Top 20 UNIQUE Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai in Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destinations and is located in the mountainous north of the country, approximately 700 kilometers from Bangkok. Also known as the “Rose of the North”, this province and its beautiful surroundings are enchanting with unforgettable things to do and unique attractions. The old town of Chiang Mai is captivating with its beautiful temples, the lively night markets, cozy cafés and restaurants. But also around Chiang Mai some really amazing highlights and excursions waiting for you. Giant waterfalls, deep jungles, high mountains, lush green rice fields and elephants are just some of the best experiences of a trip to the north of Thailand. But what are the unique things to do Chiang Mai, and what should not be missed during a trip?
This article is a useful travel guide about the best things to do in Chiang Mai, activities and sights. Also we share with you the best pictures and travel tips. In addition, we provide all information about organizing a perfect trip, best travel time and recommended accommodations.
Good to know!
If you are still looking for a great accommodation or hotel in Chiang Mai, we can recommend the stunning Inside House with private pool and chic design.
There are several good options for getting to Chiang Mai by plane, train or bus. Combined tickets as well as departure times and prices are best searched online at 12go.asia.
For a stay in Chiang Mai including sightseeing, shopping, and day trips one should plan at least 4-5 days. However, there are also travelers who stay for weeks or even months.
The great excursions from Chiang Mai are a guarantee for an unforgettable trip. On GetYourGuide you can organize tours, cooking classes, entrance tickets in advance.
General information about Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, a city of 140,000 inhabitants, is located in northern Thailand, about 700 kilometers from Bangkok and 200 kilometers from Chiang Rai. It is one of the most culturally important places in the country and is also home to some of the most interesting attractions in Thailand. The history of Chiang Mai dates back to 1297, when King Mangrai founded it as the capital of his kingdom of Lan Na. Even today, a tour of the city reveals countless historical attractions, especially the more than 200 imposing temples in Chiang Mai, which give this city a very unique charm.
But not only the wide range of amazing things to do in Chiang Mai make this destination so popular in Thailand. Also the cozy flair, the many good restaurants, the pretty cafés, the cool traveler scene and the vibrant nightlife make Chiang Mai unique. Here dropouts, long-term tourists, backpackers, but also sophisticated individual travelers and luxury vacationers from all over the world meet to experience this city. Additionally, the terrific possibilities on excursions and day trips from Chiang Mai, such as to visit the elephants and the many national parks in the area, make a trip there ultimately the perfect experience.
The Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai
The wide range of fascinating things to do in Chiang Mai is impressive. Especially worth seeing is the historic old town with its unique relaxed flair and the many temples. But also the surrounding area is worth visiting and offers countless possibilities for activities and day tours. We have compiled the absolute highlights and the best attractions of Chiang Mai, which should not be missed.
Wat Phra Singh
One of the most beautiful attractions in Chiang Mai is the beautiful Wat Phra Singh temple. This royal temple of the First Class is one of the most impressive temple buildings of Chiang Mai and is located directly in the historic Old Town. Founded as early as 1345, this structure was completely renovated in 1925 and 2002. Visitors today are amazed at the golden bell-shaped chedi and the many colorful decorations. This temple complex is also a meaningful place for locals, and so, one must always expect many visitors to this beautiful sight. An absolute must-see in the old town of Chiang Mai!
Doi Suthep National Park & Temple
A visit to Doi Suthep National Park, with its famous temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai. This beautiful nature reserve is located in the forested mountains above Chiang Mai, about 15 kilometers from downtown. The highlight of this park is the impressive temple complex of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which can be reached by climbing 309 steps and which thrills with a beautiful view over Chiang Mai and with wonderful golden Buddha statues. However, there is even more to discover in the national park. Especially worth seeing is the royal palace complex Bhubing Palace and the Hmong Village, a charming mountain village in the north.
But also the many waterfalls in the park like the Mae Sa Waterfall, Huai Kaeo Waterfall, Mon Tha Than Waterfall and Mok Fa Waterfall are absolutely charming, and a visit is worth it in any case.
The Hmong Village is located in the above-mentioned Doi Suthep National Park and is one of the absolutely most beautiful mountain villages in the entire region. Picturesquely embedded in a deep green jungle landscape, in the middle of the mountains, it is a popular destination for excursions from Chiang Mai. The special thing about this village are the magnificently blooming flower gardens, which amaze both locals and tourists. If you like, you can borrow a traditional Thai costume on site and have your picture taken with it in the rustic mountain village scenery. A really great view of the Hmong Village and the deep jungle can be seen from Doi Pui View Point!
Wat Chedi Luang
The Wat Chedi Luang is located in the city center and is one of the most important attractions in Chiang Mai. A visit is one of the best things to do because this more than 600 years old temple is still the highest building of the old town with its 82 meters. Due to its pyramid-like structure, it can be seen from afar. In former times, this temple complex was home to the Emerald Buddha, the national shrine of Thailand, which is nowadays exhibited in Bangkok. But also the other temple buildings around Wat Chedi Luang are impressive. Here you can see, among other things, the over 8 meters high Phra Chao Attarot, one of the most significant Buddha statues in the area.
Tip: At the so-called “Monk Chat” you can talk to the monks of Wat Chedi Luang daily between 9:00 am and 6:00 pm and learn more about Buddhism.
Night Markets in Chiang Mai
The many night markets in Chiang Mai are a true shopper’s paradise and a visit is a must. Especially recommended is the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, which is definitely one of the best attractions of the city. At this gigantic market, you can shop till you drop and taste your way through the delicious Thai cuisine. This attraction is located outside the city walls at Changklang Road and takes place every evening from 6:00 pm. Another highlight of Chiang Mai city is the famous Walking Street. This night market is held every Saturday night from 5:00 pm on Wualei Road, near the Silver Temple, and is one of the best markets for shopping in Chiang Mai.
Tip: Curious about what to eat in Chiang Mai? Have a look at this ultimate Chiang Mai Food Guide!
Enjoy the Café scene
Coffee lovers take note! Chiang Mai offers a really brilliant café scene. Recently, numerous hip coffee houses and small, original cafés have settled in the city center, but also in the green surroundings of the city. Perfect if you want to relax and strengthen yourself briefly during an exciting day of sightseeing. An insider tip in Chiang Mai is the Old House Café. Here, in addition to delicious coffee specialties, a wide variety of delicious shakes and a heavenly Penang curry are served. Also truly unique is the Jungle De Cafe, located outside the city in the jungle of Mae Rim overlooking a waterfall. A trip to BrandNew Field Good Café in a stunning location in the rice fields is also a nice experience.
A visit to an Elephant Sanctuary is one of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai, and for many, the experience is a personal highlight of their trip to northern Thailand. These institutions are dedicated to the welfare of tortured and abused working elephants, providing shelter, love, and food for the gentle pachyderms. Tourists have the opportunity to financially support their projects by visiting one of these elephant care centers. You can also spend a few hours intensively with the animals, observe them, feed them, and often you can also bathe with the elephants, which is particularly popular.
Tip: A recommendation are the Lanna Kingdom Sanctuary and the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary. They are known as the best ethnic Elephant Sanctuaries in Northern Thailand.
The Silver Temple, also known as Wat Sri Suphan, is a highlight that should not be missed. This attraction is located in the center of Chiang Mai, just outside the city walls, just off Wualai Road. Particularly spectacular there is especially the rich, silver ornamentation, which gives this temple an impressive appearance and has given it the nickname Silver Temple. The interior of the building is also worth seeing, but a visit is only possible for men.
Visit a Museum
In Chiang Mai there are many museums worth seeing. Very interesting is the National Museum, which is located north of the Old City and specializes in the history of the Lan Na Kingdom as well as the history of the kings of Chiang Mai. Another gem is the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Centre, a museum where you can learn some interesting things about the history and development of Chiang Mai. Really cool and very popular is also the Art in Paradise, a 3D art museum where tourists can take cool selfies and original pictures.
White Temple in Chiang Mai
The White Temple is an insider tip among the best attractions in Chiang Mai and a visit is highly recommended. Not to be confused, however, with the famous White Temple in Chiang Rai, located 200 kilometers away. The so-called Wat Suan Dok impresses with the completely white cemetery, where countless small towers are lined up. Also worth seeing is the 48-meter-high golden chedi just behind it and the large, spectacular Buddha statue, which is located in the huge temple hall.
Tip: Regularly there is the possibility to participate in the Monk Chat in the White Temple of Chiang Mai. In addition, meditation classes are also offered on site.
A real insider tip is the Sticky Waterfall in Chiang Mai, also known as Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls. This natural gem is not only beautiful to look at, when you visit you will also have the opportunity to swim in the waterfall and climb up and down the rushing falls. Thanks to its rough surface, you have a good grip and truly move like Spider-Man, which is really a lot of fun. This wonderful place outside of Chiang Mai is known almost only to locals, and so during the week and in the morning you can enjoy this unique place almost to yourself. So pack your swimwear and off you go to the Sticky Waterfall.
Tip: The waterfall is located about 60 kilometers from Chiang Mai. Guided trips to the waterfall are also offered on GetYourGuide.
Doi Inthanon National Park
The Doi Inthanon National Park is an absolute highlight and is definitely one of the best places to visit in the Chiang Mai area. This national park is well-known for the mountain of the same name Doi Inthanon, which is even the highest mountain in Thailand with 2,565 meters. However, the primeval forests, the gigantic waterfalls, the temple complexes, the lush green rice terraces and the intact nature, which can be enjoyed on numerous hiking trails, are also stunning. If you are seeking a special experience in nature, then you should undoubtedly take a trip to this national park.
Tip: Trips to Doi Inthanon, which is about 100 kilometers away, are usually offered in the form of guided day tours from Chiang Mai.
Mae Ya Waterfall
Mae Ya Waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in northern Thailand and one of the most beautiful natural sights in the Chiang Mai area. It is located a bit off the beaten track, on the edge of the above-mentioned Doi Inthanon National Park. Especially in the early morning, you often have this natural jewel all to yourself. From 30 levels, the Mae Ya Waterfall plunges over 250 meters into the depths, making it one of the largest waterfalls in Thailand. If you feel like it, take a refreshing dip in the river or just enjoy the magnificent ambience of nature.
Tip: For a trip to Mae Ya Waterfall it is best to rent a car because most tours do not include this waterfall on the program.
A visit to Wat Umong is one of the insider tips in Chiang Mai. Located in the jungle, this particular tunnel temple is often known as the temple of the forest. Unique here is the tunnel system, which is located under an approximate 700-year-old Chedi. In the niches of Wat Umong Tunnel Temple, you will also discover Buddha statues of all shapes and sizes in almost every corner. Really idyllic are also the so-called “Talking Trees“, on which wise sayings inspire visitors. A wonderful attraction to see in Chiang Mai if you want to get a little off the beaten path.
Royal Park Rajapruek
The Royal Park Rajapruek is an absolutely recommendable attraction in Chiang Mai, only 9 kilometers away from the old town. This huge botanical garden enchants with beautiful flowers and plants, as well as impressive buildings from all over the world. During a tour, one walks thematically through the various countries of the world, marvels at the tulips in Holland, palm gardens from Morocco and much more. In the center of the complex is also a beautiful temple building, the Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion. A special gem is the Orchid Pavilion, where you can see the most incredible orchid plants.
Tip: The trip to the Royal Park Rajapruek is best combined with a side trip to the nearby Wat Phra That Doi Kham temple.
Wat Phra That Doi Kham Temple
The Wat Phra That Doi Kham Temple is an insider tip in Chiang Mai and certainly not an attraction that everyone already knows. Also known as the Temple of the Golden Mountain, this sacred place is located on a hill with magnificent views of the enchanting landscape. Locals, but also many tourists come here to pray for their wishes. Beautiful and really worth seeing are the countless different shrines, the large Buddha statue and the ornate temple buildings, which you can admire for free during a tour of the area. Here, a 1,300-year-old history mixes with modernity.
Although the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai is not nearly as big as the original in America, the landscape here is really ingenious. Years ago this place was used as a quarry, nowadays, the Grand Canyon with its huge water park is one of the coolest attractions in Chiang Mai. This spectacular water playground offers lots of fun for young and old. There are cool jumping rocks, water courses, slides, beach bars, a zip-line and various swimming options.
Tip: There are 2 different providers at the park. If you want to go to the exciting water activities, we can recommend the park entrance 2.
Rice Fields in Chiang Mai
Spending the night in one of the romantic rice fields of Chiang Mai is a really great experience. Rice cultivation has a long tradition in Thailand and is still partly done manually and thanks to water buffaloes. Of course, the rice fields are especially worth seeing in the season when they are green and lush. For a very special vacation experience, you can treat yourself to a few nights in a resort surrounded by beautiful rice terraces. Most of these hotels are located just outside the city, in the rural areas around Chiang Mai, and offer plenty of peace and quiet amidst nature.
Tip: The Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai inspires with dream scenery in the middle of rice fields. Less expensive is the Country Retreat, surrounded by rice terraces and banana trees.
Day Trip to the White Temple in Chiang Rai
The White Temple in Chiang Rai is one of the most famous places to see in the north of Thailand. Something exceptional is especially the original architecture of this snow-white temple complex, designed by the artist Chalermchai Kositpipat and financed by his hand. A real gem from the outside, the interior is also unique, where whimsical murals of superheroes and celebrities take center stage. The temple is located in Chiang Rai, about 190 kilometers from Chiang Mai. Despite the distance, day trips from Chiang Mai to the White Temple are also possible and regularly offered.
Tip: Trips from Chiang Mai to the famous White Temple are also offered on GetYourGuide. However, a longer stay in the Chiang Rai region is also recommended!
Getting to Chiang Mai
There are several options for getting to Chiang Mai by air, bus or train. The easiest way is of certainly by plane. You can find cheap domestic flights online at 12go.asia.
Another way to get to Chiang Mai is by night bus. The journey time from Bangkok is about 10–12 hours, and often a meal is included in the price.
A nice experience is a ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by train. The trip is really impressive, and can include stops in Ayutthaya, the monkey city of Lopburi and Sukhothai.
Tip: You can easily book a wide variety of transfer options to Chiang Mai, including departure times, online at 12go.asia.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
There is a really wide range of accommodation in Chiang Mai. No matter what budget, from backpackers to luxury travelers, everyone is sure to find their perfect hotel in this city. If you are searching for a lovely place to stay in Chiang Mai, then we can give you these accommodation tips along the way…It’s worth a look!
- Boutique Hotel with Pool: The 99 The Heritage Hotel is a really chic 4-star boutique hotel in the heart of the city. Guests love the breakfast and the stunning pool.
- Great Guesthouse: The Inn Oon ChiangMai Home lives the motto – “Home – Not Hotel”. A small oasis of peace and contemplation has been created here!
- Hostel of the Extra Class: The Entaneer Poshtel is one of the coolest and best hostels in town. Cleanliness, breakfast, atmosphere, everything is just right here.
- 5-Star Hotel: The Inside House hotel is one of the absolute top hotels and offers beautiful rooms with outdoor bathtubs and some even have their own pool.
Find the best accommodation in Chiang Mai:
More about Northern Thailand:
Top 20 Amazing Things to Do in Chiang Rai
Sukhothai, Thailand: Travel Guide to Historical Park
Ayutthaya: 10 Best Temples & Attractions
Lopburi – A Guide to the City of Monkeys
25 Amazing Things To Do in Bangkok
Top 20 Amazing Things to Do in Krabi
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