As it is one of the most visited cities in Thailand, you can imagine there are loads of things to do in Chiang Mai. And not only tourists love it – Thai people do too. Many of them would like to live there. Chiang Mai is beautifully located in the northern part of the country between mountains and national parks.
It is much calmer than crazy Bangkok. You can take a deep breath and relax there. I spent a few days there during my travel around Thailand and another week during my volunteering as an English teacher. And I would gladly go back there anytime 🙂
So what to do in Chiang Mai and its surrounding?
Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Table of Contents
- Things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
- 1. Ploen Ruedee Night Market and dance shows
- 2. Temples in the city
- 3. Elephant Sanctuary
- 4. Doi Suthep Temple and Hmong hill tribe village Doi Pui.
- 5. Doi Inthanon National Park
- 6. Bike trip and bamboo rafting
- 7. Trekking in the jungle
- 8. Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai
- 9. Tiger Kingdom
- 10. Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
- Accommodation in Chiang Mai
1. Ploen Ruedee Night Market and dance shows
The most famous night market in Chiang Mai takes place every Sunday and is located along Rachadamnoen street from the main city gate Tha Phae. You can buy everything there – traditional Thai food, fruits, spices, souvenirs, clothes. You will meet a lady boy ready to take a photo with you, street artists and musicians.
But should you regret if your plan doesn’t include a Sunday in Chiang Mai? In my opinion – not at all.
On all other days the night market in Chiang Mai takes place outside of the very center, east from the main “square” – and in my opinion it is much better than the terribly crowded Sunday market.
Ploen Ruedee Night Market is a perfect place for evening beer, traditional Thai dinner and some relaxing time with music. Every day around 7:30 pm you can see Thai dance shows. It definitely is my favorite thing to do in Chiang Mai.
2. Temples in the city
You will see many buddhist temples in Chiang Mai – more and less impressive, famous ones and the ones surprising you when you go around the corner.
Which ones are worth seeing? My recommendation is – the ones you like at the first glance 😉 Personally I liked Wat Chedi Luang – it’s ruined but interesting stupa differs from other temples in the city. And it dates back to XIVth century! In many temples you can also meet a monk. They are happy to answer the questions you may have about Buddhism, which is a great opportunity to learn.
3. Elephant Sanctuary
Elephants are amazing animals and seeing them is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai and the whole South East Asia.
If you don’t know it yet, remember – do not ride elephants.
If you do your research you will find many reasons – I will just say that the animals are tortured to let people ride them. Also carrying something (or someone) on their back affects their health and causes an early death. Don’t support this.
Luckily, in Thailand you can see more and more places which take good care of elephants. They promote ethical interactions with them. The most popular place is Elephant Nature Park. Make sure to book your visit before – in high season they are booked even a few months in advance! I was late unfortunately and all days which could work for me were already booked in ENP.
As an alternative, I found Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and that’s where we went. My visit was great but a few days after it a storm started on EJS Facebook fanpage. Someone claimed to see the elephants chained for the night without food and water.
EJS reacted immediately explaining that yes, the animals have to be chained because the terrain isn’t surrounded by a fence. The elephants could escape, endanger the inhabitants of nearby villages and risk being attacked by people too. They said animals never lack food and water and such claim is a lie.
I am not an elephant behavior specialist – but they seemed taken care of, happy and in good shape. I didn’t notice any of the symptoms of a stressed elephant (swaying from left to right, constant ears movements).
We spent the whole day in the sanctuary. We met a few elephant families, we could feed the animals, take a “mud bath” with them and wash them in the river. They were not chained, they walked on a big terrain and we didn’t notice any violence. I hope this was really a good place and that elephants are well taken care of. It seemed so – and I loved my time there, it is among the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Seeing an elephant from close by is amazing. I always thought an elephant’s skin is rough and unpleasant to touch – but actually it’s soft. And what is more – elephants have hair! I was shocked!
The trunk is agile and the elephant – seemingly clumsy, is actually a graceful animal! I recommend you to visit one of the elephant sanctuaries. Just check opinions before and try to make sure it is an ethical one.
4. Doi Suthep Temple and Hmong hill tribe village Doi Pui.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the most famous and most impressive temples around Chiang Mai. Everybody calls it Doi Suthep – even though it’s actually the name of the mountain. It’s a holy place for Buddhists and they come here to pray, despite the crowds of tourists. You can see a great view over the city from the temple.
You can get to Doi Suthep with red cars songtaew from many places in the city center – you will spot them easily or you can ask at your hotel’s reception desk for the closest place to catch one.
After seeing Doi Suthep we took another songtaew to go higher – to Hmong hill tribe village, Doi Pui.
Before going to Thailand I read a lot about hill tribes. About their life being adjusted to tourists, completely non-authentic. Seeing them wasn’t on my list of things to do in Chiang Mai – but curiosity won. And good it did!
Life indeed spins around tourists – but you can but many local hand made products, eat in a tiny restaurant with just one dish on the menu. That’s where a waiter taught me how to use chopsticks 🙂
If you go a little outside of the main streets you will see awesome mountain views – and a bit of village’s real life.
You can either get there on your own or you can make your life easier by booking an organized tour 🙂 Click the button below to check availability and prices.
5. Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand located in a national park with the same name. It’s one of 14 Thailand’s national parks. You can see outstanding mountain views there… if you know where to go 🙂
I visited Doi Inthanon twice – once on a tour organized by one of tour operators in Chiang Mai and then again during my volunteering time with my host. My impressions are completely different.
The first tour disappointed me a bit. Not because it was bad but because it didn’t meet my expectations. What I hoped for the most was at least short hike with lovely views at surrounding mountains. The trip was full of attractions – but it lacked this one. The trip included:
A bus ride to the highest spot in Thailand (unfortunately you can’t see anything from the very top of Doi Inthanon 😉 )
A short walk in the jungle along And Ka Luang Nature Trail
King and Queen Pagodas
A local market full of tasty fruits, lunch
A visit in Karen hill tribe village
On the other trip with my host and other volunteers we went for a hike along Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail – and it was exactly what I missed during the first trip! The trail of almost 3 kilometers leads you through the forest to open fields offering the best mountain views I saw in Thailand.
I know that some tour operators from Chiang Mai include this trail in their itinerary – so if you plan to book one, make sure what the program includes. If you want ot book the tour in advance, click the button below – this tour does include Kew Mae Pan Nature trail 🙂
If you plan to hike this trail on your own, you’ll need to hire a guide at the trailhead. It costs 200 THB per group (from 1 to 10 people). Keep in mind that the trail is closed from June to October.
How to get to Doi Inthanon?
The easiest way is to rent a car or a scooter and getting to Doi Inthanon on your own. Then you will be able to see all the above points – the waterfall, Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, the pagodas.
Another option is an organized tour from Chiang Mai. Just double check what it includes not to have wrong expectations like I did 😉
You can also take a yellow songtaew from Chiang Mai with a change in Chom Thong. Check this description on Thai National Parks website.
6. Bike trip and bamboo rafting
Many tour operators in Chiang Mai offers a bike trip around rural areas, kayaking trip and bamboo rafting. We chose this trip connecting a bike and a kayak. The bike part was amazing. We were lucky enough to be the only ones in the group 🙂 The tour starts with a great Ban Den temple not many tourists get to see, one of the most amazing ones I’ve seen in Thailand. Then the guide took us on a trip around villages, he showed us local farms and plants, we stopped by tiny stands by the road and it seemed like tourists don’t get here often.
Kayaking along the peaceful river was good too – it lets you experience Thai nature undisturbed by humans 🙂
You can also consider bamboo rafting. I did that during my volunteering time and it was great fun. Especially if you try to steer the raft yourself having no idea how… 😉
7. Trekking in the jungle
Even though my trekking in the jungle was from Chiang Rai (Bamboo Tours), Chiang Mai area offers such tours as well. Trekking through the jungle and bamboo cooking was one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai and in Thailand in general. If you’re not planning to go to Chiang Rai area, don’t miss it in Chiang Mai! You can book the tour in the city or book it in advance – check this high mountain trek in Chiang Mai.
8. Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai
Did you know that Thailand has its own Grand Canyon? 🙂 It’s a little different from the Grand Canyon in the USA – but it’s worth seeing anyway! It is an old quarry, currently filled up with water. A part of it is now a water park full of inflatable slides and obstacles. It’s a great fun which can also rise your adrenaline level – the water is over 20 meters deep and some attractions include a jump from 10 meters tower 😉 But don’t freak out – everybody needs to wear a life jacket while using the park. It’s a perfect place for a hot day of Thai summer.
In the other part of the quarry you can sunbathe, swim and jump from cliffs on your own. If you wonder what to do in Chiang Mai when you need a chill out day – that’s the place 🙂
The easiest way to get there is to rent a car or a scooter. You can also ask at your hotel what’s the best way to get there, they might also be able to help you organize the transportation. Get the Grand Canyon ticket in advance here!
9. Tiger Kingdom
Just like with elephants, there’s not too many wild tigers anymore. Their natural habitat is being destroyed, people kill tigers out of fear whenever they appear close. That’s why such places like Tiger Kingdom try to develop the population of tigers in captivity.
Before going to Thailand I heard gossips that Tiger Kingdom and other similar places give drugs to the tigers so that they are calm and let people take pictures with them. That’s why I didn’t include it on my list of things to do in Chiang Mai – I didn’t want to support such procedure. I explored the topic more after coming back trying to separate gossips from facts. After reading this article about volunteering in Tiger Kingdom it seems to be a place taking good care of the animals and gossips about drugs are not true. If I go to Thailand again – I will consider visiting Tiger Kingdom. Choose by yourself – and share your experience with me!
10. Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to go to Bua Thong Waterfall – but I couldn’t skip it in this list because it sounds fantastic! It’s a waterfall falling on lime stone – and the structure of the rock doesn’t let you slip so you can easily climb it. That’s why it’s called “Sticky Waterfall”. It will be on top of my list for my next trip to Thailand!
Again, it’s best to get there with a rented car or a scooter. You can also arrange the tour at a local tour operator or book a tour in advance – click the button below to check the Sticky Waterfall tour. It is also connected with Doi Suthep mentioned above and it will be a great day 🙂
Accommodation in Chiang Mai
Jimmy and Jeng Homestay – we lived in this place for all our stay in Chiang Mai. The rooms are basic but the owners are the nicest people on Earth. Right after we entered, they told us “Hi. You can relax now. You’re home” 🙂 They can make you feel like you really are. It’s cheap and in great location close to the night market and the center. And I still miss their pineapple pancakes… Highly recommended!
Ma Guesthouse – it’s a guest house located within the main “square” of Chiang Mai. It has outstanding reviews and the price is great too. Breakfast is included.
Villa Thai Orchid – if you feel like having a little more comfort, this is the place to be 🙂 Perfect location in the very heart of Chiang Mai, you will get everywhere on foot. Great rooms, breakfast included – check it out!
I hope I helped you decide on what to see in Chiang Mai – the lovely place surrounded by mountains and national parks. I’m sure you will relax, take a deep breath and love it – as much as I and most of Thai people do
Check out other posts which can help you organize your trip to Thailand:
- All You Need To Know To Organize A Trip To Thailand
- What To See In Thailand In Two Weeks – Full Itinerary
- 10 Unique Facts About Thai People And Life In Thailand
And if you’re thinking to volunteer in Thailand like I did, check find out what it’s like to teach English in Asia 🙂 Trust me – it’s a great experience!
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