Chiang Mai is our favorite city in Thailand because it’s a bit smaller than Bangkok and the vibe is more laid back. We stayed for about 2 weeks while taking a quick 10-day break by riding the Mae Hong Son Loop. That’s why we’ve collected our favorite 10 things to do in Chiang Mai.
If you are looking to visit some temples, want to try out the local food, or are looking for more adventure, this city has it all. The old city is the heart of Chiang Mai and it’s the best place to stay. There are a lot of accommodations to choose from, it all depends on the vibe you are looking for.
Chiang Mai is easily accessible by train, bus, or airplane. The distances in the old town are not that bad, you could walk everywhere. Or rent a scooter if you’re a bit outside of the city center. Just make sure you have your international driver’s permit.
1. Monk Chat
Chiang Mai is one of the few places in Thailand where you have a chance to talk to a Buddhist monk in one of the temples. At certain times monks are available to ask all sorts of questions. It’s a chance for the monks to practice their English and share their wisdom.
We went to Monk Chat at Wat Chedi Luang and talked to the monk for about an hour. He answered our questions as best as he could. The time that is reserved for this makes it a bit easier to approach a monk and not feel obligated to make it quick.
During our chat, we not only learned about Buddhism but also about how to become a monk in Thailand. We talked about the differences between Thailand and the Netherlands and we felt that even though the monks have chosen a different lifestyle, they know what’s going on in the world.
2. Cooking Class
After our first Thai meal, we were sold and tried as many different dishes as possible. Our hostel in Chiang Mai had a flyer on the bulletin board for a cooking class and we signed up. Early in the morning, we were picked up to spend a day in the kitchen.
First, we headed to the garden and the market to learn about typical Thai ingredients we would use that day. After that we got to pick the dishes we wanted to learn to cook. The best part about this is the fact that you get to enjoy a nice meal with like-minded people.
The most intensive part of the cooking class was making our own curry, which we did as a group. Next, our instructor asked us how sexy we were, aka how spicy we would like our food. Some decided to go all in, but we kept it down to a little sexy.
One of the best feelings in the world is flying through the jungle. We found Eagle Track Zipline through our hostel and decided to go for the Gold package. This meant that we got to try all sorts of zipline adventures.
We were picked up early in the morning and lunch was included in the Gold package as well. First, we got a safety briefing and were fitted with a helmet and all the other materials. After that, we just went with our guides through the jungle.
If you’re looking for a little adrenaline you won’t be disappointed. Some ziplines were quite easy but a couple made our stomachs drop. In the end, it was all worth it. Don’t forget to bring your action cam so you’re able to relive your adventure!
4. Mae Hong Son Loop
Technically the Mae Hong Son Loop isn’t in Chiang Mai, it just starts and ends here. But Chiang Mai is a great place to arrange your vehicle and find a place to leave your big luggage for about 10 days. The loop will take you to the Northern part of Thailand which is beautiful and worth a visit.
If you don’t have time to do the whole loop see if you could just visit Mae Hong Son or Pai, depending on what you’re looking for. Pai is busier and more touristy whereas Mae Hong Son is very laidback and more rural.
We drove the Mae Hong Son Loop in 10 days which was perfect because we had a chance to stop wherever we wanted. In the towns where we stayed for the night, we found a couple of hikes too. All in all, this is an adventure you won’t forget!
5. Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is a Buddhist temple in the historic center of Chiang Mai. This is one of the places to join Monk Chat. The temple complex is pretty big and there are several temples you can visit. Not all of them are accessible to women.
Right in the center of this complex, you’ll find a big Chedi or pagoda. It used to be bigger than it is today because an earthquake caused the top to fall off. So now it’s 60 meters shorter than it used to be. It looks like the temples we saw in Ayutthaya.
On the sides, you will find images of elephants, and high stairs to the top. These stairs are closed to visitors. We walk around it and see statues of Buddha in the niches at the top. The architecture remains great of these buildings. So simple, yet so complex.
6. Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man is the first temple that was built in Chiang Mai and therefore the oldest temple. The temple is famous for its Lanna-style chedi supported by rows of elephant-shaped buttresses. In the main hall, you will find a green emerald image of Buddha.
The garden around the complex is a great spot to escape the heat of the sun and sit down in the shade. There are a lot of smaller temples on the grounds of Wat Chiang Man, each with its own function. Wander around and explore all of them. Just remember to take your shoes off before entering.
7. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
This temple is situated right outside Chiang Mai. It’s a popular place to visit and if you don’t get there in time, you might not want to go inside. We rented a scooter to drive up to the temple and this was the best part of our day.
Once we got to the temple it was just too busy to enjoy anything. There are a lot of small shops and restaurants before you get to the temple. But if you go early and avoid the crowds it’s worth going to this temple.
Because it’s situated on a hill you have an amazing view over Chiang Mai. The temple itself is beautifully decorated, just keep in mind that you have to walk a lot of stairs.
8. Sunday Walking Street Markets
It’s a good thing that this market is only hosted on Sundays. Otherwise, we would have gained a few pounds. Around 4 pm the streets are closed down and the vendors set up their stalls. You will find a lot of food options and all sorts of souvenirs.
The best plan is to just start walking and keep your eyes open. If you see something you like you better grab it right away because the street market is quite long. We loved the vibe of the street market and it’s a great spot to buy cheap Thai food.
If you want to skip the crowds, go early. This will give you a chance to walk around more freely and take a look at products, food, and everything else they offer. If you see something you like, try to haggle for a better price!
9. Night Bazar
Located in the center of town, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is not to be missed. Travelers can take in rows and rows of handicrafts, from purses to sparkling jewelry. It is located at Changklan Road, on the east side of the old city (about 10 minutes walking distance from Tha Pae Gate). It’s open every day from 5 pm to 11 pm.
You need some time to walk through the entire night bazaar because it’s stretched out. You’ll find food, souvenirs, and all kinds of nicknacks. It’s usually a bit easier to walk around if you go during the week. We liked the vibe of the Sunday market more, but it was fun to find some food here and sit down and watch people.
10. Doi Inthanon National Park
On our first day of the Mae Hong Son Loop, we stopped at Doi Inthanon National Park. It’s close to Chiang Mai, so you could do a day trip. If you rent a scooter it will take you about 1.5 hours. The drive is worth the trip by itself.
In Doi Inthanon National Park you’ll find the highest spot in Thailand. Local people are walking around in sweaters or winter jackets and come here to experience cold weather. There are a couple of hiking trails, but some are organized and not open to solo adventurers.
If you drove up with a scooter you can just follow the road and stop at a couple of viewpoints. We had to check out the highest point in Thailand which is worth a visit.
Share your favorite things to do in Chiang Mai
That concludes our 10 things to do in Chiang Mai. There is so much more to do in this city, so please share your favorite things to do in the comments below. Stay at least a day or 5 in this city to get a good feel of what’s happening and don’t rush yourself.
Keep in mind that it can be quite hot in Chiang Mai so plan accordingly. It’s best to start early, stay inside during the hot part of the day, and go back out at night. Bring plenty of water when you’re exploring to stay hydrated. Other than that all you need to do is enjoy yourself and all that Chiang Mai has to offer.
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