Chiang Mai is a perfect base for exploring northern Thailand, dotted with numerous temples and surrounded by lush mountains. It’s a rare blend of adventure, food, history, culture, and nature. There’s no shortage of fun, interesting, and unique things to do in Chiang Mai.
Perhaps the most famous attraction in Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep, a mountain located around 12 kilometers outside of the city that offers fantastic views. Located on the mountain is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a 13th-century temple featuring a large white elephant shrine.
Climb the “Sticky Waterfalls”
Most waterfalls are extremely slippery due to fast water or mossy rocks, but the Bua Thong Waterfalls aren’t like most waterfalls. Nicknamed the “Sticky Waterfalls,” they’re more unique due to being fed by a mineral-rich spring. The rocks have become porous and a bit spongy due to the water’s mineral deposits, which makes it possible to walk up them with bare feet.
How to get to the Bua Thong Waterfalls:
The “Sticky Waterfalls” are easily reached by motorbike, which can be rented in the city. The roads are flat and paved, but just make sure to look out for traffic. It takes about an hour and 15 minutes to get there from Chiang Mai’s Old City along Route 1001. The road will start to wind uphill and you’ll see a sign for ”Bua Thong Waterfall” on the right, where you’ll turn to enter the park.
See Elephants (The Responsible Way)
Getting up close and personal with an elephant in Thailand is one quite a number of travelers’ bucket lists. If you’re one of those travelers, make sure you do this in a responsible way. Many people today know why they shouldn’t ride elephants and choose to visit “elephant sanctuaries,” and while this is a great change in the tourism industry, you should still do your research.
Sadly, there are some places that call themselves “sanctuaries” without truly treating the elephants how they should. If visiting with elephants is a must for you while in Thailand, make sure you’re going to a true elephant sanctuary.
Best Places to See Elephants in Thailand:
Fortunately, the Chiang Mai area is home to some of the best actual elephant sanctuaries in Thailand. These reputable sanctuaries book up in advance, so make sure to plan ahead.
- Elephant Nature Park: The Elephant Nature Park is one of the most popular elephant sanctuaries and cares well for the elephants. Tourists have limitations with how they can interact with the elephants, setting boundaries that help protect them.
- Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary: The Kindred Elephant Sanctuary isn’t as well known, but’s an ethical sanctuary and elephants are returned to their natural habitat, rather than being fenced in. Not only does Kindred Spirit provide elephants with a better life, they also work to improve
Visit Doi Inthanon National Park
Home to Thailand’s tallest mountain, Doi Inthanon National Park spans across an area of approximately 48,240 hectares. One thing to remember is that it costs 300 baht to enter the park.
Things to do in Doi Inthanon National Park
- Waterfall Hopping. Doi Inthanon National Park has several different waterfalls to see. While I’d suggest viewing all of them if possible, the most impressive one is the Mae Ya Waterfall.
- Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail: Hiking this trail is relatively easy as it’s not very steep or difficult. On the trail, you’re rewarded with sweeping views of the mountains and other landscapes below. You’ll need to hire a guide, which will cost you 200 baht for a group of up to ten people.
- Twin Pagodas: The “King and Queen Pagodas” are the park’s most iconic sight and house several historic relics.
How to get to Doi Inthanon National Park
You can hire a driver (car or red truck) for the day from Chiang Mai. While this is the more comfortable choice, it’s the more expensive option. You can also choose to drive yourself via a motorbike, but it’s a bit of a drive.
San Kamphaeng Road
Often called the “Handicraft Highway,” San Kamphaeng Road is a 10-kilometer stretch of road in Chiang Mai where you can find all kinds of silk, wood carving, sculpting, silverware, and pottery products. The area is particularly famous for its Celadon pottery, which features a green glaze that makes the pottery look like Jade.
The Night Bazaar
At night, Chang Klan Road lights up as stall owners set up for the Night Bazaar, which takes place every day of the year. Hundreds of stalls line the road offering a wide variety of items, such as handcrafted goods, lanterns, and knock off designer goods. You’ll find many items don’t have prices on them and bartering is encouraged.
Wat Phra Singh
A 14th-century Buddhist monastery and temple, Wat Phra Singh houses two Buddha statues and is known as the “Temple of the Lion Buddha.” There are hundreds of monks who live at the temple and are usually very friendly with tourists.
The San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
The San Kamphaeng Hot Springs are a bit outside the city in a wooded area surrounded by mountains. Here you’ll find a traditional mineral water swimming pool and mineral baths Fed by water known for their curative powers.
Eat Khao Soi
Northern Thailand is famous for many things and of those is Khao Soi, a curry and coconut flavored soup with chicken and noodles. If there’s one local dish you try while in Chiang Mai, this is it.
Where to get the Best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai
Unassuming “mom and pop” shops are typically the best places to eat Khao Soi. One thing to keep in mind is that this dish is traditionally eaten for breakfast or lunch, so you’ll find many of the street stands close before dinner, but many restaurants also feature Khao Soi on their menus.
Need recommendations? Here’s a few great places to get a delicious bowl of Khao Soi:
- Khao Soi Arak. Found in Old City, this place is known for its deliciously amazing and cheap Khao Soi.
- Khao Soi Khun Yai. An often tourist-packed little stand on the outskirts of Old City, this is one of Chiang Mai’s most famous places for Khao Soi.
- Khao Soi Mae Sai. Not too far from Chiang Mai’s Nimman neighborhood, this is a popular spot among locals.
Take a Food Tour
If you’re a foodie, a food tour in Chiang Mai is a great way to sample some of the best food in the city and find out about the spots where the locals go. Make sure you arrive for your food tour with an empty stomach and be prepared for a food coma afterwards!
Loy Krathong Festival
If you happen to be visiting Chiang Mai in November, you’ll be able to experience the Loy Krathong Festival. Probably the most beautiful festival in Thailand, during Loy Krathong hundreds of floating lanterns light up the sky, as well as small boats with candles, incense, and flowers along the rivers. Be sure to book accommodations well in advance if you’re coming around this time.
The Wat Chedi Luang Ruins
Wat Chedi Luang, or the Temple of the Big Stupa, is the ruins of an ancient temple. Located in the heart of Chiang Mai, the temple used to house the Emerald Buddha, the country’s holiest religious object. Since the temple is still an active place of worship, you’ll likely see monks at the shrines or going about their daily work.
The Songkran Festival
Taking place in April, the Songkran Festival is perhaps the wildfest festival in Thailand. The religious meaning behind Songkran is the belief that throwing water will cleanse people of their sins. The city sometimes comes to a standstill during the festivities with people standing along the road waiting to throw buckets of water onto passerbys.
Visit the Long Neck Karen Tribe
The Karen Tribe are a group who live in small villages in northern Thailand, including the Mae Rim village in the Chiang Mai area. Be sure to visit with a guide who will be able to help you communicate with members of the tribe.
Take a Cooking Class
One of the best ways to learn about a different culture is through its food and Chiang Mai is one of the best places in Thailand to learn how to make delicious Thai dishes. The difficult part will be trying to choose a cooking school to take a Thai cooking class. Here are few good choices for Thai cooking classes:
- Thai Farm Cooking School
- Zabb E Lee Thai Cooking School
- Thai Akha Cooking School
The Sunday Market
The Sunday Market is perhaps the city’s most famous market, open every Sunday and running the length of Ratchadamnoen Road starting at the Thapae Gate. Many of the stalls sell handmade items and you can often see stall owners working on their handicraft.
Grab a Cup of Coffee
Chiang Mai has no shortage of cute, cool, and quirky coffee shops. This may have something to do with the numerous digital nomads in the city. If you want to grab a cup of coffee in Chiang Mai, here are a few coffee shops to consider:
- Art Roastery. A bit outside of Old City, this coffee shop offers a tranquil setting with outdoor and indoor seating, as well as a duck pond.
- Ristr8o. Along with serving truly good coffee, this popular shop is also the place to go for amazing coffee art. Their baristas have even won awards for their latte art.
- Clay Studio Coffee. Another peaceful place for some good coffee, Clay Studio Coffee is a bit of a garden oasis in the middle of the city.
- Akha Ama Coffee. With a few locations in Chiang Mai, this coffee shop is known for having some of the best coffee in the city.