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 cafes and restaurants. But also around Chiang Mai some really amazing highlights and excursions waiting for you. Huge 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.
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 cafes, 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.
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.
Doi Suthep National Park & Temple
One of Chiang Mai’s top attractions is the Doi Suthep National Park with its popular Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. This beautiful nature reserve is located in the mountains outside of Chiang Mai, approximately 15 kilometers from the city center. The highlight of this park is the impressive temple complex, which can be reached by climbing 309 steps, and which boasts a beautiful view of Chiang Mai and some wonderful golden Buddha statues.
But also the many waterfalls in Doi Suthep National Park, such as the Mae Sa waterfall, Huai Kaeo waterfall, Mon Tha Than waterfall and Mok Fa waterfall are worth a visit. Another highlight is the royal palace complex, the Bhubing Palace and the Hmong Village, a Hill Tribe Village to which we will come later.
Wat Phra Singh
Another highlight of Chiang Mai is the beautiful Wat Phra Singh temple. This royal first-class temple is one of the most beautiful temples in Chiang Mai and is located right inside the old town. Visitors are amazed by the big golden chedi and the many colorful ornaments. Also for locals, this temple complex is a very important place and so you have to expect on this beautiful sight always with many visitors. An absolute must-see in the old town!
Wat Chedi Luang
Located in the old town Chiang Mai, Wat Chedi Luang is one of the city’s main attractions. This approximately 600-year-old temple is until today the tallest structure in the old town. Its pyramidal architecture makes it visible from afar. Formerly this temple complex was home to the Emerald Buddha, the national shrine of Thailand, which is now exhibited in Bangkok. But also the other temple buildings around the Wat Chedi Luang are impressive.
Here you will discover, for example, a beautiful reclining Buddha, and as a highlight you can talk to the monks of Wat Chedi Luang at the “Monk Chat” and learn more about Buddhism. Visiting the Wat Chedi Luang and enjoying the awesome atmosphere is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Night Markets Chiang Mai
The Chiang Mai Night Market, also known as Chiang Mai Night Bazar, is definitely one of the best attractions in the city. On this huge market you can shop until you drop and taste the delicious Thai cuisine. This attraction is located outside the city walls at Changklang Road and takes place every evening from 18:00. Another must visit of Chiang Mai is Walking Street. This night market takes place every Saturday night, starting at 5:00 pm at Wualei Road (near the Silver Temple) and is one of the best shopping markets in Chiang Mai.
Tip: Curious about what to eat in Chiang Mai? Check out this ultimate Chiang Mai Food Guide!
Enjoy the Cafe scene
Coffee lovers beware – Chiang Mai offers a genuinely ingenious cafe scene. Over the time a variety of chic and hip coffee houses have been settled. Perfect if you want to relax and strengthen yourself during an exciting day of sightseeing. A real insider tip for Chiang Mai is the Old House Cafe, which serves amazing coffees, a variety of delicious shakes and a heavenly Penang curry. Enjoying the café scene in Chiang Mai is one of the absolute best things to do: The coffee here tastes amazing and should not be missed on any trip!
The Hmong Village is located in the already mentioned Doi Suthep National Park and is one of the most beautiful mountain villages in the region. This Hill tribe village is picturesquely embedded in a deep green jungle landscape in the middle of the mountains. It is a popular destination for tours from Chiang Mai and a visit is a unique thing to do in Chiang Mai. The special feature of this village are the magnificently blooming flower gardens, which amaze both locals and tourists. If you like, you can rent yourself a traditional Thai costume and be photographed in the rustic mountain village scenery. A truly awesome view of the Hmong Village and the deep jungle can be had from Doi Pui View Point!
A popular activity and one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is a visit to an elephant sanctuary. These institutions are dedicated to the well of former work elephant and offer the pachyderms protection, love and food. Visitors have the unique opportunity to study the animals, to observe, to feed and even to bathe with the elephants. The Lanna Kingdom Sanctuary and the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary have built a fantastic reputation among ethnic Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai. Both are around 1 hour from the city center and offer an unforgettable experience for children and adults.
The Silver Temple, also known as Wat Sri Suphan, is another highlight in Chiang Mai that should not be missed. This attraction is located 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 unfortunately only accessible to men.
Visit a Museum
For those who are interested in culture, there is a number of interesting museums in Chiang Mai. Recommended is the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center, a museum where you can learn about the history and development of Chiang Mai. Really cool and a unique travel tip is also the Art in Paradise, a 3D art museum, where you can take really amazing pictures. On GetyourGuide you will find cheaper tickets!
One of the unique things to do in Chiang Mai is a trip to the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls. This natural jewel is not only beautiful to look at, during a visit you also have the opportunity to swim in the waterfall and climb the rushing waterfalls up and down. Thanks to its “sticky” surface, you will move like Spider Man, which is a lot of fun. Almost only local people know about this unusual attraction near Chiang Mai, so you can enjoy this unique during the week and in the morning just by yourself. So pack your bathing suit and head to the Sticky Waterfall.
Tip: Excursions to the Waterfall can be found at this link.
White Temple in Chiang Mai
Beautiful and an insider tip among the best things to do in Chiang Mai is a visit to the White Temple. 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 tall Buddha statue in the temple hall.
Tip: Regularly there is the possibility to participate in the Monk Chat in this temple. Meditation courses are also offered.
Doi Inthanon National Park
The beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park is an absolute highlight in northern Thailand and a visit is definitely one of the ultimate best things to do around Chiang Mai. This park is home to Thailand’s highest mountain, the Doi Inthanon Mountain, beautiful jungles, giant waterfalls, a magnificent temple complex, lush green rice terraces, and still intact nature. If you are looking for a jungle tour near Chiang Mai, then you should definitely visit this national park. Trips to Doi Inthanon, which is about 100 kilometers away, are usually offered in form of day trips.
Tip: If you have time, then you should plan one or two nights to explore the national park. A really great experience is to stay at Nok Chan Mee Na, wonderful bungalows right in the rice fields near Chom Thong.
Mae Ya Waterfall
The Mae Ya Waterfall is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Northern Thailand and so one of Chiang Mai’s most beautiful things to visit. It is a bit off the usual tourist routes, on the edge of the Doi Inthanon National Park. In the morning you can admire this nature attraction all by yourself. From 30 levels, the Mae Ya Waterfall plunges over 250 meters into the depth, making it one of the largest waterfalls in Thailand. If you feel like you can take a refreshing dip in the river, or just enjoying the wonderful ambience in nature. Mae Ya Waterfall is reached by a short and easy 20-minute hike from the parking.
A visit to Wat Umong is one of the insider tips for Chiang Mai. Located in the jungle, this tunnel temple is often known as the temple of the forest. Unique here is the tunnel system, which is located under a 700-year-old chedi. In the niches of the Wat Umong Tunnel Temple, Buddha statues of every size and shape can be found in almost every corner. Beautiful are also the “talking trees” – where wise quotes are written. A unique attraction in Chaing Mai, if you want to move away from the usual tourist flows.
Royal Park Rajapruek
Another highly recommended attraction in Chiang Mai is Royal Park Rajapruek, 9 km from the Old Town. This huge botanical garden enchants with beautiful flowers and plants from all over the world. During a visit, you will walk through the most diverse countries of the world, marvel at the tulips in Holland and the palm trees from Morocco. In the middle of the complex is also a beautiful temple building, the Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion. A special highlight is the Orchid Pavilion, where you can visit the most incredible orchid plants.
Tip: The excursion to the Royal Park Rajapruek is best to connect with a visit to the Wat Phra That Doi Kham temple. This temple complex is really worth visiting and the views over the area around Chiang Mai are fantastic.
Wat Phra That Doi Kham Temple
Wat Phra That Doi Kham Temple is one of the most lovely places to visit in Chiang Mai. Also known as the Temple of the Golden Mountain, this sacred place is located on a hill with a magnificent view of the green landscape. Beautiful and really worth seeing here are on top of that the countless different shrines, the big Buddha and the temple buildings, in which 1,300 years old history mixes with modernity.
Although the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai is not nearly as big as the original, but nevertheless, the landscape here is also really awesome. Years ago, this place was a quarry, nowadays the Grand Canyon Water Park is one of the coolest attractions in Chiang Mai. This huge water playground offers a lot of fun for kids, families and adventurous. There are high jump rocks, water courses, slides, beach bars, a Zipline and swimming possibilities.
Tip: There are 2 different providers in the park. If you want to the exciting water activities, then we can recommend the park entrance 2.
The rice fields in Chiang Mai
Spending the night in the rice fields of Chiang Mai is a really unique thing to do. Rice cultivation has a long tradition in Thailand and is still partly done by hand and with the help of water buffaloes. The rice fields of Chiang Mai are especially worth seeing when they are green and lush. For a very special vacation experience, you can treat yourself to a few nights in a resort in the middle of these dreamlike rice terraces. The hotels are located a little outside the city, in the rural areas around Chiang Mai and offer a lot of peace and relaxation in the midst of nature.
Tip: Really recommendable is the Four Seasons Resort only 17 kilometers away from the old town, where an absolute dream scenery in the midst of rice fields and nature inspires. Less expensive but still great is the Country Retreat, a pretty complex in the middle of rice fields and banana trees.
Day Trip to the White Temple in Chiang Rai
If you’re in the north of Thailand, then you should definitely put the White Temple in Chiang Rai on your travel list. This beautiful white glowing temple is one of the most important sights of the north. It is located in Chiang Rai, about 190 kilometers from Chiang Mai. Despite the distance, day tours from Chiang Mai to the White Temple are possible. But if you have time, then you should take a closer look at Chiang Rai and its wonderful surroundings around the Golden Triangle.
Getting to Chiang Mai
The easiest way to get to Chiang Mai is for sure by plane from Bangkok. Cheap domestic flights can be found 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 really nice experience is do travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai by Train. The trip is really impressive, and you have the option to include stops in Ayutthaya, the monkey city of Lopburi and Sukhothai.
Tip: The various transfer options to Chiang Mai including departure times can be easily and conveniently booked online at 12go.asia.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
No matter what budget, whether backpackers or luxury travelers, in this city everyone will find their perfect place to stay. Here we have put together our top accommodation recommendations for an unforgettable trip to Chiang Mai:
- Hostel: The Entaneer Poshtel is one of the coolest and best backpacker hostels in the city. Top Cleanliness, best breakfast, amazing atmosphere – everything is just right here!
- Board: The Inn Oon ChiangMai Home lives the motto – “Home – Not Hotel” – it feels like home, only with a better breakfast. Here a little oasis of peace and contemplation was created!
- Boutique Hotel: The 99 The Heritage Hotel is a really chic little 4-star boutique hotel in the heart of the city. It inspires with a very delicious breakfast and a pool.
- 5-star hotel: Hotel The Inside House is one of the absolute top hotels in the old city of Chiang Mai. Beautiful rooms with outdoor bath and partly private pool. Perfect hotel for a very special holiday in Chiang Mai.
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