We traveled to Chiang Mai 5 times and used the city as a base for our nomadic life. This last season in Thailand, we realized that as much as we love the city, we didn’t visit all the attractions in Chiang Mai, and it was time to hurry up, visit all the cool places in town, and write a practical guide about what to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
With a few days left before our departure, we went for our first staycation, exploring things to do in Chiang Mai that are unique, and awesome, and that we were going to miss.
We have already visited some of the Chiang Mai tourist attractions, we also have been in the mountains of Doi Inthanon exploring coffee plantations and spotting waterfalls.
So this staycation was planned to be a mix of top things to do in Chiang Mai plus our favorite spots.
This Chiang Mai itinerary includes yummy food, culture, nature, and relaxation, perfect for anyone that has already visited the city or is planning a trip to Chiang Mai for the first time.
Our list of what to do in Chiang Mai and places to visit can fit in a 2 or 3 days trip. If you wake up early you can do a lot, enjoy the attractions in town and then explore the surroundings, it’s all up to you!
But before we start, let me share with you some tips on how to make the most of your time in Chiang Mai while saving money!
Get your Chiang Mai Pass
They are digital passes that give you access to attractions, restaurants, river cruises, workshops, massages and more.
The difference between the day Pass and the Premium is the number of activities, services, and restaurants included. The Chiang Mai Pass has 47 items, while the Chiang Mai Premium Pass has 78.
The Chiang Mai Premium Pass includes unique activities and two options of transportation/sightseeing services that can help you get around easily and see the city in comfort.
With both passes you can save money, as the pass is way cheaper than if you would pay for each activity separately.
What to do in Chiang Mai? Attractions & Temples
Sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The Doi Suthep Temple is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Chiang Mai, everybody goes there and you must visit it too.
But let’s explore one of the best places in Chiang Mai at the best time: before sunrise!
No, I’m not joking, we left our apartment at 5:30 AM and we drove our scooter all the way uphill. If you don’t have a scooter or don’t feel confident to drive, hire a taxi or a Grab.
Climb the dragon stairs, on the top of the staircase turn to your right side and walk until you find the panoramic deck, sit and wait for the spectacle.
Go visit the temple after sunrise. Doi Suthep is stunning, with beautiful statues, and unique decorations.
There are few people there early morning, so you can enjoy the place and watch the monks doing their morning duties.
Because is too early, the ticket desk will be closed, it’s not a problem, go inside and when you leave the temple stop by the entrance and pay for your ticket.
Temple hopping at Chiang Mai Old Town
Chiang Mai has more than 300 Buddhist temples and most of them are stunning. You can’t visit all the temples, but you must visit the best ones. Among all the suggestions of what to do in Chiang Mai, here are the most beautiful and historical temples you should visit:
- Wat Chiang Man: it’s the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, and it houses the Crystal Buddha that is considered one of the greatest treasures in Thailand
- Wat Phra Singh: in the heart of the old town this is one of the most visited attractions in Chiang Mai.
- Wat Chedi Luang: this temple dates back to 1391 and for years it was the highest building in the Lanna Kingdom. After an earthquake, part of the construction fell and the Emerald Buddha that was kept there was transferred to Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
- Wat Pan Tao: this temple is all made of wood, an outstanding carving work.
- Wat Buppharam: this temple is located outside Chiang Mai’s old town, a few meters from the Tha Phae Gate. Due to the Burmese influence, this temple has a unique design.
In some of these temples, you can talk with Monks, learn about Buddhist doctrine and even ask for spiritual advice. Don’t forget to dress respectfully.
- Wat Sri Suphan, our favorite temple in Chiang Mai: this little temple is mind-blowing, it’s so unique and so beautiful that hurts to look at it. Hidden in a small street close to the South Gate of Chiang Mai Old Town, it’s a true gem. Most people call it the Silver Temple, and it’s easy to understand why. The Wat Sri Suphan is all covered in a shiny coat made of silver or aluminum. Everything is handmade and designed by local artisans.
Insiders Tip: if you visit the temple on a Saturday, go there before sunset. The sun hitting the temple is stunning and most of the weekends there are performances in the garden and food stalls.
- Wat Suan Dok, a great surprise: searching for places to visit in Chiang Mai, we found this temple. We followed the map directions, and when we entered the temple we were swept away. The huge golden stupa is impressive but not as extraordinary as the 500 years old bronze Buddha that stands inside the temple, one of the biggest in Thailand.
The temple is located outside the old town, it’s close to the trendy Nimman area. It’s a beautiful temple, but not many tourists go there, which makes it even more special. It’s definitely one of the unique places to visit in Chiang Mai.
And if you have spare time here is a list of stunning temples in Chiang Mai you should visit.
Things to do in Chiang Mai to relax?
I know, you want to visit all the attractions in Chiang Mai and I’m sure your days will be filled with interesting activities, but don’t forget to relax it is a must in Chiang Mai!
What to do in Chiang Mai to unwind your body and lift your soul? We will give you three suggestions: massage, cats and nature.
Have a good massage
Chiang Mai has massage parlors and spas in almost every corner. Yes, the masseuse is working even on the sidewalks, so if you are tired of walking you can just sit and get a relaxing foot massage in the middle of the street.
But let’s take this relaxing moment to another level. Where to go in Chiang Mai for a good massage? My answer is Lila Thai Massage!
Their mission goes beyond relaxation, all the women working at Lila are former inmates from Chiang Mai Women’s Prison.
They were carefully selected and trained to work in the shop. The idea is to help them to start a new life, get back into society, and build a better future for their families. Going to Lila Thai Massage you do your share to help Chiang Mai to be a better place.
Get your coffee fix in a Cat Cafe
For a puurrrfect time, grab a mug of cappuccino and stay hours playing with cats. There are many cat cafes in Chiang Mai.
Most of the cat cafes offer food and drinks, and as long as you buy a drink you can stay for hours playing with the cats.
Follow the rules and be happy with your new furry friends. If you don’t like cats, sorry, but what is wrong with you??
Huay Tung Tao Reservoir
Located on the foot of Doi Suthep mountain, this freshwater reservoir is the perfect spot to relax and enjoy nature.
The lake is famous among locals, so don’t be surprised if you are the only foreigner swimming or doing a picnic there.
The lake has many huts by the water where you can have lunch and relax. To rent one of them talk with the guys from the restaurant. Or bring your towel and stretch yourself under the trees.
What to do in Chiang Mai at night time?
We have talked about attractions and what to do in Chiang Mai during the daytime, now it’s time to talk about fun!
Looking for things to do in Chiang Mai at night? We got you sorted!
Saturday & Sunday Market
Every day is a market day in Chiang Mai, but the biggest and the most famous street markets in town are the Saturday & Sunday Markets.
The Saturday Market happens on the south gate and stretches for blocks. Food, handicrafts, clothes, souvenirs, you can find everything you want. It’s the perfect place to try the local street food and buy those little presents you need to take home.
Here is a Saturday Market Walking Video you can watch before visiting it.
The Sunday Market is very similar to the one that happens on Saturday, but it is a bit bigger and it takes the central street of the old town, starting at Wat Phra Singh and finishing at the Tha Phae Gate.
If you are looking for local delicious food, check the stalls inside the temples, there you can find some local delicacies.
Watch this cool POV walking video at Chiang Mai Sunday’s Market to have an idea of how big and busy it is.
Both markets start at 5 PM, but they get really busy after sunset. They are a great way to start the evening, go for some food, a foot massage, and later drinks.
Be aware that you are not allowed to drink alcohol while walking through the market, as it is an alcohol-free zone and smoking-free zone. But if you order a beer at the food stall drink while eating, then there is no problem.
Sala Lanna Rooftop Bar
We were searching for a nice bar to watch the sunset and have cocktails and the rooftop bar from Sala Lanna Hotel, and although it’s not a super high building, it definitely has a great view.
The bar is lovely and it’s located on the banks of Ping River.
The place is beautifully decorated and they have some happy hour promotions from 6 to 9 PM. What else can you need? Nice view, open-air bar, and drinks! I’m a happy girl!
Chiang Mai Cabaret Show
What to do in Chiang Mai to keep the party mood on? Go to the Cabaret Show, it’s great!
The girls are beautiful and their performance is really nice. The vibe is friendly and you’re gonna have a good time.
The Chiang Mai Cabaret is located at the Anusarn Night Market, the show is daily at 9:30 PM.
Where to eat in Chiang Mai? From breakfast to dinner!
Chiang Mai is our favorite place to eat in Thailand.
The food here is fresh and delicious, and you can find local recipes and Western restaurants.
Apart from the street food, which you must try, here are our recommendations for restaurants, cafes, and places to eat in Chiang Mai that we really love.
The Larder Cafe – our favorite breakfast & brunch
Everything on their menu is delicious, we have tried almost all the sandwiches and breakfast meals and hands down.
They know how to mix ingredients and create unique flavors. The Larder is a small cafe and opens daily from 8 AM to 3 PM, so you might need to queue for a few minutes, but it’s totally worth it. Plus the staff will greet you with smiles, perfect English, and a glass of water to cool you down.
Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant, Thai food for your body and soul
Asian flavors, organic ingredients and tons of love. Pun Pun Vegetarian Restaurant is located inside the Wat Suan Dok and it’s such a simple restaurant that you might pass by without noticing. But the food they serve is nothing ordinary, the mix of flavors is incredible and all the food comes for local organic farmers.
Our favorites are the pomelo salad with mushrooms and peanut sauce and the curries. It’s a vegetarian restaurant, but even Rob, a meat-eater, loves to have lunch there.
If you want to taste and learn more about Thai food [vegetarian or not] book a cooking class in Chiang Mai, I’m sure you gonna love it.
Salad Concept, when you are in a hurry
You probably noticed that we like healthy food. None of us are vegetarian, just happened that we like good fresh food and you can find amazing options to eat healthily while in Chiang Mai.
Salad Concept is one of the places we often go. They have delicious salads prepared in a blink of an eye. It doesn’t matter in which part of your Chiang Mai itinerary you are, you can easily grab a fresh salad for lunch or dinner as they have two restaurants, one near the Tha Phae Gate and another at Nimman Road.
Different things to do in Chiang Mai
Food, massage, temples… What else can you do in Chiang Mai?
Tons of things, from climbing a sticky waterfall to cliff jumping. So we decided to list 3 more activities, things to do in Chiang Mai that are different and can make your trip memorable.
Get a Tattoo at Modzilla Studio
We like tattoos, and I don’t know why, but every time we arrive in Chiang Mai we need to do a new tattoo.
Last time we had a powerful experience doing a Sak Yant Tattoo, the blessed tattoo made by a monk with a bamboo stick. It was such an intense experience that we wrote an article about our Sak Yant Blessed Tattoo.
However, this time we just want a nice well-designed tattoo, and we did it.
If you feel like putting some ink on your skin to celebrate your travel and your visit to Chiang Mai, the place you should go is the Modzilla Studio.
Mod is experienced and followed all the safety protocols. If you are looking for something different to do in Chiang Mai and you have the guts to face some needles, go for a new tattoo.
Get close to Nature in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai’s nature is unique and there are plenty of activities and places to visit around town. You can book a tour to the sticky Waterfall [Buatong Waterfall] or go there by yourself. Due to the calcium formations on the rocks, you can literally climb the waterfall barefoot.
Maybe some cliff jumping the old Hang Dong Quarry? The place is also called the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai, but it’s not a canyon nor grand, but big enough to have a great time jumping and swimming. Perfect for those super hot days in Thailand.
By now you are probably asking why we didn’t talk about the Elephant Camps and The Tiger Kingdom, as they are some of the most famous attractions in Chiang Mai.
The real deal is that we don’t agree and we don’t recommend those types of activities. And you as a responsible traveler should avoid them too. I know there are a few nice and responsible Elephant Sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, but as we never visited one of them we can’t recommend it.
My advice is: if an activity involves a wild animal that is not free in nature, or not in a natural park being protected, then I don’t want to do it. I won’t lie, I have done tours and activities with wild animals before, but now I know the consequences and I believe is my duty as a blogger to share this with you.
Don’t forget your Travel Insurance! You don’t want anything to ruin your trip, right? So don’t take the risk! Reliable travel insurance can help you in case of travel issues, from accidents to health problems, travel delays, and lost luggage.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Chiang Mai hotel suggestions:
- Phra Singh Village – Super well located in the Old Town, with a swimming pool and mega spacious rooms. Excellent value for money!
- The Inside House – The suites with a bath or a pool on the balcony are FANTASTIC! The hotel has a classic decor, the staff is always smiling and the location is great. A little more expensive but the quality is so worth it.
- Buri Gallery House – A bargain for what you will get. The rooms are super comfortable and the hotel has a very relaxed vibe. Be sure to check out the craft shop with products from all over Thailand.
How to get around Chiang Mai
To get around Chiang Mai is easy, you can rent a scooter explore everything at your own pace. There are shops renting scooters almost everywhere in the old town.
You can also you can use the songthaew [the red buses] or the traditional tuk-tuk. Even with the language barrier most of the drivers are nice and they know all Chiang Mai attractions.
For taxis, use Grab App, it works pefectly for rides and food delivery.
If you need some info about living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad, check the interview we did with some travelers to find out why Chiang Mai is the favorite place for nomads.
And if Chiang Mai is only part of your adventure across Southeast Asia then read our inspiring stories and guides to Thailand.
Our list of what to see in Chiang Mai finishes here, I hope you like our suggestions. And I’m really excited for you to try some of our favorite spots in town.
Before leaving, let me tell you that we used Trip.com app to plan our staycation in Chiang Mai.
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