Located in Northern Thailand, the city of Chiang Mai offers a different and spectacular vibe to those looking to discover Thailand beyond its beaches (though don’t miss those either!). From ziplining through the jungle to ogling a pure white temple to finding the best restaurant for a big plate of pad thai, there are so many things to do in Chiang Mai and attractions to see you won’t miss the sandy beaches at all.
The Best Attractions & Top Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
1. ✦ Get a Massage by a Prison Inmate
The Women’s Correctional Institution that’s located in Chiang Mai, is the type of a prison that teaches its inmates a variety of vocational skills, from massage to customer service, in order to increase their chances of acquiring a job upon release. Across the street from the prison lies the vocational training center, where you can go and get yourself a massage by an inmate in training. Their massages generally receive good reviews (my foot massage there was top notch!) and whatever tips you give, on top of the 180 baht price of massage, will go towards the savings the inmate will have once done serving their sentence.
FYI: There’s also a little cafe on premise with tasty drinks and an outdoor patio.
2. ✧ See a Muay Thai Boxing Match
Since Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport, so checking a boxing match off your bucket list is one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai. It is known as one of the hardest of the martial arts—be prepared to be wowed! Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium arranges matches any day of the week except Sundays, in a more professional setting, with around 6 matches a day. If you’re more interested in seeing a match in less serious and more fun setting, then Thapae Boxing Stadium also offers 6 matches a day, from 9pm until midnight, every day of the week besides Sunday. You can pre-purchase tickets online.
3. ✧ Catch a Cabaret Show
Thinking about what to do in Chiang Mai during the evening? Worry about that no more! Cabaret shows in Thailand are on their own level of exciting, truly. Their ladyboys put on a fun and thrilling show, performing routines in extravagant outfits, and putting on fun comedy skits such as impersonating celebrities. There are a few cabaret shows for you to choose from, though the Miracle Cabaret often likened as the best one.
4. ✦ Take a Thai Cooking Class
One of the absolute best things to do in Chiang Mai – and in Thailand in general – is to take a Thai cooking class! From Pad Thai to Red Curry to Som Tum, the foods in Thailand are worth learning how to duplicate on your own. 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, though there are dozens of others. We learned how to make pad thai at Thai Orchid Cookery, which had rave reviews. We weren’t disappointed!
5. ✧ Go Bamboo Rafting in Mae Wang
While you usually tend to hear about whitewater rafting only, bamboo rafting is actually surprising common as well and not unique to Chiang Mai region alone. Thanks to Thailand’s tropical weather, however, it’s one of the top spots to enjoy a day of bamboo rafting, surrounded by gorgeous nature. It’s wildly different from whitewater rafting and will ensure you a day of fun you won’t ever forget! You can book a tour with TakeMeTour.
6. ✦ Eat a Hundred Year Old Egg
A century egg, also know as a thousand or hundred year old egg is an Asian tradition in which an egg is preserved for several weeks or months using a process that combines, clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls. You can typically find them in the food markets around Chiang Mai, I tried mine at Somphet market just off of Moonmuang Road (you can read about my experience here: Eating a preserved century egg at a Thai market). The century egg smelled like ammonia and boasted a moldy green color, though tasted like a warm, old hard-boiled egg. Would you dare to try it?
7. ✧ Visit the Hang Dong Quarry (the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon)
Located around 45 minutes away from the center of Chiang Mai, Hang Dong Quarry just might take your breath away. While not exactly as stunning as the original Grand Canyon National Park, you won’t be left without amazing sights and a fun day by visiting Thailand’s alternative, where you can spend your time cliff jumping, swimming or sunbathing over the water, all while taking in the beautiful nature around you.
8. ✦ Ride in a Tuk Tuk
3-wheeled, motorized tuk tuks are considered somewhat the unofficial symbol of Thailand, making them a great way to travel around Chiang Mai if you don’t want to walk all the time. They’re also an excellent choice for when you want to see Chiang Mai outside of the main city center and you won’t have to put in a lot of effort to find one near the major hotels and tourist spots. The fares typically run from 80 – 120 baht, but don’t forget to negotiate the price before hopping in!
For more information about Chiang Mai transportation read: Traveling by Tuk Tuk & Other Transportation
9. ✧ Get Drenched at the Songkran festival
Held yearly on April 13th, the Songkran Festival is the most famous festival in all of Thailand. The festival is an important family holiday for celebrating Thai New Year. But there’s plenty to explore and enjoy for foreigners as well, as it’s also known to be the world’s largest water fight. Trust me, if you find yourself in Thailand during this festival, there’s no way you won’t get wet! So might as well join in on all the fun!
10. ✧ Chat with a Monk
On the premises of Wat Chedi Luang, you can find several structures that are of huge cultural importance, therefore making it a must see sight in Chiang Mai. What makes Wat Chedi Luang even more special to visit is the opportunity to have an informal chat with a local Buddhist monk – yes, this is actually one of the possible things to do in Chiang Mai! It’s an amazing way to learn about Thai culture, Buddhism and perhaps even about yourself.
Typically, you do not “book” monk chats in advance, you just show up during chat hours. You can get more information at Amazing Thailand.
11. ✧ See the Flowers & Butterflies at Bai Orchid
When you’re not busy getting drenched at the Songkran festival, how about getting soaked in colors and scents at Bai Orchid? It’s a farm where hundreds of butterflies are free to roam around as they wish, with thousands of organically grown orchids offering their beauty to the world. The entrance fee is only 40 baht, so you’ll hardly find it not worth the time to go explore these beautiful flowers and butterflies.
12. ✦ Snack on Insects
Though not on the dinner table in a typical Thai home, eating insects was on my bucket list and you can definitely do it in Chiang Mai. At the famous Sunday Night Market, I found an entire booth dedicated to edible bugs. All sorts of varieties were there; crickets, cicada, mealworms and whirligig beetles. How will you choose?
13. ✧ Let a Lantern go at The Loi Krathong Festival
Typically taking place sometime in November, wherever the full moon of the 12th Thai month lands that year, and it’s truly a beautiful and magical festival to get to witness with your own eyes. In Chiang Mai, the festival lasts for 3 days, coinciding with Yi Peng, which is a lantern festival. During this time in other regions, it is custom to send floating lanterns along the rivers and streams. In Chiang Mai, however, you’ll get to see, in amazing abundance, flying lanterns instead!
14. ✦ Drink Thai Iced Tea
Ready to let your taste buds go on an adventure? Thai tea is made of strongly brewed Ceylon tea, sweetener and then topped with condensed milk (or half and half), and while possible to get hot as well, it’s at its tastiest when it’s cold. Also known as Cha Ye, you probably won’t have any trouble finding Thai iced tea in any café and restaurant you choose to visit! If you want to try it prior to your trip, buy some traditional Thai tea mix for home.
15. ✧ Soak in the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs
These hot springs are totally natural and totally boiling, and you only need a few minutes soaking in one for all the stress in your body to fly away. To add a bit more excitement to your day, were you to be craving for it, buy an egg from a stand and boil it in the spring! If a fun and unique day where you don’t have to put in a lot of effort is what you’re after, then the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs are just the place to be.
16. ✦ Indulge in Sticky Rice With Mango
When I first heard that sticky rice with mango (Khao Niaow Ma Muang) was a popular dessert in Thailand, I thought where’s the chocolate? But, after tasting this classic made with Thai sweet rice I forgot all about its lack of cocoa.
Your can make your own sticky rice with mango at home with this recipe from Epicurious.
17. ✦ Get a Thai Massage in Thailand
While it’s possible to enjoy a Thai massage in every corner of the world today, getting a Thai massage in Thailand is an absolute must (it’s like having to drink champagne in Champagne, France!). There are countless of shops to choose from, and the price can be as low as $6 (200 baht) for an hour, so you may want to even make room for a massage every day on your trip. Getting your massage experience with one of the women inmates, as I’ve mentioned above, is one excellent choice, or if you’re looking for a truly upscale one (with elevated cost, of course) then you’ll want to look into reserving a massage at Orn Healing Hands. I had mine at the hoity toity Fah Lanna Spa where a one hour Thai massage cost me 400 baht ($12.00 USD)—expensive by Thai standards, but worth every penny.
18. ✦ Eat Khao Soi
Khao Soi is a must-eat while in Chiang Mai, where its home region in northern Thailand is. It resembles a soup, with its main ingredients being egg noodles, curry, coconut milk, and there’s often meat in there as well. You’ll find delicious Khao Soi basically anywhere in Chiang Mai, but perhaps you’ll get the tastiest experience if you go to Khao Soi Khun Yai, Khao Soi Islam or Khao Soi Wulai, all of which serve the dish during lunchtime.
19. ✧ Climb Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
You read the word ‘sticky’ and might get confused over how a waterfall could be like that, let alone possible to climb, right? At these waterfalls, there’s a mineral deposit that give the rocks a different feel from what you might be accustomed to, giving them a surface that’s possible to climb without it being so slippery you’d fall right off. As far as unique activities in Chiang Mai go, this one’s pretty high up on the list, and it’s absolutely unmissable for anyone wanting to make the best out of Chiang Mai. Especially when you factor in the unique beauty of these waterfalls.
There are lots of tours that will take you to the Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls, though most are combo tours that make other attraction stops too. Here are a couple highly rated ones:
20. ✦ Hail a Songthaew
Songthaews are shared taxis or buses built into a pick-up or a similar truck, used all around Thailand and Laos. In Chiang Mai they operate as a shared taxi, taking in passengers traveling to the same direction or location. It’s a unique transportation method and a piece of Thai culture. They took a bit more understanding to master than the tuk tuk. You will see dozens of them throughout the city of Chiang Mai and they basically have no scheduled routes. You wave one down, tell them where you are going and they either nod their head indicating to get in or shake it to non-verbally say that you are out of luck.
There is standard charge for each songthaew. ride, so ask your hotel what is before you hop in. If you ask the driver how much they charge it is a sure sign of a tourist, then they will most likely quote you double. Don’t ask.
21. ✧ Cruise the Mae Ping River
For a different kind of thrilling fun on a river, you may wish to try cruising along the Mae Ping River. You’ll get to enjoy relaxing time outside of the busyness of the city, taking in views like teak houses and countryside’s natural views. The cruise finishes off with an opportunity to enjoy some local fresh juices and fruits, among other things. Viator offers lots of cruise options!
22. ✦ Have a Responsible Elephant Experience
If there’s one thing you absolutely cannot miss out on while in Chiang Mai, it would be visiting an elephant sanctuary. It’s an amazing way to interact with these noble animals, ensuring the interaction is also happy and safe for them. There are a handful of ethical elephant parks in or near Chiang Mai and five of the top ones are: Elephant Nature Park, Patara Elephant Farm, Happy Elephant Home, Into the Wild Elephant Camp and Chiangmai Elephant Land; I have written about them on the blog previously, and you might be interested in reading it through to decide which of these parks would be best fit for you, in case you can’t visit them all: Thailand Elephant Sanctuary: 5 of the Best Rescues in or Near Chiang Mai
23. ✧ Have a Cup of Coffee with Cats (at Catmosphere Cat Café)
The best cafes always come equipped with cats, and such is the case with Catmosphere Cat Café. For every drink bought, you get 1,5 hours with the furry fellows, with no additional cover fee charged. You’re allowed to take a gazillion pictures of them, and also play and cuddle to the extent each cat loves to. Visit in the morning or dinner time to see cats at their most active, or in the early afternoon if you’re looking to chill with napping kitties.
24. ✦ Have a Meal at a Wat
On the grounds of Wat Suan Dok you can indulge in a delicious meal at Pun Pun. This organic restaurant is a project aimed at supporting local organic farmers and farmer networks. Using the freshest ingredients you will find everything from a mixed vegetable salad to deep fried shitake mushrooms.
25. ✧ Explore Doi Inthanon National Park
An amazing day trip or weekend getaway option from Chiang Mai, Doi Inthanon National Park offers intriguing wildlife and nature to explore. Although it no longer homes the likes of elephants and tigers, you can instead find more than 500 different bird species in the park. Doi Inthanon National Park is a part of the Himalayan Mountain Range, its weather cold all around the year, and its highest peak the highest in all of Thailand, boasting incredible views from the top.
26. ✦ See a Pure White Temple
Thailand is a country where you can easily stumble across unique and gorgeous temples, especially in the Chiang Mai region. There’s one on almost every block! But, there’s only one that’s deck out entirely white! The White Temple in Chiang Rai, Wat Rong Khun, is an unconventional Buddhist Temple located about 2 1/2 hours north of Chiang Mai. And it is a vision of pure white. Go figure.
The easiest way to get to the White Temple is to book a tour that leaves from Chiang Mai and here are three top-rated ones:
27. ✧ Go Ziplining Through the Trees
I’m having a hard time coming up with a better place to go ziplining in than the jungle of Chiang Mai. And you’re in luck knowing there’s several companies to choose from! With Skyline Adventure, you get to zipline through a course as long as 900 meters. Eagle Track is especially great if you’re traveling with children or happen to be scared of heights but would like to give ziplining a try. Meanwhile, with Jungle Flight you can not only enjoy a zipline track of full 1000 meters in length but you get to try out a zipline rollercoaster on top of it!
28. ✦ Tour an Umbrella Factory
Running under the name Bor Sang Handicraft Village, they’re known for their gorgeous umbrellas handmade from paper. You’ll find both large parasols and tiny cocktail umbrellas here! Besides shopping and gawking at the beautiful creations, it’s also possible to visit the umbrella factory and see for yourself how those umbrellas are being made from start to finish.
The handicraft village is about 8 km southeast of Chiang Mai, and you shouldn’t plan on spending too much time there. There are some tours that will pick you up at your hotel, but they tend to be long and boring. It’s easiest to just get a Grab (like Uber) to take you there.
29. ✧ Temple Hop
There are plenty of temples to visit in Chiang Mai, many of which are located in the Old City, within close distance to one another. Start or finish your tour with Wat Phra Singh, as it’s the biggest and possibly also the most beautiful of them all. Wat Chedi Luang is another unmissable Buddhist temple one, that is centrally located inside the Chiang Mai city walls. It is worthy of your bucket list to explore its large viharn (sermon hall), naga dragons at it’s doorstep and the ruined brick chedi that sits behind the grand assembly hall. Meanwhile, Wat Chiang Man is the oldest of the temples. These and at least one more temple can be found within the vicinity of the Old City borders. Outside of Old City, the most notable and holy temple in Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep.
FYI: The Chiang Mai Temple & Culture Tour will take you to three temples!
30. ✦ Go to an Insect Museum
Are you a fan of bugs? The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders filled from top to bottom with every insect you could imagine! For more fun, see the Edible Bug Bucket List.
. . .
Although fairly different from the bustling of Bangkok or the sunny beaches of Southern Thailand, Chiang Mai has its own unique charms and can offer a trip you maybe couldn’t even have imagined getting in Thailand. If you’re ready to let Chiang Mai charm you off your feet, let’s start checking these best Chiang Mai things to do off your travel bucket list!
Essential Tips for Visiting Chiang Mai
Getting There: Chiang Mai International Airport is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, taxis, songthaew (red taxis) and tuk-tuks are available. Most hotels will also arrange shuttle services for pick-up and drop-off.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. 18 in Town Homestay (moderate) and Aksara Heritage (moderate) are right in the city center and are reasonably priced with great reviews. For something on the less expensive side (but, still nice!), try the The Eight Ratvithi House (budget) or Rimwiang (budget) located in Chang Moi. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Smile Lanna Hotel (luxury) or Phra Singh Village (luxury). Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to Airbnb that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: There are many ways to get around in Chiang Mai. The best way to explore the Old City is on foot. Tuk tuks are also a great way to experience Chiang Mai, just be sure to agree on a price before getting on. Songteaws (red taxis) are also available all over the city. For more information read: Traveling by Tuk Tuk & Other Transportation. If you decide to rent a car, RentalCars.com has some great deals.
Best Tours in Chiang Mai: You can find some of the top tours at Get Your Guide or Viator, and here are some of the top ones:
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
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More About Chiang Mai
Thailand’s Wat Rong Khun: The White Temple in Chiang Rai
Thailand Elephant Sanctuary: 5 of the Best Rescues in or Near Chiang Mai
Volunteer with Elephants at a Rescue in Thailand
Wat Chedi Luang: A Thai Temple in Chiang Mai’s City Center
Traveling by Tuk Tuk in Chiang Mai & Other Transporation
Learn to Make Handicraft Umbrellas in Chiang Mai
Get a Thai Massage in Thailand