of Luang Prabang in Laos. You can take this route from the border by slowboat, which is quite an experience! You can read everything about Laos here.
Check out the best Thailand itinerary in 5 weeks here!