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The 13 best things to do in Chiang Mai, a peaceful gem of northern Thailand.
As the capital of Thailand’s northern region, Chiang Mai is the perfect blend of city life, cultural history, and natural beauty.
The atmosphere of Chiang Mai feels so much more relaxed than Bangkok.
So we never tired of the city after 10 days of adventures there.
In reality, we never ran out of things to do. And we still had substantial downtime for eating out, chilling in our hostel with friends, and walking around aimlessly.
Here are the 13 best things to do in Chiang Mai, based on my own experience and a little research!
13 Best Things To Do In Chiang Mai, Thailand
1. Spend A Day With Elephants
Most visitors to Asia have never seen elephants in their natural habitat, hence why day trips to visit humane elephant parks in Thailand are so common.
With endless tour companies offering full and half-day trips, narrow down your choices to those who forbid riding the elephants.
These are the more ethical companies that put the wellbeing of the animals before the tourists’ desires.
I booked a full-day trip for 70USD with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, and it was worth every penny.
During the day, we fed the elephants bananas and sugar cane, walked around with them and observed their behaviors, rolled in the mud with them, rinsed them off in the river, and made them a natural medicine.
It was a very low-key situation where most of the time everyone just roamed around at will to photograph and play with the elephants.
After observing these giant, charismatic creatures up close, I will cherish this day forever.
2. Cliff Jump At Grand Canyon
About a 30-minute drive from the city center lies the Grand Canyon.
This is a giant, glassy freshwater lake surrounded by towering cliffs of red and brown rock.
For 50 Baht (1.50 USD), you can jump from a 50-foot cliff ledge into the warm water.
Then test your strength by climbing up the vertical rope ladder back to the top.
For those less daring, you can jump from shorter cliff edges and peacefully float around in the massive lake on your life jacket.
3. Taste the Street Food
Street food generally costs less than restaurant food, but Thailand takes cheap to a whole new level.
Every day and night, streets fill up with little tents selling fresh fruit, pad thai, grilled meat and veggie skewers, fried banana and pumpkin, spring rolls, sweet Thai pancakes, and assorted rice dishes for 50 baht or less.
Basically, you can get a filling meal for 1 USD if you look in the right places.
Fruit shakes have become my obsession. For 30 baht (1 USD) you can pick a tall plastic cup filled with fruit. Then the vendor will blend it up with ice to make a refreshing smoothie.
Random streets usually have at least a few carts selling cheap food. But the following two spots are more reliable.
At the north of the Old City square lies the Chang Phuak Gate, and right across the street is an incredible and cheap market that opens roughly around 4pm.
Also, Chiang Mai’s famous Night Bazaar lies just outside the Old City to the east. This massive shopping and entertainment center has lots of food stalls and even a food court area surrounded by small vendors.
4. Watch a Muay Thai Boxing Match
Muay Thai Boxing is the national sport of Thailand. Going to a match is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai!
It’s fascinating to watch the athletes perform, and they are all so skilled and precise in their movements.
You can even take Muay Thai classes and learn the art of the sport yourself!
There are three main boxing stadiums in Chiang Mai where you can attend nightly matches (tickets normally cost between 400-1000 Baht or 12-30 USD).
Thapae Boxing Stadium
- Address: 319 Moon Muang Road
- Matches: Every night except Sunday, starting at 9 pm
Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium
- Address: 96/98 Loi Kroh Road
- Matches: Every night except Sunday and Monday, starting at 8:45 pm
Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium
- Address: 177 Chang Phuak Road
- Matches: Every night except Sunday, starting at 8:30 pm
5. Visit The Sunday Night Market
For the ultimate street market experience, visit Rachadamnoen Road on a Sunday night.
This central street of the Old City becomes completely crammed with food stalls, street musicians, and shopping, turning an otherwise peaceful road into an overwhelming explosion of the senses.
As you look at the colorful works of traditional art and feel the softness of the feathers hanging from handmade dreamcatchers, you can hear ladies yelling at you to get a Thai massage and smell the sweetness of someone pouring honey on a fresh pancake.
Though the crowds can thicken to the point of feeling claustrophobic, the experience is definitely worth it.
6. Enjoy A LadyBoy Cabaret
Located in the Night Bazaar, the Chiang Mai Cabaret is perfect for those who want to be dazzled, entertained, and sexually confused.
Ladyboys are basically drag queens. Their cabaret show involves hilarious lip-syncing, impressive dancing, elaborate costumes, and audience participation.
All the performers are absolutely gorgeous and fearless. Some are so feminine that I found myself questioning whether I could ever be as badass as them.
The performance costs 290 baht ($9), includes one drink, and occurs every night at 9:30pm.
7. Tour The Temples
Like any major city in Thailand, a temple resides on almost every single street.
The city itself has over 300 Buddhist temples! So all you really have to do is stroll around and you’ll stumble across a few.
Some of the most popular temples in Chiang Mai include:
Wat Phra Singh: Also known as the Gold Temple, Wat Phra Singh is located at 2 Samlarn Road and costs 20 Baht to enter.
Wat Sri Suphan: Also known as the Silver Temple because of its silver decorations. It is located at 100 Wua Lai Road and costs 50 Baht to enter.
Wat Suan Dorg: A stunning temple from the 14th Century. Located at 139 Suthep Road and costs 20 Baht to enter.
Wat Chiang Man: This is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai! It is located at 171 Ratchaphakhinai Road and is free to enter.
Wat Chedi Luang: A rustic old temple located at the crossing of Ratchadamnoen and Prapokkloa Roads. The entrance fee is 40 Baht.
Wat Phan Tao: A beautiful wooden temple located right next to Wat Chedi Luang. Admission is free!
8. Climb The Bua Tong Waterfall (Sticky Waterfall)
Take a Songtaew (red pick-up trucks that act as shared taxis) 30 minutes outside the city to visit the natural wonder of the Bua Tong Waterfall.
Also known as the “Sticky Waterfall”, you can literally climb up the waterfall due to mineral deposits that cover the rocks and provide friction.
It is quite surreal, walking straight up a steep waterfall with cool, rushing water tumbling down around you.
At the top of the falls, you can see the rich green jungle on the horizon. And at the bottom, you can relax in the calm, secluded pools.
This was one of my favorite experiences in all of Thailand, and it is easily one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
9. Take A Cooking Class
For any food-lovers out there, a Thai cooking class is definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
I did my cooking class at MamaNoii Thai Cookery School, but Chiang Mai has many cooking schools with similar classes.
You’ll learn about the essential ingredients of Thai recipes, including chili, garlic, peanuts, coconut milk, lemongrass, Thai basil, turmeric, cilantro, ginger, black pepper, kaffir lime, tamarind, and fish & oyster sauce.
Then you’ll cook for the rest of the day!
Some of the most popular dishes to cook include fried spring rolls, tom yum soup, cashew nut stir fry, pad Thai, green curry, papaya salad, fried bananas, and mango sticky rice (you can usually substitute tofu for meat).
Make sure you come to the class hungry because you’ll make an insane amount of food. Take home your leftovers to prevent any waste!
10. Experience The Night Life
Chiang Mai at night is full of bars, clubs, night markets, and live music.
Zoe In Yellow, a favorite spot among foreigners in Thailand, has a huge outdoor seating area for drinking buckets full of mixed drinks, and two amazing dance floors.
You can save money by walking everywhere since the Old City is quite small, but tuk-tuks and Songtaews are still incredibly cheap.
11. Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Taking a little trip outside the city and up into the hills of the Doi Suthep Mountain is one of the most lovely things to do in Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the temple complex that sits atop this mountain.
You can reach it by catching a shared taxi from the old town and driving for about 45 minutes (this ride normally costs around 80 Baht).
Once you arrive, you’ll have to pay the 20 Baht entrance fee and then you are free to admire the shimmering golden temple and enjoy an amazing view of Chiang Mai below.
If you want a super interesting cultural experience, you can book a 4-hour tour of a local hill tribe combined with a visit to Doi Suthep. I recommend this tour!
12. Get A Thai Massage
A traditional Thai Massage is not like an ordinary massage, but it’s still well worth your time.
You won’t be laying down flat and having a masseuse rub oil into your skin.
You’ll be fully clothed, and the Thai masseuses will bend, twist, and contort your body into weird positions that feel intense.
These massages aren’t for everyone, but they are known to provide lots of health benefits and the practice has been passed down through generations.
The massages held in communal areas are generally cheaper, though you can still get great massages at high-end spas for a steeper price.
13. Take A Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park
Visiting this stunning national park is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai for those who want to get out of the city and immerse themselves in nature.
Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand, and the national park is full of temples, small villages and tribes, waterfalls, wildlife, and more.
The park is quite a journey to reach by public transport.
For this specific day trip, I’d recommend booking a tour so you don’t have to deal with the stress of finding your way to the mountains alone.
Click here to book a highly rated small-group day tour to Doi Inthanon National Park for only 157 USD.
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Travel Tips For Thailand
Visas for Thailand
Most travelers to Thailand do not need a visa if they are staying less than 30 days.
But this is different for every nationality, so you always want to check visa requirements before you go.
I recommend checking iVisa.com to see if you need a visa.
You should never travel without insurance, especially if you’ll be visiting remote areas and taking part in some adventurous activities.
My personal favorite travel insurance company is Squaremouth Insurance.
They have affordable plans and a super helpful live chat, and they fully reimbursed me when I had to pay for some emergency medical treatment abroad. So I had a positive experience with them.
Check out my other travel articles about Thailand: