Thailand is a nation that continues to draw visitors back time and time again. From the world-class beaches in the South to the mountain forests in the North, Thailand really does have something for everyone. While Bangkok is its bustling capital, the north is the heart of culture and creativity, and there are hundreds of things to do in Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra Singh 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai Thailand

The Best Things To Do In Chiang Mai!

You could easily spend a month (or more) in Northern Thailand, making Chiang Mai a base for exploration. With the best restaurant and cafe scene in the country, excellent nightlife, a strong Buddhist presence and enough activities to fill a calendar year, there is definitely no shortage of things to do in Chiang Mai!

Update – We’ve actually found ourselves based in Chiang Mai for 2.5 months, and are really loving chilling out in this place. There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai, and every day we’re finding more and more to do! Make sure you come check this city out.

1) Visit Elephant Nature Park

Unfortunately, Thailand has a history of animal abuse to help boost its tourism economy. Activities such as riding an elephant or visiting the sedated tigers in many of the temples only add to this cruelty and should be avoided at all cost.

But in Chiang Mai there is one sanctuary that is committed to education and rehabilitation. The Elephant Nature Park is a rescue centre for elephants that have been abused by the tourism industry over the decades.

Here you can either visit the elephants in their natural environment or volunteer at Elephant Nature Park to help out around the sanctuary.

Riding elephants are prohibited; instead, the focus is on treating and protecting these beautiful creatures. Definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai. While you’re at it, check out our friend’s new site Waking Up Wild if you’re into all things animals!

2) Enjoy The Cafe Scene

Ok, we admit it – we’re suckers for a city with a great cafe scene. And in Thailand few places offer the kind of coffee-hopping joys that Chiang Mai does.

Because we work online, we love a good cafe with tasty coffee, a comfortable setting, funky music and fast wifi.

Our favourites were Good Morning Chiang Mai and Bird’s Nest Cafe, but you could spend weeks bouncing from place to place and never get sick of it. The cafes really are the bomb and one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.

3) Ride The Mae Hong Son Loop

Ok, this isn’t exactly in Chiang Mai, but no trip to Northern Thailand would be complete without renting a scooter or motorbike and riding this incredible four-day loop.

Starting from Chiang Mai, you complete a circuit, spending nights in Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and funky Pai, before returning back to the city. Sensational mountain scenery, unique hill tribes, gorgeous waterfalls and mind-blowing roads await you on the Mae Hong Son Loop.

(Seriously, don’t be one of those digital nomads or backpackers who spend all their time in the city and never leave.)

Mae Hong Son Loop 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai

Do not miss the ride around the Mae Hong Son Loop!

Make sure you have travel insurance before riding a motorbike or scooter overseas! We recommend World Nomads.

Keep reading:  The Happy Train Ride From Chumphon To Bangkok

4) Spend Time With A Local

We’ve been lucky enough to spend months backpacking Thailand, and one thing we never tire of is the welcoming and generous culture of the Thai people.

When you’re in the country you will no doubt have countless incredible interactions that will help convince you Thailand may just be the best country in the world.

If you’re in the city and on a limited schedule, there are plenty of things to do with locals in Chiang Mai, such as trekking and cooking classes.

5) Explore The Buddhist Temples

Chiang Mai is full of amazing Buddhist temples, known as ‘wats’, and the majority of them are open to visitors. While Wat Doi Suthep is probably the most beautiful, the ones in the city should not be missed either.

Definitely check out Wat Phra Singh, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Umong. One of the real unique things to do in Chiang Mai is to attend a monk chat. Basically, this is where you can visit a temple and talk to the monks about Buddhism, life in the temples, or just about anything you can think of.

They are often very excited to practice their English, so it is mutually beneficial. Check out the posters plastered around the temples to see when the regular monk chats are on.

Wat Phra Singh 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai.

6) Hill Tribe Trekking In The Surrounding Mountains

A lot of people who visit Thailand start in the Southern islands, which are undoubtedly beautiful, but can lack a bit of culture and authenticity. It is no wonder then that when people arrive in Chiang Mai, they are often craving to learn about the history and ethnic development of the country.

The jungles in the Chiang Mai province are a trekker’s paradise, filled with waterfalls, valleys, mountains and, perhaps more interestingly, various hill tribes. Just make sure you sign up for your treks with a reputable and responsible tour operator, where the majority of the money will go to the local people.

Avoid visiting the Karen long neck tribes. These minority people have been forced to continue their paralysing traditions, at the insistence of the government, to keep growing the booming tourism economy.

7) Wander The Sunday Walking Street Markets

Every Sunday night the centre of the Old City is closed to traffic, and food vendors, craftspeople and artists take over with their unique and bargain-priced street markets. If you’re looking to buy any souvenirs or trinkets this is the place to do it.

Or if you would rather spend your money on something different, you can get foot massages for only a few dollars, and literally stuff yourself silly with all the delicious local food that is scattered all over the markets. Hot tip – don’t eat lunch on a Sunday.

Sunday Walking Street Market 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai

Definitely stick around for the Sunday Walking Street Markets in Chiang Mai.

8) Do A Meditation Course At Wat Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai is full of ways to get in touch with your inner self, but perhaps the most famous one is the Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation Centre. Situated on top of Suthep Mountain, this temple receives thousands of visitors every single day.

For those that want to stay longer and learn more about this life-changing method of meditation, the monks open their doors and provide courses that range from 3-28 days. Speaking is forbidden during your time in the temple, and all your energies are focused on breathing and clearing your mind of thoughts and troubles.

Keep reading:  30 Awesome Things To Do In Easter Island

Courses are run on donations. Alesha completed a 7-day course in 2014 and absolutely loved it. Click here to find out more about her Vipassana meditation course in Chiang Mai.

Wat Doi Suthep Vipassana Meditation 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai Thailand

One of the beautiful temples you practice your Vipassana Meditation in Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai.

9) Get A Massage At The Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution

That’s right – get a massage at the women’s prison. Before you turn your nose up at this idea, it is important to realise that this is actually a wonderful and hugely beneficial enterprise.

The women in this correctional facility are all serving short sentences for minor offences, and this is a way for them to learn a new skill to help them migrate back into society. There’s a cafe and crafts store on site, and the massages and spa facilities are very reasonably priced (expect 180 Baht for a massage). One of the strangest, but more interesting, things to do in Chiang Mai.

10) Cliff Diving At The Hang Dong Rock Quarry

If jumping off of high things into water sounds like your idea of fun (it is for us), then make sure you head out to the Hang Dong Rock Quarry.

Originally used as a mine to clear out limestone, the quarry has now filled with water that glows a vibrant turquoise green. The massive pool is deep enough to launch from the highest cliffs, some of them up to 12m high.

If you would rather take a dip without taking the dive, there are plenty of spots you can just swim out. It can be hard to find, so hiring a scooter or songthaew is the best way to get there. This page has some good directions.

Where To Stay In Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai has a huge number of accommodation options to match every budget, from backpacker hostels and tiny guesthouses to 5-star luxury resorts.

We stayed in a few places during our time in Chiang Mai, and they were all very decent. If you are a backpacker, check out the options on Hostel World. If you are a couple or would prefer something a bit higher end, Agoda has a huge selection of accommodations.

Note – The above accommodation options and insurance page contain affiliate links. If you book your stay or insurance using our link, we get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us keep running the blog, and we’d love you forever!

Alesha And Jarryd

Hey! We are Alesha and Jarryd, the award winning writers and photographers behind this blog, and we have been travelling the world together since 2008. Adventure travel is our passion, and through our stories and images we promote exciting off-the-beaten-path destinations and fascinating cultures as we go. Follow our journey in real time on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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