Things to do in Chiang Mai
If the exotic beaches, traditional villages, and Buddhist temples aren’t enough to pique your curiosity about the “Land of Smiles”, its budget friendly, laid back vibe might just be the reason it becomes your new favorite destination (it is definitely mine).
Sure, you will find the hustle and bustle in the places like Bangkok, but once you venture outside those city limits, you will see that Thailand is so much more than just crowded streets and tuk-tuks.
Once you decide to check out Thailand’s northern capital of Chiang Mai, its traditional Thai vibe will captivate you. This is the perfect spot to dive into the culture, and the perfect home base to explore the natural beauty that surrounds you.
With lush green mountains, plenty of temples, winding rivers, and rushing waterfalls, Chiang Mai is centered around the outdoor lifestyle.
Located 435 miles north of Bangkok, this misty mountain setting is idyllic and has become a premier destination for travelers.
Check out this list of the best things to do while you’re here.
Visit the temples
With over 200 temples in and around town (many are still in use!), take a little time and wander in amazement at the detailed architecture and wafting smells of burning incense.
Known as Wats, these traditional places of worship offer a quiet solace. Be sure you dress appropriately, as they do follow specific guidelines.
It’s likely not possible to visit them all in one single trip, so here are a few suggestions to get you started:
Wat Chedi Luang
Located in the old city, this temple was originally built in the 1400s. This sprawling complex is impressive and full of historic character.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
One of the most popular temples, you will be stunned by the magnificent views of the city below. Begin by walking up the 309 steps of the Naga Serpent Staircase, and you will feel how spiritual this location can be.
Wat Pha Lat
Take the picturesque hidden trail through the enchanting jungle to find this hidden gem. This tranquil spot is a bit off the beaten path, but you might just have it all to yourself.
Shop (and Eat) at the Night Bazaar
With hundreds of stalls selling designer goods (real and fake), clothing, souvenirs and authentic Thai goods, you are bound to find something that strikes your fancy. It is huge and you won’t get through it all in one night. We were very lucky and chose a hotel right next to it so were able to walk it every evening. The food court here has lots of choice and the mango and lime smoothies at the stand just outside were to die for.
Get outdoors and explore one of this area’s national parks. With plenty of elevation change, and a backdrop of rugged peaks and flowing rivers any outdoor enthusiast will be impressed by its beauty. There are several spectacular waterfalls and local swimming spots here, including the 100 meter cascading Mae Yai. This area is home to many traditional hill tribes, and at the base of the mountain you can visit the Hmong villages to witness the centuries old methods of farming. The Royal Park Service maintains a small number of accommodations within the park, but with their limited availability, reserving in advance is highly recommended.
Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
Elephants are a huge draw for tourists, but many of the camps have faced some pretty negative criticism. We were very lucky to spend time with the Karen hill people at the Karen Tribe Native Elephants. These guys treat elephants like family and it was by far my favorite experience in all of the time I was in Thailand. They only accept direct booking and limit visitors to just 8 per day so get your reservation in as quick as you can.
Take a cooking class
Thai food has some unique and amazing flavor. You will no doubt love tasting a variety of traditional dishes, but why not try your hand at recreating your favorites? Most classes will include a side trip to source your own ingredients, ensuring your final creation is made with the freshest ingredients possible. There are a variety of options available, so do your research to determine which one would be best for you.
Train Muay Thai Style
Take a class in this traditional fighting style (and Thailand’s National Sport). This is a great way to get that cardio in while traveling. People come from all over the world to train here, but a single session will teach the basic techniques. Just make sure your travel insurance covers you for any injuries (just in case).
Chiang Mai is a great Thai city to visit, and is gaining momentum as one of the highest ranking among the travel community. In fact, it’s the perfect destination to get lost in the beautiful countryside. See for yourself how welcoming this vibrant community can be as you wander through the alleys of the city center and discover the amazing reasons why this city is affectionately nicknamed the “Rose of the North”.