What to do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai, in the north of Thailand, should not be missed on your itinerary of Thailand. In the old center you will find no fewer than 40 temples, and there are also some beautiful temples outside the center, including the Wat Doi Suthep, which is located on top of the hill. In addition, there are the national parks with the highest peak in Thailand, waterfalls, and adventure activities such as ziplining.
Some of the other attractions in Chiang Mai include the elephant camps, visiting the Poo Poo Paper Park, or taking a Thai cooking class at one of the farms just outside Chiang Mai.
There are also fun activities for the children, such as the Sticky Waterfalls that you can climb up or a day of swimming in one of the water parks. We also have a list of the best bars and restaurants in Chiang Mai.
If you have more time in Chiang Mai, we also recommend that you do a jungle trek to one of the Hilltribes villages located north of Chiang Mai.
1. The sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Doi
This is one of the most famous and sacred temples in Chiang Mai, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This is located on the top of the Doi Suthep at no less than 1,073 meters. You also have a beautiful view of the city. The best thing is to visit this temple at sunrise. If you go early enough you can still hear the singing of the monks, a magical moment!
You can reach the Wat Doi Suthep temple via a winding road. Allow 25 minutes from Chiang Mai by taxi, but try to arrange your return in advance. At the entrance of the temple, you will find souvenir shops and some small restaurants where you can have breakfast.
TIP: Visit this temple with a scooter that you rent the day in advance. The road up is beautiful but winding. In Chiang Mai itself, you can rent scooters in many places.
2. Wat Pha Lat Hike (Monk’s trail)
A beautiful ancient path takes you through the jungle to one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai. The walk takes about 30 minutes and the path is still used daily by the monks.
Keep in mind that you cannot buy water or food at the temple, so make sure you have sufficient supplies with you.
From Chiang Mai, it is about a 20-minute taxi ride. The entrance is free. You can also easily go here by scooter, but the last part is quite steep. The start of the Monk’s Trail Chiang Mai is here.
3. Sticky Waterfall
This is undoubtedly one of the nicest sights in Chiang Mai and you should do it. You will find the Bua Thong waterfalls 1h30 north of Chiang Mai. You can go there by taxi or tour from Chiang Mai. The name says it all because these waterfalls have the special feature that you can easily climb them because they are so sicky…
The ‘Sticky Waterfalls’ in Chiang Mai consist of three levels that you can climb without fear. Dit komt door het water dat naar beneden stroomt en tijdens de val een laagje water achterlaat op de rotsen. This lime layer has a cream color and provides a strong grip. This way you can easily climb up.
After climbing the Sticky Waterfalls you can also visit the source of this waterfall (with holy water). There are also many hikes in the National Park. You do need a ranger to accompany you. You can arrange this at the entrance to the park. Admission to the Sticky Waterfalls is free.
4. Wat Chedi Luang
The Wat Chedi Luang, located in the historic center of Chiang Mai, is an impressive temple that you should visit. The enormous, partly destroyed chedi (pagoda) used to be no less than 80 meters high. You can still see some of the remaining elephants that have been regularly restored over the years.
This large complex also contains the Inthakhin Pillar, a city pillar that is said to protect the city from evil.
TIP: Always make sure you wear appropriate clothing when you visit a temple. Make sure your shoulders are covered and no bare knees are visible.
Entrance to the Wat Chedi Luang temple is €3. In addition to the Wat Chedi Luang, you will also find the Wat Phantao, a beautiful wooden temple (free).
5. Wat Phra Singh
The perfect time to visit this temple is at sunset. You will find Wat Phra Singh on the west side of the old city wall. This temple is a fine example of the beautiful Lanna architecture and its important Buddha statue, the Phra Singh (the Lion Buddha).
You can find this statue in a small chapel directly south of the chedi (stupa) at the back of the temple grounds.
Entrance to the temple is free. If you are looking for other budget tips to travel cheaply, be sure to read our article about cheap family holidays. You will find many tips on how to go out with your family more cheaply.
6. Walking Street – Sunday Market
If you are lucky and you are in Chiang Mai on a Sunday afternoon, you should visit the Sunday Market. Rachadamnoen Street will then be made completely traffic-free and transformed into a large market where you can buy all kinds of things. Souvenirs, clothing and vintage items, and street food.
Especially in the side streets, you will find all kinds of food courts if you are hungry. The Sunday Market in Chiang Mai starts at 4 pm and lasts until midnight. The entrance is free. It’s best to go early because it gets really busy around 8 p.m.
7. Doi Inthanon National Park – Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail
In the Doi Inthanon National Park you will find the highest mountain in Thailand, the Doi Inthanon, with a height of no less than 2,565 meters. This park should certainly not be missing from your list of sights in Chiang Mai. In addition to the beautiful walks you can take there, you will also find some beautiful waterfalls, a Hmong market, temples, and the famous Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail.
You can choose to hire a private driver or discover the park on your own. We booked a minivan for 8 people via the National Park website itself. You can agree with them which activities you want to do in the park. They have a standard rate for the most famous activities.
Do you want to visit the more remote waterfalls? That is possible, but you will have to pay extra. The driver will pick you up at your hotel. It’s about a 2-hour drive from Chiang Mai to the top Doi Inthanong. The price is about 3800 Bath for a full day for 9 people.
You also have to buy tickets at the entrance to the National Park. For an adult, you pay 300 Bath, for children 150 Bath.
The first stop you make is the Sirithan waterfall. Swimming is not possible due to strong currents, but you cannot do that anywhere in the park.
Then you first go to the shorter Ang Ka Nature trail, which takes you through an ancient piece of forest. Count on about a 30-minute walk. It’s a 30-minute walk.
After this short hike, you can have lunch at the start of the Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail. There are some small stands with different dishes. After your lunch, a guide from the Hmong tribe (they are available at the start of the trail and are required) will take you on this beautiful walk.
First, you walk a long way uphill through the jungle to the viewpoint. Count on about 2 hours in total to complete this trail. Make sure you have enough water. The cost for a guide is 200 Bath (5€) for the entire group.
Not far from this trail are the two sacred temples. Here too you have to pay entrance (100 Bath per person). You will be taken from the parking lot to the temples by a shuttle service.
On the way back you can stop at the impressive Wachirathan waterfall. We personally found the Hmong market a bit too touristy, but you can buy some snacks (including mushroom chips) for the way back to Chiang Mai.
TIP: If you have your own transport you can of course stop wherever you want. You can rent a car in Chiang Mai and possibly book an extra night near the National Park.
8. Stroll around the Khlong Mae Kha
We discovered this market by chance in downtown Chiang Mai. This is located on one of the canals or Klongs. From 4 pm they open their small shops with all kinds of things. The ideal time to visit this market is at sunset, the colors are really beautiful then.
We found this market a lot more fun and authentic than the night bazaar. The atmosphere is super relaxed and you are not approached everywhere to buy something. There are also some small restaurants.
9. Thai Cooking Class with Grandma’s cooking school
You will find many cooking schools in and around Chiang Mai. On our first trip to Thailand, we stayed in downtown Chiang Mai for our cooking class. But this time we went out with Grandma’s Cooking Class outside the center of Chiang Mai.
First you visit a market (somewhat for tourists) where you get acquainted with the ingredients. Then you will go to their farm which is located outside Chiang Mai. After the fun tour of the farm itself, it is time to cook.
You can choose which dishes you want to prepare. A curry or the local Khao Soi. With chicken, tofu, or pork… We also had Pad Thai and soup on the menu. You don’t have to make the dessert yourself, but you will get one to complete the menu.
In total, it took us about 4 hours. Highly recommended. You can book this cooking class with Grandma here.
10. The Night Bazaar
Chiang Mai’s Night Bazar is open every evening from sunset to midnight. You can buy all kinds of products there. Souvenirs, handicrafts as well as clothing and accessories.
In addition to souvenirs, you will also find all kinds of food stalls and cafes where you can eat Pad Thai, Mango Sticky Rice, or Papaya Salad. At the Ploen Ruedee Night Market Square, you have a wide choice, including Western food. There is live music from 6 pm. It is car-free and the children can walk around.
11. Jungle hike to one of the mountain tribes
Around Chiang Mai, you will find many mountain villages where hill tribes live. One of the Hill Tribes you can visit is the Palong. You will mainly find them around Chiang Dao. This is about a 1h30 drive from Chiang Mai. The Palong themselves are originally from Myanmar. Now they live together in the mountain villages. They live from tourism and go to work in the industrial factories around Chiang Mai.
We went out with Green Trail Tours. They offer various packages, including family trekking. You leave one of the villages for your overnight stay. You can choose how long you want to walk.
You spend the night in one of the villages of the Palong. A magical experience… you help prepare your food and in the evening there is dancing and music. Depending on which activities you have booked, you can, for example, continue hiking on the second day, visit waterfalls, bamboo rafting or visit an elephant camp.
12. Elephant POOPOOPAPER Park
The name says it all… Recently this has become one of the popular excursions in Chiang Mai with children. Here, elephant dung is dried and processed into paper. First, you will receive an explanation of the entire process.
Then it’s time to get started yourself. You can make paper yourself 🙂
There is an extra workshop for the children where they can make invitations, stationery, or something else with the elephant paper. Please note that this is extra on top of the entrance fee.
There is also a small cafe where you can drink coffee or eat something small.
To get there you need a taxi or scooter. Count on a 50-minute drive from Chiang Mai.
13. Visit an elephant sanctuary
There are several elephant sanctuaries around Chiang Mai. Unfortunately, in the past, there was a lot of riding on elephants, but that no longer appears to be the case. So be sure to check the reviews before you book.
We went to the Kanta Elephant Sanctuary. First, you can help feed the elephants. You also prepare their protein meal yourself (bananas – fiber). Then it’s time to scrub and wash the elephants.
You don’t have to provide clothing, you will get it from them.
In addition to Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, you also have a few other reserves. We heard positive reviews about Elephant Sanctuary and Elephant Nature Park.
14. Activities for children
What are fun activities for kids in Chiang Mai? These are some of our favorites.
Hidden Village Chiang Mai: a basic dinosaur park with some fun activities. Entrance is 200Bath (5€).
Let Grow: local outdoor playground with bicycles, trail, and sandbox, ideal for toddlers and children up to 8 years old. You can also eat something there. Adults do not have to pay an entrance fee.
Ginger Farm: a nice farm where you can do all kinds of activities. You have to pay extra to do some activities.
Art in Paradise Chiang Mai: ideal for a rainy day. You can take the craziest photos here with the children.
Grand Canyon Water Park: if you feel like cooling off this is the place to be.
Pong Yaeng Jungle Coaster & Zipline: a bit of a drive outside Chiang Mai but great for the kids. However, waiting times on the jungle coaster can sometimes be quite long. Avoid the weekend.
We have also created a fun activity package for children. The theme of this package is Thailand. Age is from 8 years. It contains puzzles, word searches, fun facts, a quiz, and coloring pages. Ideal to keep your children busy at the table or when you are on the road. Look here for more info.
15. The best Restaurants and bars in Chiang Mai
In Chiang Mai, you will find numerous nice restaurants and bars. These are some of our favorites:
Ploen Ruedee Night Market: This part is located near the Night Bazaar. The nice thing is that there is no traffic and the children can run around. You can find anything There are also performances from 8 p.m.
Mr. KAI Restaurant: Small but nice local restaurant in the old center of Chiang Mai. Mr. Kai is super friendly and the dishes are delicious.
Food&Friends: a bit out of the center but close to our place of residence (Siri Craft House). Local restaurant with some tasty dishes. Not expensive and you can sit in the garden.
My Secret Cafe In Town: nice cafe in the center of Chiang Mai
Its Good Kitchen: located in the Walking Street and ideal if you have just visited one of the temples
Hummus Chiang Mai: those who fancy Hummus have come to the right place, close to the Thae Pae Gate (East)
Pegasus Café & Roastery: this is the place to be for good coffee, also in the center of Chiang Mai
The North Gate Jazz Co-Op: one of the first jazz cafes in Chiang Mai and therefore super popular. Try to be on time if you want to be inside. One of the favorite places of the Thais.
Chang Phuak Gate Night Market – Food Stalls: You can get everything here, but our favorite is the Cowboy Lady.
Bella Goose Cafe at the Hill: nice place for brunch, try the mega avocado toast
Nimman wijk: Here you will find the hippest and nicest restaurants, close to Chiang Mai University.
16. Where can you stay in Chiang Mai
Rimping Village is a small resort with 34 rooms. You have a beautiful swimming pool. There is a restaurant and you can also rent bicycles there. Ideal for your stay in Chiang Mai. View prices and availability here.
Lamphu House: this hotel is also located in the old town of Chiang Mai. There is also a swimming pool and restaurant. The rooms are nicely decorated with a view of the garden. View prices and availability here.
Siri Craft House: this large house is located just outside the center of Chiang Mai. There is a small swimming pool. The only disadvantage is that you are close to the airport. View prices and availability here.
What to do in Chiang Mai
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