45 Absolute Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

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We’ve rounded up a list of the best things to do in Chiang Mai that will make your trip a memorable one. We have spent more than a year living in Chiang Mai, Thailand so we know this city inside and out! We’re sharing both top Chiang Mai attractions as well as local secrets you won’t find in the guidebooks. 

Things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand | Chiang Mai waterfall
Mok Fa Waterfall (see #14)

Surrounded by lush mountains and dotted with historic temples, Chiang Mai is the best hub for exploring northern Thailand. This city has a rare combination of adventure, nature, culture, history, food, and modern comforts; a blend that makes it one of our favorite cities in the world.

If you’re planning a trip to Thailand, we’ve got you covered with a huge list of fun things to do in Chiang Mai. And this isn’t just any list you’ll find online or in the guidebooks…

We’ve spent a lot of time in Chiang Mai. Like a LOT. We even called it home for a year, so we know this city really well. 

We’ve rounded up the top Chiang Mai attractions as well as our favorite off-the-beaten-path things to do in this city. And trust us, with this handy guide, you’ll never find yourself wondering what to do.

This guide is chock full of insider tips and hidden gems, so you’ll definitely want to bookmark this page or pin it for later! We genuinely hope this guide helps you as you plan your trip to Thailand (or fuels your wanderlust!).

Chiang Mai Travel Guide

For more tips and advice for planning your trip to Chiang Mai, jump to the following sections (or just keep scrolling to see it all!).

Top things to do in Chiang Mai

If you’re looking for the very best things to do in Chiang Mai, here are our top recommendations. 

  1. Climb up “Sticky Waterfalls”
  2. Hike the Pilgrim’s Path to a temple in the jungle (Wat Pha Lat)
  3. See elephants in Chiang Mai the responsible way
  4. Paddle down river with a Bamboo Raft
  5. Go temple hopping
  6. Visit Doi Suthep Temple (Wat Phra That)
  7. Shop for souvenirs at one of Chiang Mai’s Night Markets 
  8. Take a Thai Cooking Class
  9. Try Khao Soi in Chiang Mai
  10. Explore Doi Inthanon National Park

Keep reading for more detailed information on each of these things and more ideas of fun things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 

1. Climb up “Sticky Waterfalls”

Sticky Waterfall (Bua Tong) Chiang Mai

Most waterfalls you think of are extremely slippery due to the massive build up of mossy rocks and fast moving water. The Bua Thong Waterfalls (also known as “Sticky Waterfalls”) are unique because they are fed by a spring rich in minerals.

Due to the mineral deposits in the water, the rocks have become porous and slightly spongy, allowing you to walk up them with bare feet (perfect for anyone with “wandering soles”—see what I did there!)

There are a couple sections to the tiered-waterfall, but our favorite was at the very bottom where the falls drop about thirty feet and you are able to climb around them. It’s a great way to cool down on a hot day! 

Sticky Waterfalls Chiang Mai

After you’re done playing the falls, head up the small set of stairs opposite of the falls which leads to the source of the spring. The spring itself is a deep hole filled with vibrant blue water. 

Read our complete guide to visiting Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Tong) for directions on how to get there and what to expect. 

Don’t want to do it on your own? This tour through Airbnb Experiences earns rave reviews and makes visiting easy!

2. Hike the Pilgrim’s Path to a temple in the jungle (Wat Pha Lat)

Pilgrim’s Path Wat Pha Lat Chiang Mai Thailand

There are dozens of temples in Chiang Mai, but Wat Pha Lat is our favorite temple we’ve visited by far.

First, it is surrounded by the jungle, so it has a completely different feel than the temples within the Old City. Second, it can only be reached by hiking, which eliminates many tourists. The crowds at Wat Pha Lat are far fewer than at many of the other temples in Chiang Mai, so it feels really special.

Wat Pha Lat Chiang Mai Thailand

After an easy 30 – 40-minute hike on the Pilgrim’s Path, you’ll be rewarded with bamboo forests, the sound of chirping birds, a trickling waterfall, and monks completing their daily chores. Allow yourself at least 30 minutes to wander around, take photos and enjoy this beautiful place. 

There is a small stand selling coffee and clean restrooms on the temple grounds. 

How to get to Wat Pha Lat Temple via the Pilgrim’s Path

Pilgrims Path Wat Pha Lat Chiang Mai Thailand 2

Take a red truck to the D Condo Apartment building (30 baht from old city). Walk west towards the mountain and at the first intersection after D Condo, turn right and walk about 200 meters and turn left. You are now on Pilgrim’s Path road. 

Keep heading west towards the mountain until you see the trailhead and a motorbike parking area. This is where you will start your hike. It should take you about 30 minutes from the trailhead to reach Wat Pha Lat (1.5 km). 

Local Tip: Sometimes Google Maps falls short of details around Chiang Mai. The best app to find hiking trails around Doi Suthep mountain is Maps.Me. Download the app and then download Chiang Mai region.

3. See elephants in Chiang Mai the responsible way

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Seeing an elephant up close is on pretty much everyone’s bucket list in Thailand. But before we delve into where to see elephants in Chiang Mai, we are going over some very important things to consider when you book your elephant experience. 

If you just skim this section over and don’t do much research, your actions can actually be very harmful to the elephants you just wanna cuddle.

Read this before you visit an Elephant “Sanctuary” in Thailand

Today, many travelers are educated about why you should not ride elephants, and instead decide to visit “elephant sanctuaries” while on vacation in Thailand. Although this is a great shift, there are some things you should know before you book just any “sanctuary”…

Here’s a little insight we’ve learned while living in Chiang Mai: As the demand for sanctuaries grows, there are unfortunately some places that are capitalizing on this and calling themselves “sanctuaries” without truly doing what’s right for the elephants. 

Chiang Lai Orchard Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai Thailand

We’ve heard stories that after tourists leave, the way they treat their animals (and staff members) isn’t always great.

To be totally honest, the best thing you can do for elephants is to donate to reputable organizations without visiting them. I mean, think about it… It’s not natural for elephants to have the stimulation of people around them each day. Interacting with elephants is for our benefit, not theirs.

But we get it… seeing these beautiful creatures up close is a dream. It was for us, too. So if seeing elephants is a must for you, keep reading. We’re going over the best places to see these gentle giants in Thailand.

Best places to see elephants in Thailand

Chiang Lai Orchard Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai Thailand

From our knowledge, Chiang Mai and the surrounding area probably has the best selection of actual sanctuaries in the country.

The positive thing about visiting a reputable elephant sanctuary is that the money you spend there will (mostly) go back to taking care of the elephants.

  • Elephant Nature Park: We had heard great things about ENP for many years, and it took us to the end of our time living in Thailand to visit for ourselves. Overall, we were pretty impressed with how the elephants are cared for. Tourists are limited in how they can interact with the elephants, which helps protect them by setting boundaries.
    • I will say, however, that this is not an intimate experience. This is by far the most popular and well-known elephant sanctuary in Thailand, so it’s also one of the more busy ones.
  • Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary: This is a lesser-known place we have heard from others that is ethically run and the elephants are returned to their natural habitat (and not fenced in). They provide a better life for the elephants and also work towards improving villages and alternate work for the mahouts.

Important Tip: The reputable places book up in advance – so plan ahead if seeing elephants is a must for you.

Our advice for you: We encourage you to do some research ahead of time and choose a place that is (hopefully) treating elephants well. And if you end up somewhere that is not ethically run, SPEAK UP. Tell their management of what you saw. Write a review online so others can be informed and decide if they want to support it.

On a related note: Thailand faces its fair share of negative impacts from tourism, and the exploitation of elephants is probably one of the most well-known of this country’s issues. If you’re interested in learning more about how you can travel more ethically in Thailand, we have a whole article devoted to this topic.

4. Paddle down river with a Bamboo Raft

Bamboo rafting Chiang Mai Thailand copy

Similar to river tubing, you can cool off on a hot day by floating on a bamboo raft!

Imagine floating on a rustic bamboo raft down a river that cuts through the jungle-y Thai countryside. While you’re less than an hour away from Chiang Mai, you’ll feel a world away from the city.

We have an entire bamboo rafting day-trip guide detailing everything you need to know like how to get there, how much it costs and what not to forget to bring!

5. Go temple hopping

Chiang Mai temples

Chiang Mai is Thailand’s epicenter of culture, and one of the best ways to really dive in is to visit some of the city’s best temples.

There are so many temples in Chiang Mai that you won’t have to wander far to find one (or five!). Some are small and seldom visited, while others are iconic must-see places for most visitors, and each has its own unique characteristics.

Below is a list of some temples to add to your Chiang Mai itinerary. 

Best temples to visit in Chiang Mai Old City

  • Wat Phra Singh: This temple in the Old City is known for its striking gold exterior, and is well worth checking out.
  • Wat Chedi Luang: Almost smack dab in the center of Chiang Mai’s Old City, Wat Chedi Luang is a sight to behold. It is one of the most famous temples within the Old City walls.
  • Wat Sri Suphan: The most notable characteristic about this temple is its silver exterior. Located right beside the Saturday Night Market, it’s an easy temple to visit after picking up some souvenirs.
  • Wat Phan Tao: This temple is made from teak wood and being that it is right next to the much more famous Wat Chedi Luang, this wooden complex is often overlooked. It is most notably the site where young monks release lanterns during the Yi Peng festival.
  • Wat Chiang Man: Established in 1296 by King Mengrai, this ornate structure is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai. 
Temple in Chiang Mai's Old City

Best temples to visit around Chiang Mai

  • Wat Doi Suthep: Arguably the most iconic place in Chiang Mai, if you only visit one temple, make it this one. (See below for more info)
  • Wat Pha Lat: Hidden in the jungle, this is our very favorite temple in all of Chiang Mai. The best way to get here is by hiking the Pilgrim’s Trail. (See #2 for more info)
  • Wat Suan Dok Temple: Situated about 1 km west of the Old City’s West Gate, this temple has a hauntingly beautiful mausoleum garden which is the resting place of many past leaders. This is also a great temple for doing a Monk Chat (explained above).
  • Wat Umong Suan Phutthatham: Located outside of the city walls, this temple is situated in a forested area and is known for its underground tunnels.
  • Wat Chet Yot Phra Aram Luang: Located outside of the Old City, this temple is situated near the Super Highway and is less visited than those within the city walls.
  • Wat Phra That Doi Kham: Known for a Buddha that stands 17 meters tall, this temple is perched on a hilltop to the southwest of the city and is more popular with Thai visitors than foreigners.

Fun Fact: The word wat refers to a Buddhist temple or monastery in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The most iconic example of this is Cambodia’s famed Angkor Wat, which was originally built as a Hindu temple, but was transformed to a Buddhist complex in the 12th century.

6. Visit Doi Suthep Temple (Wat Phra That)

Doi Suthep Temple (Wat Phra That) Chiang Mai Thailand

The temple on Doi Suthep gets its own section because it is by far the most iconic temple in all of Chiang Mai.

Someone told us once that if you haven’t visited Doi Suthep, then you haven’t visited Chiang Mai. Now, we don’t fully believe that, because one place can’t simply make a city. But after finally visiting Doi Suthep, I can’t believe it took us so long!

This is one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. Plus, you’ll also have a pretty great view of the city if the skies are clear. 

Tip: Try to go early in the morning, as it can get very, very busy.

How to get to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Take a red truck from anywhere in the city and kindly ask them to go to Doi Suthep. It should be about 60 baht per person. The ride will take about 30-45 minutes depending on traffic up the winding hill. 

Or you can take the 2-3 hour hike to the top and be sure to stop at Wat Pha Lat along the way (see #2 on this list for more info).

7. Shop for souvenirs at one of Chiang Mai’s Night Markets 

Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai
As you can see, the night markets can get incredibly busy, so be prepared to brave and crowds!

You can find night markets all over Asia, and we’re obsessed. You’ll typically find inexpensive souvenirs, local street food, and a lively atmosphere.

Chiang Mai has some incredible—albeit crowded—night markets. Depending on which days you’re visiting, you can visit a couple and compare!

  • Chiang Mai Night Bazaar: Open every night of the week, vendors line the street on Chang Klan Road selling every souvenir you can imagine from t-shirts to stuffed elephants to pillow cases to jewelry.
  • Saturday Night Market: Starting from the Old Pagoda by the South Gate and stretching down the Wua Lai Road, this is another souvenir market.
  • Sunday Night Market: Tha Phae Gate is where this market starts and the vendors and crowds pack down Rachadamnoen Road into the old city. There are plenty of food stalls and vendors selling anything and everything.

Insider Tip: You can find smaller (less crowded) night markets near Maya Mall and near Chiang Mai University (Malin Market).

8. Take a Thai Cooking Class

Thai Cooking Class in Chiang Mai Thailand

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we LOVE to eat. Anything and everything. No exaggeration.

And you probably also know that we are constantly raving about taking cooking classes in other countries. We’re up to 12 now. We wholeheartedly believe that there are few ways to learn more about a culture than through its cuisine. 

And when it comes to Thai food, there is no better place to learn how to make your favorite dishes than Chiang Mai. The tricky part is choosing a cooking school, as the options are plentiful.

In our research, we found 3 cooking schools that are clear winners:

Psst! When you’re booking be sure to check out Cookly website where they compare cooking schools and sometimes have cheaper prices.

They all have a 3 things in common:

  1. They bring you to a local market instead of the one ridden with tourists in the Old City.
  2. Each person is able to make 5 dishes that they have selected.
  3. All 3 of these cooking schools take place on an organic farm from which you can gather your own produce and herbs.

Secret Thai Cooking Class

Thai food Secret Thai cooking class Chiang Mai Thailand

We chose Secret Thai Cooking School and were incredibly impressed

Our teacher, May, gave everyone in our class of 11 individualized attention as she taught us how to make dishes from a menu we created—not the case at many cooking schools! (Ben and I love to try everything, so we each choose different dishes so we’d be able to try 10 separate meals. Best idea ever!)

Vegetable picking cooking class Chiang Mai Thailand

We were able to pick our own vegetables in the onsite garden, and had our own gas stove and cooking station in our host’s home. Additionally, we learned how to make our own coconut milk the traditional way and received a cookbook that was made especially for us with our own photos inside.

Tip: If you are visiting in November during the Loi Krathong festival, you might be lucky enough to make your very own krathong in your cooking class, which you can float down the river alongside locals in the evening. Book ahead because classes during this season fill up quickly.

9. Try Khao Soi in Chiang Mai

Khao Soi in Chiang Mai Thailand
Trying the dish at the famous Khao Soi Khun Yai

Unlike Pad Thai and Green Curry, this Thai dish is not very well-known in the Western world, but it should be!

With a Burmese influence, Khao Soi is most commonly found in the north of Thailand; and Chiang Mai is a perfect place to try your first bite.

I’d like to think that Khao Soi would be the love child if chicken noodle soup and yellow curry ever got together. A combination of egg noodles, coconut curry broth, chicken, shallots, lime and chilies make each bite of this dish a party in your mouth! It is typically topped with crunchy fried egg noodles and served pickled vegetables on the side for a flavor and texture explosion.

Where to get the best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai

Best Khao Soy in Chiang Mai
Our favorite version of the dish at Khao Soi Mae Sai

The best place to eat Khao Soi is in unassuming mom-and-pop shops. We sampled several bowls, and each has their own unique flavors. 

Traditionally, Khao Soi is eaten in the morning and afternoon, so many Khao Soi street stands will close before dinner time. You’ll still be able to find it on the menus of many restaurants. 

If you’re looking for recommendations, here are some restaurants that serve up some of the best Khao Soi in Chiang Mai:

  • Khao Soi Mae Sai: this is a hot spot among locals and is not far from the Nimman neighborhood. This is our favorite spot for Khao Soi!
  • Khao Soi Khun Yai: this tiny little stand on the edge of Old Town is always packed with tourists. It earns rave reviews on TripAdvisor and other blogs, and is one of the more famous Khao Soi shops in the city.
    • While we thought it was good, we didn’t think it lived up to the hype as we’ve had better Khao Soi elsewhere (but try it out, it might be your favorite!). Their Khao Soi has a broth that is a bit thicker and spicier than most, but I was a little disappointed that it comes with pieces of chicken instead of a whole leg, and the crunchy noodles on top weren’t as fresh as some other places.
  • Khao Soi Nimman: a decent choice in the Nimman Road area with many different choices. Broth is on the sweet side and prices are a bit higher than most Khao Soi.
  • Khao Soi Arak: located in the Old City and known for serving a killer bowl of Kaho Soi. Plus the couple who owns this tiny restaurant is lovely. At just 30 baht, you can’t go wrong!

Looking for vegetarian Khao Soi? Try it at Aum or Pun Pun. These are two good choices to try vegetarian versions of Khao Soi, allowing you to give this famous dish a try even if you don’t eat meat. 

10. Explore Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon National Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Just under 2 hours away from the city, Doi Inthanon National Park is a great place for getting some fresh mountain air, going hiking, and seeing some of the most iconic pagodas in the north of Thailand.

Oh, and Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in all of Thailand! (Save that knowledge bomb for your next trivia night!)

Twin pagodas in Doi Inthanon National Park Chiang Mai Thailand

Things to do in Doi Inthanon National Park

  • Hike the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail: The trail itself is not very difficult or steep, but it offers sweeping views of the mountains and landscapes below. It is required that you hire a guide on this trail, which provides a job for a local. The guides are at the trailhead and you can simply show up. It costs 200 baht for a group (maximum 10 people), and should take roughly 2 hours.
  • Visit the twin pagodas: Without a doubt the most iconic sight in this national park, the two pagodas — also known as the Queen and King Pagodas — are a must-see when you’re visiting the national park. They house some historic relics and are great spots for photo opportunities.
  • Go waterfall hopping: The national park is home to a handful of waterfalls, and if you have the time, see as many as possible. But if you’re on a tight schedule, we think Mae Ya Waterfall (just south of the park) is the most impressive, and makes a great stop on your way back to Chiang Mai. (pictured below)
  • Eat a local meal: If you feel your tummy rumbling and you haven’t packed enough snacks, there is a small restaurant right by the Kew Mae Pan trailhead that serves up cheap, local and tasty dishes! We got some crispy fried chicken, sticky rice, and noodle soup, all for 150 baht (less than $5 USD).

Good to know: It costs 300 baht for foreigners to enter Doi Inthanon National Park.

Mae Ya Waterfall Chiang Mai Thailand

How to get to Doi Inthanon National Park

From Chiang Mai, you can hire a driver for the day (either a red truck or a car). This will be the most comfortable option, but also the most expensive. 

If you are an experienced motorbike driver, you can drive yourself (this is what we did). But be prepared for a rather long drive.

11. Take an adventurous day trip to Lampang’s “Floating Pagodas” (Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat)

Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat

If you are up for a full day of adventuring off the beaten path, we have just the idea for you…

The town of Lampang is not on most Western tourists’ radar, but it is home to one of the most magical sites in northern Thailand. 

The “floating” white pagodas perched in the cliffs outside of Lampang is a hidden gem that most visitors will never see. And if you make the journey there, it will likely be a highlight of your time in Thailand. 

Known as Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat, these pagodas are not only undeniably beautiful, but they still very much feel like a hidden gem. 

Now we have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is it can be quite a long and somewhat tricky journey to get to these pagodas. But the good news is we have you totally covered with an in-depth guide to Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat that goes over exactly how to get there and how to make it an epic road trip! 

12. Relax at Huay Kaew Waterfall and swimming hole

Huay Kaew Waterfall Chiang Mai Thailand

Not far from the Nimman neighborhood, Huay Kaew Waterfall is hidden in the jungle, and few travelers know it exists. A visit to these little-known waterfalls is a good way to escape the city and find some solitude. When we went, we only crossed paths with a handful of people.

Unlike Sticky Waterfalls (see #1 on the list), you can’t climb on the actual falls, but if you stick to the side path you’ll make it to a swimming hole, complete with a rope swing! Keep going up the path and you’ll find more and more small pools to hang out in.

On a hot day, this is a great place to bring a picnic and relax. Check out our hike to Huay Kaew Waterfall video on YouTube. 

Responsible Travel Tip: If you bring food, please, PLEASE carry out your trash and bring a bag to collect any rubbish you find along the way.

How to get to Huay Kaew Waterfalls

Photo cred: Our talented from Eric Zyla @zylasphere

It is really simple to get to the Huay Kaew Waterfalls. From the old city you can take a red truck to the Chiang Mai Zoo (30 baht per person). Starting from the entrance of the Chiang Mai Zoo, walk west toward the mountain. 

You can take the mountain road uphill until you see the official entrance, or walk our favorite way through a local street to the left just as the road begins to go uphill. Stroll through this tiny neighborhood with a stream passing through the middle and walk to the end of the street. There will be a small foot path that leads uphill slightly and will take you to the waterfall. 

Related: Some of the best waterfalls in Thailand are north of Chiang Mai in a town called Pai. Check out our detailed guide to Pai, Thailand for more information.

13. Go hiking around Chiang Mai

Hiking near Chiang Mai Thailand

If you love the outdoors, but you don’t want to hike solo, we’ve got a perfect solution for you! 

There is a hiking club in Chiang Mai that meets every Saturday (as well as some weekdays) to go hiking in the jungle surrounding the city. Some days the hikes are short and for beginners, while other times they are full-day expeditions and lead to hill tribe villages in the mountains. 

Check out the hiking club’s Facebook page, Doi Suthep Walkers, for details and upcoming hikes. These weekly meet-ups are typically on Saturday mornings at 7:30 a.m. sharp. 

Note: This group is great, but the crowd tends to get large, especially for the shorter hikes. The hikes we have been on have had about 50 people going up the mountain. The people who join are really fun and are typically foreigners living in Chiang Mai long-term, with a few travelers sprinkled in.

If you are excited to meet new people and get outside the city, this is a fun (FREE) option for you, but do know that the group is not small.

Alternative: Guided hiking

If you’re visiting Chiang Mai and aren’t able to coincide with the hiking group, this highly-rated guided hike on Airbnb Experiences is a great way to be able to explore the countryside with a local.

You’ll trek through the jungle trails (which can be difficult to follow if you don’t know where you’re going), and you’ll have lunch in a beautiful Hmong village called Khun Chang Khian. We visited this village with the hiking group, and it is an amazing place to see, and feels very much like a hidden gem.

14. Hang out at this secret (Mok Fa Waterfall)

Mok Fa Waterfall Chiang Mai Thailand

If you love waterfalls, we’ve already got a few on this list for you to check out. But if you’re looking for an adventure to a secret waterfall, we gotchu covered. 

Mok Fa Waterfall is a bit outside of the city, and feels like a hidden oasis. This tall and majestic waterfall is beautiful and lacks the crowds of some of the other more accessible or popular falls in the area. 

We arrived around 9 a.m. and were the only ones there for a while. There’s a sandy area and a nice pool for swimming right by the falls, a lush jungle and cave, as well as some smaller pools further out. Bring some snacks and find a sunny patch to have a little picnic.

How to get to Mok Fa Waterfall

Getting to Mok Fa is an adventure in itself because it’s not really near anything else. If you’re confident driving a motorbike, that’s the cheapest way to get here.

Otherwise, you can hire a songthaew or a Grab for the roughly 1-hour drive. Just put the location into Google Maps, and you shouldn’t have any trouble getting there. Once you’ve parked, the waterfall is just a short walk away.

Cost: 200 baht entrance fee for foreign adults to enter, plus 20 baht to park a motorbike.

15. Enjoy a drink with a view at a rooftop bar

Rooftop bar Chiang Mai Thailand

Whenever we’re in search of a good view, we head to a rooftop bar!

Unlike some of the popular rooftop bars in Bangkok, which are seriously overpriced (in our opinion), you can make a toast above Chiang Mai at a reasonable price. That said, don’t expect to be 40 stories up like you would in Bangkok.

Best rooftop bars in Chiang Mai

Rooftop bar hang in Chiang Mai Thailand
  • Hotel YaYee: Hand-crafted cocktails and panoramic views… what more could you want?!
  • Rise Rooftop Bar at Akyra Manor: Lounge beside their rooftop pool with a fancy cocktail in hand. They have 2-for-1 drinks for their happy hour special from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Enjoy the views as the sun sets behind Doi Suthep.
  • Xanadu Rooftop and Restaurant: This classy rooftop is on the 17th floor in the Furama Hotel. You can get great views of Nimman and Doi Suthep as you order a meal and drinks.
  • Oasis Rooftop Garden Bar: Tucked away in the northeast corner of the Old City, Oasis presents a relaxed vibe and a nice place to meet up with friends.

16. Get a Thai massage

Thai Massage Table

Traveling to Thailand without indulging in a Thai massage (or seven!) would be crazy. 

Unless you’re like my mom, who doesn’t like massages in the slightest, I would highly recommend getting a massage in Chiang Mai. And when you can find hour-long massages for $6 USD, why not get a few?!

You won’t have to wander far before you hear “massage, massage” being called after you. (You can’t blame them for trying to advertise for free!) Our advice would be not to go for the first place you see. There are plenty of amazing massage places around Chiang Mai, but there are just as many (if not more!) sub-par establishments.

Where to get the best Thai massage in Chiang Mai

We’ve read lots of reviews on Google, talked to many friends about their favorite places, and done some “research” ourselves. Here are just a handful of good options to start with:

While most of the massage places listed above are very budget-friendly, there are certainly higher-end massage parlors where the prices (and facilities) will be closer to what you’d pay in Western countries. You’ll have to do a little comparison to decide what’s best for your budget. 

Good to know: At some of the cheaper places, you may be in a communal room with other guests.

What do you wear to a massage in Thailand? 

What to wear for Thai massage Chiang Mai Thailand
This is the typical clothing you’ll be given to change into before a Thai massage.

In most massage parlors in Chiang Mai, you will be given clothes to change into. They are typically baggy cotton one-size-fits-all pants and a shirt. 

For some treatments—like an oil massage, for instance—you will be given disposable underwear and will be nude.

Good to know: Traditional Thai massages involve a lot of cracking and stretching, and can leave some people sore. If you don’t think you’ll like this “hands on” massage, try a “Neck, Back and Shoulder Massage” or a foot massage instead. They are quite a bit tamer.

Pssst! Check out this detailed article describing where to find the best massages in Chiang Mai. The author tried 30 different massage places in the city and ranked her favorites. 

Unique experience: Get massaged by a prison inmate

If you’re picturing laying in an 8-by-8 concrete cell with bars, getting rubbed down by a surly woman clad in orange, you’re sorely mistaken. My masseuse was sweet and giggly, and looked more like a pigtailed schoolgirl than a convict.

So, here’s the question everyone is wondering… What are the women in prison for? Could you potentially be massaged by a serial killer? 

No, silly! Most of the women are serving short sentences for minor crimes. The Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution has created a program to give its inmates the opportunity to learn marketable skills. The women are also allowed to save their wages and tips for their release date.

There are three options for massages:

  • 1-hour foot massage
  • 1-hour Thai massage
  • 2-hour Thai massage

We chose a 1-hour Thai massage and were led into a big, dimly-lit room with nearly 20 beds on which people were getting cracked, rubbed and stretched.  The air was filled with the strong scent of menthol and eucalyptus… Mmmm, Tiger Balm.

The only thing that distinguished this establishment from the hundreds of other massage joints in the area were the women wearing police uniforms that paced the room every once in a while with clipboards in hand.

On TripAdvisor, many people rave that they received “the BEST massage in Thailand”, and Ben said his was fantastic. Mine, on the other hand, was mediocre. I’ve had better, and probably have had worse… but still, I felt good contributing to this organization that enables women to create a better life for themselves.

Responsible travel note: If you decide to get a massage, remember that this isn’t a tourist attraction to be gawked at. These women are trying to make a better life for themselves, and by visiting you are helping contribute to their self-improvement, but it’s not a place to leer rudely or take pictures of your masseuse.

Our advice is to arrive early. We got there just after 10 in the morning, and weren’t able to get on the schedule until 2:45 p.m. Arrive much later than we did, and you’ll be outta luck!

Also on the premises is a souvenir shop and a reasonably priced restaurant serving Thai and Western dishes as well as a coffee and fruit shakes.

Hours: Monday – Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; weekends from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

17. Sample as many Northern Thai dishes as possible

Sai oua northern Thai food Chiang Mai Thailand
I’m not usually a big sausage fan, but I love the vibrant flavors in sai oua. You can only find a northern Thaialnd, so be sure to give it a try!

While Khao Soi is our favorite northern Thai dish (see #8 above!), it’s far from the only meal you should try in Chiang Mai.

Many Thai restaurants in Western countries have a focus on Thai dishes from the south of the country, so there are many dishes you’ve likely never heard of. And they can be hard to find in other regions of Thailand (or the rest of the world), so be sure to eat up while you’re in the north of the country!

Below you’ll find a list of more Northern Thai dishes to try during your time in Chiang Mai:

  • Sai Oua (northern Thai sausage): This pork sausage has a unique taste that’s all its own. The meat is seasoned with fresh Thai herbs and spices like turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, garlic, lemongrass, coriander, shallots, galangal, and chillies. It is an explosion of flavors!
  • Laab (spicy salad): This spicy minced meat “salad” is usually served with parboiled veggies and cabbage or lettuce leaves. You can eat it like a lettuce wrap, or as a “dip” for the vegetable sticks. 
  • Khao Niaw (aka sticky rice): Sticky rice is a much more common side dish in northern Thailand than in other regions.
  • Nám prík nùm (green chili dip): This is a green chili dip made from a mashed combination of long green chilies, shallots and garlic. This spicy paste is often served with parboiled veggies like carrots and green beans, cucumber slices, cabbage, and deep-fried pork cracklings.

18. Chat with a Monk

Monk Chat Chiang Mai Thailand

You will spot the iconic saffron robes everywhere you venture in Thailand, but in Chiang Mai you can have the rare opportunity to go beyond gawking and get personal with a monk.There are 5 temples with “Monk Chat” programs in the city, but we chose to visit Wat Suan Dok Temple due to its proximity to town.

We spent an hour asking the monks questions about daily life and anything else that popped into our minds. They were incredibly open and willing to talk.

I only wished we had thought more about what we would ask them ahead of time because after we left I started coming up with many more questions on some of the hot topics in today’s society… What is the Buddhist stance on gay marriage? Guns? Refugees? ISIS? If you have the chance to ask any of these questions, I’d love to know the answers!

How to do a Monk Chat: It’s super easy. At Wat Suan Dok, just show up between 5-7 p.m. on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday. You will sign in with your name and nationality and be assigned to a monk. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing that covers your shoulders and everything above your knees.

19. Celebrate Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai

Loy Krathong Chiang Mai | Two Wandering Soles

If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Chiang Mai during the month of November, you can observe the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festivals, which take place around the same time. The date changes each year due to the lunar calendar, so do you research.

Loy Krathong Sky lanterns at Wat Pan Tao Chiang Mai Thailand

Also, book your accommodation well in advance. We were without a bed for one night because it seemed like the entire city had “no vacancy” signs. (Our amazing hostel saved the day and set up a mat on their porch – they called it a “jungle bungalow” – so we didn’t have to sleep on the streets.)

More Info: Here’s a detailed article on activities during Loy Krathong and Yi Peng festival that will help you make the most of this celebration. 

20. Take a day trip to Chiang Rai to visit the temples

Chiang Rai Temples
Image source: Get Your Guide

Chiang Rai is located in the far northeast and is well worth a visit during your trip to Thailand.

Most famous for Wat Rong Khun – aka “the White Temple” – there is lots more to Chiang Rai than seeing this single landmark. Though I will say it is truly breathtaking and worth the hype.

A roughly 3 hours apart, getting to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai isn’t a quick affair. That said, it is totally possible to visit as an already-planned-for-you day trip.

This tour earns rave reviews and makes a couple of stops along the way, making it possible to see Chiang Rai and return back to your hotel in Chiang Mai in the evening.

…or take an extended trip to Chiang Rai

Personally, we’d recommend spending at least one night in Chiang Rai if you have the time, as getting there from Chiang Mai is no quick trip. Expect the drive to take 3 hours each way, meaning you’ll be in transport for 6 hours if you attempt this as a day trip. 

If it were us, we’d skip the day tour and do it on our own to have more time to explore and less time in a car.

21. Meditate with monks

Chiang Mai Thailand meditation retreat
This photo was taken at a monastery in northern Thailand (about a 5-hour journey from Chiang Mai). However, there are many meditation centers in Chiang Mai if you don’t have time to venture that far from the city.

Some people come to Thailand for the adventure while others come to get in touch with their spiritual side. If you’re interested in the latter (or want a healthy mix of both!) you might want to consider fitting in some time to slow down and quiet your mind.

Whether you’re totally new to meditation or have been practicing for years, there are meditation centers in Chiang Mai (and all around Thailand, for that matter) for all levels.

Here are some meditation centers in Chiang Mai:

Personal Note: While we haven’t done any of these meditations in Chiang Mai, we stayed at a monastery in northern Thailand (between Kai and Mae Hong Son) where we meditated for 3 days (pictured above). It was an incredible experience, and we’ve written all about it.

If you have extra time in your Thailand itinerary, we’d highly recommend making it here. But if time is tight, one of the meditation centers in Chiang Mai here (or listed above) will be a good alternative. 

22. Go on a food tour

Chiang Mai food tour (GYG)
Image source: Get Your Guide

If you’re a serious foodie, going on a food tour in Chiang Mai will be a perfect way to sample the best dishes the city has to offer at spots chosen by locals. 

We’ve eaten our way around Chiang Mai quite a bit over our many visits (and time spent living there). But on our most recent trip to Chiang Mai, we decided to book a food tour for ourselves and two of our friends who have called the city home for 6+ years. 

Even though we’ve spent a lot of time in Thailand and our friends have been there even longer, we all tried dishes on this tour that we had never heard of before, which was kind of surprising. Also, we all learned even more about Thai cuisine and culture from our local guide.

We loved squeezing into the tiny mom-and-pop shops that we never would have found on our own and exploring a local market where there were hardly any other tourists in sight. We only wish we had done this experience sooner!

Chiang Mai Thailand

There are lots of food tours to choose from in Chiang Mai. Here are our top recommendations:

With Locals: This is the tour we personally did. We chose it mainly because they can cater to dietary needs. Our friends are vegetarian, and they were able to adjust the stops accordingly. It is also one of the most budget-friendly tours, and we had a great experience.

Evening Street Food Tour: This 2.5-hour tour takes place after the sun has set and brings you to street stands for some of the best flavors you’ll have in the city.

Northern Flavors Food Tour: This food tour through Airbnb Experiences is a crowd favorite, and includes 15 different tastings over 4 hours. Good to know: It’s not suitable for those who don’t eat meat. 

If you squeeze a food tour into your itinerary just be sure to come with a (very) empty stomach and pencil in some time afterwards to relax because the chances of a “food coma” are high!

Really love food? Taking a food tour was also one of our favorite things we did in Bangkok! If you like foodie experiences, I don’t think it’s overkill to do one in each city, as they are very different and focus on different dishes and ingredients.

23. Eat on the street!

Chiang Mai Thailand street food

If you like street food, you’ll love Chiang Mai! While street food is easy to find basically anywhere in Thailand, you’ll find the most options at the night markets and around the gates of the Old City walls.

You’ll find everything from super cheap pad thai being cooked in a gigantic wok to grilled meat skewers to noodle soups. If you’re traveling with a partner, order a few different dishes so you can sample them all!

Chiang Mai Thailand street food Cowboy Lady

Listen up! Don’t miss the famous Cowboy Hat Lady featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown. She serves up a damn good Khao Kha Mo (Thai-style stewed pork leg as pictured above).

Her stall is located near the north gate of the old city at the Chang Phuek Market. The pork and rice dish can be served in a small size (40 baht) or a large size (50 baht) and it literally melts in your mouth.

Insider Tip: We don’t like fatty pieces of meat, so we order ours “mai ow nang” which means without skin and fat.

24. Have a local plan your Chiang Mai itinerary

Chiang Mai Thailand

Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to do in Chiang Mai? We know the feeling (and we’re not even halfway through this list yet!). Wouldn’t it be great if you could have someone plan your itinerary for you!? Well, your wish is about to come true…

ViaHero is a really cool company that connects travelers with locals in the place they’re visiting. You tell the local what kinds of things you are interested in and what you really want to do and see on your trip. And they’ll put together a customized itinerary just for you.

Insider Tip: Our advice would be to ask them to include lots of cultural experiences and food spots on your itinerary, because who better to get tips from than a local?!

Not only are you providing a valuable job for someone in the community, but you will get a complete itinerary for your trip to Chiang Mai that is totally tailored to your interests. Follow their advice and get off the beaten path for an authentic and memorable trip! 

25. Explore Chiang Mai’s local markets

Market in Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai has a market in what seems like every corner of the city. Whether you’re looking for elephant pants and other souvenirs, hoping to pick up some fresh fruits, or you’re wanting to be surrounded by locals, there is a market for you!

Discovering local favorites is one of the best parts of travel. Get more tips on where to go and what to do from locals in Thailand when you use ViaHero to plan a personalized itinerary.

Local “Everything” Market

  • Warorot Market (Kad Luang): This is where many locals shop for clothes or home goods. It’s cheaper than the tourist markets but is only open during the day.

Organic Produce Market

  • Jing Jai Market: Here you’ll find cute coffee shops and stores, but the main reason to visit Jing Jai is for their organic produce market every Wednesday and Saturday morning. There are also vendors selling crafts and food, as well as live music and caricature artists!

Artsy Market

  • Bor Sang (Umbrella Village) Market: A little outside of Chiang Mai, this market is famous for its handicrafts and popular decorated umbrellas. Go here for a color explosion.

Our Favorite Market

  • Malin Market: This is our favorite market to get dinner and do some shopping. If you are over by Chiang Mai University, pop over to Malin Night Market. There are artists selling jewelry and clothes stalls with cheap price tags (not souvenir-type items). The food court is great too! You won’t find many foreigners here – mainly Thai university students.

Responsible Travel Tip: When shopping at Chiang Mai’s many markets, don’t forget to bring your own reusable bag and turn down plastic ones whenever possible. Check out this article for more eco-friendly travel gear!

Psst! We didn’t forget about the famous Chiang Mai Night Markets! (See #7 for more info!)

26. Eat ALL the tropical fruits!

Tropical fruits in Thailand

My name is Katie, and I am fruit-a-holic. (Anyone else with me?!) If you’re nodding your head you’re in luck because Chiang Mai is heaven for tropical fruit-lovers.

Visit the local markets and you’ll see all sorts of colorful fruits you’ve likely never seen before. I made it my mission to search for unfamiliar fruits and buy them. Fresh produce is really cheap in Thailand (from the local markets), so there’s really no risk!

It would be nearly impossible to list all the fruits you’ll find in Chiang Mai, but here are some of my favorites that you should definitely try:

  • Mangosteen (my absolute favorite!)
  • Rambutan
  • Plum Mangos
  • Custard Apple
  • Dragonfruit
  • Small Bananas
  • Lychee

Oh, and while they’re probably not unfamiliar, if you like papaya, pineapple and mangos, be sure to try a few while in Thailand, as they’re likely more fresh and delicious than the imported ones we get in Western countries.

Feeling adventurous? Try durian. Some people love it (it has a cult following), and others — myself included — hate it. I consider myself someone who likes pretty much all foods (except ketchup, and now durian). I can’t even stand the smell. But give it a taste and let me know what you think!

Good to know: You can also find a lot of these fruits in Hawaii, which was a nice surprise on a recent trip! I felt like I could indulge in some of my favorite tropical fruits without the price tag of a flight to Asia! Though the same fruits in Hawaii are much more expensive than they are in Thailand.

27. Get soaked at Songkran celebrations

Songkran in Chiang Mai Thailand

Songkran, or Thai New Year, is celebrated in April. (The exact date changes, as it follows the lunar calendar.)

If you’re planning to visit Chiang Mai for Songkran, get ready for a festival you’ll never forget! 

Songkran lasts for 3 days, and the whole city plays along. Everyone carries water guns and buckets, and there is no way you can walk down a street without getting wet.

As long as you’ve got your phone protected, you’re in for an incredible time. 

Songkran Chiang Mai Thailand

Families will drive down the street with the bed of their pickup truck lined with plastic and filled with water, creating a makeshift “pool”. Kids or teenagers sitting in the back will find every opportunity to douse passersby with buckets of water.

Music plays on every block and spontaneous dance parties will break out on the streets, and everyone — tourists and locals — come together with smiles on their faces. We’ve never really witnessed a celebration like it.

Songkran Chiang Mai Thailand

Good to know: One thing to look out for is that some of the water being thrown as you walk through the streets is from the moat that surrounds the Old City. Close your mouth and be sure not to swallow it.

Also, be sure to shower once you get back to your hotel, as the water in the moat can be filled with bacteria. I hope that little health tip doesn’t scare you away, because it is seriously such a fun celebration!

28. Splash around at the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon Chiang Mai Thailand

We’ve visited the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon twice before — once in 2015 and again in 2019 — and boy oh boy has it changed! What used to be a sort of hidden secret is now super built up, and it’s certainly not off-the-beaten-path anymore.

Back in the day (aka 2015 and before), this old quarry was a haven for backpackers looking for an adventurous and cheap way to spend the day. There was one small cafe onsite and it cost 50 baht ($1.60 USD) to enter, and this fee included a complimentary drink.

From there, you were on your own. Locals hung out and dove off cliffs — some as tall as 15 meters (50 feet). There were a couple of rickety bamboo rafts to float on, and that was pretty much it.

Today, things have changed quite a bit. For one, the entrance fee is now 650 baht ( $21 USD) — that’s a huge price increase! But an even bigger difference is how built up it is. What was once a simple, no-frills quarry is now basically a waterpark with tons of inflatables.

It is now known as the Grand Canyon Water Park. 

Grand Canyon Chiang Mai Thailand
This was what the “Grand Canyon” looked like on our first visit to Chiang Mai back in 2015… Quite a bit different than it looks today.
Grand Canyon Chiang Mai Thailand
And yet another shot taken in 2015 before it was quite so developed.

The changes haven’t been all bad. Honestly, the Grand Canyon was pretty dangerous before it was built up (there were a few cliff jumping deaths). Now, there are lifeguards and cliff jumping is only allowed in designated areas.

The quarry is filled with inflatables (think a Ninja Warrior type obstacle course!), and if you want to channel your inner child for a day and get out of the heat, you’ll have a great time. We visited the Grand Canyon on my birthday and had a really fun time just acting like kids.

But I will say, it is a lot more TIRING than it looks! (Do I sound like a grandma?!) After about 2 hours, we were ready to go back to town. Also, we think it would have been more fun with a group of friends. So factor that in to determine if the cost will be worthwhile for you.

How to visit the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon

Just a 30-minute drive from town, a trip to Grand Canyon Water Park will allow you to escape the city and soak up some rays. 

Get there by motorbike (an easy drive) or by tuk tuk/songathew (red pickup truck). Split the fare with other travelers to make it more affordable. You can also order a Grab (rideshare) to bring you there.

Entrance fee: 650 baht for adults (~$22 USD)

Don’t want to pay a huge entrance fee? Not into the inflatables?

Listen up because there is an alternative…

Instead of navigating to the “main” Grand Canyon entrance, you will go to Grand Canyon Gamnanboon. There will probably be a parking attendant trying to get you to come here instead of the bigger one, so just park as soon as you see them flagging you down.

The entrance fee here is just 100 baht ($3.20 USD), and you can hang out on the floating dock, use kayaks or jump off the designated platforms. There is also a small onsite restaurant selling food and drinks.

29. Have a pool day

Pool day Chiang Mai Thailand

If you’re craving a day relaxing in the sun, head to one of the many pools in Chiang Mai. Oh, and don’t forget your sunscreen!

If you’re really smart, you can plan ahead and book a hotel with a nice pool. But if your accommodation is pool-free, here are a few options that are open to the public:

  • RISE Rooftop at the Akyra Hotel: This combination rooftop bar and pool is open to the public from 6 – 11:30 p.m. nightly. All you need to do is buy a drink to use the facilities. 
  • Green Hill Apartments: Lay out by these two massive pools all day for only 80 baht per person. If you get hungry, they also have a restaurant on-site.
  • Center of the Universe: Located just north of the Nimman area, this salt water pool (less chemicals, yay!) is 200 baht for an all day pass.
  • Ozone Roof Bar at the Cross Hotel: Private cabanas and poolside sunbeds make this the perfect place to catch some rays. Plus the rooftop views can’t be beat!
  • Looper: Boasting a lap pool, an onsen, a cold plunge, and a Thai style herbal “sauna”, this could be a good place to come for a little self care time. There’s also an onsite cafe that serves some really good drinks. You can pay a basic entrance fee for 200 baht or 250 baht which includes a drink. 

30. Embrace the cafe culture

Ristr8o cafe coffee Chiang+Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai is home to thousands of digital nomads, which means there are coffee shops on every corner. 

And we’re not just talking about your run-of-the-mill Starbucks. In Chiang Mai, you’ll find super interesting and quirky cafes all around the city, like ones with ball pits and cotton candy lattes! 

Here are a few to put on your list if you love coffee shops:

  • Ristr8o: With 2 locations in the Nimman neighborhood and another in Central Festival Mall, this coffee shop serves up some seriously good coffee inspired from around the world. The baristas here are second to none and have won several coffee art awards!
    • We like the Ristr8o Lab location because it’s in a more peaceful setting than the one right on Nimman Road.
  • Artisan Cafe: South of the Old City, this is one of the prettiest cafes in Chiang Mai. Hang out in the a/c to get some work done or just come in for a drink to marvel at the decor.  
  • Chaseki Teahouse: With chic decor and decadent drinks, how can you go wrong?!
  • Akha Ama Coffee: With a couple of locations in town (one in the Old City), Akha Ama is known for serving up some of the best coffee in town.
  • My Secret Cafe in Town: This coffee shop doubles as a vegan cafe and is a nice place to rest your legs while exploring the Old City.
  • Free Bird Cafe: This entirely vegan cafe has both indoor and outdoor seating. And the best part: they donate profits to support Northern Thai and Burmese hill tribes. This is a laptop-free cafe, so don’t expect to get any work done here!
  • The Larder: Deliciously good coffee and an epic brunch menu in the heart of Nimman. 
  • Cool Cat Cafe: The themed cafes that are popular in Tokyo have made their way to Chiang Mai! Cuddle friendly felines while sipping a specialty drink.

31. Catch sunrise at the Huay Tung Tao Reservoir

Huay Tung Tao Reservoir Chiang Mai Thailand
A peaceful sunrise at Mai Huay Tung Tao Lake

Huay Tung Tao Lake is a place many foreign tourists never visit. In fact, we didn’t hear about it until our third time in Chiang Mai. This lake is a popular place for locals and expats to go for morning runs and hiking in the surrounding trails.

If you’re feeling up to it, we’d recommend hiking while you’re at the lake. The hike to Taab Mook Waterfall is quite easy and you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful sight!

Have lunch at a floating restaurant

Floating restaurants at Huay Tung Tao Lake Chiang Mai Thailand

At lunchtime, people come to eat in one of the many floating restaurants around the lake. While the food isn’t anything spectacular and it’s a bit pricier than you’d pay in the city, it’s a unique dining experience.

The restaurants seem to be more or less the same, and they charge a per person fee to eat in the bungalows over the water. The restaurant we ate at charged 20 baht per person for the lakeside tables, while the ones a few meters back on land were free. Also, they only take cash.

How to get to the Huay Tung Tao Reservoir

Huay Tung Tao Reservoir Chiang Mai Thailand

Traveling by motorbike would be your best option to get to the Huay Tung Tao Reservoir. From the Old City, travel west on Huay Kaew Road and turn right on Highway 127. Travel north for about 4 km and then turn left when you see signs for the lake. If you come to Highway 107, you have gone too far. 

You could also order a Grab car (Asia’s version of Uber), but as we experienced it was easy to get there but very difficult to find a driver to take us back to the city. 

Another way to get there would be to talk to a songthaew (red truck) driver and negotiate a price. You would probably play about 100 baht per person and you would need at least 4-6 people. 

Cost: There is a 50 baht entrance fee for foreigners. If you enter before 7 a.m., it is free.

32. Practice yoga

yoga in Chiang Mai Thailand

If you’re stiff from a long plane ride, Chiang Mai is the perfect place to get your downward dog on! With plenty of yoga studios throughout the city, you’ll have no trouble finding a class. 

Free yoga in Chiang Mai

If you’re on a budget, you might want to try one of the free yoga classes offered daily in Chiang Mai.

  • Nong Buak Hard Park: Free classes daily from 9 – 10:15 a.m. If you don’t have your own mat, you can rent a straw mat for 15 baht. Join the Yoga in the Park – Chiang Mai Facebook group for more info.
  • One Nimman: Every Tuesday (Hatha) and Thursday (Hatha Vinyasa), there are free yoga classes at One Nimman from 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. They also offer free Swing Dance and Salsa lessons throughout the week. This article has more information. (It is in Thai, but you can have Google translate it.)

Yoga studios in Chiang Mai

If you’d prefer to practice your inversions within the walls of a studio, there are plenty to choose from. Most classes are quite affordable, usually starting at 200 baht. If you purchase multiple sessions up front, the price per class will be cheaper.

  • Ananda Yoga: There are two locations within Chiang Mai (Jing Jai Market and Nimman). We had a membership at the Nimman studio and really loved the classes. We always felt challenged and got a good workout.
  • Freedom Yoga: One of the most popular studios in Chiang Mai, this studio is located in the southwest corner of Old City.
  • Om Ganesha Yoga: A studio in Nimman offering multiple classes daily for different skill levels. They offer Vinyasa, power, Ashtanga and Hatha yoga styles.  

33. Eat vegan for a day

Vegan Thai food Chiang Mai Thailand

If you don’t eat meat, you will be in heaven, as there are endless vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai

I should mention that vegetarianism is not typical in traditional Thai culture, and in rural parts of the country it can be very difficult to find meatless dishes. However, with the influx of foreigners in Chiang Mai as well as a change in the times, there are vegetarian and vegan places popping up everywhere.

Here are just a few of our veg favorites:

  • Free Bird Cafe: Located in the Nimman neighborhood, this non-profit, vegan cafe donates 100% of profits to their charity which supports a community learning center for Burmese refugees.
    • There is also an attached zero-waste store where they sell items that are good for the environment, like bamboo straws, menstrual cups and reusable bags. Plus, there’s a section of second hand clothing and accessories where you can pick up (old) new clothes or donate any items that are weighing down your backpack!
  • Pun Pun Restaurant: The produce at this restaurant is organic and is sourced from their own farm (renowned worldwide for their sustainability methods), so you can feel good about what you’re eating. 
  • Anchan: One of our very favorite restaurants in the Nimman neighborhood, this small restaurant serves veg versions of Thai dishes as well as yummy smoothies. Their portions are huge and their curries are rich and delicious.
  • Goodsouls Kitchen: With two locations, this is one of the more well-known vegan restaurants in Chiang Mai.
  • Imjai Vegan (vegan stand in the Maya Food Court): The cheapest option on this list, this is a small stand in the Maya Food Court (located underground). The family who owns this is so sweet, and all the Thai dishes served here are vegan and cooked with coconut oil. For just 40 baht, you can get 3 different items (you choose from a buffet of options) as well as rice.
  • Aum Vegetarian Restaurant: Located just south of the Old City walls, this is a cozy spot to enjoy vegetarian versions of traditional Thai dishes. We’ve heard good things about their veg khao soi!

34. Get lost inside the Old City walls

Old City Chiang Mai Thailand

A lot of Chiang Mai’s charm comes from the fact that it remains a walled city with a moat surrounding the walls. Chiang Mai’s Old City is where most first-time visitors to this city will want to base themselves, and for good reason. You’ll find temples on just about every block, and there is an abundance of cute restaurants and massage parlors.

Wander through the narrow alleyways, stumble upon street art, and take a break with a smoothie or coconut ice cream from a street vendor. 

One of our favorite areas of the Old City to wander is the northeast corner. Start at Blue Diamond restaurant (a good choice for a meal!), and walk around the narrow streets nearby. There’s a small local market at the very edge of the city wall, and lots of tree-shaded streets with murals to get lost in. 

35. Explore this secret Art Village 

Secret Art Village Chiang Mai Thailand

Unknown to most tourists, there is a cute “art village” that’s not far from the airport. With small cafes, tree-shaded paths, art studios and shops selling handcrafted items, this is a sweet spot to spend part of a relaxed afternoon. 

If you want to get artsy, there is even a pottery studio where you can book single-day classes or multi-day courses and get your hands dirty!

Secret Art Village Chiang Mai Thailand

How to get there: We haven’t really been able to find the name for this village (comment below if you know the name!), but if you plug this address into Google Maps or direct your Grab driver here, you’ll find the parking lot and will be able to wander around from here.

Hungry? There are a handful of restaurants in the area serving local dishes, but if by chance you’re craving pizza, Adirak Pizza is just down the street and serves us the best pizza we’ve had in all of Asia. This stuff is the real deal and is worth the splurge. Oh, and they have wine too! Can I get a hell yeah?!

36. Hang out in the a/c in one of Chiang Mai’s Luxurious Malls

Maya Mall Chiang Mai Thailand

Whether you’re visiting during rainy season or you want to escape the midday heat, popping into one of Chiang Mai’s malls can be a surprisingly fun way to spend part of the day. While we aren’t exactly “mall people”, we’re always pretty impressed by the shopping centers in Thailand.

There are several malls in Chiang Mai (Central Festival, Central Plaza, Promenada Resort Mall, to name a few), however, we are most familiar with Maya Mall.

Even if you don’t feel like trying on clothes, there’s plenty to do in Maya Mall:

  • Have a drink at the rooftop bars: Take the elevator to the 6th floor, where you’ll step out onto the rooftop. Whether you just want to see the view or you want to enjoy a beer with the sunset, it’s worth a stop before you leave the mall.
  • Watch a movie in style: The movie theater on the 5th floor of Maya shows the latest movies, and most are in English. On Wednesdays, movies are just 100 baht. If you want an extra special experience, go for the VIP theater where you can enjoy super comfy chairs, complimentary popcorn and a soda for just a bit more money.
  • Explore the cutesy shops: Moshi Moshi and Daiso are Japanese shops that sell inexpensive items that you don’t really need, but you’ll definitely want.
  • Visit the food court: The floor below ground level has a food court filled with local options that are tasty and affordable.
  • Get your WiFi on: If you need to use the Internet for a bit, pop into CAMP, which is a co-working space on the 5th floor of Maya Mall. Purchase a beverage or snack and get 2 hours of complimentary WiFi, or buy an Internet card at the AIS store on the 3rd floor. It is 150 baht and can be used to access the Internet in CAMP and other places around the city for one month.
  • Entertain your inner child: On the 5th floor you’ll find an arcade with air hockey, arcade dance games and more. And nearby, you’ll find virtual reality pods that cost 100 baht for a simulation of your choice.
  • Cross the street and make your way to Nimman One: This upscale covered shopping center has European-inspired architecture and a food court with local dishes.

37. Try a coworking space

Coworking Chiang Mai Thailand
This is C-A-M-P, one of the more crowded coworking places in town, but it’s free as long as you buy a drink.

It’s no secret that Chiang Mai is one of the most popular digital nomad hubs in the world. A combination of high speed Internet, low cost of living, long-term rentals, and an active DN community are just some of the reasons that make Chiang Mai such an appealing city for remote workers to settle down for a while. 

We’re no exception. In fact, we’ve called Chiang Mai “home” two different times for a collective year. 

If you’re at all interested in the digital nomad lifestyle, give it a try by popping into one of the city’s many co-working spaces. There are tons all throughout the city. Simply type “coworking space” into Google Maps and you’ll see what we mean! 

Coworking spaces to try in Chiang Mai

  • Punspace: This is kind of the OG in co-working spaces in Chiang Mai. With two locations inside the Old City, Punspace is well-known in the DN community for their networking events and prime working conditions. That said, they are one of the more expensive co-working places in the city.
  • CAMP at Maya Mall: Located on the 5th floor of Maya Mall, this is a cool spot to check out if you’re just curious about co-working. It is free to work from here, though you are supposed to buy a drink in order to access the Internet. This space is often full of Thai university students and can get very crowded at times. 
  • Heartwork: Located southeast of the Old City, this space is beautiful and quiet.

Psst! Are you a DN thinking about living in Chiang Mai? We’ve put together a guide to living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad just for you!

38. Watch a Muay Thai fight

Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai Thailand

Translating to “Thai boxing”, Muay Thai is to Thailand what baseball is to the United States. This beloved sport is practiced all around the country, and seeing a match in person is on many travelers’ Thailand bucket list.

Just inside the Old City’s east gate (Thaphae), is a Muay Thai area where you can watch a handful of fights up close. This facility is outdoors and is quite small, but we went with a group of friends and had a fun time!

The quality of the fight is really going to depend on the athletes. We’ve heard some people say they came on a night when the fights seemed “rigged”. However, on the night we were there, we had an acquaintance that was fighting (there is often a foreigner in the last fight), and it seemed real to us!

Also, the matches typically start with young fighters and go up in age as the matches progress.

How much does it cost?

  • Normal Ticket: 400 baht ($12.70 USD)
  • VIP Ticket: 600 baht ($19 USD)
  • Large beer: 120 baht ($3.80)
    • there are also cocktails for a bit higher price

Insider Tip: In our opinion, the normal seats were just fine and weren’t much farther away than the VIP seats (in the photo above, you’ll see the men ahead of us were in the VIP seats but weren’t that much closer). Also, it is possible to reserve your seats in advance, but we had no trouble showing up and getting tickets at the door. It is also a bit cheaper to get the tickets in person.

What time are the matches? 

The Muay Thai fights start around 9 p.m. (you can be seated earlier) and they are held on most nights.

Really interested in Muay Thai? Why not take a course and try it out for yourself. There are many Muay Thai boxing gyms in Chiang Mai where you can learn from a trained instructor.

39. Go on a street art scavenger hunt

Street art Chiang Mai Thailand

You don’t have to wander far in Chiang Mai to see displays of street art on walls or the sides of businesses. Whenever we’re in a city known for its street art scene, we love scoping out as many murals as possible.

There are a handful of well-known resident artists in Chiang Mai, plus, it’s a city that attracts muralists from around the world to leave their mark. 

Where to find street art in Chiang Mai:

  • The Old City (especially the eastern section) is a great place to do a little self-guided street art scavenger hunt. 
  • The Abandoned Women’s Prison is known as a good place for spotting a variety of murals. You can see many pieces of art from the outside without trespassing.
  • You’ll also see lots of smaller pieces on the smaller streets in the Nimman neighborhood.

And if you’re really interested, this is a pretty comprehensive guide to street art in Chiang Mai.

40. Ride in a Songthaew (Red Truck)

Songthaew Chiang Mai Thailand

When you visit Chiang Mai you can’t miss the numerous songthaews, or red trucks, on the roads. Songthaews, literally translated means “two rows”. They are converted red trucks with two padded bench seats in the bed and act as shared “taxis” throughout the city. 

Red trucks are our favorite way to get around Chiang Mai. Not only are red trucks plentiful and help reduce the number of cars on the road, they are fairly inexpensive costing only 30 baht ($0.93 USD) per person anywhere within the old city. 

Here is our rule of thumb for songthaew costs:

  • Anywhere within or around the Chiang Mai Old City: 30 baht per person
  • Chiang Mai Old City to Nimman Road area: 40 baht per person (sometimes only 30 if they already have a load of people)
  • Chiang Mai Old City or Nimman Road to Airport: 50 baht person
  • Old City to Doi Suthep Temple: 60 baht per person one-way

How to get in a Songthaew red truck

Hail down a red truck just like you would a cab or a tuk tuk, and they will pull over on the side of the road. Say hello (sah-wah-dee) to the driver and tell them the general area you are going. 

It may confuse them if you request a specific hotel or restaurant. We typically request one of the old city gates, or a popular market, and then just walk the rest of the way. 

If they know where you are going, they will either say “Okay” or state a price per person. If they don’t say a price, it is understood that the price is 30 baht per person. 

The drivers are pretty good about getting to where you want to go, but if they go past your stop, you can ring the bell on the ceiling and they will pull over. Hop out and pay the driver. 

41. See a cabaret show

Cabaret show Chiang Mai Thailand

If you’re looking for a fun night out on the town, consider seeing a cabaret show! RAM Bar will show you a good time with live performances every night starting at 10 p.m. The dancers are super talented and you’ll see several acts during this 1.5-hour show. 

Our advice would be to arrive early, as these shows fill up quickly and it is a very tiny venue. The drinks are on the expensive side, but the show is free, so we found it worthwhile and a fun experience!

Ben on stage at cabaret show Chiang Mai Thailand

P.S. Maybe you’ll get lucky like Ben and get called up on stage for a “special dance experience” haha!

42. Cheers with local craft beer (sort of…)

Craft beer in Chiang Mai Thailand

Any fellow craft beer lovers out there?! Listen up because we have some good news and some bad news. 

The bad: Thailand is well known for its light beers, like Chang, Leo and Singha. In fact, Chang has a monopoly on brewing in Thailand, meaning no other companies can actually brew inside the country.

To get around this, some small craft brewers source local ingredients, then send each batch off to Cambodia to be brewed and then returned to Thailand. Talk about red tape! 

Since this process comes with a big cost and is a logistical nightmare, the craft beer scene is still very small overall. 

The good: Things are changing. Since my first visit to Thailand back in 2011, things have changed a LOT when it comes to craft beer. Chiang Mai actually has a decent craft beer scene for being in a country where they have to outsource the brewing process. 

There are a handful of craft beer bars where you can get imported brews as well as “local beer”. (Remember, it may be sourced and combined in Thailand, but it is technically brewed outside of the country.)

One more thing we should point out is that because the brewing must be outsourced, craft beer in Thailand is very expensive. It is at least as expensive as you’d pay for a craft brew in a Western country, and a lot of times it’s even more than you’d pay at home.

But the cravings are real, friends, and if you want to some of Chiang Mai’s best (sort of) local beers, here’s where you’ll find them:

Best places for craft beer in Chiang Mai

  • My Beer Friend: With a few locations around the city, My Beer Friend brews some pretty decent beers including IPAs and Stouts. You can also find their bottled beer in some of the bottle shops around town.
  • Mind Cafe: With several taps and a refrigerator filled with craft bottles, this quaint shop in the Old City has a big selection.
  • Q-Bar: Located in the Nimman neighborhood, this bar almost has speakeasy vibes and has a decent selection of craft beer.
  • Renegade Craft Beer & Billiards: If you’re looking for a true sports bar vibe with a good beer selection, this will be your jam!
  • Beer Lab: This place probably has the largest selection of imported beer in the entire city, but we weren’t overly impressed by the vibe or the prices.

43. Check out the nightlife in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai’s nightlife scene isn’t as lively as many other major cities, as the bars must “officially” close at midnight. Oh, and while we’re on the topic, if it is a crazy night out you’re looking for, Zoe in Yellow (a popular backpacker bar/club) is going to be the best place to find that scene.

But there are plenty of fun things to do at night, whether that involves drinks or not!. (See #15, #38 and  #41 on this list for some ideas.)

If you love live music and are craving a jam session, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear Chiang Mai actually has a pretty decent live music scene. Here are some venues that regularly host live music:

Where to see live music in Chiang Mai

Live music in Chiang Mai Thailand
Pictured here is our super talented friend, Eric Zyla, playing a set at 7 Pounds
  • Northgate Jazz Co-Op: This ultra-popular venue can get super crowded, especially on Tuesdays when they host an open mic night. Expect to be standing on the street, mingling with other music-lovers.
  • Thapae East: This venue is super cool and hosts many events.
  • 7 Pounds: This bar is a hidden oasis, and we’re obsessed! With a garden lit by fairy lights, decently priced drinks and a big stage for performers, this low key bar is tucked away in a quiet street not far from Maya Mall and will make you feel as if you’ve discovered a local secret!
  • Mellowship Jazz Club: Live music every night of the week. A little bit more upscale, but a pretty nice place if you want seating, food and nice drinks while enjoying live music.

44. Boil eggs in San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs Chiang Mai (Google)
Image by น้ำพุร้อนสันกำแพง อ.แม่ออน via Google

While I wouldn’t say this is a must do for your first (or even second!) visit to Chiang Mai, San Kamphaeng Hot Springs Park is an interesting experience for someone who is looking to get far off the beaten path.

We stumbled upon this park by accident when driving to the floating pagodas of Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat (a day trip from Chiang Mai we totally recommend!).

We found a bunch of hot springs ranging in temperature — from nearly boiling to a comfortable soaking temperature.

We wandered past Thai families boiling eggs in the extremely hot pools and groups of Thai teenagers soaking their feet in the cooler pools while small children splashed around. 

There are local places to grab lunch, making it a good place to refuel before continuing on a little countryside road trip.

45. Visit a botanical garden

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden (Sarath Jasrin - Google)
Image by Sarath Jasrin via Google

If you’re the kind of traveler who enjoys escaping the city for nature, Chiang Mai has a few botanical gardens that are worth a visit.

Bai Orchid & Butterfly Farm

  • Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Entrance fee: 40 baht per person

Situated just 30 minutes north of the city center, this enchanting botanical garden showcases it’s butterfly residents fluttering around among a vast collection of orchids. Visitors can wander through lush gardens, marvel at rare orchid varieties, and witness the delicate dance of vibrant butterflies that flit about.

Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

  • Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • Entrance fee: 100 baht for adults (50 baht for children)

Another 15 minutes west of Bai Orchid & Butterfly Farm is the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden. Spanning over 1,000 acres, this expansive garden is dedicated to preserving and showcasing Thailand’s diverse plant species.

Visitors can explore themed gardens, including the Rainforest Collection and the Rock Garden, which feature an array of indigenous flora. The garden also serves as a hub for research and conservation, promoting environmental awareness and education.

Things NOT to do in Chiang Mai

Things not to do in Chiang Mai Thailand

We decided long ago that we will not knowingly contribute to attractions that exploit people or animals while traveling. A picture, in our opinion, just isn’t worth the suffering of others.

We know all too well that it is often hard to know if a company is socially responsible, so we try to share what we’ve learned along the way. We hope this information helps you formulate your own opinion about visiting some controversial sites on your travels.

As with any controversial issue, research the subject, and formulate your own opinion so you can make a socially-responsible decision.

Related: Easy ways to Travel More Responsibly

Tiger Kingdom

You will undoubtedly be pestered by tuk tuk drivers shouting “Tiger Kingdom! I take you to Tiger Kingdom!” After doing lots of research on the subject and talking to others who have visited this attraction, we have very strong feelings about this type of tourism.

And we made a firm decision not to support it even though, yes, having a picture with a large cat would be quite cool.

At the “sanctuary”, tigers are treated in a way that is undoubtedly inhumane. Hordes of people line up daily to have their photo taken with these animals that are living a harmful and unnatural lifestyle. This article outlines several reasons to avoid this tourist hotspot.

Elephant Trekking

Many of the treks advertised in Chiang Mai include an elephant ride. As we’ve written before, riding on an elephant’s back is actually very harmful to these gentle creatures. There are a few elephant sanctuaries in Thailand that treat them well, but the overwhelming majority are terribly cruel.

We had a wonderful experience at the very reputable Elephant Nature Park. Here, you can be assured that your contribution is not harming the animals, but instead is ensuring they have a healthy and happy life.

Visiting the “Long Neck” Hill Tribes

Several tour shops advertise tours that take you to a hill tribe village where you can see the famous “Longneck” people (this actually refers to a subgroup of the Karen people). 

Although we can’t speak from experience, some people we spoke to who had done these tours said it felt like a group of people on display in the name of tourism. Others claim that many of these villages’ main source of livelihood comes from tourism.

We, too, are intrigued by the indigenous tribes, but are still unsure of how we feel about this. It is no doubt a complicated issue that brings up many feelings in different people. 

Our advice would be to do a little research and decide where you stand on this topic. 

If you do decide to visit a hill tribe village, be sure to choose a company that is paying the villagers fairly and operating in an ethical way. Also, do some research on the history of these indigenous groups – many of whom are refugees – and you will have a much more meaningful experience.

How many days do you need in Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai Thailand

Now that we have shared all the fun things to do in Chiang Mai, you’re probably wondering how you’re to fit it all in? AmIright??

The number of days you should spend in Chiang Mai depends on your interests, travel preferences, and the activities you plan to do. 

If you’re more interested in exploring Thailand’s diverse landscapes outside of the city, you may find that 3 days in Chiang Mai is enough to get your palette wet. However, for a well-rounded experience of Chiang Mai, we’d suggest spending 5 to 7 days in the city. 

Here are some general guidelines:

  • 3-4 days: Get a taste exploring Chiang Mai’s Old City and Nimman neighborhoods. Visit historic sites like Doi Suthep, Wat Pha Lat, and the night markets. And get a taste of Chiang Mai’s food scene.
  • 5-7 days: If you have specific interests like taking a cooking class, doing a Monk Chat or learning Muay Thai, you might want to allocate additional time for exploration and cultural experiences. 
  • 1 week or more: More time for exploring the city. Allocate 1 to 2 days for day trips to nearby destinations such as Doi Inthanon National Park, Sticky Waterfalls, or an elephant sanctuary, each offering unique experiences.

Best time to visit Chiang Mai

Neimann Chiang Mai Thailand

Before you plan your trip there is one very important thing to consider… We are going to go over the best time to visit Chiang Mai (and when to avoid visiting at all costs!).

  • Thai “winter” has the best weather (November – January): Don’t be fooled by the word “winter” — temperatures are comfortable (warm during the day and slightly crisp at night). Also, during this time of year, rain is rare and the air is fresh!
  • AVOID burning Season (February – April): We would absolutely avoid visiting Chiang Mai during “burning season”. This falls during the months of February, March and April, and is a time when farmers in many parts of Southeast Asia burn their fields to prepare for the next season. Paired with dry weather, the air becomes extremely polluted and smoky. It can be difficult to breathe, so outdoor activities are not recommended. Plus, during this time, you can’t even see the mountains because the air is so thick with smoke.
    • We would strongly advise against visiting Chiang Mai during this time. We lived in CM during this time, and it made most activities outside pretty miserable. Thankfully, weather in many of the Thai islands is very nice during this time of year.
  • Hot & rainy season (May – October): Rain is frequent during these months and the temperatures can be unbearably hot and humid. Often times, the rain doesn’t last all day, but when it falls, it falls hard!

Related: Read up more on the best time to visit Thailand. This country is huge and spans many different microclimates, so the weather varies a lot!

How to get to Chiang Mai city center from the airport

Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai International Airport is located pretty near the city center (about a 10 minute drive to the Phae Gate in the Old City and 15 minutes to Nimman Road). 

When you arrive at the Chiang Mai International Airport, there is a taxi queue, but you’ll find that it is overpriced. Instead, order a Grab to pick you up directly from the airport. 

Or if you are on a shoestring budget, you can wait in front of the departure doors for a songthaew to come by. From the airport to the city, it should cost around 50 baht per person.

Transportation in Chiang Mai

Streets of Chiang Mai Thailand

Getting from one place to another is quite simple in Chiang Mai due to all the options for transportation. Here are just a few of the most common ways to get around:

Songthaew (Red Truck)

These “shared taxis” are everywhere in the city and can basically take you anywhere you want to go for about 30-60 baht per person. More information above in #40.


Southeast Asia’s version of Uber and Lyft, this ride sharing app is super handy when wanting to get to a specific place. Grab constantly has promotions going on and we have gotten across the city for 20 baht before! Typical rides around town vary from 50-100 baht.


Chiang Mai Thailand

We only recommend renting a motorbike if you have driven one before and are comfortable with driving in a busy city and on the left side of the road. Additionally, you should always respect the rules of the road and don’t ride like an idiot to try to impress people.

Now that I’ve gotten that warning over with: Renting a motorbike can be one of the cheapest ways to get around and explore the outskirts of Chiang Mai. Rentals start at around 250 – 300 baht per day. You’ll need to leave your passport at the rental shop for collateral.

And please, please, PLEASE… wear a proper helmet (with wind-guard and facemask). It’s worth the extra 50 baht ($1.66 USD). We have seen/heard off too many travelers getting in accidents and we don’t want that to be you.

Tips for visiting Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai Thailand burning season
During burning season we wore these masks anytime we left the house to protect our lungs from the poor air quality.

When you’re visiting Chiang Mai, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind.

  • Know what weather to expect. Chiang Mai is pretty darn reliable when it comes to weather, so look up the weather in advance so you can plan and pack accordingly. And if possible, avoid burning season – trust us (we’ve experienced it and it’s awful).
  • Save room in your suitcase for souvenirs. Chiang Mai is my favorite place in Thailand to stock up on souvenirs. It tends to be cheaper than shopping in Bangkok or the Thai islands. Plus, the markets are great places to browse just about all the souvenirs you can imagine in one place.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking a lot in Chiang Mai, and the sidewalks are notoriously uneven, so wear your comfiest shoes!
  • Bring layers to wear at temples. When visiting temples (which you’ll definitely do in CM!) women will want to have something to cover your shoulders and knees. I like carrying a sarong in my bag which can be wrapped around my waist as a skirt, and a loose fitting t-shirt if I need to cover up a tank top.
  • Don’t try to see all the things. There is so much to do and see in Chiang Mai that it can be overwhelming. Prioritize the things you want to see the most because you definitely won’t be able to do it all. Also, my advice is to choose a few temples that stand out to you and not try to see them all. There are hundreds and they can start to blend together after a while, in my opinion.
  • Have a plan for transportation. Do you feel comfortable renting a motorbike? If not, you’ll need to rely on songthaews and Grabs to get around the city (which is pretty easy). The part that will be trickier is getting to the places outside the city. If you plan to do a lot of exploring outside the center, you may need to book a tour or arrange a driver.

Where to eat in Chiang Mai

Thai food | Two Wandering Soles

From an amazing street food scene with traditional Thai dishes, to an abundance of vegetarian and vegan places, to tons of international options, Chiang Mai is truly a gem when it comes to food.  

Insider Tip: We love going into Google Maps and looking at the reviews for all the restaurants near our current location. Typically, you can’t go wrong when the reviews are 4.5 and up!

You could eat at a new restaurant every day of the year and still not visit all of Chiang Mai’s restaurants and food stalls, so there’s absolutely no way we could make a comprehensive list.

Honestly, I’m hesitant to even list restaurants here, as you won’t have to look far to find great food… But here are a (big) handful of restaurants (mostly in the Nimman neighborhood) to get you started:

**= vegetarian / vegan restaurant

*= many vegetarian vegan options (but still serves meat)

Local/Thai food

Chiang Mai Thailand
  • Anchan**: One of our favorites! Vegetarian versions of Thai favorites. We especially love their massaman curry and stir fried mixed veggies. Yum!
  • Khao Soi Mae Sai: Our favorite Khao Soi place in the city! Local shop, and cheap prices.
  • Cherng Doi Roast Chicken: Famous for roast chicken and sticky rice (served with a yummy sauce!) as well as their papaya salads. Their mushroom tom yam soup is good too (and vegetarian).
  • Chang Phueak Pork Leg (aka “Cowboy Lady”): We heard of this street food stand (located by the north gate of Old City) through one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows (R.I.P.) and it’s fun to pay a visit to this street food lady who famously wears a cowboy hat!
    • FYI: It is a very small menu with basically a few options for one dish — stewed pork leg and rice. I do not believe there are any veg options.
  • Home J Vegan & Teaw J**: Super cheap Thai vegan place where you pick 3 dishes to be served over rice. The woman who owns this small restaurant is sweet and does a lot of “mock meat s”.
  • Maya Mall food court: There are actually some pretty decent options (at great prices) on the basement floor of Maya Mall.
    • Our favorite is the vegetarian stand, Shan Tou Hao Chi**. If you like mushrooms, be sure to ask for a serving. The are amazing! The people who work at this stall are so sweet, and you’ll get a big portion for a small price (around 40 baht).
    • Wrap Master* is another good option in the food court. You’ll find burritos and creative wraps (with veg options).
  • Funky Grill: Always packed with young Thai couples and friend groups, this joint serves skewers of grilled veggies and meat for a cheap price. Wash it down with a cold beer!
    • Tip: Order your skewers “less spicy” (you’ll select your preference on a piece of paper where you place your order). We love spicy food, but this is next-level spicy! Oh, and if you eat pork, the bacon-wrapped mushrooms are super tasty!
  • Street Food @ One Nimman*: Street Food Style Food Court area with lots of choices!

Our favorite cafes

  • Free Bird Cafe**: Non-profit vegan cafe with a zero waste and thrift shop inside.
  • Gallery Seescape*: Super tasty meals that are healthy and have lots of veggies. Our favorites are: chicken & roast veggie salad, veggie rice bowl, deconstructed massaman beef sandwich, and eggs Benedict. I ordered a smoothie bowl once and was disappointed, as it was really runny.
  • Manifreshto*: This tiny cafe is one of our favorite places for healthy smoothies (they’re amazing!) and decadent (Western) breakfasts. Many of the breakfast options include meat, but you can make substitutions (for mushrooms or egg).
  • Imm Aim Vegetarian and Bike Cafe**: Vegetarian restaurant with tons of Thai dishes.
  • Blue Diamond**: Located in a quiet part of Old City, has a big vegetarian menu and lots of yummy desserts.

Other favorites

  • Food 4 Thought*: Huge menu with Western options, and everything is made from scratch. We think the best thing on the menu are their (huge!) salads (Citrus Chicken, Zorba, and Cobb are some favorites). Oh, and try their carrot cake too!
  • RAWtruckr: If you like Korean fried chicken, this food truck is a good choice. Sit in the courtyard, and enjoy.
    • Tip: In the same courtyard space is a wine shop (Wine Lover by Pao) that has lots of options (as well as a decently priced house wine available in carafes). Wine is not always easy to find in Asia, so if you like vino, keep this little shop in mind!
  • Salsa Kitchen*: Best Mexican food we’ve found in Chiang Mai. Good margs too, and lots of vegetarian and vegan options.
  • The Salad Concept*: If you’re craving a big (and cheap) salad, this is a good option. There are lots of menu items including breakfast, wraps, Thai dishes, and specialty salads, but we’d recommend the “build your own salad”. You get 5 toppings and a homemade dressing for 69 baht; most other places that serve fresh salads charge quite a bit more. They also have lots of smoothies and juices to choose from.
    • Tip: There are tons of topping and dressing options to choose from — some better than others — and it does take a little experimenting to come up with a good combo. (We like the creamy sesame and Japanese soy dressings.)
  • Cat House*: Mix of Western and Thai food on the east side of Old City. Lots of veg options.
  • Beast Burger: If you’re craving a burger, this is one of the best you’ll find in all of Chiang Mai.
  • Adirak Pizza*: A bit out of the way, but this place has the best pizza we’ve had in Asia.
  • Accha*: If you’re craving Indian food, this place will satisfy! It is on the more expensive side, but portions are big, and the food is delish!
    • Namaste Indian Cuisine* is another good choice for Indian, and it’s cheaper, but not as nice of an atmosphere.
  • Ninja Ramen: Big selection of many different types of ramen.
  • Ai Sushi and Tsunami Sushi Bar: Two of our favorite spots for sushi. Ai Sushi has a larger menu, while Tsunami is cheaper.

Where to stay in Chiang Mai

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai

There are plenty of amazing hotels in Chiang Mai. If you’re looking for the best place to stay during a short visit, we’d recommend finding accommodation near Tha Phae Gate (the east part of the Old City or just outside). 

If you are planning to spend some time living in Chiang Mai as a digital nomad, we’d recommend looking for accommodation in the Nimman neighborhood.  

For more detailed information on the different neighborhoods, plus lots of hotel and Airbnb recommendations, we put together an entire article for travelers trying to figure out where to stay in Chiang Mai.

Be sure to download our complete packing list for SE Asia! It’s packed with good suggestions and insider tips to help plan your SE Asia vacation. And it’s completely FREE, so why not!?

SE Asia Packing List PDF download | Two Wandering Soles

Round up of the best things to do in Chiang Mai

Here’s a recap of all the best things to do in Chiang Mai so you can see everything in one place.

  1. Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Tong)
  2. Wat Pha Lat Temple
  3. Elephants in Chiang Mai (the responsible way)
  4. Bamboo rafting 
  5. Temple hopping
  6. Doi Suthep Temple (Wat Phra That)
  7. Chiang Mai’s Night Markets 
  8. Thai Cooking Class
  9. Khao Soi
  10. Doi Inthanon National Park
  11. Lampang’s “Floating Pagodas” (Wat Chaloem Phra Kiat)
  12. Huay Kaew Waterfall and swimming hole
  13. Hiking
  14. Mok Fa Waterfall
  15. Rooftop bars
  16. Thai massage
  17. Northern Thai dishes
  18. Monk Chat
  19. Loy Krathong & Yi Peng Festivals
  20. Chiang Rai
  21. Meditate with monks
  22. Food tour
  23. Street food
  24. Viahero Chiang Mai itinerary
  25. Chiang Mai’s Local Markets
  26. Eat ALL the tropical fruits
  27. Songkran celebrations
  28. Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
  29. Pool day
  30. Cafe culture
  31. Huay Tung Tao Reservoir
  32. Yoga
  33. Vegan food
  34. Old City Chiang Mai
  35. Secret Art Village 
  36. Chiang Mai’s Luxurious Malls
  37. Co-Working Space
  38. Muay Thai fight
  39. Street art scavenger hunt
  40. Songthaew (Red Truck)
  41. Cabaret Show
  42. Craft beer
  43. Nightlife
  44. Bai Orchid & Butterfly Farm
  45. San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

More Thailand resources…

We have TONS of resources on travel in Thailand and destinations throughout the country. Check out our Ultimate Thailand Travel Guide for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.

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Things to Do in Chiang Mai | Two Wandering Soles
Things to Do in Chiang Mai | Two Wandering Soles

We want to hear from you!

Which of these things to do in Chiang Mai are going straight to the top of your bucket list? Do you have any other suggestions you think belong on this list? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below. 

Comments (111) on “45 Absolute Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

  1. Sara says:

    Great post! So thorough and well put together. We are headed to Chiang Mai next week and I have a whole list of things to do and places to visit now!

  2. Jan says:

    Thanks for the post. It has some really useful info. I have been to Chiang Mai, but it was years ago and I know it has changed loads. I am now heading back with teenage kids, so really looking forward to trying out some of the adventurous activities with them.

  3. Karolina Janczuk says:

    Great blog! Thank you for all the info. I believe I might have found the name of the artist village you mention in your blog post. Is it called Bann Kang Wat?

  4. Marisa says:

    Hi there 🙂 Just wanted to give a comment that this was an amazing blog and I genuinely appreciate you and your efforts! I am ecstatic about my visit and can’t wait!

  5. Kevin says:

    Hi guys, I had the incredible opoortunity (thanks for the best article btw) to chat with monsk in Wat Pha Lat! Inspired by your article, I wanted to ask about their position on LGBT and share that with you. The monks said, they believe in karma and that LGBT bring (in their opinion) bad karma from orevious life. They ended by saying that everyone has right to love and to be loved:)
    This comment relates to one of the article above. I hope I answered your question:)

    Once again, thank you.

  6. Linda Gerbec says:

    Thank you for this incredible post. It made me fall in love with Chiangmai Mai, and I haven’t even been there yet! Beautiful photos too.

  7. Queenie Mak says:

    I’ve been thinking about going back to Chiang Mai (now that it looks like Thailand might open soon). Saw your list and realized I didn’t do half the things on your list when I was there several years ago. Looking forward to do a bit of hiking – didn’t think that was possible near Chiang Mai. Thanks for sharing!

  8. kruffner@gisthailand.org says:

    As a current resident in Chiang Mai, this list is incredible for tourists and locals alike. Amazing! Thank you so much.

  9. bi.grassi@gmail.com says:

    This is an amazing list, thank you so much for putting the time and effort on this! Even though a few places are closed due to covid, I’ve saved many to try out 🙂

    And I think the name of the little art market is "All day craft market" 🙂
    thank you again for this!

  10. touristtotravellers@gmail.com says:

    My god such detailed info! I have been to Thailand before but never thought of Chiang Mai. Definitely on my list of places to visit. Thanks for sharing.

  11. scorpn58@gmail.com says:

    We have been to Chiang Mai 3x – found your blog on the last visit and it was incredibly helpful. Thank You! We always do a pair of overnight visits to Elephant Nature Park. We have also added Happy Elephant Home for a smaller more personal experience. We both got tattooed last visit (Ganesha Tattoo- sadly closed – and Celebrity Ink).
    Utilizing your info we did the Pilgrim’s Path hike (then found out there is red truck and Grab Car service available – better to hike though).
    We designed a 2 day food tour that hit 8 restaurants /coffee bars from your recommendations plus 4 more we found. Renting a motorcycle or scooter was cool but we did have to also hire a guide for the day since following someone is so much easier than traveling on the left side of the road. We have settled on the month of Nov every year as we love the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong Festival.
    Visiting the Buddhist Temple of Hell, Wat Mae Kaet Noi, was pretty interesting as the guide we hired to lead us was also a Buddhist scholar who shared many insights and historical facts with us.
    We always enjoy a couple drinks at Blue Boy Bar at the Night Market for some amazing music.
    Thanks for sharing your experiences!
    Steve & Gayle

  12. Oiendrila says:

    I will be shifting to Chiang Mai within next few months and this is really helpful. I got a clear insight now

  13. adam_dean_barlow@hotmail.co.uk says:

    Thank you for taking the time out to share your experiences . It has been most helpful for our upcoming trip

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