Besides the familiar names of Thailand tourism as Bangkok and Phuket, Chiang Mai has been known among major places to visit in Thailand and known for its beautiful nature and charming culture. See in our article all the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Overview
If Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, shines with the modernity, a lively nightlife, exquisite architecture of the pagodas and Grand Palace, then Chiang Mai, the ‘rose of the north’, the capital of Lanna Kingdom is the travelers’ paradise with its gorgeous temples, pristine nature, and laid-back atmosphere. Chiang Mai can make everyone fall in love with it from the first sight.
Thanks to its location in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai enjoys a cool temperature and more diverse landscapes. The best time to visit Chiang Mai is in between October and April, the weather during these months is cool and pleasant. This is also the peak season of tourism in Chiang Mai. Another good time to wander around Chiang Mai is the time of the city’s festivals. November is the time for the legendary lantern festival Loy Krathong.
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Things to do in Chiang Mai You Can’t Miss
Explore Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Doi Suthep is what makes Chiang Mai worth visiting, a must things to do in Chiang Mai no one can deny. Doi Suthep peaks at 1,685m high, making it the eighth largest mountain in Thailand. To visit Doi Suthep, you can catch a red taxi to conquer the 15km distance from the city center of Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep is a huge complex of forests, waterfalls, temples, palaces and many other places to see around the main area.
- Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep pagoda is the highlight of the whole complex and also the main reason many people come to visit Doi Suthep. The pagoda is among the holiest religious monuments in the country, and also most important in terms of architecture.
The highlighted feature of Wat Phrathat is the 24m high Chedi, entirely gold plated and can make your eyes squint on sunny days. The pagoda has been built from 14th century with its founding related to a famous Thai myth. Until this day, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a famous pilgrimage destination for Buddhists.
- Bhubing Palace
About 6km away lies the Bhubing Palace – a beautiful summer palace of the royal family. The palace also serves as a guest house for foreign dignitaries when the royal family is absent. Come to Bhubing Palace, you’ll enjoy not only the exquisite Thai palace architecture but also the colorful gardens of flowers, especially the rose garden.
The palace is open to tourists, except when the royal family is in residence (Jan – Mar).
- Chiang Mai Zoo
If you visit Doi Suthep from the center city of Chiang Mai, you will pass Chiang Mai Zoo right before getting to Doi Suthep. The Zoo is on Huay Kaew Road and is the first commercial zoo in northern Thailand.
The zoo is privately owned and includes a wide variety of animals of about 400 species. You can see birds, reptiles and most impressively the big cats. There are also two large aquariums – one has the longest aquatic tunnel on earth with a length of 133m and one is the largest marine aquarium in Asia.
- Doi Pui Viewpoint & Doi Pui H’mong village
Doi Pui is the highest peak in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, famous for many beautiful waterfalls, the scenery and H’mong village. Doi Pui Viewpoint is the reward any trekkers on Doi Pui Nature Trail will get after the hike. The distance from the foot of Doi Suthep to Doi Pui is about 15km and can be conquered by cars or bikes. Once you reach the viewpoint, you’ll be enjoying the views of the misty hills, exceptionally beautiful in the sunset.
Doi Pui H’mong Village is a popular site where you can learn about the livelihood of Thai hill-tribe people. Come to enjoy their way of life, humble house, and flower gardens and most importantly, you can interact with these people to know more about their story.
For those who hesitate about go on a tiresome hike on a winding road, H’mong village is a much easier choice for you.
- Mae Sa Waterfall
Mae Sa is the most beautiful waterfall in the whole national park with eight levers and a beautiful emerald pool for swimming. We suggest that this place is the perfect place for a picnic outside of Chiang Mai city where you can totally be engrossed in the beauties of nature.
The waterfall is set in a valley, covered mostly by thick forest so you can expect the fresh air around the place. If you want to stay away from the crowds, you can trek up to tier to enjoy your own space.
Attend an Alms Giving Ceremony
Giving Alms is a popular ceremony in countries that have Theravada Buddhism, and in Thailand, it’s no exception. The ritual of giving Alms or Food to the local monks is an important part of Thai culture. It’s a way of giving back to the monks in the most respectful way. If you have visited Luang Prabang, Laos before, you’ll also see this kind of ritual.
At every dawn, from 5am to 6am, the Buddhist monks from local temples and pagodas will solemnly walk on the streets of Chiang Mai to collect alms which are the food prepared by the local people who will kneel on the ground waiting for the monks to pass and put the food they’ve prepared into the monks’ bowls.
Travelers can also join in this ritual if you want to understand more about Thailand people and the Buddhism philosophy.
Check out Wat Chedi Luang Pagoda
Wat Chedi Luang is located only 13km from Chiang Mai city center and one of the must-see attractions in Chiang Mai. Built between 1385 and 1402, this pagoda is a massive chedi pagoda with a distinctive style of architecture from many other temples in Thailand.
The chedi is measured at a 60m high across at the base and 80m high at the peak. However, the chedi was never quite complete, explaining its present state. This very pagoda was once the home of Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most sacred religious relic.
You’ll see many impressive statues of naga or the water serpent staircase and the beautiful elephant statues adorning the base.
- Opening hours: 6:00 – 17:00
- Location: Phrapokklao Road
Have a dinner Lanna Style – the traditional Khantoke Dinner
One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai at night is having the sensational Khantoke dinner or the Lanna Style dinner. Why Khantoke dinner is a wonderful experience to enjoy in Chiang Mai? You’ll enjoy not only the traditional food of Chiang Mai while enjoying Thai traditional dancing performances.
One of the best places to enjoy Khantoke dinner is the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. They offer a set menu for the dinner including 11 iconic dishes of Lanna cuisine. The most favorite dance performed during Khantoke Dinner is the Fingernails Dance which Thai people are very proud of. Other great dances are Swords Dance, Shan Dance, Magic Fowls Dance….
- Location: 85/3 Wualai Rd, Haiya, Muang, Chiangmai 50100
Have fun with the zipline in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
Doi Suthep is known not only for its temples, palace, and the waterfalls but also known for having one of the best zipline facilities in Thailand. Zipline in Chiang Mai offers you a thrilling experience together with unrivaled views of the Doi Suthep mountain and forests.
After brief safety instructions, you’ll be ready to enjoy the ride. Most zipline tours in Doi Suthep are inclusive of lunch, insurance, round-trip transfer service… but it’s still better for you to make sure.
Most reliable zipline companies in Chiang Mai:
- Flight of the Gibbon
- Flying Squirrels
- Eagle Track Zipline
Explore Chiang Dao Cave
Chiang Dao is perhaps the most famous cave in Thailand, covering almost 12km underground passages and caverns, most of which are not accessible to tourists.
You’ll be visiting a small part of the whole complex which is lit by artificial lights and always with a tour guide. After paying the admission, you’ll pass the cave entrance and enter the larger cavern where numerous Buddha images are located.
You can explore by yourself only two caverns: Tham Seua Dao (540 m) and Tham Phra Nawn (360 m). They both have many shrines, statues and Buddha images.
The three other caves Tham Maa (7365m), Tham Naam (660m) and Tham Kaew (477m) you can either hire a gas lantern or a guide with a lantern. In any case, do not attempt to explore or crawl into side passages or small entrances or openings. You might be lost deep inside the cave.
Visit a long-neck tribe village Baan Tong Luang
Chiang Mai is also known as the residence of Karen ethnic people. The most authentic Karen village is located at Mae Hong Son, however, the village is about 250km away from Chiang Mai’s city center. The alternative choice for you is Baan Tong Luang village which is only 30 minutes driving from Chiang Mai.
Baan Tong Luang is a hill tribe exhibition village which is set up to display the way of life and culture of five different hill tribe groups in north Thailand. There are five areas, each is the residence zone of one group. The five groups living here are Akha, Lahu, Lisu, Karen, and Padaung (Karen Long Neck).
Long-neck people are referred to the women of Karen people who wear brass rings to stretch their necks longer. Come to Baan Tong Luang, you’ll learn more about the culture of this ethnic group and it will be a wonderful experience in Chiang Mai.
- Location: Mae Raem, Mae Rim, Chiang Mai
Enjoy the view at Doi Inthanon National Park
If you get bored with the city, Doi Inthanon is a great day trip from Chiang Mai and believe me, the place will be worth it. Rivaled with Doi Suthep in fame, Doi Inthanon is among the most popular national parks in Thailand for its fabulous views, beautiful waterfalls, scenic trails, remote villages, gorgeous sunrise/sunset, and picturesque farms.
Peaked at 2565m above the sea, Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand, explaining its nickname ‘Roof of Thailand’. The park sees a wide range of wildlife fauna and flora species with 65 mammals, 362 bird species and many more.
The park also is home to settlements of northern hill tribes as well. A lot of efforts have been spent to help these villages maintain their traditional culture and way of life. A trip to H’mong village Khun Ya Noi to see a local market and admire the people’s colorful embroidered clothing.
The two chedis on near the summit of Doi Inthanon, dedicated to royal majesties, are worthy to check out. From there, you can enjoy the wonderful view of the mountains laden with clouds below.
Enjoy the scenery of Chiang Mai with Mae Ping Dinner Cruise
If you’re fond of boat trips, then Mae Ping River Cruise would be your number-one option in Chiang Mai. This boat trip would be different from the one in Bangkok, the scenery will be more pristine, the boat might not be as fast or modern but it suits the landscape perfectly.
It’s better to take the boat trip around the sunset when you can riverside lights turning on and reflecting onto the river. You’ll cruise down the river for about 8 kilometers and en route, you’ll stop to visit a farm where you can taste the local fresh fruits and wander around the garden.
The two hours cruising on Mae Ping river would absolutely be a lovely experience.
Enjoy the elephants’ company at an Elephant Camp
Thailand is the country of elephants and these incredible creatures also play a part in attracting travelers to Thailand. In Chiang Mai, there’re several elephant camps where you can see the elephants up close. However, the types of these camp are diverse. If you want to enjoy riding elephants, elephant doing tricks and the like, there’re camps that offer to ride elephant tours.
However, if you want to enjoy feeding, walking and swimming with elephants, there’re also camps that offer only these kinds of experience. It’s an enjoyable and incredible thing to do in Chiang Mai.
Go off the beaten track at Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
It remains a mystery on how the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai is not as famous as it should be since the place is located only 14km away from the city center. However, you might like it that way though, if you’re a traveler who doesn’t fancy having a crowd bustling around.
Also known as Hang Dong Canyon, this place is known for its deep blue water and unique rock formations. This is the best place in Chiang Mai to have a good swim, a great sunbathe and a wonderful cliff jump.
You have your own ideas about your trip to Chiang Mai? See more in our Best Thailand Tours collection. Or send your request to email@example.com to have our travel experts start making the itinerary you want.