Chiang Mai Guide: What to See and Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Surrounded by mountains, Chiang Mai is ideal for travelers who love nature and culture. We explain what to see in Chiang Mai on your next trip

Chiang Mai , in Thailand, is also known as “The Rose of the North”. The largest city in northern Thailand has a population of approximately 132,000. It is located 700 km from the country’s capital, Bangkok .

In this Chiang Mai Guide we explain what to see and do in Chiang Mai so you can make the most of your visit to this incredible Thai city.

Index of contents

What to see in Chiangmai

The city of Chiang Mai stands out above all for its important cultural legacy : within its walls are more than 300 Buddhist temples –such as the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple or the Wat Phra Singh temple–, some of the most outstanding universities in the country or various relevant festivals, such as Songkran, the Thai New Year.

The origins of Chiang Mai date back to the 13th century, during the Lanna kingdom, who decided to replace the old capital, Chiang Rai , with Chiang Mai. Hence the name of the city, which means “new city”.

The atmosphere in the city of Chiang Mai is calmer and more relaxed than that of the capital, Bangkok . Both the city and its surroundings are perfect for travelers who enjoy discovering the past and history of destinations and also for those who seek to connect with nature. We explain what to see in Chiang Mai and what are the points of interest that you should not miss.

Doi Suthep Temple

16 kilometers from Chiang Mai is Mount Doi Suthep , which is home to a temple of the same name. Undoubtedly one of the must-see tourist spots in Chiang Mai. This temple is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists . From the top of the mountain there are panoramic views of the city of Chiang Mai. You will also be able to observe a large number of figures –such as that of a white elephant, one of the emblems of the place– and Buddhist murals.

How to get?

To get to the top you can take the funicular or go on foot. Walking up is a beautiful route, although it should be noted that there are about 300 steps to reach the top. Despite this, it is a worthwhile tour.

Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai

Once at the top you will find the Doi Suthep complex, founded in the 14th century. To enter the temple it is necessary to take off your shoes, as in the rest of the country’s temples. In the temple, the golden stupas stand out, as well as figures of dragons and Buddha. One of the most iconic figures of the place is an image of Thorani , the goddess from whose head water flows.

practical data

  • Location : Mount Doi Suthep
  • Hours : from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
  • Price : 30 Bahts (approximately €0.80)

Wat Phra Singh Temple

Another of the outstanding places to see in Chiang Mai is the Temple of Wat Phra Singh, one of the emblems of the city of Chiang Mai. This temple is located in the old quarter of the city, in the Mueang Chiang Mai district. It was built in the year 1345, and in 1935 King Ananda Mahidol (Rana VIII) granted it the status of a Royal Temple.

It is a temple highly revered by the locals, as within the complex is the Phra Singh Buddha, a statue of Buddha . This is a statue with a long history, since it is said that it was brought from India, passing through Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and Ayutthaya, and that during the journey it suffered several robberies until finally reaching the temple where it is located. currently. During the Songkran festivities, the Buddhist New Year, this statue is paraded through the streets of the city.

Wat Phra Singh Temple
Wat Phra Singh Temple

Inside the Wat Phra Singh Temple there are other architectural works worth visiting, such as the Wat Phra Sing Library (Ho Trai) or some chedi, funeral religious pagodas. One of the most characteristic images of the temple is a large golden stupa.

practical data

  • Location : Prapokklao Rd
  • Hours : from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
  • Price : 40 Bahts (approximately €1)

Wat Chedi Luang Temple

Despite its appearance of ruins, the Wat Chedi Luang Temple is one of the most important in the city of Chiang Mai . It was built in 1401 by the will of King Tilo-Garaj and a century and a half later, in 1541, it suffered serious damage due to an earthquake.

If you are visiting the Wat Chedi Luang temple you cannot miss:

  • The Pillar of the City, used in the past for fertility rites
  • The reclining golden Buddha found inside the temple
  • The image of the monk Bhuridatto, revered by Buddhists since the 19th century.
Wat Chedi Luang Temple
Wat Chedi Luang Temple

practical data

  • Location : Prapokklao Rd
  • Hours : from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
  • Price : 40 Bahts (approximately €1)

Wat U Mong Temple

16 kilometers from Chiang Mai you can visit the Wat U Mong temple. It is a temple located in a very natural environment, surrounded by forests and a pond. Inside the complex you can visit its tunnels, meet the monks who come to the place and feed the animals that live there.

How to get?

To get to the Wat U Mong temple you must go to the foot of Mount Doi Suthep. To get there you can do it by songthaew (a bus-taxi), bike or tuk-tuk from the city center of Chiang Mai.

It is a good idea to visit Wat U Mong temple and also visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple as they are very close to each other.

practical data

  • Location : Soi Wat U Mong, near Mount Doi Suthep
  • Hours : from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Price : accept donations

Sunday Walking Street

Despite being a quiet city, on Sunday afternoons and evenings you can attend the Sunday Walking Street , its largest night street market. A market with a very authentic atmosphere that makes it one of the markets you have to see in Chiang Mai. The streets of Chiang Mai are filled with atmosphere, craft products and the best Thai cuisine .

Where will you find this market?

The Sunday Walking Street is located in and around Thanon Ratchadomnoen Street . Hundreds of merchants have stalls that attract both travelers and local people.

When it occurs?

This market is open every Sunday from 4:00 p.m. to midnight . It is advisable to go in the early afternoon, when there are still not so many people. Around 9:00 p.m. is when most of the people gather and it can be a little more difficult to walk peacefully.

On Saturdays there is a similar market, the Saturday Walking Street , but it is smaller. To visit it, it is necessary to go to the south of the city, in the area of ​​Wualai Road. In this case, the hours are from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., every Saturday.

Things to do in Chiangmai

Eat at the Night Market

If you enjoy street food , in the night markets of Chiang Mai you will find some of the best street food in the country.

Eat at the Night Market
Eat at the Night Market

The night markets, or night bazaar, offer all kinds of Thai food , such as noodle dishes, rice or stir-fried vegetables. Among the typical dishes of the region are laab , a dish based on minced meat, or nam prik ong , a kind of ragu.

Taste the khantoke food

In Chiang Mai you can enjoy the khantoke cuisine , typical of the north of the country. Khantoke food is presented on a kind of low round tables, where numerous bowls full of food are placed. Glutinous rice predominates in khantoke food , and is often the main ingredient in dishes.

Khantoke Cuisine
Khantoke Cuisine

One of the best options to do in Chiang Mai while you taste the khantoke food is to attend a dance show, typical of the ancient Kingdom of Lanna.

Get a Thai massage

In Chiang Mai, as in the rest of Thailand, you can enjoy a good Thai massage. Massages are very common in Thailand and are generally very affordable. If you want to relax, a good option is to opt for a massage with hot aromatic oils or herbs. The typical Thai massage is usually more intense and for therapeutic purposes.

There are many massage centers in Chiang Mai, such as the Cheeva Spa or the Green Massage Spa , which offer the best massages in the city.

Massages at The Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution

If you want to give yourself a massage and live a different experience, you can do it at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution , on Si Phum Street. This is a prison where inmates who have not committed serious crimes offer massages.

They are said to be one of the best massages in town. And it is that the prisoners are part of a program in which they are instructed in the art of Thai massage, for a price between 200 and 400 Bahts (€5-10).

Relax in Doi Inthanon Nature Park

If you would like to relax in the middle of nature, we recommend a visit to the Doi Inthanon Natural Park. It is one of the largest and most important nature parks in Thailand.

It is located 100 kilometers from Chiang Mai, and there is also the highest peak in the country, with an altitude of 1565 meters. It is a quiet area, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There you can see its waterfalls, lose yourself in its green landscapes or come into contact with one of its villages.

Practice trekking through the sacred mountains

Another very popular activity to do in Chiang Mai is hiking around the city. You will find good routes for trekking in Chiang Mai. A good option is to climb the sacred mountains, such as Doi Suthep , which is 1,676 meters high, or Doi Pui , which is 1,685 meters high.

Also, on Mount Doi Suthep is the Wat Doi Suthep temple, so you can take the opportunity to visit one of the most recognized temples in the Chiang Mai area.

Tour the Chiang Mai Night Safari

A fast-paced and different experience from the usual safaris is to live a night safari. In the Chiang Mai Night Safari you can be in the middle of nature at night enjoying and feeding the most harmless animals. You will also observe large predators, such as lions or tigers.

Ideal for a trip with children

A safari like this is an ideal visit to enjoy with children. Also, if you are traveling as a family, another activity that can be done in Chiang Mai with the little ones is zip-lining. In the city there are several companies, such as Flight of the Gibbon, that offer this option.

Get in touch with the elephants

Elephants are an emblem of Chiang Mai . During your visit to the city, you will surely come into contact with them. There are companies that offer shows with elephants, but we recommend other options that encourage the care of these animals.

The Kanta Elephant Sanctuary, a sanctuary for elephants

If you are a traveler who loves nature , the Kanta Elephant Sanctuary is a perfect complex to discover the daily life of the elephants of Chiang Mai, one of the most emblematic and sacred animals in the country.

In this park the elephants are in the middle of nature and are treated with the utmost respect by their caretakers , who guarantee them a healthy and dignified life.

At the Kanta Elephant Sanctuary you can interact with the animals respectfully, feeding and bathing them in a unique natural environment.

The Kanta Elephant Sanctuary is a true sanctuary for elephants , and is designed to improve the lives of animals that have been mistreated and enslaved. In fact, what they do in this sanctuary is precisely to rescue elephants that were exploited to work for tourism or for shows and give them the opportunity to have a decent life.

Here you will be able to know the daily life of these precious animals in their own habitat, so it is an experience that is really worth doing in Chiang Mai.

Get to know the tribes of Chiang Mai in depth

One of the activities that we recommend in Chiang Mai is to visit and volunteer with the Northern Tribes of Chiang Mai . This is a journey inside the lives of the Lahu tribe in which you can learn about their routines, their culture, their food and their customs.

This trip through Chiang Mai lasts three days and is the route that we recommend:

Day 1. Chiang Mai – Fang – Dol Pu Muen
Pick up is at the hotel. A van ride will take you to Phumanee Lahu Home Hotel in downtown Fang. There they will inform you about the characteristics of the Lahu and you will head to Doi Pu Muen at 1,306 meters of altitude.

Upon arrival at Pu Muen Nai, the host will receive his guests and it will be time to learn about the customs most deeply rooted in the history of the Lahu: tea .

Day 2. Dol Pu Muen – Volunteering – Bonfire in the village
During the second day you will be able to join the community projects , prepare the meals and in the evening dance the dance of the locals. That’s when you can end a day full of learning.

Day 3. Doi Pu Muen – Waterfall – Chiang Mai
It is the day of farewell, with a visit to the Pu Muen waterfall and finally back to Chiang Mai.

Festivities in Chiangmai

loi krathong

One of the most important festivals that you can see in Chiang Mai is the Loi Krathong. It is a festival where respect is shown to the water, leaving boats made of banana leaves and incense sticks in the rivers and lakes, in honor of the goddess of water.

practical data

  • When? In November
  • Where? In Chiang Mai and other cities across the country

Tips for visiting Chiang Mai

Opt for animal sanctuaries

In Chiang Mai it is common to find shows with animals , such as elephants or tigers. You can visit the Tiger Kingdom, for example, where they let you spend 15 minutes inside the tiger cage.

Even so, we recommend other options, such as the complexes that encourage the care of animals , where you can see their daily activities, bathe them or feed them.

Choose the ideal circuit

If you take a look at our trips you will see that we offer multiple trips in which you can get to know Chiang Mai. Choose the one that best suits you and what you expect from your visit to the city.

For example, if you like to have time to discover the city on your own and lose yourself in its streets, we have circuits in which you will have one or two days to discover Chiang Mai and its surroundings on your own. On the other hand, if you prefer a more organized route, you will find circuits where you can let yourself go and discover the city accompanied by a guide.

Would you like to discover Chiang Mai? Discover our trips to Thailand and choose the one that best suits you.

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