20 BEST ACTIVITIES IN CHIANGMAI
20 BEST ACTIVITIES IN CHIANGMAI
LEARN MORE ABOUT 20 BEST ACTIVITIES IN CHIANGMAI AND EXPLORE WHAT THINGS AND ACTIVITIES THAT YOU HAVE TO DO IN YOUR VISIT
20 BEST ACTIVITIES IN CHIANGMAI
Welcome to Northern Thailand’s heart, a region that has captured my heart time and time again. The city of Chiang Mai is tucked away in the lush jungle of the North and provides guests with a wide range of activities and scenery just outside their door. The ideal setting for learning about so many facets of Thai culture and lifestyle. And I can assure you that Chiang Mai will not only live up to but also beyond any traveler’s hopes and expectations, regardless of whether you’re an adventurer, nature lover, cultural enthusiast, foodie, or just searching for a special trip. There is truly something for everyone, from adventurous activities like temple visiting, elephant bathing, and jungle trekking to more relaxing ones like river cruises, cooking courses, and monk gatherings.
Also, depending what time of year you visit, there will be different national holidays to enjoy; from the massive Songkran (Thai New Year) water fight in April, to the Yi Peng lantern festival in November. Thailand really do know how to celebrate, and what a magnificent experience it makes for us visitors.
So I’m here to recommend the best sights and activities for you to make the most of your visit, and I’ll be including some of my personal highlights and favourite experiences from all of my travels across the globe. Pack your bags and embrace the spirit of adventure on an unforgettable journey through this incredibly beautiful and captivating part of the world.
1- JOURNEY THROUGH TIME AT THE OLD CITY AND ITS TEMPLES
First off, a visit to the Old City.
Surrounded by a well-preserved wall and moat, the square-mile area is full of temples, street art, and street food, offering a vivid blend of the past and present in one area.
Walk through ancient alleys and take some time to get a feel for this city and its authentic Thai lifestyle.
The aromas of street food will tempt you, from Pad Thai (my favourite!) to sweet mango sticky rice.
Grab a bite and just wander around taking in the sights, smells and sounds of this historic area.
Then head by foot, tuktuk or songthaew (Thailands truck-taxis) to see some of the temples.
The Old City has many to offer, but I highly recommend these three at least, for a well varied mix of temple viewing:
- Wat Phra Singh: Giant, glimmering and golden! Perhaps one of the most visually impressive temples in Chiang Mai at 2 Samlarn Rd, Phra Sing, Mueang Chiang Mai District 50280.
- Wat Chedi Luang: At 80 meters (262 feet) tall, this simpler brick and stone temple is the highest point in the Old City, and dates back to 1385 at 103 Prapokkloa Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District 50200.
- Wat Sri Suphan: A slightly newer and shiny-silver temple, which houses a silver-working school and has neon lights atop its stupas which can be seen glowing at night at Wua Lai Rd, Tambon Hai Ya, Mueang Chiang Mai District 50100.
2- VISIT THE NATIONAL MUSEUM
If you’re a history lover or just curious about the local culture, you’ve got to check out the National Museum.
not too far from the Old City, it’s packed with fascinating artifacts, textiles, and incredible stories that will teach you all about the ancient Lanna Kingdom.
The building alone is magnificent in itself, designed in traditional Lanna architectural style.
Getting there is simple; you can head on foot if you fancy taking in more sights along the way, or just grab a tuktuk and you’ll be there in no time.
Opening times are seasonal so double check before you head there, but the admission prices are very reasonable and well worth it for a couple of hours learning about the areas history.
You can find the museum at 451, Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District 50300.
Another museum you may find interesting is the Art in Paradise Illusion Museum.
3- CLIMB DOI SUTHEP FOR THE VIEWS & TEMPLE
I couldn’t talk about temples without mentioning the magnificent Wat Doi Suthep.
This temple sits upon Doi Suthep mountain and, although it’s up quite the incline, it’s the most visited temple in Chiang Mai.
If you’re keen for a hike that combines natural beauty and spirituality, then I highly recommend a visit.
The temple sits 1050 meters (3445 feet) atop the mountain, so the views are truly incredible.
Take a taxi from Chiang Mai centre up the winding mountain road to the entrance (this is an adventure in itself!) and climb the 300 or so steps to the top.
Then catch your breath and take in the views of the impressive temple shimmering against the beautiful backdrop of Chiang Mai’s landscape.
Whether you’re an early riser or a sunset chaser, this hike is perfect for any time of day.
Don’t forget to take your camera as I promise you, you’ll want it!
Any taxi driver will know how to get you there, but the address location is: Suthep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, 50200.
4- ENCOUNTER GENTLE GIANTS AT AN ELEPHANT SANCTUARY
If you’re an animal lover like me, have I got the recommendation for you!
A stone’s throw away from the city centre are ethical elephant sanctuaries where you can get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures.
There are no rides or tricks here, as these sanctuaries are all about the elephants’ well-being.
There are a few of these sanctuaries to choose from, and they all rescue elephants from harsh working conditions and logging trades, giving them a home where they can heal, roam, and simply live freely.
Learn about their stories, prepare their meals, and even bathe them in a river! It’s a muddy activity but trust me, you will love it.
This is honestly one of my favourite memories from my travels across Thailand.
It’s a truly soulful and memorable experience, witnessing their second-chance at a peaceful life, and the beautiful relationships they have with their mahouts.
5- EXPERIENCE THE BUSTLING NIGHT BAZAAR
As the sun dips below the horizon and the city cools down, Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar comes to life.
In the heart of the city, this market is a kaleidoscope of colours, sounds and smells.
Wander the labyrinth of stalls, grab an authentic Pad Thai, haggle for handcrafted items, and get your hands on some unique and traditional souvenirs.
It’s not just about the shopping though; the atmosphere here is brilliant.
There are street musicians setting the mood, local artists showcasing their crafts, and stalls full of exotic fruits to try – I highly recommend mangosteen if you see any! And don’t forget to haggle; it’s all part of the game here! It may not be customary wherever you’re from, but it is in Thailand, and I had so much fun bartering respectfully with sellers.
If you can practice your Thai, they’ll be even more impressed and likely to give you a bargain.
6- TAKE A THAI COOKING CLASS
This was a recommended activity for me and I’m so glad I did it.
Whether you’re a budding chef or just a food enthusiast, I highly recommend taking a Thai cooking class.
They’re usually usually half-day experiences, and cover a variety of dishes for you to master.
Pad Thai, Tom Yum, Green Curry, and – my favourite ever dessert – bananas in coconut milk.
Divine! You’ll be guided by experienced chefs and of course you get to enjoy your creations at the end.
Not to mention, most of these classes will send you home with a cookbook that includes all of the dishes you mastered on the day so you can take the taste of Thailand home with you.
7- STEP INTO NATURE AT DOI INTHANON NATIONAL PARK
Get those hiking boots on and grab your camera because a day at Doi Inthanon National Park is an absolute must for nature lovers and outdoor-types.
It’s known as “Thailand’s rooftop,” a vast 482km² (186 miles²) area with the highest peak reaching a whopping 2565 meters (8415 feet).
But don’t worry, there are trails for all abilities from easy strolls to challenging hikes.
It contains remote villages and some spectacular waterfalls and viewpoints.
Make sure not to miss the Twin Pagodas for the most gorgeous panoramic view.
And if you’re up for reaching the summit I highly recommend it as you’ll be literally standing above the clouds.
You can head here yourself by transport out of the city centre, or even take a guided tour as there are plenty to choose from.
8- DISCOVER THE BUZZ OF NIMMANAHAEMINDA ROAD
For a blend of traditional and contemporary Thai culture you’ve got to check out Nimmanahaeminda Road (easily shortened to Nimman Road).
This street is known as the chic, trendy and even hipster part of Chiang Mai.
Traditional and fusion Thai cuisine, coffee shops, art spaces and boutiques, offering plenty to do and see.
Quirky crafts and unique fashion are available here so do bring some cash to treat yourself.
In the evening the street comes to life with a different kind of energy; jazz bars, cocktail lounges and old-fashioned pubs, so a great place to eat, drink, and let your hair down.
9- TAKE A TUK TUK
I’ve mentioned them a couple of times already, but a trip to Chiang Mai would be incomplete without experiencing a tuktuk ride.
Hop into one for a fun way to explore the city’s streets, whether you need to be somewhere or just fancy a ride.
You can let your driver know what you’re interested in (temples, markets, or something else) and they will often tailor a mini-tour for you right on the spot.
Sure, it’s a bit touristy, but hey, when in Rome (or should I say, Chiang Mai), do as the tourists do.
Do make sure to tip your driver too, it’s customary here and they work hard to get you around!
10- UNWIND WITH A TRADITIONAL THAI MASSAGE
After all the temple-hopping and mountain-climbing, you may just want to kick back with a little relaxation.
So why not a spa or traditional Thai massage? There are a few different options ranging from tranquil incense-filled spas where you’re offered a robe and cups of tea, to a street-side traditional Thai massage shop, so have a search and find what you fancy.
Bear in mind that Thai massage is not your usual relaxing rub-down; there’s a lot of stretching and pulling involved! You may even be a little sore afterwards or the next day.
But after that, you’ll feel amazing.
I had muscles worked on that I didn’t even know I had! It’s the perfect way to hit the reset button on your body and mind, while experiencing an age old tradition.
11- THE WISDOM OF MONK CHATS
In Chiang Mai they offer this amazing opportunity called ‘Monk Chat.’
Head over to one of the temples offering this program where monks sit down for conversations with tourists.
You can ask them about almost anything – life, spirituality, or even why they became monks.
But it can also be a two-way street; they’re curious about the world outside their temples, and while you get to pick their brains, they may also pick yours.
It’s an eye-opening and incredibly unique experience that helps you to better understand Buddhism and Thai culture.
I highly recommend it, and I hope you leave with some mindful life lessons as I did.
12- VISIT BHUBING PALACE AND GARDENS
For a blend of Thai royalty and natural beauty, Bhubing Palace should be high on your itinerary.
Nestled in the luscious greenery just a short drive outside of the city centre, this royal winter residence offers some spectacular architecture and nature.
The gardens are a show-stopper, bursting with vibrant blooms as well as a peaceful bamboo grove.
Not only is it a photographer’s dream, but it’s also the ideal place for a moment of quiet away from the busy city.
You’ll find the palace at 1223 Sriwichai Alley, Tambon Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District 50200.
13- GET ADVENTUROUS AT WATERPARKS AND ZIP-LINING SITES
For the thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies, Chiang Mai’s got plenty to offer.
Head to Grand Canyon Waterpark where you can take part in cliff-jumping, inflatable obstacle courses, and kayaking! It’s such a fun way to cool down in this warm and humid climate.
If you don’t fancy getting wet but still want an action-packed day, head to one of the zip-lining adventure sites on the outskirts.
Strap in and fly through the jungle canopy – the views are spectacular and the experience is a thrill.
Whether you’ve zip-lined before or not, through the jungle-foliage of Northern Thailand is an unforgettable place to do it.
The Grand Canyon Waterpark is at: 202 Tambon Nam Phrae, Amphoe Hang Dong, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50230. Skip the line and reserve your tickets for the waterpark here and the jungle flight zipline here.
14- CLIMB THE STICKY WATERFALLS
Locally known as Bua Tong, Sticky Waterfalls is no ordinary waterfall.
The limestone deposits on the rocks give you a good grip, meaning you can climb up the water-covered rocks without slipping! It’s great fun, suitable for most ages, and a great way to keep cool in the heat.
At the top you’re rewarded with the most stunning views and natural pools, perfect for a refreshing dip if you fancy it.
If you’re looking to escape the crowds and explore some more of the country’s natural beauty (and for free!) I highly recommend heading here.
You can find the waterfall in the Mae Taeng National Forest Reserve, at Mae Ho Phra, Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai 50150.
15- WATCH A MUAY THAI FIGHT
You can’t say you’ve truly experienced life in Thailand without witnessing a Muay Thai fight.
Also known as Thai boxing, it’s the country’s national sport and cultural martial art, steeped in centuries of tradition.
Now, I’m not exactly a martial arts fan but it was recommended that I check out a live match and honestly, it did not disappoint! The atmosphere in the stadium was electric; locals placed bets and tourists like myself sat wide-eyed in awe.
The rounds were intense but so impressive.
Whether you’re a martial arts fan or not, this traditional sport is something you’ve got to see to really experience Thai life and culture.
You’ll likely see advertisements for fights dotted around the city, but don’t be scared to ask locals for recommendations.
16- AN OVERNIGHT STAY WITH HILL TRIBE PEOPLE
Now for one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had.
When you think you’ve seen all that Chiang Mai has to offer, there’s still the untouched beauty of its surrounding jungles and hills, and the people who live there.
I stepped out of my comfort zone and embarked on a 2 day trek with local guides.
We hiked through lush jungles, crossed bamboo bridges, and made our way to hill tops that sat above the clouds, arriving at a remote village of the Lisu hill tribe people.
We shared a meal around a fire, and the local shaman came to meet us and read a fortune or two.
Staying overnight in their bamboo huts was an incredible and peaceful experience – it’s a completely different way of life, away from modern distractions.
The whole experience was humbling and enlightening, and it made me appreciate the simpler things in life that we so often take for granted.
If you’re up for some raw adventure and a chance to connect deeply with another culture, don’t miss this opportunity.
Check out local tour guides in the city for different options and available dates.
17- BIKE RENTALS AND HOT AIR BALLOON RIDES
For those who like to explore at their own pace, renting mopeds or bicycles is a great idea here.
I decided to get a bike one day, cycling my way through the streets, stopping wherever I fancied and enjoying getting a little lost!
Or if you want to get around and see the sites in a more unique way, a hot air balloon ride is the ticket.
I went for it early one morning, and let me tell you, floating high above the city as the sun peeks over the horizon is an otherworldly experience.
You’ll find plenty of hire places around the city centre.
18- CRUISING THE MAE PING RIVER
Another way to get around and see the sites from a different perspective is to hop on a traditional long-tail boat.
The Mae Ping River runs through the city and out, taking you past temples, farmlands, riverside communities, and through lush landscapes.
Some of the cruises even stop at local farmers houses where you can sample some fresh fruit.
It’s amazing how quickly the city gives way to the more peaceful and rural environment, giving you a unique insight into both city life and traditional living.
Check out the different options at the local tour guide shops; there are plenty to choose from.
19- CHILL DAY AT HUAY TUNG TAO LAKE
A short 20-minute drive to the north of the city centre sits this luscious oasis, a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains.
Popular with both tourists and locals, it’s the perfect spot to relax for a day.
There are bamboo huts which you can chill in and order food from, perfect for hiding in the shade when you’ve had enough of the sun, and enjoying a fresh coconut smoothie.
Or you can explore the water by renting a paddleboat or taking a dip.
It’s a great way to get out of the city for a short while, and enjoy the natural beauty of the area without having to be too active.
If you’re finding your own way there, the maps address is: 283 Don Kaeo, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai, 50180.
20- ANNUAL FESTIVALS: YI PENG AND SONGKRAN
Depending what time of year you visit, you could well be in for a treat! Thailand loves a national holiday and any reason for celebration, and oh, do they do them well.
Two of the most iconic cultural celebrations are Yi Peng Lantern Festival, and Songkran (Thai New Year).
Yi Peng, usually in November, was traditionally a celebration of the end of the monsoon season and the beginning of the cool season.
As the evening sky darkens thousands of illuminated lanterns float upwards, each one carrying a wish or a prayer.
It truly is the most magical sight and I highly recommend taking part if you’re in Chiang Mai at the time.
Fast forward to April and brace yourself for Songkran, the Thai New Year.
This is no ordinary New Year celebration though.
Think of the biggest water fight you’ve ever seen and amplify it ten fold.
Everyone’s in the streets with water guns and buckets in hand, trucks drive past with water balloons thrown from the back – it’s a city-wide water fight.
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