Things to do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is the fourth most populated city in Thailand and one of the most visited places in Northern Thailand. It’s a big city and you could easily spend a couple of days or a couple of weeks here! If you’re planning a trip to the wonderful city, check out our list of top things to do in Chiang Mai.
1. Learn to cook (and eat!) at a Thai cooking class
We decided to give the ‘Asia scenic Thai cooking school’ a go whilst in Chiang Mai and we’re so glad we did! It was an amazing day and definitely one of our best experiences whilst travelling so far. You have two options, the ‘farm’ or the ‘city’ cooking school. Whichever experience you choose to get you will make various different Thai dishes. The best part? You get to eat all of the dishes too! Transport is included in the price and you even receive a recipe book to take home.
Full day farm experience: 1200 Baht pp (£28) Full day city experience 1000 Baht pp (£23)
Half day farm experience: 1000 Baht pp (£23) Half day farm experience 800 Baht pp (£17)
Top tip: We can fully recommend the full day farm experience. Although it’s the most expensive, we visited a VERY local market, explored the garden and tried various herbs and spices and felt like we got an authentic Thai cooking experience.
2. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
I’m sure by now you’ll know that an elephant experience is a big attraction in Thailand! The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is a great option if you’re wanting an up-close experience with these gentle giants at a place that actually rescues and cares for them. At the sanctuary, you can feed, bathe and be stunned at the beauty of these creatures. There’s plenty of time for precious photo opportunities too so you can keep the memories forever!
Top tip: Choose to do the half day visit (1700 Baht – £40). It’s cheaper and we heard that it’s the same as the full day but with a lot of waiting around!
3. Self-guided walking tour of Chiang Mai’s temples
Chiang Mai is full of temples! We knew it’d be impossible to see all of the temples given the time we had. Instead, we did a quick search online and found this self-guided tour. The tour takes you to all the main temples on the shortest route possible. It was super easy to follow and an enjoyable way to spend the day. If you’re interested in the walking tour that we did you can find it here.
Top tip: Don’t forget to cover your knees and shoulders to be respectful when visited the temples
4. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
The night market or ‘Night Bazaar’ in Chiang Mai has got to be one of our favourites. The locals set up this market every evening on the east side of the old city. It’s full of the usual items you see in most Thai markets, funky pants, colourful bags and cool artwork but seems to have a special feel to it. But that’s not our favourite part. The FOOD is! The food court is not the typical market you see in the rest of south-east Asia but can easily be mistaken for a cool, hip area in Europe. Picture gourmet burger trucks, pizza stalls, fish platters, cocktail bars and live music! This place has a great atmosphere and is a welcomed night off Thai cuisine (although they do still sell plenty!)
5. Sunday walking market
The Sunday walking market is set up – you guessed it, every Sunday in the centre of the old town. It basically shuts down the whole area, starting at Tha Phae Gate and extends for 1km down Ratchadamnoen road. It’s definitely the biggest market we’ve ever been to and is not to be missed if you’re lucky enough to be spending the weekend in Chaing Mai. The locals sell everything from food and drinks to cool clothes, jewellery and handcrafted ornaments. It’s the place to be if you’re wanting to pick up souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back at home.
Opening at around 4 pm the market is on all night until midnight and can get very busy! Luckily enough they even have street side massages for those tired feet.
Top tip: Get there early to shop and explore. Then sit in one of the rooftop bars overlooking the market to take in the atmosphere and escape the hoards of people!
6. Hail a Songthaew
What’s a Songthaew I hear you say? Songthaew literally means ‘two rows’ and is the little red trucks you will see all over Chaing Mai. These red trucks have two rows in the back for passengers to sit and is the local taxi. You can flag one down as they drive by and tell the driver where you’re going. You’ll more than likely pick other tourists and locals up on the way but that’s part of the fun! It shouldn’t cost more than 20 Baht (50p) for most short trips and 40 Baht (£1) for longer rides.
7. Spend the night in the North Gate Jazz Co-op
So… Thailand isn’t exactly known for its Jazz music but this is the place to be for a great night out in Chiang Mai. This bar is ALWAYS busy but that’s one of the reasons is so good. Sit back with a nice cold beer and listen to one of the talented live musicians or stand on the pavements outside and enjoy the ambience whilst meeting fellow travellers instead! You’ll need to get there pretty early anyway if you’d like a seat as there is extremely limited seating but the atmosphere makes up for that. If you fancy yourself a jazz superstar then head down on a Tuesday night for their ‘free jam’ session.
8. Eat at Kanjana restaurant
Recommended to us by our German friends we met in the hostel – apparently, the restaurant is in the German equivalent to the lonely planet book; Kanjana is by far our favourite restaurant in the whole of Thailand. It’s one of them ‘restaurants’ you could easily walk by and not think anything of it but with its cheap food, big portions and the tastiest Thai food we’ve eaten you’ll be heading back for more. The staff may not be the friendliest and if you don’t get there early enough you might be queuing outside but the food is 100% worth it. We now recommend this restaurant to all of our friends we meet on the road and everyone has fed-back the same thing – it’s great!
If you get the chance to visit, don’t forget to let us know and tell us what you think!
More things to do in Chaing Mai :
Zoe in Yellow
One of the only bar/clubs to open until 1 am, Zoe in Yellow is the number one party venue in town. Although drink prices are more expensive than most other bars (140 Baht or £3.50 for a large beer or 150 Baht or £3.75 for a cocktail), the atmosphere of the place and the overall venue is worth the visit.
Oasis Rooftop Garden Bar
If partying isn’t your scene, the Oasis rooftop bar is a cool place to watch the sunset with a cocktail in hand. Or chill at night with friends and a few beers after a tiresome day exploring Chaing Mai.
On top of a mountain, this temple is considered one of the main things to do in Chaing Mai. In around 1 hour from the old town in a ‘songthaew’, you can reach the entrance surrounded by stalls selling the typical Thai clothes and crafts. It’s then a steep climb to the top and a 30 Baht (75p) entrance fee to enter the temple grounds. For us, Doi Suthep really wasn’t that spectacular and we wouldn’t rush to do it again. But maybe we’d already seen too many temples in Chaing Mai?
The lantern festival or ‘Yee Peng’ is celebrated in Chaing Mai on the full moon of the 12th lunar month every year – usually the middle of November. This is when everybody comes together and releases thousands of floating lanterns into the sky. The whole sky lights up and is I’m sure an unforgettable moment. We’ve not actually experienced this but it’s something we’d love to see. Read more here.
3D Art Museum
Something to do on a rainy or humid day. The Art in Paradise Museum is great for photographs and some optical illusion fun.
Many of the major temples in town offer a ‘monk chat’ whereby you can sit and talk to a monk, find out some interesting facts and allow them to practice their English skills.
Chaing Mai is full of spas. Find one at a cheap price and enjoy a Thai massage.
Around 2 hours away from the old town, Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand and a great day trip. Visit the national park to hike to the summit, trek to the waterfalls or just enjoy the beautiful surrounding nature.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
Budget – Hostel By Bed
Our favourite hostel EVER! The beds are comfy, everything is super clean and they even provide free coffee and water throughout the day.
Mid Price – Punsuk @ Prasing
An affordable, clean and perfectly located hotel for you to easily explore.
Luxury – Akyra Manor
An ultra-stylish 5-star hotel located in the hip area of Nimman. Check out their rooftop infinity pool!
For more places to stay in Chiang Mai you can check the latest prices here.
Heading to Thailand? Check out our top tips.