This post was last updated on December 30th, 2020 at 08:40 am
Chiang Mai is the most famous city in Thailand after Bangkok. It houses everything from the unique and classic Thailand. The surroundings are breathtaking and it isn’t called “The Rose of the North” for nothing. Besides beautiful nature, you will find hundreds of holy temples, national parks, traditional villages, and hill tribes.
Our Experience in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is located on the banks of the Ping River in a green valley at the foot of the mountains in northern Thailand. We had a great first impression of Chiang Mai! It is laid back, there are nice streets, bars, there is a lot to do, and there is always something going on.
And for a city where around 200,000 people live, Chiang Mai is a very laid-back city. It is one of the nicest cities in Thailand. We only planned to stay 2 days here but ended up staying twice as long because we liked it so much.
We Love It!
It is a city with great contrasts; it has a lively center with a lot of art and live music, but also a modern character. This city is not a metropolis like Bangkok. Bangkok is “you hate it or you love it” but Chiang Mai for us was; “We love it!” The city houses an enormous amount of art and culture and architecture.
11 Fun Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai has more than 300 temples, most of which were built between 1300 and 1550. The best-known temples are the Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Chiang Man. In addition to visiting these temples, there is, of course, plenty to do in the city. Below we have listed a number of great sightseeing spots.
1. Visit the Wat Chedi Luang
This is one of the most visited temples in Chiang Mai. The Wat Chedi Luang dates from 1441. It was damaged by earthquakes and shelling. Restoration by UNESCO was stopped because they did not know exactly what the original looked like. The Chedi (pagoda) is a famous landmark in Chiang Mai.
During its peak, this temple even housed the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred religious relic of Thailand. Formerly the complex was 60 by 80 meters, but today it is only half that size due to the damage it sustained. It has never been completely finished which makes the Wat Chedi Luang look like it does now.
TIP – Entry to the temple is free.
2. Go to the Night Bazaar
The Night Bazaar, or Night Market, is one of the best-known highlights in Chiang Mai. This market will be there every evening. It is very busy, but also very cozy. You can buy anything here from bags to lamps and you can also eat well there!
The Night Bazaar is held on the Chang Klan Road. It is actually not to be missed when you are in Chiang Mai. The Night Bazaar is a place where almost all travelers come to score souvenirs for the home front. Don’t expect practices like at the Weekend Market in Bangkok, but you can buy everything you are looking for here.
TIP – The market is open every evening from 6:00 pm to midnight.
3. Visit the Doi Suthep Temple
This is the best-known and most sacred temple of the north of Thailand. It is not located in Chiang Mai itself, but 16 kilometers outside in the Doi Suthep National Park. 306 steps lead you to the temple. In combination with the national park, you can easily stay here for a day.
Going to Chiang Mai and not visiting the Doi Suthep is not-done. As the locals say; “If you didn’t see Doi Suthep, you didn’t go to Chiang Mai.” The mountain overlooks the city. You can book different tours to the temple and the national park. For example, a Full Day Bike Tour costs around 2,000 baht (US$65) p.p.
TIP – The entrance fee is 30 Baht (US$1) per person.
4. Discover the Sunday Walking Street
The Sunday Walking Street (Ratchadamnoen Rd) is popular with both the Thai locals and the tourists. The entire street is filled with colorful stalls that sell everything from traditional hill tribe clothes to shiny earrings. This market is held every Sunday in the center of the city on Ratchadamnoen Road.
Unlike the Night Bazaar, which is filled with imitation products, the Sunday Walking Street is an exhibition of the art and craftsmanship of northern Thai locals. Many of the sellers make and sell their own products and the quality of their craftsmanship is excellent. Here you will mainly find a lot of fabrics, glass, ceramics, etc.
TIP – The market starts around 4:00 p.m. and ends around midnight.
5. Visit the Most Famous Buddhist Temple; Wat Phra Singh
This is the most visited Buddhist temple of Chiang Mai. It is not a big temple, but an impressive one. The temple houses the holiest Buddha statue in the city; the Phra Singh (Lion Buddha). This is a typical northern Thai temple. The temple is also known as The Monastery of the Lion Buddha.
TIP – Entry is free. Be respectful and try covering your knees and shoulders with a piece of clothing.
6. Visit Another Temple; the Wat Chiang Man
The Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in the city. Wat Chiang dates from 1296 and two important Buddha statues are preserved in the temple; the Phra Sila and the Phra Satang Man who also briefly stood in Laos. It is a temple that is definitely worth visiting!
TIP – Entry is free.
7. Visit the Old City; Wiang Kum Kam
Not many tourists make the trip to Wiang Kum Kam, also called the Underground Ancient City. Located about five kilometers south of Chiang Mai along the Ping River, it is an ancient city dating back to the eighth century from the Haripunchai Empire.
It was once the capital of an empire, nowadays you will find mainly ruins of Buddhist sculptures, architecture, pottery, and ceramics. It is a nice way to spend your afternoon. Not as spectacular as Ayutthaya or Sukhothai, but still very nice!
8. Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand. When you are at the top, you are about 2,565 meters above sea level. This is a popular day trip from Chiang Mai with about a 2-hour drive distance. This park is known for the many animal species that live here. It is especially popular with birdwatchers because it is one of the best places to see unusual birds ( there are 362 different species).
It is the best way for locals to escape the heat of the lower areas. Tourists travel to the top to escape the heat, although they usually wear less thick clothes than the locals. If you get all the way to the top you will come across a temple on the way that was built for one of the last Lanna kings, King Inthawichayanon.
TIP – You can read more info on our Doi Inthanon page.
Viewpoint in the Doi Inthanon National Park
9. Go Underground: the Chiang Dao Caves
The Chiang Dao Cave is a famous landmark near Chiang Mai. According to legend, the cave is connected to a number of other caves and even extends to the border of Myanmar. Today’s technology, however, shows that the caves are “only” 12 kilometers long, of which you can only see a small part.
TIP – Entrance is 40 baht (US$1.30) p.p.
10. Visit the Picturesque Doi Pui Village
The village of Doi Pui is located, at over 1,500 meters, in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. It is known for the beautiful waterfalls that are easily accessible. But that is not the reason that travelers come here; they come for the old village. A visit to this village is a great experience.
It is a completely different world than the one in Chiang Mai. Here you can walk among the mountains and see old, traditional wooden houses and locals who do the work that they have been doing for centuries in their traditional clothing. The simple way of life, the houses, and the old crafts are a highlight for many. Due to the cool climate here everything is very fertile and green.
TIP – The village is only open to tourists from 8:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. A day tour will cost you around 600 baht (US$19.60) per person.
11. Visit the Rice Fields of Pa Pong Piang
Tucked away in the mountains around Doi Inthanon you will find the beautiful rice fields of Pa Pong Piang. Strangely enough, few travelers come here. Almost everyone knows the rice fields in Bali or Sapa, but Pa Pong Piang remains a big mystery.
The rice fields of Pa Pong Piang are located in the Mae Chaem district and it is the ideal day trip from Chiang Mai. These rice fields are lost in the mountains of the Doi Inthanon National Park and are undoubtedly one of the most beautiful rice terraces in Thailand, if not the most beautiful.
There is a good chance that you will be one of the few tourists when you come here, and that makes the whole experience even more special. In addition, the Karen people still reside in traditional houses and live off the rice harvest.
How do you get there?
It is best to spend at least 1 night here, but it can also be done in one day from Chiang Mai. The journey by public transport is the cheapest, but this also takes 3 to 4 hours. It is a better idea to rent a car with a driver (or minivan and share the costs). That will cost you around US$55 per day, but you will be there within 1.5 hours. Then you will have more time to discover the region.
TIP – You will find little accommodation in Pa Pong Piang. These accommodations are very basic and all cost 500 baht (US$16.30) per person per night.
Fun Activities in and Around Chiang Mai
In addition to beautiful surroundings, the city also has a good nightlife. You can choose clubs but also quiet bars with live music. On top of that, you can enjoy a delicious meal in Chiang Mai. It knows almost all international cuisines, but the food stalls are perhaps the best.
1. Visit one of the Festivals
Do you like a nice party? Then make sure you attend one of the many festivals they organize in Chiang Mai. The best known is the Songkhran, the Thai New Year, in April. During this festival, people with water balloons and water guns walk on the street to spray each other; a unique experience!
TIP – The Loy Krathong festival is during the full moon in November. Here thousands of candles are released on the Ping River. One of the most impressive sights we have ever witnessed.
2. Book a Cooking Course
If you like good food you will feel right at home in Chiang Mai. There are hundreds of restaurants here where you can eat. But even more fun is to make the food yourself! You can follow a cooking class here and bring your new knowledge home with you. Chiang Mai is one of the best cities to attend a cooking course.
TIP – You can book cooking courses anywhere in the city. If you can’t find anything, ask for information at your accommodation.
3. Learn to Meditate
Do you want to try something completely different? Consider taking a meditation course, it is super fun and very educational. There are different courses ranging from a few hours to a few days.
TIP – A two-day meditation course will cost you 500 Baht (US$16.30)
How to Get to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is very easy to reach and you have literally hundreds of ways to get there. Most travelers come here by bus, train or plane. Transport is arranged efficiently and you can travel to and from Chiang Mai at any time of the day. Options below;
To Chiang Mai by Bus
The bus is by far the most popular option to get to the city. Most buses are in good condition, especially the long-distance buses. They often have toilets on board. A few buses go to and from Bangkok every day.
A ticket between Bangkok-Chiang Mai will cost you around 400 to 900 Baht (US$13 to $29), depending on the company, class, etc. The journey takes about 10 hours and buses usually run between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. and there are also enough night buses.
TIP – Prices are constantly changing. Check in the city for tour operators or at your accommodation for the most current routes and prices.
To Chiang Mai by Train
Trains from Bangkok to Chiang Mai leave from Hualamphong Station in Bangkok.
There are different types of trains, from express trains to sprinters. In addition, there are also different classes that you can book (1st, 2nd, and 3rd). Prices vary from 250 to 1,200 Baht (US$8 to $39). All current prices and routes are best checked at 12GoAsia and otherwise at Hualamphong Station in Bangkok or check your accommodation.
TIP – 6 trains run daily between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, 2 of which are night trains. They go at 6:10 p.m. and 7:35 p.m. You can buy tickets here.
To Chang Mai by Plane
There are several flights a day to Chiang Mai. Flights at Skyscanner from Bangkok to Chiang Mai cost less than US$25. You can fly to almost any city in Thailand.
Book Seats Online
You can book seats online via 12GoAsia (for any type of transport). We have used this website many times for our trips in many different countries. Here is an example of all possible routes and prices between Bangkok and Chiang Mai.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is considered the cultural capital of Thailand and not only houses countless sights, but also countless accommodations in all shapes and sizes. Whether you are looking for fancy resorts, low-budget hostels or just cozy hotels, you can find it all here. We have listed a number of them below.
Best Hostels in Chiang Mai For Backpackers
Chiang Mai is a popular place among backpackers and you will also find a lot of backpacker hostels here, from quiet retreats to famous party hostels; you never have to look far. Be sure to check out these options;
Best Hotels in Chiang Mai
If you do not want to spend the night in a budget hostel, there are many more options. It doesn’t make much sense to list all the options because there are thousands of them. We had good experiences with Mandala House ourselves. Other good options are;
Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is from October to March. In these months you will have less rain and pleasant temperatures. If you want to attend the Songkhran festival you have to come in April. If you like thriving nature, it’s best to travel just after the rainy season (October and November) and if you like good weather, November to March are the best.