10 Awesome Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand (2019 Edition)

Last updated on: 32 Comments

When you’re looking for the best things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand, you can’t go past these top 10 attractions and activities. You’ll be amazed at all the choices for what to do in Chiang Mai!

Wat Phra Singh 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai Thailand
Don’t miss Wat Phra Singh on your list of the best things to do in Chiang Mai!

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.

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, Thailand!

It really is a cultural capital of Thailand, and no doubt you’ll fall in love with it on your next visit. Best of all it’s very affordable compared to the south of the country.

Update – We actually found ourselves based in Chiang Mai for 2.5 months, and really loved our time there.

There are so many places to visit in Chiang Mai, and every day we found more and more to do! If you want to know what to do in Chiang Mai, have a read of this article and come visit the city for yourself!

Check out our brand new article on the best places to visit in Thailand!

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.

Elephant Nature Park is also the most expensive option for visiting elephants in Chiang Mai, but that’s because they are the absolute best company in town.

Book your visit to Elephant Nature Park on Get Your Guide now.
Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai
Make sure you visit Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai.

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.

After a huge morning seeking out all the Chiang Mai attractions, we’d often find ourselves in one of the quirky cafes to while away the afternoon hours.

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 seeking out the best things to do in Pai, before returning back to the city.

It is known to be one of the best motorbike loops in Southeast Asia, and after we spent 10 months riding two motorbikes 15’000km around the region, we can honestly agree that it is well worth doing.

There’s a lot to see and do along the way, and first up is the sensational mountain scenery. Make sure your travel cameras are charged, because it’s seriously going to blow your mind.

There’s also a lot of cool detours you can take that will take you up to some unique hill tribes. The people up there are very friendly and welcoming, but make sure you are dressed modestly and show them respect.

And if the temperature is getting the better of you, there’s plenty of gorgeous waterfalls to stop off at and take a quick dip.

The Mae Hong Son Loop is probably up there with Chiang Rai as being one of the best trips from Chiang Mai. Take the time to do it, and you certainly won’t regret it!

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

Read our complete guide on riding the Mae Hong Son Loop.
Mae Hong Son Loop 10 Things To Do In Chiang Mai
Do not miss the ride around the Mae Hong Son Loop!

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.

Our absolute favourite experience with locals is the cooking classes. We did this one with Get Your Guide and absolutely loved it.

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. The monks might even give you some more tips on what to do in Chiang Mai!

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.

This one trekking at Doi Suthep Mountain is really cool (booked with Adrenaline Hunters).

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.

It’s a wonderful evening out, and you’ll find locals and tourists alike wandering around, checking out the items for sale and just enjoying themselves.

If you’re looking to buy any souvenirs or trinkets this is the place to do it. You’ll find all kinds of things here, from traditional to contemporary, and usually at very good prices.

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.

Definitely one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai at night.

Hot tip – don’t eat lunch on a Sunday, because you’re going to fill yourself up at the walking street markets for dinner!

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.

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.

Buy your ticket for the canyon here.

Bonus Activity – Get A Sak Yant From A Monk

If you’ve ever wanted to get a bamboo tattoo, then Chiang Mai is the place to do it. Luckily there’s an incredible way to have this experience too.

A sak yant is a traditional, sacred tattoo in the Buddhist religion that is performed by an Ajarn, or tattoo master. These Ajarns are often Buddhist monks, and the sak yants given are ancient script and designs that offer protection and strength to the person wearing it.

Getting a sak yant is often something many travellers want to do on their trip around Thailand, but finding a clean and hygienic place to do it can be tough.

Not wanting to risk an infection, we signed up for a sak yant tour with Where Sidewalks End and even had an English-speaking guide to help translate the entire experience for us with the monk.

It was one of the real highlights of our time in Chiang Mai, and if you’re interested in doing this yourself, we highly recommend it.

Check out our detailed article about our experience getting a sak yant in Chiang Mai.

Sak Yant Chiang Mai
Jazza getting a sak yant in Chiang Mai.

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.

Which Neighbourhood in Chiang Mai?

If you’re trying to find a base for yourself to find the best things to do in Chiang Mai, it’s important to choose the right neighbourhood to stay in.

While a lot of expats and digital nomads choose the popular Nimmanhaemin area for its abundance of cafes, bars and restaurants, the truth is it’s a bit far away from the tourist attractions.

If you’re a backpacker you’ll want to stay near the old town, which is the most picturesque, and is walking distance to most of the Chiang Mai points of interest.

However high quality hotels are quite limited in the old town, so you’ll have to venture further afield. Don’t worry though – you’re never too far from anything in Chiang Mai, and tuk tuks and motorbike rentals are very cheap.

Best Backpacker’s Hostel in Chiang Mai

There’s an overwhelming number of awesome hostels in Chiang Mai, and it can be daunting trying to narrow it down to just one.

If you’re looking to party, then the absolute best place to stay in Chiang Mai is the new Mad Monkey Hostel. This chain started in Cambodia, and has been spreading around Southeast Asia like wildfire.

Besides having epic parties, safe and secure rooms and amazing staff, they also put a share of their profits into local community-based charities and organisations, so you can feel good while you drink another cocktail.

If you would rather somewhere a bit quieter, but still want to keep your budget down, then check out Hostel Lullaby. It’s pretty luxurious, comfortable and quiet at night. It also gets amazing reviews on Hostelworld and TripAdvisor.

Best Mid-Range Accommodation in Chiang Mai

There’s no shortage of mid-range accommodation in Chiang Mai, but one of our favourites is the Sakorn Residence and Hotel.

It’s just outside of the old town, so it’s a quieter place to rest your head and it really has a stunning set up.

There’s a pool, huge, bright and clean rooms, a great restaurant and friendly staff. It really has just about everything you would want for a stay in the city.

Best Luxury Hotel in Chiang Mai

If money isn’t an option and you really want to splurge out on the most brilliant accommodation in Chiang Mai, then you need to check out Akyra Manor.

It is arguably the best 5-star hotel in the city, and when you see it for yourself you’ll understand why. The suites surround private courtyards, and there’s art galleries and delicious cafes and restaurants on site.

Seriously, if you want to live in pure luxury in Chiang Mai, this is the place to do it.

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!

About the author

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, YouTube and Instagram.

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32 COMMENTS

  1. Finnich vessal

    What a fantastic Post! This is so chock full of useful information, most concise step-by-step guide, I was looking for some places around Thailand, and your blog really helped me. Thanks for sharing the information. Can you suggest me some places to visit around Phuket?

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Hi Finnich, we are so happy this article was helpful. As for Phuket, we have an article about accommodation https://www.nomadasaurus.com/where-to-stay-in-phuket/ and doing a detox if you are interested in that https://www.nomadasaurus.com/healthy-living-detox-atmanjai/. As for things to do, we did some day tours out to some islands. There are many nice beaches to visit but do keep in mind they are all going to be busy as Phuket is a holiday destination. Do your research about visiting any animal entertainment places. There are many bad ones out there and treat the animals horribly. Have a great time and enjoy Thailand.

    Ax

    Thanks a lot for this article ! Very helpful !
    I have a question regarding the message in the women correctional institution. Is it actually inside the Prison that is located outside the old city ?

      Alesha and Jarryd

      It is located near the prison (not inside) and they have an area set up. It is like you are walking into a message salon. There are officers there supervising.

    Nadia

    Thanks for your detailed article on Chiang Mai! We love it there because it is so great for digital nomads. We try to stay a few months every year to work on our blog. Gotta make it in time for the lantern festival one year!!

      Alesha and Jarryd

      You are welcome. Glad it was helpful. It definitely is a great place to work. The internet is great. We have never been to the lantern festival. We just missed it a couple of years back when we moved there. Have a great time.

    Varuni

    hi , thank you for this blog. its awesome..! you guys spent lot of time there. I’m also planing to visit Chiang Mai. But I won’t have that much time to spend in there. may be 2-3 days. I want to visit Buddhist temples and visit local area. could you give me your suggestions where to visit? I really really appreciate it.

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Hi Varuni, that is awesome you are travelling to Chiang Mai. You will have a great time. There is so many Buddhist temples to visit, so we know what you mean about seeing the best ones.

      Our friends over at Southeast Asia Backpackers have written a great post about the top 5 temples. Check it out. https://southeastasiabackpacker.com/chiang-mai-temples-top-5/
      and if you get them all done and want more check out our friends, Hannah and Adam over at Getting Stamped’s post
      https://www.gettingstamped.com/chiang-mai-temples/

      Have a great trip. :_)

    Sarahia

    Wow, thanks heaps guys for the tips and recommendations. I’m going to Thailand next month for my birthday and by reading your blog you guys really did inspire me to adventure and explore Thailand. Such a beautiful country 🙂

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Hi Sarahia, so awesome. You are going to have a great time in Chiang Mai. Happy birthday for next month. Have a great trip.

    Rihana

    Waoo, Thailand is really awesome. I wish to visit there.
    Thanks for sharing such amazing images and information about Thailand.
    I appreciate your blog post.

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Hope you get there one day. Glad you enjoyed our post. 🙂

    Jack

    As a local farang living and working here in Chiang Mai it takes a bit to impress me when it comes to blogging and writing articles about this city. Anyway you guys made it and I enjoyed your writing which gave me some great flashbacks from when I came to CM the very first time as a tourist, hungry for adventures.

    Keep it up thanks

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Hi Jack, Thank you so much. We love visiting CM, no matter how many time we have been there. You really can find more awesome things to do every time. How long have you been living there for? We stayed for a short period of 3 months one time and really enjoyed it. We tried so many local restaurants and loved food shopping at the local markets. Hope you are going ok with the air pollution at the moment. It is crazy how terrible the air gets in the burning period.

    Jeannie Kuntz

    Love all of the helpful information I am finding in your blog. Love the opening video and am wondering where this lovely via ferrata is located.

      Alesha and Jarryd

      Thank you so much. Glad the article was helpful. That must of been our “world’s most dangerous hike” video. It is located in China.

    timo

    About learning more about Thai culture and Hmong, Karen and other hilltribes and rural life: I would totally recommend for openminded travellers is to live in a (hill tribe) village for a few days.

    We stayed through Duara Travels in 2 different villages 3 nights each, first being a Thai farmer village with the most amazing vegetarian food.

    And the second was a Karen village on the slopes of Doi Inthanon – but no longnecks for display, only warm-hearted hosts. The idea is to really to connect with the locals and participate in their daily lives, far from the tourist scene.

    There was also 3 thirth village available but as we are travelling with two kids we did not go, as the journey would have been too much. But may be next time, as those days spend with our new friends are the total highlight of our numerous travels.

    Happyluke

    If you’re a nature lover you’ll definitely fall in love with Chiang Mai. Aside from enjoying the stunning scenery there are lots of activities that you can also do here. Whenever I go here I usually go to the elephant sanctuary, sticky waterfall, explore the temples and talk to the monks and also enroll myself in a short cooking class.

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Totally agree with you. They are great places to visit. We are looking forward to going back to Chiang Mai and going back to these attractions. 🙂

    Helen

    If you’re talking massage Chiang Mai is also one of the few places you’ll get a Tok Sen or hammer massage. Rather than using their hands the therapist uses a dowl-like bit of wood that they hit with a hammer. Despite it sounding a bit like a building site it’s surprisingly relaxing!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Oh wow. That sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip Helen. We will have to check that our next time.

    K

    A CM local stumbled upon your blog. Normally I would just read but there is a misunderstanding I’ve found (again and again and again in many foreigner’s blog.)

    …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…. >>>>
    1. No forcing. They do that on therir own will. Of cause they can give up their tradition whenever you want and nobody would do any thing to force them to be back to their tradition. They just don’t do that (give up their tradition) beacuse it gaive them money.

    2. Most of your tourists think they are Thai and the gov fored them to live that way. Fact is they are not Thai. Thai is nationality, not race. Problem is that many of the hilltribes has no Thai nationality. They are refugee from neighbor: Myanmar, Laos. That’s the case of many long neck Karen you see.

    3. What most of tourists (roughly 99.99 percent from what I’ve read/talk) don’t understand is that Thai nationality is given by blood, not by birthplace like most Western countries. That’s why some who are not Thai, even though they gave birth in TH, sill be Myanmese, Lao, etc. That’s included these hioll tribes.

    4. For those hilltribes who has Thai nationality they can gain any access Thai people have. I’m teacher in an acdemic institution in the north and I have many student who are hilltribes. They can get student loan. Some even got the Queen scholarship. They can get health insurrance and any benefit others Thai have. Of cause some of my student are from long neck Karen tribe. They give up their tradition on their own and nobody forced them to be back to their ways.

    No offense, I know you like Thai. I’m appreciate that fact. But, like most tourists, You don’t understand us and, worse, you assume based on your own thought. And worst, they would not listen to us no matter how we explain them.

    Hope you are not one of those tourist, otherwise, just ignore my explantion. Thank you.

    stephanie

    I loved Chiang Mai! Been there two years in a row for weeks.
    One of my favorite things was to walk or bike around and visit the temples.
    I went to ENP as well, but I thought it was too big and touristy and you had not really a lot of time with the elephants.
    x

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi Stephanie, That’s awesome. Chiang Mai is a beautiful place. Sorry you felt like that about ENP. We felt like we had a lot of time viewing the elephants. We didn’t look at our visit to the park as spending time with the elephants close up but by watching them, learning about them and their past and what the park is doing for them to better their lifes. There are a lot of tourist that visit this park, but this is the same as everywhere else in Chiang Mai. The elephants looked happy and well looked after and by having very little human contact is amazing. They have had a hard life. Thank you for your comment and happy travels 🙂

    ActivityFan Thailand

    Great post!

    Chiang Mai is a perfect gateway from the hustle and bustle of big city, like Bangkok. I’d definitely use this list for my next trip to Chiang Mai – thanks!

    Besides exploring Chiang Mai town, I’d recommend to drive a bit up north to Mae Rim! It’s only 25 mins driving and the nature there is incredible. It is a perfect place to go for a day trip. The waterfalls and butterfly farm are the highlights of this place.

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Thank you so much for the tip. That’s great. We love being in nature. Glad our post can be handy for when you go to Chiang Mai again. Happy travels

    Lauren

    Great read! Are there any tours or hill tribes you recommend visiting that are ethical?

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Hi Lauren, sorry we have no idea. There is a lot of websites that have written about Chiang Mai. Maybe try Together in Thailand, Tieland to Thailand or Travelfish. Sorry we can’t help you anymore. All the best and we hope you find the right tour. 🙂

    Jessica Hill

    Love this list! I finally made it to Hang Dong on my last visit to Chiang Mai, and I couldn’t believe I never heard about it during the year I spent living and teaching in Thailand. It’s amazing, and a definitely must! I’ll have to check our your suggested cafes on my next visit 🙂

      Alesha And Jarryd

      That’s awesome Jessica. We are stoked you had a great time out there. Thank you for reading.

    Oscar

    A great list of things and I’m so annoyed I didn’t get to see the Hang Dong Rock Quarry, I love jumping off things like that! Chiang Mai is amazing so I’ll be going back an I’ll definitely be doing some of the stuff off this list!

    I also did a Bungy jump just outside of Chiang Mai (AJ Hackett certified) and the Zip lining, both great fun things to do around Chiang Mai.

    Hope all is well back in home and you can get back on the road soon!

      Alesha And Jarryd

      Wow we didn’t even realise you could bungy jump just outside Chiang Mai. We will have to hit that up next time. Next time you head back be sure to head out to the Quarry. Thank you for your concern. We have been back on the road again for the last 5 months and all is well. We were run down and some rest definitely did the job. Cheers Oscar

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