Chiang Mai is one of my favorite cities in Thailand. It is very cosmopolitan yet has that small city vibe. Chiang Mai is nowhere near as hectic as Bangkok and not as sleepy or touristy as Pattaya, Phuket or other popular Thai destinations. With many temples, night markets, amazing food and easy access to trekking and hill tribes, there are a lot of things to do in Chiang Mai. Or you can just relax, have a massage and chill by the pool or in a bar watching a good live cover band. 

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang

I found Chiang Mai laid back and relaxing but offering enough things to do and see to appeal to everyone.

And the food!!! I have always rated Thai food in my top 3 cuisines but oh my, the Northern style Thai food in Chiang Mai is amazing.  Little note of caution – if you can’t take spicy food, be careful and ask. Some of the food is really spicy and I found it out the hard way.

I can take mild to, maybe, medium heat. Anything past “my mouth is tingling and I am starting to sweat” stage and I am in deep doodoo. Eating some Chiang Mai sausage sent me into the “I am going to die now” panic. So, just ask. And if the locals tell you “it’s mild”, translate it into “I will be running to the toilet for a while”.

Chiang Mai colour

General notes

  • Best time to visit Chiang Mai is between December and March when it is less hot. Or during Songkran festival (13-15 Apr). This is the best and the biggest festival in Thailand
  • If you get tired walking around the city, there are 3 way to get around
    • Red songthaews (a kind of bus-taxi) have a flat fare around town of about 20 baht per person. They have fixed routes so sometimes it is not easy to work out where they are going. I generally just took the songthaews traveling roughly in the same direction I was heading in. The drivers normally don’t speak English but will understand if you give them a name of a temple or show them the name. For me, it was a trial and error as I had to get off a few times when the driver turned in a different direction.
    • Uber – yes, Uber is operating in Chiang Mai! I have made this discovery towards the end of my stay and used Uber from then on. So convenient and cheap. And interestingly enough, Uber in Thailand tells you the exact amount the trip will cost, not an approximation like in other countries like Australia. At the time, I didn’t get an option to pay via a credit card so I used PayPal. Note: If you follow the Uber link here to sign up, you will get the equivalent of $10 Australian off your first ride.
    • Taxi – my least preferred option. Much more expensive but if you are in a hurry, it is the fastest to flag and go.
    • for general information and more on things to do in Chiang Mai, this is the official tourism site
Wat Chedi Luang⁩
⁨Wat Chedi Luang⁩, ⁨Chiang Mai⁩, ⁨Thailand⁩

Things to do in Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang
  • Wat Phra That Doi Kham – about 30 minutes by car from the old city. Mountain top temple. Great view. Everything I read said that you have to climb the 300+ steps or take a cable cart to reach it from the car park but my Uber driver parked in a car park right at the top so I didn’t have to do any climbing which was good as it was a stinker of a day. Also, ask your Uber to wait for you and negotiate the same fare back plus a bit more for waiting. I advise you to get there early before the hoards of people appear.
Wat Phra That Doi Kham
Wat Phra That Doi Kham

 

Stairs to Wat Phra That Doi Kham
Stairway to heaven?

 

Wat Phra That Doi Kham
Wat Phra That Doi Kham
  • Wat Phra Singh – This temple was one of my favorites. Nice large grounds but easy to walk around and so relaxing.  Some spectacular golden structures. Many monks roaming around. Also, look for a section with some thought-provoking signs affixed to the trees. Well worth the visit!
Wat Pra Sing
Wat Pra Sing, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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buddhist sign
Good to know
  • Wat Chiang Man – Unusual elephant chedi.
  • Wat Suan Dok – another temple I liked. Larger grounds, a little different, bell-shaped chedi. Encompasses the campus for the Buddhist University with the best name ever –  Mahachulalongkornrajavidyalaya. Dare you to say that 3 times fast. Or even once. This temple is about a kilometer away from the old city.

 

Wat Suan Dok grounds
Wat Suan Dok grounds

 

⁨Wat Suan Dok⁩, ⁨Chiang Mai⁩, ⁨Thailand⁩
Best Uni name ever!
Warorot Market
Warorot Market
  • Sunday Walking Street – A great collection of arts and crafts, music, food and all kinds of local events. Starts every Sunday at 4pm till about midnight. The main route is from  ThaPae Gate along
    Ratchadamnoen Rd but check out all the side lanes too.  Very popular so expect large crowds. 
  • Saturday Night Market (South) – another walking street, similar to the Sunday Walking street but outside the South gate  and you guessed it, its on Saturday. This one gets even more packed so if you don’t like crowds, come at 5pm. The market is close to the great Chang Puak Gate market (see below)
  • Wiang Khum Kham – ancient city close by

Things to do in Chiang Mai – Eating

As I mentioned before, one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is to eat. And whatever else you eat, you must, I repeat, must try Khao soi dish. This is a noodle soup that is specific to the Northern Thailand. A little curry spice, sweet hit from Kim chi , sweetness of coconut milk, tang from the lime, crunch and Just a perfect balance of taste. It is so good that I had to eat it as often as I could. This is one of the must things to do in Chiang Mai.

Khao soi noodle soup
Khao soi noodle soup
  • Chang Puak Gate market  – My favorite night street food market. Great variety. South city gate, take a right when you go outside through the gate. Used mainly by locals so you know the food is fresh, authentic and very good. Try Chiang Mai specialty Sai Ua (Chiang Mai sausage).
Chang Puak Gate night market
Chang Puak Gate night market
    • Khao soi Islam – very casual cafeteria style halal diner. Their Khao soi noodle soup is one of the best in the city and the food is dirt cheap
    • Outside courtyard of Chiang Mai hotelBest sticky rice and mango (when in season).  This is my all time favorite Thai dessert so I know good from average. Let me tell you, I went there 3 time because it was that good. Probably the best I have ever eaten. So it makes it another must things to do in Chiang Mai.  Trust me and try it. You will not be disappointed.
Mango with sticky rice
Mango with sticky rice
  • Warorot Market (Kad Luang) – good for food. day and night.
  • SP Chicken – A very rustic basic place but one of the best grilled chickens I have ever eaten. So worth a visit. The place in not easy to find but Google maps will get you there.
  • ginger & kafe at the house – very atmospheric, quirky and modern cafe / home-wares shop. Great food.
ginger & kafe at the house
ginger & kafe at the house
Lychee smoothie
Lychee smoothie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Chiang Mai University – A variety of food stalls and small restaurants can be found around the campus. More locals than tourists. Geared for students so very cheap.
Stuffed eggs
Stuffed eggs
  • David’s kitchen – fine dining with French influence – a little out-of-town but can ask them to send a car
  • Cherng Doi Roast Chicken – another great chicken shop.
  • Rod Yiam Kitchen – authentic noodle soups with stewed beef
  • Burmese Restaurant and Library – Burmese food
  • Free Bird Cafe – organic vegetarian
  • Khao Soi Khun Yai Sri Poom 8 Alley Si Phum – Khao soi noodle soup.
  • The Good View – one of the best bars with live music
  • Khun mor cuisine  – trendy restaurant but great food.
  • The Riverview – another good bar and restaurant with live music
  • Nimmana Haeminda Road – lots of trendy bars and restaurants
Chiang Mai tropical fruits
Chiang Mai tropical fruits

Things to do in Chiang Mai – Activities

Why Use a helmet when your hair is fab
  • Massage – you can’t spit in Chiangmai without hitting a massage shop. Some are legit and some offer, well, extra services. For a foot massage, just about any massage place is good enough in my opinion. For a nice body massage, I have listed a view reputable places below at various price points but there are tons of places you can try.
    • Chiang Mai women’s correctional institution – This is an interesting initiative to teach female prisoners new skills to help them integrate into the outside life on release. You go in and book with a guard and they give you a time slot to come back. You then change into a set of pajamas and get massaged by one of the prisoners in a communal room. This is a traditional Thai massage with no oil.  Great massage as all the girls are trained well but not for you if you like privacy. Cheap. I would recommend to go for a longer massage option.  Come early as it gets booked out very quickly. I came in the morning but got a 12pm slot.
    • Green Bamboo Massage
    • Makkha Health & Spa
    • Wat Sumpow – good massage at the temple, really cheap
    • Night market or night bazaar – I don’t think this is worthwhile as the Saturday or Sunday walking streets are way better. However, if you are not in Chiangmai over the weekend, by all means, give it a go
Night Food Markets
Night Food Markets
  • Doi Inthanon – day trip, highest mountain, nature. Much cooler so take extra layers of clothing
  • Mae SA Waterfall – in the national park
  • Cooking class – I ran out of time so didn’t get to do one but I have done Thai classes before and it is a lot of fun. If you have the time, there are plenty of classes available .
  • Elephant Nature Park
  • Royal Park Rajapruek – nice gardens.
  • Best Tuk Tuk Tours – my friends who have 3 kids used these guys for a few tours while in Chiangmai and were very happy with them
The view from Wat Phra That Doi Kham
The view from Wat Phra That Doi Kham

Things to do in Chiang Mai – Nightlife

      • Nimmanhaemin Road, Su Thep, Mueang Chiang Mai District – trendy stretch with lots of stylish bars, cafes and restaurants
      • The Good View – one of the best bars with live music
      • The Riverview – another good bar and restaurant with live music
      • North Gate, JaZZ co-op – a live jazz club. Small venue but very atmospheric. Can also stand outside, have a drink and listen to great jazz igot

     

    funny sign
    Some things need to be spelled out. 🙂

Things to do in Chiang Mai – Shopping

Things to do in Chiang Mai
And my shopping is done!

Things to do in Chiang Mai – Accommodation

Apart from lots of things to do in Chiang Mai, there are hundreds of options where to stay in Chiang Mai for all levels of comfort and spend. I stayed in a place called Viangluang Resort. Is was a great hotel that was on sale at the time of my visit, very well located. The staff were fantastic and the rooms are very large and  beautifully appointed. It also has a nice pool area to chill after a hard day of eating and getting a massage.

Viangluang Resort room
Viangluang Resort room

 


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Thank you for reading and have a great trip.
Author

Igor is a travel lover, an enthusiastic amateur cook and an exercise advocate. He founded travelcrank.com to help people travel better and inspire them to travel more.

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