Things to do in Chiang Mai

Things to do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is magical!! Also known as the Rose of the North, this province and its beautiful surroundings are enchanting. The old town of Chiang Mai is captivating with its beautiful temples, lively night markets, cozy cafes, and restaurants. But also around Chiang Mai are some amazing things waiting for you. Waterfalls, high mountains, deep jungles, and elephants are just some of the highlights. 

In this post, you will find our favorite things to do and plenty of tips for your trip to Chiang Mai. We stayed for 5 days in Chiang Mai but could easily have spent 2 weeks there. There are so many amazing things to do that we want to go back.

How to get there 

We got there by bus from Sukhothai which took around 5 hours. You can also get there by bus or train from other cities in Thailand. 
 
If you don’t mind paying a bit extra, you can also travel by hiring a private car and driver for the day.  This is the most comfortable and quickest way to travel. 

Where to stay 

We stayed at the Heritage Hotel Sha which we highly recommend. Comfortable and clean rooms, nice swimming pool, and really helpful staff. The location is in the heart of the old town in close walking distance to attractions. 

Wat Phra Singh 

There are several magnificent and very old temples in the old city of Chiang Mai, with the Wat Phra Singh being one of the most attractive. 

The temple, also known as The Monastery of the Lion Buddha or The temple of the Lion Buddha is an active temple, with hundreds of monks living there. 

Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century when Chiang Mai was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom and is one of the finest examples of classic Lanna-style architecture in Northern Thailand. 

The temple grounds contain several beautiful buildings like the assembly hall, Viharn Luang, the library Ho Trai which are all worth visiting. 

The oldest structure of the wat is the main chedi, which was built in 1345 by King Pha Yu to enshrine the ashes of his father. Each of the chedis is decorated with elephant figures emerging from the chedi.

Wat Phra Singh is open from 6 am – 8 pm daily, and the entrance is free. You can get there by tuk-tuk or on foot depending on where you are staying in Chiang Mai.   

Wat Chedi Luang 

Wat Chedi Luang isn’t as grand as Wat Phra Singh, but its towering Lanna-style chedi is much taller and the sprawling compound around the stupa is powerfully atmospheric.
 
This was possibly the largest structure in ancient Chiang Mai, but the top of the chedi was destroyed by a 16th-century earthquake or by cannon fire during the recapture of Chiang Mai from the Burmese in 1775.

Wat Chedi Luang is famous for once housing the Emerald Buddha, one of the most important religious relics in Thailand. It was moved to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok in 1475, but there is now a jade replica housed at the temple, which was given to the city as a gift from the Thai king in 1995 to celebrate the 600th anniversary of the chedi. 

The base of the chedi has five elephant sculptures on the south side and all four sides of the chedi have large staircases that are flanked by naga giving the structure a mythical feel. 

On the temple grounds, you will also find two prayer halls. 

Wat Chedi Luang is open from 8 am – 5 pm daily, and the entrance is fee is 40 THB for foreigners and free for locals.  You can get there by tuk-tuk or on foot depending on where you are staying in Chiang Mai.  

Wat Lok Molee 

Wat Lok Molee is one of the city’s older temples, although the exact founding date of the temple is not known, the first structures were likely built during the 14th century. 

The brickwork of the large chedi is left mostly bare, in contrast to the newer chedis of other temples in Chiang Mai. The chedi contains the ashes of several Kings of the Mengraj dynasty, who ruled the Lanna Kingdom from the end of the 13th century until 1558 when the Burmese invaded the Kingdom. 

What makes this temple stand out is the finely sculptured nagas and the wooden temple facade. 

Wat Lok Molee is open from 6 am – 5 pm daily, and the entrance is free. You can get there by tuk-tuk or on foot depending on where you are staying in Chiang Mai.   

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Outside Chiang Mai’s Old City Wall, atop the Doi Suthep mountain, stands Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of northern Thailand’s most sacred temples and shouldn’t be missed when you are in Chiang Mai. The views from the temple and the beauty of the surrounding area make it one of the best day trips from the city. 

The temple was built in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone said to be from the shoulder of the Buddha. 

The bone was brought to Lanna by a wandering monk from Sukhothai and it broke into two pieces at the base of the mountain, with one piece being enshrined at Wat Suan Dok. The second bone was mounted onto a sacred white elephant that wandered the jungle until it died. The place where he died is now the site of where Wat Phra That Doi Suthep was founded. 

At the base of the temple, you can buy snacks or drinks from one of the many souvenir stalls. 

You have two options to get to the temple. You can climb up the 306 step staircase or you can take the cable car. The cable car runs from 6 am – 6 pm and the fee is 50 THB for foreigners and 20 THB for locals. We took the staircase which is flanked by beautiful nagas. 

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is open from 5 am – 9 pm daily, and the entrance fee is 30 THB. You can get there by tuk-tuk from Chiang Mai’s city center.  

Wat Pha Lat 

Just a few kilometers down the road from Wat Phra That Doi Suthep you can find our favorite temple. This temple is nestled in the jungle and hardly visited by tourists. 

Wat Pha Lat translates to Sloping Rock Monastery. This small monastery was constructed to serve the purpose of a rest and prayer stop for people and monks walking up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. However, since Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is now accessible by road, the monastery has turned into a monks residence and meditation center. 

There are a lot of beautiful temples, stupas, and statues to explore. 

You can get to Wat Pha Lat by tuk-tuk or you can do a short hike which leads along the so-called monk trail which we recommend. The name comes from the orange cloths wrapped around the trees. In that way, monks mark the blessed plants. Thai people are so superstitious, the trees are not allowed to be cut. This is a great method to protect the environment. 

We did the hike in the morning and it took us around 45 minutes to reach Wat Pha Lat. We walked through the lush jungle, saw some beautiful waterfalls, saw beautiful statues and the views over Chiang Mai were magnificent. 

The entrance to the trail is not marked very well. You have to go to the end of Suthep Road and turn right at the condo. At the turn, you will see a small sign that says nature trail, Pha Lad. Go straight for around 250 meters until you reach a small intersection. Turn left here and after 800 meters you will see the entrance to Wat Pha Lat trekking trail. 

Wat Pha Lat is open daily, and there is no entrance. You can get to the entrance of the monk’s trail or the temple itself by tuk-tuk from Chiang Mai’s city center.  

Visit Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon National Park is home to Thailand’s highest peak also known as the roof of Thailand. The park is famous for its waterfalls, hiking trails, remote villages, viewpoints, birdwatching, and the all-year-round cold weather on higher elevations. 

You can take local transportation to the Doi Inthanon National Park but the easiest way to visit the park is on an organized day tour from Chiang Mai (2 hours). The tour we did not only included a visit to the summit, but also a visit to the botanical gardens beneath the King and Queen Pavillions, a visit to some waterfalls, and a Karen hill tribe. 

Our first stop was the Wachirathan waterfall. This 40m tall waterfall is the most popular in the national park due to its immense scale and accessibility for visitors. 

There is a large parking lot surrounded by restaurants and vendors. 

We walked up a short paved trail to see the towering falls. 

The second stop was the highest spot in Thailand at 2,565 meters above sea level. Up there is the coolest point in the country. Here we enjoyed the beautiful fairy tale forest and saw a small temple. 

Just opposite of the summit trail is the Ang Ka Luang Nature trail. We walked along wooden paths and discovered a different world, a mystical jungle, just like out of a fairytale. The short hike through the jungle took only 20 minutes. 

Our next stop was Doi Inthanon’s temple. This beautiful temple is popular for its two King Pagodas and botanical garden. From here you have breathtaking views over the national park. 

After visiting Doi Inthanon’s temple we had lunch in a remote village. We had some time to wander around and buy some of the local products. 

After lunch, we admired the Mae Ya waterfall. This waterfall is one of the largest waterfalls in Thailand. You can take a swim in the river or just enjoy the atmosphere. 

Visiting a Karen Hill Tribe Village was next. Here we walked around beautiful nature and learned about the locals. 

Bamboo or teakwood is the main material used for housing. Eucalyptus is a popular plant to keep outside the homes because they keep insects away. 

As we were walking we saw arabica coffee plants around the road. We visited a coffee plantation and had a cup of before going back to Chiang Mai. The coffee plantation we visited hand picks, dries, roasts, and grounds the coffee by hand. The coffee we had was strong and full of flavor. 

daily from 5.30 am – 6.30 pm and the entrance fee is 300 THB. You can get there by scooter, bus,  with a private driver or you can join a tour from Chiang Mai as we did.  

Visit an Elephant Park 

One of the things you have to do in Chiang Mai is visiting an Elephant Park. It’s an amazing way to interact with these huge animals. There are a lot of Elephant Parks in Chiang Mai, make sure you visit one that treats the elephants right. 

We visited the Baan Chang Elephant Park. You can read more about this amazing experience here.

Take a Cooking Class 

One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a Thai cooking class! The food in Thailand is delicious and worth learning how to make it on your own. We learned how to make Pad Thai and Red Curry at the Thai Farm Cooking School and had a great day. 

The Thai Farm Cooking School is often regarded among the best ones in Chiang Mai, offering full-day classes at an organic farm outside the city. You can book a class in one of the many information centers in Chiang Mai’s city center or here

Eat Khao Soi

It’s impossible to visit Chiang Mai and not try Khai Soi. Khai Soi is a delicious dish known for its curry broth and crunchy noodle topping, it is by far the most well-known dish in Chiang Mai. 

We had a delicious Kha Soi in the Kha Soi Khun Yai restaurant in Chiang Mai’s city center. This restaurant is famous for its kha soi and can be very busy. 

Sri Poom 8 Alley, Tambon Si Phum, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand.  

Meditate, Relax, and Work-Out 

You will find many spas in Chiang Mai’s city center to relax and unwind after all the action and adventures. 

We had a massage at a women’s prison. The women in this correctional institution are all serving short sentences for minor offenses, and this is a way for them to learn a new skill to help them gain employment and integrate them back into society. 

Bootcamp Fitness and Crossfit classes are also very popular. And of course, you can practice Muay Thai, the traditional form of kickboxing in Thailand. 

Night Markets 

One of our favorite activities after dark was wandering around one of Chiang Mai’s night markets. 
Chiang Mai has 3-night markets; The Saturday Night Market, The Sunday Night Market, and the daily Night Bazaar. This is the perfect place for some late-night shopping and eating. Here you can buy hill tribe jewelry, souvenirs, clothes, and fabrics. 

The Sunday Night Market also called the Tha Pae Walking Street Market is located inside the Old City. It starts at Tha Pae Gate and runs all along Ratchadamnoen Road, for around one kilometer. 

There are many beautifully lit up temple grounds that serve as food courts with delicious Thai food. 

The Saturday walking street takes over Wualai Street. It starts around 4 pm and continues until 10.30 pm. We prefer this market over the Sunday Night Market because even though it’s smaller, there aren’t the same crowds of people, so it makes for a much more stroll. Not only are there plenty of handicraft and locally-made products, but it’s also a good place to taste some delicious Thai food.

Then there is also the Night Bazar which is open every day from sunset until midnight. Here you can buy souvenirs, eat street food and here you will find also the Ladyboy Cabaret which we recommend. It was quite a spectacle and unlike any other show, we have seen. 

Chiang Mai is in our opinion one of the most beautiful places in Thailand. Especially if you love visiting beautiful temples, hanging out with the locals, nature, and hiking.

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