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Top 15 Things to Do in Chiang Mai

Top 15 Things to Do in Chiang Mai

By Chris QuanUpdated Aug. 31, 2023

Chiang Mai is a land full of adventure, surrounded by mountains and lush countryside, it is much greener and quieter than the capital.

It has got a relaxed atmosphere, super-friendly residents, great food, an artsy shopping scene, and lots of other shopping. And if that's not enough, just outside the city are some of the region's most stunning mountains.

Three days is the perfect time to spend to explore the highlights of Chiang Mai, in order to experience the nature of northern Thailand and to see the beauty of the city. The Chiang Mai area is one big adventure playground for those who like nature.


  • Chiang Mai has three distinct seasons: hot, rainy and cool. Each of them differs from the others in temperatures and sunshine hours during the day, but that doesn't change the fact that the weather in Chiang Mai can be enjoyed at any time of the year.
  • Chiang Mai is the largest and most culturally significant city in northern Thailand and the main base for activities in the North for most travelers.
  • Chiang Mai is home to Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in Thailand which is about 2,500 meter high.
  • Whether you love shopping, food, or nature, Chiang Mai offers something for everyone.

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1. Discover the Old City Temples

Recommended length of time to visit: Half a day

There are many magnificent and very famous temples within the walled old city of Chiang Mai, with the Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang being the most attractive temples in Chiang Mai.

The temples are a "must see" not only because of their importance as pilgrimage temples, but also because of their outstanding beauty.

When visiting Chiang Mai, make sure to spend half a day visiting some of the temples. You can reach each of the temples easily, since they are located inside the walls of the old city and close to other major attractions, and all are within easy walking distance.

The temple complex is quite large; there is lots to see and it is worth taking your camera along. The main attraction is the massive chedi that dominates the area. You will also find viharns (prayer halls) in the complex, and some impressive Buddha statues.

2. Shop at a Local Market

Recommended length of time: Half a day

After you've spent some of the day exploring the temples, rest up, refresh and then hit the town at sundown to explore one of the night markets.

Talat Warorot market is one of the markets where lots of locals do their own shopping. There is also a big flower market in central Chiang Mai, filled with locals browsing for flowers.

Local markets offer the best shopping options in Chiang Mai. The range and diversity is excellent, with stalls selling locally made handicrafts, one-off clothing items, and plenty of northern delicacies that are hard to find anywhere else.

Alongside the same old tourist souvenirs you'll find anywhere else in the country, many of Chiang Mai's markets offer a much more interesting shopping experience, ranging from ready to eat food, to souvenirs and flowers. They are well worth a visit while you are in Chiang Mai.

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3. Street food tour at the Night Bazaar

Recommended length of time: 3-4 hours

The Night Bazaar is probably the city's best known market and one of its main nighttime attractions. This market is famous not only for the items that are offered but also for the amazing street food. For those who are in Chiang Mai only for a few days – the Night Bazaar is open every evening of the week.

Begin your journey by strolling around the market and follow a route that will take you to two evening markets, where you'll try a wide variety of dishes, from traditional Thai food, noodles, coconut, to skewers and dumplings.

Explore Chiang Mai's colorful night markets with a local guide on a 2.5-hour evening food tour of the city, on foot and by songthaew, with pick-up and drop-off at your hotel. Asia Highlights will guide you during the tour so you can enjoy your experience hassle free.

4. Volunteer Program at Elephant Nature Park

Recommended length of time: One day

Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai. It is also a natural home for buffalo, dogs, cats, birds and many other rescued animals. The park is impressive, with its herd of rescued elephants, and you will have the chance to take numerous pictures and keep lifelong memories.

Your visit starts with a picturesque drive through rural countryside to Elephant Nature Park. You will hear the personal stories of rescued and orphaned elephants. See how they became a proud herd and free from abuse.

There are many shorter programs available for those who have limited time, but it is recommended to stay a night at the park, to learn more about elephants and to experience unforgettable moments with them.

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5. Cooking class with Pantawan Cooking

Recommended length of time: 3-4 hours

If you love cooking, here is the perfect place to learn about Thai cuisine. You can see various kinds of herbs grow and use some of them for your cooking lesson. The menu will be different each day, but all the dishes are common in Thailand.

You will be guided by an experienced instructor throughout the class, and to start with, you will have tour of the local fresh market. There, the instructor will teach you the techniques of how to choose the perfect ingredients for your Thai cooking lesson.

This Thai cooking school is like no other. It is located in the South of the city, only a 20-minute drive from Chiang Mai old city – a sweet escape from the crowded touristy spot. Asia Highlights will provide a comfortable private car with a driver if you use our service.

Note: If you are visiting in November during the LoiKrathong festival, many of the cooking classes will add a small program to the class.They will teach you how to make your very own krathong and you can float it down the river alongside the locals in the evening.

Don't know which cooking class to choose? Learn about the Best 5 Thai Cooking Classes in Chiang Mai.

6. Wildlife Watching at Doi Inthanon National Park

Recommended length of time: One day

Doi Inthanon has so many highlights it is almost impossible to mention them all, without giving the entire checklist for the National Park.

This mountain contains a number of habitats and the birds associated with them. The summit area, which is higher than any other in Thailand, provides the most memorable bird watching of the mountain, perhaps even of the whole country.

The long road to the summit provides many places to stop and access the forest which is magnificent in places, particularly at higher altitude.

Birds seem to be in greater densities here than in many other locations in Thailand, meaning that this is an ideal place to see a large number of species.

Getting there using public transport is really hard if you are not familiar with the city and with the Thai language. The easiest way to get there will be by private car. Asia Highlights will provide you with a comfortable car with a driver so that you can enjoy your trip.

7. Trekking from Chiang Mai to Mae Hong Son

Recommended length of time: One day

Surrounded by mountains, lush jungle and rustic farmland, Chiang Mai is the perfect starting point for a trek in northern Thailand. It is therefore a must-visit for adventure seekers and nature lover.

Often referred to as "the land of three mists", because it is shrouded in mist most of the year, Mae Hong Son province is home to numerous hill-tribe villages. The province is located in the remote west of northern Thailand, bordering Myanmar to the north and all along the west.

Discover the bamboo and rain forest, and also caves in the jungle. Hike up to a waterfall and have a swim to cool down after a long hike. Spend a night at a cave and learn about the many uses of bamboo to create cooking utensils. You will also have a chance to meet people of the local tribes along the way in this remote area of Thailand.

8. Chat with a Monk in Chiang Mai

The experience: Chiang Mai's temples offer chat sessions with the monks. They are informal discussions where you sit at a round table and talk with novice monks about monastery life and Buddhism, or just enjoy some casual chatting.

The monks are accompanied by their teachers. This program is a good opportunity for tourists to learn about monastery life and for monks to practice their English.

What to talk about: The novice monks will have preprepared chat sheets to ask you questions. You can start with introducing yourself and let them introduce themselves back, helping them to build their speaking confidence in a second language.

You can also discuss some daily life questions or rituals relating to Buddhism — you will find that they are very open-minded and willing to talk.

What not to do: Please dress modestly — cover your shoulders and knees. Women should remember not to touch monks or their belongings, or to pass anything directly to them.

Where to go: The temples offering monk chat programs are Wat Suan Dok, Wat Srisuphan, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Pha Khao in Chiang Mai.

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9. Zip-Line Through the Jungle

This is another must-do activity, especially for active travelers and families with kids. There are many high-flying adventures to choose from — among them, Flight of the Gibbon is currently the most popular one with Chiang Mai travelers.

The forest that the company is located in is on comparatively virgin land so you have the chance to see forest animals most of the time, particularly gibbons. There are a few flight routes to choose from, which offer different packages, and each one provides unique fun.

There is no need to worry about the height or getting last minute nerves as the company has well-trained employees to give you a practical session on what to do and how to do it before your adventure begins.

10. Be Fashionable at Nimmanhaemin Road

Don't know where to go for the nightlife in Chiang Mai? The answer is Nimmanhaemin Road, the trendiest part of Chiang Mai, which is packed with stylish bars and restaurants.

As well as tourists going there to hang out, it's a fashionable place for the younger generation of locals too. The main road has several high-end bars and some fine restaurants, making it a good place to treat your stomach after days of traveling and exploration.

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11. Take a Trip Down San Kamphaeng Road

Famously known as the 'Handicraft Highway', it is a 10-kilometer stretch of road packed with pottery, silverware, lacquerware, sculptures, wood carvings, and silk products.

San Kamphaeng Road is especially famous for its pottery, which is also called celadon in Chiang Mai and has a green glaze. San Kamphaeng Road is also famous in Thailand for its delicate silverware.

If you stop at Louis Silverware, you can watch the master artist carrying out his work and get an idea of how it becomes a masterpiece.

12. Eat Khao Soi at Least Once

Khao soi is a classic and famous Northern Thailand noodle dish that you can't leave Chiang Mai without trying. The soup has an amazing mixed flavor of coconut milk and curry.

There is chicken both in the soup and on top of it, as well as crispy yellow fried egg noodles. At the side of the soup bowl, you will be provided with a small plate of crushed peanuts, red onions, pickled green mustard, and a wedge of lime to suit your taste preferences.

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13. Get Away from the City Crowds: Take a Boat Trip on the Mae Ping River

Having a 2-hour boat trip along the Mae Ping River may not be a very exciting thing to do for active travelers but there is no better way to get away from the city crowds during the peak season, and cruising along the river is also very relaxing.

When you look at the scenery along the riverbanks, you can enjoy different views of beautiful traditional teak houses as well as a lot of rural greenery along the way.

Often the tour will include visiting a local farmhouse and having lunch, a stroll around their garden or sprawling vegetable yard while possibly tasting some of the seasonal produce, and exploring the paddies where jasmine rice is cultivated.

14. Stop for Coffee at Catmosphere

Whether you are a cat lover or a coffeeholic, Chiang Mai's cat café, Catmosphere, has to be on your bucket list. There are about 18 cats at present, in a mixed group that are being purchased and adopted.

They are free to roam around the place when you are drinking and you are free to play with them as well. The café is designed to fit in with its name with pictures of spaceships and cats floating around in UFOs adorning the walls.

It's better to visit the place in the morning or in the evening when the cats are most active. But if you find that sleeping cats are more therapeutic for you, then it is better to visit in the afternoon.

Open: 10am to 8pm (October–April); 10am to 7pm (May–September)

Price: There is no additional charge or minimum fee for guests who order something in the café, but for guests who don't feel like drinking or eating anything, a minimum charge of 100 baht per hour will be applied.

Kids: For safety – for both children and the cats – children must be 6 years or older to enter the café.

4-Day Best of Chiang Mai Tour:

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15. Enjoy a Traditional Thai Massage at Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution Training Center

It's a shame to leave Thailand without enjoying a traditional Thai massage. When you travel in Chiang Mai, although you can see the street is packed with massage parlors, the most unique massage experience is to get one from an ex-prisoner.

Don't get any negative ideas when you hear 'ex-prisoner' as they are usually nice women who were forced, or in a financially poor condition, to carry out a minor crime and ended up in prison.

The women who are able to get employed at this institution have already been tested and trained with sufficient hours of professional massage techniques, and are always good people who only have a few months left before they are released.

Having a massage at Chiang Mai Women's Correctional Institution will help them get back on track for a normal life, and both their skills and the prices in the institution are very competitive!

You might like to read

Top 20 Attractions in Thailand

The Best 5 Thai Cooking Classes in Chiang Mai

How to Get in and around Chiang Mai

Top Things to Do in Pai

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