10 Best Things To Do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand after Bangkok, yet it maintains the charm of a small village. The old city center exudes a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere and is home to numerous cozy lunch spots, bars, and cafes. Moreover, Chiang Mai offers a wide range of exciting and diverse activities. With over 300 Buddhist temples, a variety of vibrant markets to explore, and beautiful natural surroundings, there is no shortage of things to do in this delightful city in northern Thailand!

How to Get to Chiang Mai?

Most people travel to Chiang Mai from Bangkok or Ayutthaya. Below, you’ll find information on how to travel to Chiang Mai from these destinations. It’s worth noting that Chiang Mai has an airport, so you can easily fly there from various locations in southern Thailand, such as Surat Thani.

From Bangkok to Chiang Mai

By Night Train: A popular mode of transportation between Bangkok and Chiang Mai is the night train. The night train is cheaper than flying and more comfortable than the bus. It offers 1st class, 2nd class, and 3rd class options. It is not recommended to choose 3rd class, as these are just seats without sleeping arrangements. In 2nd class, the seats are converted into fully equipped beds, allowing for a comfortable sleep until you reach Chiang Mai. Each bed has a curtain for privacy, and there is air conditioning. Keep in mind that the air conditioning can be quite cold, so it’s advisable to bring long pants and a thick sweater on the train. The beds in 1st class are similar to those in 2nd class, with the only difference being that there is a door instead of a curtain between the beds. Tickets for 1st class cannot be reserved in advance, but you can always ask for an upgrade on the train for an additional fee. After a journey of approximately 14 hours, you will arrive in Chiang Mai. As this is a popular route, it is necessary to reserve tickets in advance. Be sure to book a sleeper car and not regular seats.

By Bus: The bus is a good alternative if the train is fully booked and you prefer not to fly. Several bus companies operate from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and the difference lies mainly in the luxury of the seats. The bus journey takes approximately 10 to 12 hours. You can check different buses, prices, and schedules here.

By Plane: The fastest way to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is by plane. There are many airlines offering direct flights, and you can often find tickets for a reasonable price.

From Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai

By Train: There are night trains available from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. The trains offer 1st class, 2nd class, and 3rd class options. Avoid choosing 3rd class as these are just seats and not suitable for sleeping. In 2nd class, the seats are converted into beds, allowing you to lie down and be gently rocked to sleep. There is air conditioning, and each bed has a curtain for privacy. Don’t forget to bring warm clothing as the air conditioning can be quite cold. The beds in 1st class are similar to those in 2nd class, with the only difference being that there is a door instead of a curtain between the beds. Tickets for 1st class cannot be reserved in advance, but you can always inquire on the train if an upgrade is available for an additional fee. As there are fixed seating arrangements on the train, and this is a popular route, it is advisable to reserve tickets in advance. Be sure to book a sleeper car and not regular seats.

What to Do in Chiang Mai?

There are dozens of sights and fun activities to do in and around Chiang Mai. Whether you’re in the mood to experience culture, explore nature, or visit trendy hotspots, Chiang Mai offers a variety of options.

Watch the Sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the most important temple in Chiang Mai and therefore tends to get crowded. However, it’s highly recommended to visit this temple. The temple is situated higher up on the mountain, providing a beautiful view of Chiang Mai from here. It’s also a fantastic place to watch the sunrise, as it’s peaceful and offers a serene atmosphere. The road leading to the temple is also beautiful. If you have experience riding a scooter, consider renting one and taking the winding road to the temple. It takes approximately half an hour to drive from the old city center of Chiang Mai to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

Zipline through the Jungle

Do you enjoy a bit of adrenaline? Then go ziplining in the jungle north of Chiang Mai. It’s an exhilarating experience to soar above and through the jungle! Keep your eyes open during the 3 km-long journey, as you might spot monkeys or unique bird species. There are many companies in Chiang Mai that offer zipline tours. I went with this organization. They are one of the top providers in Chiang Mai, prioritizing safety. They also have the longest zipline in Thailand.

Explore Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is perhaps the best place to shop for souvenirs in Thailand. While you’ll find plenty of typical souvenirs that you can buy anywhere in Thailand, if you search carefully, you’ll also discover unique items like hand-painted rice baskets and special jewelry. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is open every evening from 5:00 PM to 12:00 AM. Around the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, you’ll also find many charming cafes and pubs with live music and a lively atmosphere. It’s a great place to grab a drink after the market.

A Must-See: The Ladyboy Cabaret

Every evening at 9:30 PM, the Ladyboy Cabaret begins at the Anusan Market in Chiang Mai. The Ladyboys put on an incredibly entertaining show with dance, song, and much more. They wear fantastic outfits, and they expect a small tip, so make sure to have some change with you. This is definitely the most enjoyable evening out in Chiang Mai!

Climb the Sticky Waterfall

Ever wanted to climb a 100-meter waterfall like Spiderman? You can do that at the Sticky Waterfall! Also known as Bua Thong Waterfall, this waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in the Chiang Mai area. The water flows over the limestone rocks, leaving a mineral layer behind. This prevents the growth of algae that would make the rocks slippery. The rocks provide excellent grip, but there are also ropes to help you climb. However, be cautious of the occasional green rocks, as they can be slippery. Always step on the white rocks. The Sticky Waterfall is about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai, but it’s definitely worth the journey. You can ask your hotel for information on where to catch a taxi or you can ride a scooter here yourself.

Visit the Oldest Temple in Chiang Mai

Located in the heart of the old city of Chiang Mai is a vast temple complex called Wat Chedi Luang. This Buddhist temple was built in the 14th century and features various temples and pagodas. In the center of Wat Chedi Luang stands a giant stupa, which was once a towering 80 meters high. Unfortunately, an earthquake damaged the stupa in the 16th century, but it remains an impressive sight.

Explore Doi Inthanon National Park

As you enter Doi Inthanon National Park, you’ll be captivated by the green landscapes and the authentic villages where you can make stops along the way. Signs along the road indicate points of interest and activities, such as visiting waterfalls or exploring local villages. The highlight of the park, in my opinion, is the pagodas located on the highest mountain in Thailand. From there, you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the Chiang Mai area! Doi Inthanon National Park closes at 5:00 PM.

It takes over an hour and a half to drive from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon National Park, and there are different ways to get there. If you’re an experienced scooter rider, you can scooter your way there. If you’re not comfortable riding a scooter but still want to go independently, like I did, you can choose to rent a car. Alternatively, you can always take a taxi or join a tour to visit Doi Inthanon National Park with this tour.

Take a Walk along the Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat Temple

This is my favorite temple in Chiang Mai, and it’s all because of its location. The temple is hidden in the jungle. Follow the ancient trail known as the Monk’s Trail. It got its name because many monks walk this path to the temple every day. The walk along the Monk’s Trail takes about 30 minutes. Once you reach the temple, you’ll find yourself in a beautiful and serene place where tranquility permeates the air. It takes approximately 20 minutes to drive from the center of Chiang Mai to the starting point of the Monk’s Trail.

Visit the Sunday Walking Street

If you’re in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, you absolutely must visit the Sunday Walking Street. This is a fantastic market that, as you can guess, only takes place on Sundays. The Sunday Walking Street stretches for kilometers and cuts through the old city of Chiang Mai. You’ll find countless stalls selling souvenirs, clothing, vintage items, and home accessories. And of course, there are plenty of delicious food options available too. The Sunday Walking Street starts at 4:00 PM and lasts until around midnight. If you’re not into shopping, find a nice terrace to sit on and enjoy watching people pass by because on Sundays, everyone gathers here.

Tip: When you’re making a purchase, it’s customary in Thailand to negotiate the price. Sellers will initially ask for a much higher amount, so make sure to offer a significantly lower price so that you can eventually settle on a fair price. With a smile and a sense of humor, you’ll get the best deals, and in many cases, you can reduce the price by 1/3 to 1/2.

Visit the ‘Art in Paradise’ 3D Museum

This is hands down one of the most amusing museums I’ve ever been to. Art in Paradise is a 3D museum and it’s a lot of fun for both kids and adults. It offers a different experience compared to other attractions in Chiang Mai, and you can easily spend an hour here having a great time. It’s especially perfect when it’s raining in Chiang Mai. It’s also quite entertaining to watch others trying to create the perfect photo.


Indulge in Street Food at the Local Chang Phuak Night Market

Another market! At the Chang Phuak Night Market, you’ll get a taste of local life. You won’t see many tourists here, mostly locals. There’s one person you’ll find at the market every evening, and we’d like to highlight her. It’s worth seeking out the cowboy lady. You can recognize her by her cowboy hat, and she’s known for her delicious food. Every evening, you can enjoy slow-cooked pork with rice, pickled vegetables, and a soft-boiled egg.

Tips for Transportation in Chiang Mai

If you have experience riding a scooter, it’s the perfect mode of transportation in Chiang Mai. You can rent a scooter for a small fee per day and have the freedom to go wherever you want. The traffic may take some getting used to, but as long as you pay attention and stay on the left side, everything should be fine. Bamboo Bikes Chiang Mai is a good and reliable rental company. If you prefer not to ride a scooter, tuk-tuks and songthaews are available everywhere. A songthaew is a pick-up truck, and its name literally means “two rows.” In the back of the pick-up, there are two benches for people to sit on. These shared taxis operate throughout Chiang Mai, and you negotiate a price per person in advance. Most of them don’t have fixed routes and go wherever the passengers need to go. A tuk-tuk ride is slightly more expensive than a ride in a songthaew.

Restaurant Tips for Chiang Mai

Khunkae’s Juice Bar – This is a small and charming place where they serve delicious smoothies and bowls. The menu offers delightful combinations of fresh fruit and superfoods.
Goodsouls Kitchen – They prove that vegan food can be incredibly tasty as they turn every dish into a celebration. You can visit for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Kat’s Kitchen – In this cozy little eatery, it’s always busy because it’s one of the best places to enjoy delicious Thai food in Chiang Mai.
Hand Pizza Café – If you’re in the mood for a delicious pizza from a wood-fired oven, this is the place to go.
Aroy Dee – Delicious Thai food at a great price in a local restaurant with a very friendly owner.
Sababa Chiang Mai – Perfect for when you’re craving a completely different cuisine than Thai. Here, you can enjoy delicious Middle Eastern food.
Roast8ry Lab – They turn your cup of coffee into a true work of art, and it tastes fantastic too.

Our favorite places to stay in Chiang Mai

Looking for affordable luxury? At My Chiangmai Boutique Lodge, you’ll have everything you need. The staff goes above and beyond to make you feel at home. There’s a nice swimming pool to cool off, and it’s only a few minutes’ walk to the old city of Chiang Mai. If you’re in search of a cozy hostel, we recommend the modern The Common Hostel. It has a great atmosphere, thanks to the friendly staff. If you have a higher budget, El Barrio Lanna is a fantastic place to stay. The rooms are luxuriously appointed and beautifully decorated in Thai style. There’s a large swimming pool, and the location is superb. It’s peacefully situated within the old city of Chiang Mai.