Being Thailand’s second most important city, Chiang Mai is well-known for the Lanna culture and the ancient ruins. The city was once the major base of Theravada Buddhism during the Lanna Kingdom, and at that time many fine temples were built within the walled city.
Check out our handpicked best 20 attractions in and around Chiang Mai to get the most out of this cultural capital of Thailand. There are striking mountainous landscapes around the city, which provide a lot of wonderful natural attractions, such as hot springs and waterfalls. In the city itself, there are unique Lanna-style temples, ruins, folk museums, beautiful gardens, and parks to enjoy. If you visit at the right time, there are amazing ceremonies and celebrations to participate in, such as the Lantern Festival and Songkran, which is a water festival.
Doi Suthep is both the name of a mountain that’s northwest of Chiang Mai city and the great temple on that mountain. Most tourists visit the mountain not only because it hosts one of the greatest temples in Chiang Mai but because it also provides a commanding view from its summit overlooking the city. The main attractions are Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is built near the peak of Doi Suthep, a few waterfalls, viewpoints, caves and the nature.
Due to its high altitude, the climate is cool and pleasant all year round, with average temperatures of 20-23°C, making it a good destination for most travelers. Prepare a warm jacket, as temperatures may drop to 6°C during the winter nights in February. For visitors who like trekking, it’s important to know that August and September are the wettest period of the year with daily rainfall, so consider the weather conditions before making a trekking plan.
Location: The National Park is located about 15 km (9 miles) from the city center and the drive to the top of the mountain from the entrance to the park takes about 20 minutes.
Travel essentials: Entrance fee for foreigners is 200 baht for adults and 100 baht for children. Most of the attractions at the park are free, but there is a 300 baht fee for the Monthathan waterfall, and also a 50 baht admission to get into the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple.
The temple is a sacred place and you should dress respectfully when visiting it. That means no shorts or skirts and no tank tops. If you find yourself at the gate wearing cut offs, don't worry - fisherman's pants can be rented for a minimal fee.
Wat Chedi Luang is a historic Buddhist temple and was built in 1391. On Wat Chedi Luang's premises there are several structures of great cultural significance, including the city pillar, the main viharn, housing the principal Buddha image, and a giant gum tree guarding the entrance to the temple.
On important Buddhist holidays, Wat Chedi Luang is where worshippers convene for the evening candle procession. A special pulley system allows visitors to leave offerings and prayers atop the chedi during the day.
Location: Phra Pokklao Road.
Travel essentials: The temple grounds are open daily from 6 am until 6 pm. Admission is free. As a temple is a sacred place, you should dress respectfully when visiting.
Known as “The Monastery of the Lion Buddha” or “The temple of the Lion Buddha”, Wat Phra Singh is perhaps the second most venerated Buddhist temple in Chiang Mai after Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
It houses three main structures, the main attraction being the elegantly decorated Lai Kam assembly hall and its restored murals, depicting the lives of locals hundreds of years ago. The Wat Phra Singh houses a number of highly revered and very old Buddha images.
Location: Inside the old city wall, at the westernmost end of Ratchadamnoen Road
Travel essentials: The temple complex is open daily from 6 am until 8 pm. Admission is free, except to the main viharn (50 Thai Baht). Please dress respectfully when visiting a temple, as it is a sacred place.
Sitting next to the famous Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phan Tao is often overlooked but is well worth a visit. It is a beautiful wooden temple with a decorated garden area. The enormous prayer hall is made from dark teak wood and inside it there is a graceful golden Buddha image. If you walk to the back of the temple, you will find a nice garden with an image of Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree. Often, there are lots of orange prayer flags around it and, if you happen to visit during a Buddhist ceremonial event or holiday, you will also have a chance to see the monks sitting around the image and chanting blessings or prayers.
Warorot Market is one of the places where lots of Thai locals do their own shopping. A large section of the market features goods, such as clothing, fashion accessories and personal care products. For food lovers, the market offers a wide range of ready-to-eat meals, local snacks and all kinds of fresh produce. Warorot market is a good place to feel the local atmosphere.
Location: 90 Wichayanon Rd, Tambon Chang Moi, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand
Travel essentials: The market is open daily from 6 am to 7 pm, but there are evening food vendors on the outside from 6 pm to 10 pm.
Known as the Sunday Market, this is the most famous of all the markets in Chiang Mai. You can deduce from the name that it only opens on Sundays. If you happen to visit Chiang Mai on a Sunday, then make sure you don’t miss it. The market starts at Tha Phae Gate and expands along the entire length of Ratchadamnoen Road. You can find all kinds of things on sale there, such as handmade goods, arts and crafts, fresh fruits, exotic snacks, and traditional costumes at cheap prices, as well as handmade souvenirs and embroideries that can be worth thousands of bahts. The street has a unique smell and atmosphere too — it’s a mix of aromatic street snacks, sweet fruits, and a sense of happiness emanating from the open-air bars’ live music and traditional dance performances.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is the main neighborhood for shopping and nightlife. The night bazaar consists of countless stalls packed along the sidewalks and spilling out into the street. The best goods on offer here are usually clothes, hand-tailored Thai silk, art, silver and antiques. Visitors often come here to stroll around and pick up some souvenirs to bring back home.
Location: 104-1 Chang Klan Road, Intersection of Tha Pae and Chang Klang Roads
Travel essentials: The night bazaar is open every night from around 6 pm. However, it’s best to go after 7 pm as the shops will only be preparing to open at 6 pm.
Talat Ton Lam Yai is the only place to get fresh flowers in the centre of Chiang Mai and for that reason it is a hive of activity. The market is filled with locals browsing for flowers. If you are looking for a display or a bouquet as a gift, this is definitely the place to come to, and the many vendors will make you something special.
Location: Praisanee Road, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Travel essentials: The market is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. But the very best time to visit is during the evenings when you can witness thousands of fresh blooms arrive on the back of pick-up trucks, just hours after being cut at the local farms all around Chiang Mai area.
Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand, approximately 60 km (37 miles) from Chiang Mai City. It is also a natural home for buffalo, dogs, cats, birds and many other rescued animals.
Enjoy a full day visit to the Elephant Nature Park, with an intimate touch with elephants. You will hear the individual stories of rescued and orphaned elephants. See how they became a proud herd and free from abuse for the first time in their lives. The sanctuary also offers voluntary programs for visitors to take care of the elephants.
Park location: Chiang Mai province, Northern Thailand
Office location: 1 Ratmakka Road Phrasing, Chiang Mai Thailand - Tel: +66 (0)53 818932.
Travel essentials: This trip is suitable for all ages, from infants to retirees. Please bring extra clothing as you may get muddy or wet, and a towel. You may bring one small piece of baggage per person, lunch is provided.
The price for this trip will be 2,500 baht for an adult and 1,250 for children (2-11 years). Pick up from your hotel is available, or you can go to a meeting point set by them.
Learn more about the best 3 elephant sanctuaries you should go to in Chiang Mai.
The highest peak in Thailand, Doi Inthanon rises to a height of 2565 meters (8,415 feet) above sea level. This national park is a true jewel of natural beauty, consisting of rugged mountainous terrain blanketed by lush tropical forests and dotted with mighty rivers and majestic waterfalls.
Asiatic Black Bears, Barking Deer and Chinese Flying Squirrels can be seen, living alongside a large variety of primates including Gibbons, Macaques, Leaf Monkeys, and over 30 species of bats. Doi Inthanon is also the best locale in Thailand for bird watching, with over 300 different species making their homes in the trees, many of which are not found anywhere else in Thailand.
The park also provides good conditions for trekking, with four striking nature trails to explore. Nature trails are a great way to experience the fantastic scenery of Doi Inthanon up close and personal. Doi Inthanon nature trails take a few hours to walk and maps and guides are available at the ranger station.
Location: Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai Province.
Travel essentials: Guided tours are recommended to visit this place. There are two seasons, the rainy season from 1st June to 31st October and the dry season from 1st November to 31st May. It is recommended to visit during the dry season as you can see more of this national park.
Nestled at the base of Doi Suthep, Huay Tung Tao Lake is a popular place for friends and families to relax in a bamboo hut right next to the water. This place was originally somewhere where locals had a quiet weekend with their families; nowadays, it has become more and more popular among foreign tourists who prefer off-the-beaten-path experiences.
It is nothing like the Grand Canyon in the United States — instead of walking over the canyon, cliff jumping is what people go there for. It is still a relatively off-the-beaten-path attraction compared to most of the temples and markets in Chiang Mai.
One thing you need to ensure is that you go there during the right season. This is because, in the dry season, there isn’t any water beneath the cliffs. You can only take a picture at the edge of a cliff and tell your friends that you were there. If you are not an adventurous person, then just listen to your own body as there have been some accidents there before.
Huay Kaew Waterfall is another relatively unknown place to most tourists. It is not far from Chiang Mai Old City. You can take a red truck to Chiang Mai Zoo and walk westward from the zoo entrance toward the uphill mountain until you reach the entrance for the waterfall. Enjoy a day of swimming at this “secret waterfall” — its swimming hole is a great way to escape the city heat. There won’t usually be many people there and you can take your own supplies, such as a picnic — just remember to take all of your rubbish with you when you leave.
This Thai colonial-style former provincial court holds a variety of exhibitions relating to the lives, history, and culture of the Lanna people from Northern Thailand. The building, built in 1935, is located opposite the Three Kings Monument in the middle of the Old City. Inside the museum, there are many life-size dioramas explaining what life was like during the Lanna Kingdom.
Open: Tuesday–Sunday 8:30am–5pm
Price range: 90 baht per adult; 40 baht per child
Bo Sang Handicraft Village is about 9 kilometers east of Chiang Mai Old City. The mid-sized village specializes in paper umbrella-making crafts and is now known throughout the country and abroad. It has become a must-see place and a symbol of Chiang Mai. There are so many colorful handmade umbrellas there, from floral designs and tiny hand-painted cocktail umbrellas to large parasols for gardens or patios to other handmade products.
You will also have a chance to watch the craftsmen and craftswomen putting the umbrellas together from scratch in the factory. Most of the staff and artists are from the local village or Chiang Mai city so buying some umbrella souvenirs would support the local economy.
Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm is a great place to take your kids. Situated just outside Chiang Mai, it is not difficult to get there at all. Unlike many other nature parks, visiting it can be an easy option to incorporate some elements of nature into your family trip. Visitors can marvel at the exotic and fragrant orchid blooms all year round and, of course, select a few favored seedlings as well as enjoy a buffet dinner in the garden.
The butterfly farm is next to the orchid farm and houses thousands of butterflies in their natural habitat. There is a small waterfall located inside the butterfly park, making it a paradise for butterflies and photographers.
This attraction can be a bit controversial because, although National Geographic recommends visiting this village, some visitors worry about whether it would be like a human zoo experience. In fact, the villagers there are descendants of earlier generations who fled there from Myanmar during the political unrest in the past. The village is now part of Mae Rim, which is just outside Chiang Mai city.
The Karen women have a tradition of wearing brass rings around their necks. They regard this to be a symbol of beauty and, in the past, it may have provided protection against tigers from the forest. Nowadays, these women are getting more familiar with tourists who just want a few quick snapshots. They also hope to sell some of their handmade crafts.
Therefore, it really depends on how you look at it — it can only be a zoo if you treat the villagers that way. It’s quite acceptable and nice to get a local guide to chat with them, and to select a few of their products to make a contribution to this village and their traditions. This helps to keep the village running before it disappears due to the vast globalization process.
This festival will remind you of a very picturesque image you might have seen on the Internet with thousands of lanterns flying up into the sky and millions of lotus flower-shaped lights floating on the river. Chiang Mai celebrates the Loi Krathong Festival more than any other city in Thailand. It falls according to the Thai lunar calendar and, most of the time, is held in the middle of November.
If you are visiting Thailand during November, participating in such an event has to be on your bucket list. Remember to book your hotel and ticket to the ceremony at least 6 months beforehand because they sell out incredibly quickly.
Learn everything you need to know about the Loi Krathong Festival, such as how to enjoy it in a less crowded way and how to get a discounted early bird ticket for this fantastic event.
Songkran is Thailand’s traditional New Year celebration. It is held between April 13-15 each year. Just like the Loi Krathong Festival, Chiang Mai takes the festival to a greater level and it is more fun for a traveler to be there. Sometimes, the celebration can keep going for 5–6 days.
Songkran has a religious meaning as well. Thai people believe that the throwing of water will cleanse your sins. During the festival, people will stand on the streets with buckets of water, ready to spray or pour it onto any passers-by who would like to be given a blessing as it is said to cleanse your sins and purify your soul. The locals go to a temple and pray for blessings from Buddha, and tourists get excited and use water pistols to celebrate in a fun way.
San Kamphaeng Hot Springs is located in a well-maintained garden park just 40 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai city. The water in the springs has curative powers due to the high sulfur content in it. You can enjoy a hot spring bath there, which is a particularly good experience if you are visiting during winter. You can also swim in the traditional mineral water swimming pool.
If you go there during weekends, you may encounter lots of locals and tourists. Locals will take their kids to have fun in the park and splash water around. A must-do in the park is to boil some eggs, which you can get at the gate. Three to four eggs in a basket will cost 20 baht and, before you put them in the crystal clear egg-boiling pool, with a temperature that can reach 100°C, don’t forget to get some soy sauce ready.
Entrance fee: 100 baht for foreigners
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