25 Cool things to do in Chiang Mai

chiang mai what to see

After staying for a week in the busy Saigon, in South Vietnam, it was time to catch the flight and visit one of my favourite cities in Thailand, Chiang Mai.

This was my third consecutive visit to this beautiful city. In 2017 it was the very first time when I stayed only 3 days exploring north Thailand alone. In 2018 I and Eva stayed for a week to enjoy the temples, nature and took part in our first digital nomad meetup, the Nomad Summit conference. This time the main purpose was to visit Chiang Mai to work on an e-commerce project, network – meet some digital nomads and explore further investment opportunities.

When to travel to Chiang Mai

Each of the visits I’ve made was during the months of January and February which i highly recommend cause the weather is just perfect, not too hot during the day, cool enough at night, which makes the sleep pleasant and no rain at all. Absolutely avoid March (burning season) due to the problem of the air pollution caused by smoke from burning agricultural fields and forests to cultivate corn and other products.

Check the monthly temperature in Chiang Mai here

Few words about Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai means “new town” named so because it became the new capital of Lan Na Kingdom when it was founded in 1296 by King Mengrai the Great. According to one legend, the city walls, parts of which still can be seen, were built by 90.000 men working in shifts all day round. 

Chiang Mai also called “The Rose of the North” rises from the banks of the Ping river. The capital of northern Thailand is land of beauty with misty mountains, fertile valleys, a religious place with over 1.000 Buddhist temples inhabited by friendly people and various hill tribes in the northern part. 

Nowadays the town has grown rapidly to become a tourist magnet and the cultural capital of Thailand.  Many travellers flock here in pursuit of its greener setting, cooler weather, the more laid-back lifestyle and the chance to learn skills like Thai cooking, massage, and Muay Thai boxing.

How long to stay

If you plan a visit here we assure you that few days only will not be enough. There are so many activities and tours to experience, so many temples to visit and so much delicious food to try that will keep you busy for weeks. Many travellers we met during my stays in Chiang Mai who are coming for the first time are regretting not to stay longer and those who have been here before are returning year after year for a longer period of time.

So, after staying in Chiang Mai for three months and before leaving it to continue my journey, I decided to write this long post to describe what are the must cool things to do while you are here. I came up with 25 of them but finally counted that there are much more than I expected. Start reading below to find out what are our suggestions but do go and explore yourself further by asking the locals about the weekly events taking place, you never know what you can experience at this unique city.

One quick tip: If you are visiting Chiang Mai for the first time buy a guide or a map. I truly recommend the one I used, a unique pocket guide designed by Nancy Chandler that includes a directory of every place to visit while staying here.

best things to do in chiang mai

Chiang Mai map by Nancy Chandler

click to buy it

Let’s get started with the 25 cool things to do in Chiang Mai

1. Taste the local street food

Chiang Mai is a synonym to amazingly delicious street food and a real paradise for foodies. Almost every corner in the city sells a different kind of local dishes, fresh tropical fruits and refreshing smoothies. The best part of it, the food not only tastes good but it is also instantly cooked in front of your eyes using fresh ingredients which makes it healthy and nutritious.

Among the huge variety of local street food, our favourite dishes here in Chiang Mai are, the Khao Soi and famous Pad Thai.

Khao Soi is a deliciously creamy and slightly spicy yellow curry chicken soup. Cooked with coconut milk, turmeric powder served with crispy deep-fried egg noodles on top and accompanied with onion, pickled cabbage and fresh lime this traditional dish will leave you speechless. Said to have originally arrived from neighbouring Myanmar you’ll find khao soi all over Chiang Mai but in my opinion, the best places to enjoy it is at the simple street restaurant located few steps away from the 3 Kings Monument on the corner of Intrawarorot and Jhaban street. You can find it on Google maps as ‘Khao Soi Specialist‘.

And the second spot and my favourite where you can enjoy a Khao Soi with a view is a small street stall at the Doi Pui village on Doi Suthep mountain. I think it is the only one that offers khao soi, just ask the locals when you are there.

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Khao Soi at Doi Pui village

Pad Thai is a dish made of wok-fried noodles, mixed with tamarind paste, tiny dried shrimps, tofu, bean sprouts, spring onions and accompanied with peanuts, chili flakes and a bit of sugar. You can find Pad Thai cooked in many variations and with various vegetables. As this is the most popular dish in Thailand, you will not have to search for it at all, it is available in almost every restaurant.

Hungry already? want to try and cook this yami dish yourself then watch this video with the original recipe here.

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Traditional Pad Thai served on a banana leaf

Other must-try regional dishes include Som Tam spicy papaya salad, the common but very tasty Kao Pad Gai – fried rice with chicken and vegetables, the Tom Yam spicy soup – can be found with pork, chicken or seafood, my favourite Tom Kha Gai – mildly spicy chicken soup with coconut milk and lemongrass, Sai Ua – the northern style grilled pork sausage stuffed with herbs, spices, and kaeng khua red curry paste. Don’t hesitate to try any other unusual flavours around the city, there are plenty of them.

As for dessert, you cannot miss by choosing the famous Mango Sticky Rice – the heavenly flavoured rice cooked with coconut milk accompanied by sweet juicy mango or you can ask for ice cream with Durian fruit flavour…. smells weird but tastes unique. I could write so many different foods to try across Thailand like the amazing exotic fruits but it would take me hours and I will dedicate a separate post about it in the future.

2. Explore Doi Suthep

Doi Suthep is a mountain located 15 km west of Chiang Mai and it is easily reached by motorbike or the red tracks Songthaew, that transfers tourists all day long. It has two peaks, the Doi Suthep and the Doi Pui, 1.676 and 1.685 meters elevation respectively. Other high mountains in Thailand are the Doi Luang Chiang Dao (2.175m) located a bit northern and Doi Inthanon (2.565m), suited southeast of Chiang Mai, and it is the highest point in whole Thailand. You can visit both of those mountains on a day trip with the Doi Inthanon to be considered the most popular for trekking and camping tours.

On the Doi Suthep mountain, you can visit the famous Buddhist temple of Wat Phra That, a huge complex that dates back to the 13th century with amazing architecture and beautiful details from which you can enjoy the impressive view of Chiang Mai. The entrance to the temple costs about 50 THB per person and remember that dress needs to be respectable, shoulders and knees covered. Outside the temple, you will find many handmade souvenirs and street stalls offering food and drinks. Come as early as possible to avoid the crowds of tourists.

Near the Doi Pui peak, you can visit the homonymous village and meet Hmong hill tribe people. This is one of my favourite places to relax, enjoy nature and drink local coffee and tea harvested by hands from the villagers. It is a small chilled out village, here you also find many clothes, hats, shoes and other traditional handmade Hmong products. They also sell a few sapphire gems which I wouldn’t recommend buying as the quality is unknown. My tip, come on time to enjoy the beautiful sunset.

You have the option to hike various trails and swim in waterfalls in the national park of the mountain. I have also seen many courageous bikers riding up to the top and back as the road is really good. Doi Suthep is undoubtedly a great place for a daily escape from the, sometimes, noisy and hot town of Chiang Mai.

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3. Visit Warorot Market

Many cities in Asia are popular for their street markets and Chiang Mai is at the top of the list. The Warorot Market is one of the most visited as it has to offer an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, ready to eat food, dried products, different herbs, mushrooms, seashells, live fish and frogs, flowers, clothes and even home accessories.

The market is so lively during the morning hours as the local women shop here to prepare the menu of the day. But also in the evening time, despite the market is closed, there are many food vendors selling delicious barbeque meat, hot spicy soups, grilled fish and many many interesting street foods. Although there are no many seats to enjoy a dinner properly, i love to visit it by night as i can grab several snacks and enjoy them while strolling around, watching all the action and enjoying the smells of freshly cooked meals.

The area around is known as Chiang Mai’s little Chinatown and during the Chinese New Year, it gets really crowded with locals and tourists that come here to take part in the celebrations. During those days the area is beautifully decorated with vibrant red lanterns and the smells of the food cooked by skilful locals challenges you to taste them all.

In conclusion, whether by day or by night Warorot Market is a place that you should definitely explore if you come to Chiang Mai. The market is open from about 6:00 till 18:00, but the street food is available till 22:00.

Tip: among several tasty dishes don’t forget to try the popular Sai Ua northern style sausage and Cap Moo crispy pork skin.

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4. Cruise on the Ping River

If you seek to spend some romantic time during your visit in Chiang Mai then a dinner on a wooden Thai boat cruising along the Ping River is a perfect choice.

Our friend who has been in Chiang Mai few years before us recommended to have dinner by the Ping River but when we found that it is also possible to have the dinner on the boat while enjoying the scenic landscapes of the city by night we went for it without hesitation. As I can recall there is an extra charge about 300 baht per person to get on the boat but it definitely worth it. The ride lasted about an hour and we enjoyed a delicious fish, a local salad and a bottle of white wine. The dinner costed something around 60 euro with the above entrance fee.

You can find those type of restaurants by the Ping river a few minutes by motorbike from the old city. We tried the Riverside Bar & Restaurant which was a good choice with a variety of drinks and meals on the menu. The best part is, even if you missed the last boat that ‘sails away’ around 7 pm you can have the dinner or just your beer there and enjoy the live music bands that attracts many people and especially locals. Visit their website here to find more info.

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5. Go to a pool party or to a music festival

Chiang Mai is not so popular for its nightlife scene like the sin city of Bangkok but when it comes to going to pool parties or music festivals it is the right place to be.

The city is full of luxurious hotels like Shangri La and Le Meridien which organize occasionally light parties next to the pool. There you can meet ex-pats, locals and digital nomads that like to network with like-minded individuals. If you like more chilled out pace then the rooftop pool of the Akyra Manor hotel is a great choice to enjoy your cocktail while watching the sunset over the city. Another way to spend some of your baht is to drive 30 min outside of the city and visit the infinity pool of Luxurious Resort Veranda MGallery that overlooks the green mountains of Doi Suthep. The pool itself is not so big but the view is amazing. The entrance fee should be around 400 baht and it is wise to contact the hotel first to ask if it’s there is space available.

If you are a fan of music festivals though, then Chiang Mai holds many of them, especially during the high season.

Jai Thep festival is very popular among locals and ex-pats, it takes place at Lanna Rock Garden a few km outside of Chiang Mai. The lively 3-day festival includes events with DJs, Live Bands and Workshops. There is also public transport available to the festival site and back. You can buy early-bird tickets, starting from 1,800 baht for 3-day entrance, on their website and rent a camping tent if you want to stay there during the night. Next Jai Thep festival is 31 January – 2 February 2020.

Shambhala In Your Heart festival is organised by Japanese hippies on Chiang Dao Youth Camp about an hour drive from the city of Chiang Mai at the foot of Doi Luang mountain. During the entire week of the festival you can enjoy yoga – acro yoga classes, workshops, dancing performances, listen to live reggae, ethnic or rock music, eat vegan food, chill out on the grass or join the bands if you play an instrument. Bring your own tent and camp wherever you find as any other type of accommodation is not available.

There are more festivals usually announced some months before and you can search them on facebook or asking the locals.

Pool party at Buristro

6. Attend the Flower Festival

The are many important religious and other kinds of festivals that take place in Chiang Mai. During the entire year, you can attend festivals such as Bo Sang Umbrella Festival every third weekend of January. There is Cherry Blossoms on Doi Suthep and Doi Inthanon mountains during the two first weeks of January. Loy Krathong in November and Songkran (Thai New Year) in April are also very popular festivals that are celebrated intensely in Chiang Mai.

Amongst the above festivals there is also the Flower Festival. It is one of the most colorful events in Thailand attracting thousands of floral enthusiasts and tourists year on year. Chiang Mai’s perfect ‘winter’ climate sets an ideal condition for rare blossoms to flourish. Beautiful colorful orchids, amazingly fresh roses, lilies, and many more vivid flowers can be met in public parks, streets and various corners of the Old City.

Generally, the festival lasts three days and turns the city into a lively park full of colours. During those three days, there are various traditional performances, music nights, the Chiang Mai’s flower queen competition and of course the big parade that is something not to be missed. Colourful flower floats, uniformed marching bands from local schools and universities, beautiful Thai women dressed in traditional costumes appearing on antique cars and many smiles make this festival one of the most cheerful flower festivals in the world.

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7. Take part in the Chinese New Year celebrations

The Warorot market which we mentioned above is known as Chiang Mai’s little Chinatown and during the Chinese New Year, it gets really crowded with locals and tourists that come here to take part in the celebrations. During those days the area is decorated with red lanterns, residents pay respect visiting the Pung Thao Kong temple to light an incent and performances with vivid dancing dragons take part on the street.

In the afternoon the street vendors prepare skilfully their specialities in front of your eyes and the air is filled with unique smells such as bbq seafood, local sausages, Thai and Chinese style soups, and many more fantastic flavours can be seen here. For your info, the next two Chinese New Year dates are celebrated on 25th January 2020 and 12th February 2021.

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8. Trekking, hiking, biking…

If you like trekking, hiking or biking then Chiang Mai and generally north Thailand is the best place to do it. The highest mountains of Thailand are situated in the north part of the country very near to Chiang Mai and are ideal for that kind of activities.

There are many options available for visitors. You can go trekking on Doi Suthep which is a 15-minute drive from the old city, you can choose a 2-day tour to Doi Inthanon or Doi Luang mountain. Rafting and kayaking in the wild nature are also available on a daily basis and offered by many tour agents.

One of the recommended hiking routes that i experienced myself and is suitable for everyone is the Monk’s Trail. You don’t need a tour guide the only thing that is important is to start early to avoid the extreme heat and bring at least a litre of water with you. Don’t forget the google maps on your smartphone in case you are not good at direct yourself. The route starts near the Chiang Mai Zoo and all the way up to the Doi Suthep mountain. It is a really simple path and your first stop after about 30 minutes will be the Wat Pha Lat temple hidden in the forests.

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Some of many stone guards at Wat Pha Lat

Have your break and relax next to the flowing waters to continue later till the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This second part of the trail is a bit more tiring, narrower, less visited, and much more vertical. Until you reach the temple it takes approximately 45 minutes more. After you finish the entire one-way hike and enjoy the view of the city from above you can ask someone to bring you back to the city or get into a songthaew (red truck).

Whether you go with friends or book a tour through your hotel you can find a plethora of places to go trekking and camping overnight that is usually combined with a visit to an elephant camp and a meal.

Check below some of the most popular tours available in Chiang Mai.

9. Learn Muay Thai

Maybe a one in a lifetime opportunity to learn Muay Thai in the place it is traditionally originated.

Give yourself a different type of vacations, try something different from normal, learn the art of Muay Thai boxing in Chiang Mai. Why you should do that? Well, first of all, you will try something that you haven’t done before and this is very important for your body and soul, secondly you will learn self-defence moves to deal potentially difficult situations. Another reason is that it’s nice to break sometimes personal limitations or manage with anger or stress in your body. And last but not least you will get to know the history, the tradition, and Thai culture better through learning Muay Thai.

Wonder where to start? You will find many Muay Thai camps spread through the city. They have training packages starting from one day till one month. If you stay longer than a month and wish to learn Muay Thai you can benefit from the One Year Non-Immigrant (ED) Visa that is appropriate for these occasions.

For those who are serious about the lessons check one of the below websites.

The Camp – various options for visitors, ex-pats and Muay Thai boxers.

Sit Thaharnaek – a friendly gym just few minutes outside the old city.

Santai Camp – big range of packages with accommodation included.

On the other hand, If you are not the type of person and would like to skip this experience then you can at least watch a Muay Thai fight at the main Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium.

Small tip: If you’re in Thailand and want to learn some Muay Thai then do it while you’re there and have the opportunity.

10. Explore the nightlife of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is not so popular for its crazy nightlife like other cities of Thailand such as Bangkok and Pattaya or the island of Phuket but there are plenty of quality choices for everyone in and out of the old city.

You can find many roof-top bars, jazz pubs and cosy bars hidden in the alleys of the old city and in the Nimmanhaemin area. So check below which one fits you better just note that the majority of the nightlife scenes are closing at midnight. Thailand has a set of strict licensing laws and it’s normal if you see the police to start checking on the bar owners reminding them that it is the close time.

The North Gate Jazz Co-Op

This is the most popular live music venue in Chiang Mai. Locals and long-term travelers often visit this place to enjoy quality live music and meet other jazz lovers. Drinks come at reasonable prices and the staff is really friendly. Tuesday nights are dedicated to jamming sessions and everyone is welcome to join the local talented musicians.

Myst Maya Chiang Mai

Myst is a cocktail bar and restaurant located on the rooftop of lifestyle shopping mall Maya. Here you will listen to dance and electro music while enjoying the big list of various amazing cocktails inspired by creative bartenders. This place is suitable to cool down and refresh yourself during the hot nights of the dry season. The food menu features a variety of Thai and international dishes and snacks.

Warm-Up Cafe

Warm Up has become the must nightlife spot in Chiang Mai. This place is established in Chiang Mai’s nightlife scene for more than 14 years and offers a variety of options. The venue features a dining place, the main big stage for the live and DJ performances, and a smaller room for Dj sets playing techno, house or EDM. In this complex, you can also listen to Hip Hop, Pop and popular Thai Hop music. The drinks menu is with reasonable rates offering cocktails, beers and hard alcohol. Warm-Up Cafe is open daily from 18:00-02:00 and is filled up with locals, tourists and students. If you are planning a visit during Friday and Saturday better make a reservation or come earlier cause it gets crowded.

Roots Rock Reggae

The Roots Rock Reggae Bar is situated in the famous block of Zoe in Yellow inside the old city. The bar is popular for backpackers as all the bars around it and is open daily. The bands are playing mostly reggae tunes starting after 9 pm. The stage is small but the place is really cool with friendly staff and the drinks are cheap. This is one of my favourite bars and i prefer to visit it for a cold beer and relax after a long busy day (in March of 2020 this bar was permanently shut like many other in the area).

THC Rooftop Bar

The THC Rooftop Bar is located in the limits of the old town of Chiang Mai and is a popular place for backpackers. On the second floor of the building, you will have a relaxed time and affordable drinks. The music vibes include Reggae, Soft Rock and other chilled sounds. It’s a cool place to have a drink with friends or meet other travellers.

Oasis Rooftop Bar

Oasis is set in a great central location just inside the northeastern corner of the old moat. The bar offers beautiful sunset views over the Doi Suthep. The music is appropriate to chill out or work on your laptop. The drinks list include various craft beers and creative cocktails inspired from Thai culture like the unusual Tom Yam Mojito.

Zoe in Yellow

Zoe in Yellow is the number one place for backpackers and local students. Actually, Zoe in Yellow is not just one bar it is three different types of bars suited inside the only bar complex in the old city. Located just next to the Roots Reggae Bar you will find the Zoe in Yellow garden, Zoe in Yellow pub and adjacent the Zoe in Yellow cocktail bar. The music tunes here are mostly hip hop and mainstream. At the small alley, you can often see street-dance performances by anyone who is brave enough to enter the circle and show off. The prices at Zoe in Yellow and all the bars around start from 80 baht (around $3) for a small bottle of beer or a glass of Sangsom with cola. The best part is if you are at any moment feel bored you can hop to another bar or grab a snack nearby.

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chiang mai bars and clubs

Except for the above-mentioned bars, we can also recommend the Good View Bar & Restaurant by the Ping river, the Hualamphong Station Bar, the UN Irish Pub and the 48 Garage. If you wonder why I don’t suggest the popular Spicy Club, the only place open till 2 am, is because it has no ventilation or A/C and when it’s crowded it gets super hot inside and smells weird (Sorry Spicy but this is the truth). For those who want to have a relaxed drink with local girls, you can try your luck at the Loi Kroh road.

11. Have a massage by a prisoner or a blind person

Everyone loves a good traditional Thai massage, but here in Chiang Mai you have a massage by a prisoner! Rehabilitation at the city’s Women’s Correctional Institute helps women reintegrate into society by delivering Thai massage.

Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute is located in the middle of the old city, close to the Three Kings Monument and has a tiny cafe with wi-fi, run by the inmates. The masseuses are those serving short-ish sentences for relatively minor crimes and are generally nearing the end of their sentence. The women take a massage course at the prison, which equips them with skills they can put to use after being fully released. You’re free to chat with your masseuse during the treatment.

Chiang Mai is the centre of blind massage, where it became established and where many got their start. The blind people are thought to be the best at giving a massage, and in Chiang Mai there are several places where this is available, but the Association Massage Chiang Mai of the Blind is your best bet.

12. Visit an elephant sanctuary

If you are looking to spend a day at the nature of Chiang Mai and experience a whole new adventure then we recommend visiting one of the many elephant sanctuaries spread outside of Chiang Mai town.

But don’t just accept any of the available tours out there. Choose wisely which sanctuary to visit as there is a small number of good ones. Not all the elephant camps are equal and some of them are non-ethical despite that they advertise no riding experience. Personally, we have seen some of the young ‘mahouts’ forcing the elephants to have a bath in order to please the customers or sometimes hitting them or shouting on them. If you really want to support those gentle and beautiful creatures check in advance that the tour you are booking is fulfilling the standards to be called ethical.

After our personal research and experience we suggest booking with our local friend Tony who is really great guide and remarkable person. Find more about our daily visit to the elephants sanctuary and other available Amazing Tours in Chiang Mai here.

You can also book a tour with the Elephants Retirement Park where you will spend a day learning about and observing rescued elephants. Follow the elephants’ footsteps and enjoy their day which includes eating local fruits, bathing and playing with mud. This all depends on what the elephants want to do that day.

13. Ride a bike at Mae Rim

One of the simplest but coolest things to do is just to rent a motorbike and enjoy a ride at Mae Rim. Mae Rim is an area northwest of Chiang Mai about a half an hour ride. There one can witness the amazingly beautiful landscapes with waterfalls, hot springs, thick forests, strawberry plantations and refreshing brooks aside the road where you can enjoy a coffee or a meal.

There are also various attractions around Mae Rim district such as the Mae Sa waterfall, Queen’s Sirikit Botanic Garden, the Extreme Sports Centre, the Mon Ngarm View Point, the Orchid Farm, the Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary and much more.

If you haven’t drive on a motorbike around Chiang Mai before, remember to issue an international driving license before coming and have it with you otherwise you will end up paying the unpleasant fine of $20 each time the police stops you.

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14. Admire nature at the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden

The Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden is located about 40 minutes outside of Chiang Mai at the Mae Rim district. The Botanical opened in 1992 and since then it is promoting biodiversity and showcases various rare flowers and plants that Thailand has to offer.

Visitors can enjoy a walk around the flower gardens or enter one of the many different greenhouses. The most visited attraction of the garden is the 400-meter canopy walkway. The Flying Draco Trail, as it’s named, is the longest canopy walkway in Thailand and it offers a close look into the flora of the jungle as well as stunning views of the surrounding mountains. The main part of the garden is also the glasshouse complex where you will find different types of orchids, medicinal herbs, lotus flowers, and some carnivore plants.

The entrance to the Botanical Garden costs 50 Baht per person and you can use your motorbike inside or the small shuttle bus as the garden is huge.

Canopy walk at the Queen Sirikit Garden

15. Visit temples and chat with monks

Chiang Mai and the greater region of northern Thailand is full of beautiful and historic temples (Wat=temple in Thai). Some of them are big and magnificent and attract a lot of tourists but there are also many smaller ones that are hidden in the narrow alleys of the old town or up in the mountains.

Both inside and outside the temples are decorated with colourful paintings, amazing sculptures or nanga creatures that protect the entrance of the temples from the bad spirits. On walls, one can witness the myths and history of older Thailand painted in vivid colours. The peaceful golden statue of Buddha is always facing the entrance and it is the first thing you will see entering any wat.

If you are a morning type of person then I would suggest visiting the temples after your breakfast. My favourite ones are those that are surrounded by trees and green vegetation and hidden from the curious eyes of tourists. At this time you can enjoy the fresh breeze of the morning hours, light an incent and meditate or pray without being disturbed. If you concentrate on the sounds then you may hear the singing of the birds or the roosters’ crow. Those morning moments or late evening hours are also great if you want to sit on a bench outside of the temple and read a book or chat with a monk.

But not all the temples are available for a meaningful conversation with a Buddhist monk. I have heard from some local friends that Wat Suan Dok and Wat Chedi Luang are those that offer some time to chat with novice monks. It’s a great opportunity for them to practice their English and for us to find out about their way of life and beliefs. If I find more details about it during my next visit to Chiang Mai I will definitely update the post.

I felt blessed and peaceful every time I visited the temples back in Thailand. If you manage to stay a bit longer here you will realize that Thai people are really religious and they have strong faith in Buddhism. Buddhism offers a healthy way of life and brings tremendous serenity to its followers.

Praying in one of the hundreds of temples in Chiang Mai

16. Take part in Yoga classes or learn traditional Thai massage

Chiang Mai is truly a yoga hot spot and you will find many places to attend yoga lessons either you’ re a beginner or an expert.

Yoga studios are spread all around the old town of Chiang Mai and some of the most scenic ones are located in the countryside or at luxurious hotels of Mae Rim valley. Practising yoga is not a cheap hobby even in Thailand but I can assure you it’s cheaper than doing it back in Europe or the US plus the scenery that some of them offer is just incredible. If you have time and you are serious about it I would suggest booking your lessons at least for a month and choosing carefully before committing to it. In my opinion, the best solution would be to track the 5 best studios that more convenient to you, for the matter of location, and give them a visit to try on the spot.

If you want to detox, rejuvenate yourself and enjoy a real luxury you can find various yoga classes, retreat programs, pilates classes and unique spa treatments by visiting the Four Seasons hotel. Nestled among emerald rice fields, Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai is a sanctuary of well-being, perfect for recharging and finding your fulfilment with individually-tailored experiences. Of course, booking directly online a luxury spa package with 5-star reviews could be an easy option.

On the other hand, if you are on a tight budget you can always find free yoga classes at the Suan Buak Hat public park or at the backyard of the One Nimman shopping centre.

Some of the most popular places one can attend yoga classes in and around Chiang Mai are:

Hidden House Yoga, Freedom Yoga, Wild Rose Yoga, Blossom Yoga, Mahasiddha Yoga.

Yoga retreats at Four Seasons Chiang Mai (photo credit: 4 Seasons hotel)

For those who are not in yoga, Chiang Mai offers several places where one can learn traditional Thai massage. There are many massage schools that have opened exactly for this purpose and they offer professional guidance and of course a certificate of completion.

The period of the courses varies and depends on what the customer chooses. It could be from just 30-hour courses till 120-hour or more. In addition, many of those well-reputed schools like Loi Kroh Massage School, offer to it students a variety of lessons such as Korean massage lessons, hot stone massage courses, herbal massage, Thai foot, face or reflexology courses.

So why not offering yourself one in a lifetime experience while you are here in this exotic country?

17. Have fun at Extreme Sports Centre

The Extreme Sports Centre is located in the Mae Rim valley just about 30 min north of Chiang Mai city. The X-Centre is the one-stop for all adrenaline junkies with a wide range of thrilling activities to keep visitors of all ages entertained.

The most amazing things to do are:

Bungy Jumping, Xorb, Paintball, Off-road motorbike tours, Drift Karts, Buggies & ATV’s excursions and of course plenty of activities to keep even the most hyperactive youngsters occupied.

To defeat my fears of heights I tried bungy jumping and would recommend it definitely. The exciting moment when you dive from the 50m platform is indescribable and if 50m seems not much to you just wait till you see how you ‘ll feel when your heart starts beating fast and your brain tries to prevent you from doing that crazy leap.

The moment when your instructor is counting down and all your instincts say not to jump, then suddenly you hear the word ”one”, you know that’s the time to empty your mind and surrender to the gravity that pulls you down smoothly. This one second you have before the cord pull you up again could be described as a moment of emptiness and fear. All that till you’re shot back into the sky and realize finally that you ‘re alive and you did it, somehow you found the courage and did it!

2 Tips before going for it:

  1. Please do yourself a favour and check if you are in the categories of people who shouldn’t jump due to health reasons.
  2. Because you will always want to remember this moment, bring a friend with you who is confident in filming and taking pictures or buy the upgraded package that includes photos.

18. Detoxicate at the Samoeng (Pong Kwao) hot springs

If you like soaking in hot waters, and I mean reallllyyyyy hot, then the Pong Kwao wellness springs are for you!

Located about an hour drive by moto from the Chiang Mai old city and after some crazy turns that will reward you with the amazing green views of Thailand’s mountains and jungles you will find yourself at the Samoeng springs. Despite this place is not so popular for tourists you will easily track it on google maps.

When you arrive you will see that things are organized pretty well here and after paying the entrance fee (150b) you will be provided with a towel, an outfit and a locker for your stuff (bring your own swimming suit though). Then you have the option to soak all day at the main pool or to choose one of the little “private” bungalows. Inside there is a small pool with the super-hot spring water, almost at boiling temperature, and a shower. The procedure is the same with a sauna session and you must get in and out multiple times as it’s almost impossible to stay over a few minutes inside.

This experience will relax and re-energize you for sure, it’s so nice to be surrounded by nature and soaking in the healing hot waters. One little tip though, it smells weird there!!! And it’s normal. That rotten egg smell is actually hydrogen sulfide. The initial exposure is often the worst but as you spend time in that environment you will eventually stop noticing it.

Due to the long ride, I would recommend starting at noon so that you have enough time to enjoy the springs but also to make a few stops for a coffee, some lunch or some strawberries on Mon Cham when returning back.

chiang mai what to do

19. Spent a weekend in the hippie town of Pai

Pai is a small hippie town outside of Chiang Mai and to visit it there are two options.

  1. By air: The fastest way is to Fly from Chiang Mai airport for about 30 min. But this is also the most expensive way as it might cost around 2.000b
  2. Taking the route 1095, with 762 bends: The second way and the most common is driving there yourself by car – motorbike recommended only if you have experience in driving around Thailand or choosing an air-conditioned minivan or even a public bus.

Read our post ‘how to go to Pai and what to do there’.

Book your tickets online through 12GO Asia. It’s a cheap, fast and reliable service and we have used them many times ourselves.

What to do in Pai

Despite Pai is a small town or a big village, one can spend some of the most relaxing and interesting days here. There are plenty of things to do such as:

  • Visit the refreshing waterfalls or sip in the hot springs
  • Enjoy the sunset over the Pai Canyon
  • Exercise acro yoga or attend yoga classes
  • Go tubing down the Pai river
  • Explore the Tham Lod caves
  • Chill in a hammock or at one of the scenic cafes
  • Visit the Nam Hoo temple and the Wat Sri Don Chai
  • Read a book surrounded by the beautiful and serene nature
  • Eat, drink, shop at the night street market of Pai
Meeting some young locals

20. Have a sacred Sak Yant Tattoo

If you are in for a tattoo then you are at the best place as Chiang Mai has numerous tattoo shops spread across the city. There are many talented tattoo artists that will design a beautiful painting on your body customized to your needs.

But if you are looking to have something special like one of the traditional Thai Sak Yant tattoos i know the best place in the city. Located 5 minutes north of the Suan Dok Gate (the west side gate) you will witness a small shop with the dark red sign (picture below). When you will enter the friendly girls at the reception will inform you in details about the procedure, the prices and will hand you over some of the samples available to choose from. Remember that you can ask to customize any tattoo design as you wish.

There are two options available as you will be explained in the shop. First and the cheapest one is to have the tattoo done on the spot by a monk or Ajarn who will visit the shop (prices start from 2,000baht including the donation). The second one is to pay something extra and travel to the location of the monk or Ajarn (the extra cost is around 1,000-1,500baht). Don’t expect that you will have your Sak Yant tattoo done the same day, so book the appointment a couple of days in advance as the shop is busy during the high season.

Visit the official website of the shop to learn more about the spiritual experience of having a Sak Yant tattoo in Chiang Mai including the important information such as what Sak Yant is, what is the difference between a Monk and an Ajarn, the rules and the procedure before, during and after having your Sak Yant done.

I personally had all my Sak Yant tattoos done here and can recommend this place. The monks really know their job well and they are really fast so you won’t have to suffer (a lot) the pain of the needle.

sak yant tattoo in chiang mai
Just had my Sak Yant tattoo done

21. Let off a lantern

For these ones who will visit Chiang Mai during the month of November, don’t miss one of the most important Buddhist events across Asia, the Loy Krathong festival.

Loy Krathong and Yee Peng are essentially holidays celebrated at the same time, throughout Thailand on the full moon of the 12th lunar month, usually in late November.

The preparation events begin in Chiang Mai at least a week before, so if you’d like to experience this festival, it’s worth heading here early. One of the most memorable spectacles of Loy Krathong is the mass lantern launches, which is why this Thai holiday is also called Lantern Festival. Locals and foreigners all together are participating each year in this magical experience where thousands of lanterns are released simultaneously into the sky.

Be aware that there are special places assigned for the lanterns release all of them situated outside the city and require admission to participate. The ticket can be pretty expensive but it’s worth it as except the lantern release there is a 5-hour program with several religious activities that must not be missed.

If you plan to participate in the events then two good options are the Lanna Dhutanka’s temple at Sansai district and the Wat Doi Ti in Lamphun Province.

My plan is to be back in Chiang Mai in the first days of November to experience the unique celebrations.

Lantern Festival (image source: fuel-economy)

22. Shop local crafts and artwork

Chiang Mai is popular for its local artists’ community, delicate artwork creations, music scene and cultural events. It is on the top 5 list of artistic cities around entire Asia.

With so many local craft shops, handmade artwork on every corner, traditional Thai and modern paintings and several quality clothes stores with unique designs no one can just bypass the temptation and buy something to bring back home.

You can find many shops and even cafes selling art, handmade ornaments and jewellery but my favourite places are in the list below.

  • Original paintings and wall decor can be purchased from Mrs Saowanee Gallery located next door to the LoveCNX guesthouse or if you already home and regret not buying something you can visit the online store Decoration Guru, which I found to have many selections of artwork from Chiang Mai and collaborates with local artists.
  • For quality and branded women & men clothes and accessories, the Torboon stores are the best solution. You can find some of their handmade bags collections online here.
  • Loyfar is very famous for its beautiful home decoration products made of tin and silver. Their stores can be found everywhere in Chiang Mai, even at the CNX airport. You can buy anything from necklaces, amazing teapot sets, unique platters and much more.
  • For unique jewellery go to Nova. The shop is located at the Thapae road not far from the gate. Except for shopping, you can also participate in their art-lab courses and create your own masterpiece.
Saowanee crafts and paintings Gallery

23. Watch the art of making traditional umbrellas

We visited the small village of Bo Sang three years ago. When we arrived to Chiang Mai we realized that were unfortunate to have just missed the annual Umbrella festival of Bo Sang. The lively parade of locals showcasing their colourful hand-painted umbrellas had finished the previous day so we decide to explore the area and get to know with the locals.

Riding around with the motorbike we spotted a place full of small and larger bamboo umbrellas in many vivid colours. We got inside the shop and found that behind it was hidden a small kind of factory. Actually it was a big yard with lots of umbrellas and at their initial stage and some local ladies were busy decorating them carefully with beautiful drawings.

The art of making a traditional Bo Sang umbrella is no simple task. First, the bamboo struts have to be specially processed, attached to the paper with thin ropes and glue, dried in the sun and then painted by hand. It takes time and patience. So, if you come till Chiang Mai, come here to appreciate this traditional technique or even better come around the third weekend of January each year, when the Bo Sang Umbrella & San Kamphaeng Handicrafts Fair takes place.

cool things to do in chiang mai
Making a traditional Bo Sang umbrella

24. Visit the Giant

While heading towards the east in the district of Mae On, will lead you to a small village in the middle of the jungle, called Pok Village. There, one of the most surprising and amazing attractions awaits, seemingly taken from a children’s tale – a coffee place called the Giant Cafe, sitting on a Banyan tree-top, overlooking the gorgeous landscape.

In addition to its unique setting, the Giant Cafe provides an amazing surprise for the adrenaline junkies: a zip-line leading directly from the coffee place to a nearby tree, about 200 meters away. You can go back and forth for around 200baht so don’t forget to bring your selfie stick for an amazing shot for your Instagram account.

chiang mai sightseeing
The Giant cafe in Chiang Mai

25. Climb up a waterfall

Just an hour drive from Chiang Mai you will find yourself at the Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls. This hidden gem is very popular amongst the locals but not so much for tourist groups, so if you come slightly early in the morning you will have this unique waterfall all for yourself.

The waterfall also derives its nickname ‘sticky waterfall’ as the limestone generate plenty of friction to prevent you from slipping over the watery rocks. This makes it an easy task to climb to the top of the waterfall even without the support of ropes.

The Bua Thong sticky waterfall is surrounded by a lush green landscape that makes the location very soothing and pleasant. On an average hot and humid day, the water is pleasing and cool.

Tip: Don’t miss the chance to stop at the Monmae cafe on your way back to the city.

Bonus 26: Don’t miss the Saturday and Sunday market

Hey did I mention that there are so many street markets in Chiang Mai where one can shop almost anything from locals, eat a plethora of delicious Thai street food and spend amazing time just walking around and observe the action.

The most popular and the largest market is set every Sunday evening and is a located right in the centre of the old city of Chiang Mai.

Start from the Tha Phae Gate which is the one end of the market and get prepared to walk for about 1km east across the Ratchadamnoen Road. Except for the numerous elephant print t-shirts and fancy Thai style pants one can see some hidden gems like antiques or Lanna style bamboo lamps.

If you feel tired just grab a mango smoothie and enjoy a 1-hour 150 baht foot massage sitting on a comfortable armchair in the middle of the road. After visiting Chiang Mai for 4 consecutive years I still visit this market every Sunday. It’s a really nice place to eat and wander.

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