Chiang Mai has so many things to do and see, and it can be hard to choose if you have limited time in the city, everything you absolutely must do in Chiang Mai is stated in this article, find out about the best of Chiang Mai shortlisted in a list of 25 unique experiences.
#1 Must do in Chiang Mai: Explore the temple on the hill – Doi Suthep
You haven’t seen Chiang Mai until you visit Doi Suthep! The temple on the mountain is visible from all over the city and sits majestically overlooking the city chaos. How to get there? You can take a 45-minutes shared taxi (red car) from outside Chiang Mai University’s main gate on Huay Kaew road, drive a motorbike up or you could even walk (but it will take you a few hours). The temple was created after an elephant mysteriously died on that spot and it was taken to be an auspicious sign that a temple should be built there.
You can also enjoy this must do attraction of Chiang Mai by taking part to a trekking tour to visit Doi Suthep, Doi Pui & the surrounding villages.
#2 Must do in Chiang Mai: Discover the secrets of Thai cuisine through a Thai cooking class
Learn the secrets of Thai food! Taking a cooking class won’t necessarily make you a better chef but it will teach you how to make some famous Thai dishes such as green curry, spring rolls and mango sticky rice. You can even combine learning Thai cuisine with a trip to an organic farm. After class you get to eat all the wonderful food you make so prepare yourself for a feast!
#3 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Take to the skies on a Hot Balloon or a Microlight Flight
Many travellers take in Chiang Mai from above at Doi Suthep temple, but to truly experience the city you have to see and feel it from above. An experience not to forget is taking a ride in a microlight aircraft, soaring about the city and surrounding countryside. Completely different from being in an airplane, the microlight will make you feel like a bird!
For a similar, but slower and more romantic journey in the air take a leisurely hot air balloon adventure offering breathtaking views of the city.
#4 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Ride an ATV through the jungle!
A little north of Chiang Mai is where all the adventure sports can be found. One of the most exciting activities travelers can do is ride an ATV through the jungle. It’s fast, exciting and it’s probably a once in a lifetime experience. A must do in Chiang Mai for all adrenaline seekers!
#5 – Must-do in Chiang Mai: Wander around the old city at night
During the daytime the old city is busy with tuk-tuks, tourists and city life. But at night, the when the temperature drops and the sun sets the old city of Chiang Mai becomes much more peaceful.
The temples are golden and glistening, the streets empty and smaller street stalls pop up, serving up delicious meals to be eaten while sitting on plastic chairs. For budding photographers, do take a guided photo tour at night and learn how to capture night scenes like a professional!
#6 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Get a massage, or learn to give a massage
Home of the Thai massage and considerably cheaper than in Bangkok or the beaches, getting massages daily is a must do in Chiang Mai. While there are massage shops all over town, if you want a memorable experience then head to one of Chiang Mai’s luxurious spas. If you want to learn more then you can also take a course and learn how to give Thai massages.
#7 – Must see in Chiang Mai: Check out Chiang Mai’s grand canyon!
Chiang Mai is full of hidden spots and one of the most spectacular is the canyon. A former quarry that was discovered a few years back by local residents, it is now a must visit place to photograph, swim and take a leap into the unknown. Most of the pictures you see aren’t edited: The water really is that blue and beautiful!
#8 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Spend a day taking care of an Elephant
Since Chiang Mai is so close to the Northern jungles of Thailand it makes sense that there are lots of places to meet elephants. Getting up close to an elephant is a wonderful and humbling experience and bathing them in the river is something you will never forget! Elephants in Chiang Mai are well taken care of, and taking part to such experience is one of the thing you can do ONLY in Chiang Mai.
#9 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Adrenaline rush on zipline or waterfall rappeling
Ziplining started to become popular in Chiang Mai many years ago and now there are over 10 different companies offering zip-lines.
The first one, Flight of the Gibbon, is by far the best and the safest zipline in the country, and all profits go into conserving forest and rehabilitating gibbons. It’s a unique activity with a highly experienced staff to guide you through the different stations of your journey.
Another great rush in Chiang Mai’s nearby countryside is the chance to rappel down a limestone waterfall. Or for the ultimate adrenaline tour combine ziplining with water rafting and driving an ATV to a hilltribe village.
#10 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Cafe hopping
Chiang Mai has cafes in abundance and no shortage of good coffee and cool cafes to visit. The Thai’s say ‘you have not visited Chiang Mai until you’ve been to a cafe’. Try one of the best cafes in Chiang Mai or simply stop when you see an interesting place.
#11- Must eat in Chiang Mai: Yummy & spicy Khao Soi!
Yellow egg noodles in a creamy, spicy sauce accompanied by a leg of chicken (or tofu), pickled cabbage, lime and topped with crispy noodles. Need to say more?
#12 – Must Do: Chat with a monk or Take part to a spiritual tour
Many of the temples in Chiang Mai offer a chance for travellers to sit and talk with a monk a few evenings a week. You get to ask all about Buddhism and the daily life of a monk and they get to practice their English. The most popular monk chat is at Wat Suan Dok.
#13 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Take part to a yoga class
Chiang Mai is a heaven for spirituality and among all the temples are beautiful yoga studios. If you have never taken a class before or you are an advanced practitioner there is something for you in Chiang Mai.
#14- Must see, nightlife venue in Chiang Mai: Zoe in Yellow
Chiang Mai doesn’t have a big party scene but its nightlife revolves around the one main club in the old city – Zoe in Yellow on Ratvithi road. You will find a variety of music and most of the travellers under thirty currently in Chiang Mai either at Zoe’s or in the neighbouring bars. The coolest bar in that complex is by far 48 Garage which is a converted VW camper van and has some great cocktails.
#15 – Must see in Chiang Mai: Sunday walking street market
As one of the biggest and best markets in Asia, the Sunday walking street covers over a kilometre of the old city and has some of the most unique handicrafts, souvenirs and interesting Thai products to be found in the country! There are also lots of snacks among the stalls so you won’t go hungry. If you missed the Sunday street market, or if you want to do even more shopping then the daily Night Bazaar offers some good deals. It’s a good place to spend an evening, with lots of restaurants and even a ladyboy cabaret show.
#16 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Rock climbing at the famous Crazy Horse
Chiang Mai is probably one of the best spot in Southeast Asia for rock-climbing, There are many places just outside of the city to go climbing but for beginners it is best to take a day tour to the Crazy Horse mountain or head to one of Chiang Mai’s climbing walls to practice. Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventures (CMRCA) is located inside the old city.
#17 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Explore the city on two wheels
With the exception of the mountain Chiang Mai is relatively flat – which is great for cycling! Taking a cycling tour in Chiang Mai is a great way to see lots of the city and there are lots of different options – a half day tour will take you along the banks of the ping river, a night time tour will show you a whole different side to Chiang Mai and if you are the sporty type then why not indulge yourself in a four day cycling adventure to neighbouring city Chiang Rai!
One of the best way to explore Chiang Mai like a local would also be to simply rent a scooter and wander around!
#18 – Must eat in Chiang Mai: Try traditional spicy Lanna food
Northern Thailand used to be a separate kingdom called Lanna and in the north the language, traditions and spicy food from the past still exists to this day. Many restaurants offer spicier dishes not found anywhere else in Thailand, like Khao soi, Northern Lanna sausage or spicy beef salad. And, make sure you don’t miss those top 10 restaurants of Chiang Mai!
#19 – Must see, Chiang Mai Nightlife: North Gate jazz bar
There is live music every night at the North Gate Jazz bar, located close to the old city’s north gate. On Tuesdays there is an open mic night where locals and tourists with jazz skills jam together for the crowd. The place gets so busy that sometimes the crowd spills out onto the street.
20 – Must see in Chiang Mai: Watch a Muay Thai boxing show – live!
Live fights occur about three times a week in Chiang Mai and are pretty impressive to watch up close. There are two stadiums close to Thapae Gate and tickets cost 400-600Baht including a free drink. Keep a look out for posters or spend 5 minutes at Thapae Gate and someone will approach you with a flyer! Definitely a Chiang Mai Must-Do!
#21 – Must eat in Chiang Mai: Have a picnic lunch at Huay Tung Tao lake
A beautiful lake 15 minutes from Chiang Mai, Huay Tung Tao lake is littered with bamboo bungalows to sit and eat in. The food is good and cheap and the beer is cold. Huey tung Tao is easy to find, just take Canal road north for about 10 minutes and follow the signs.
#22 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Join a workshop & be creative!
As well as seeing the city, why not enrich your holiday by learning a new skill. Try your hand at making a leather purse or keyring in a one day leather workshop,or paint your own porcelain elephant and bring home a unique souvenir from Chiang Mai.
#23 – Must eat in Chiang Mai: Try out mouthwatering vegetarian restaurants!
Chiang Mai has so many vegetarian restaurants not to be missed. Even if you aren’t a vegetarian I recommend trying some of them out and I promise that you won’t miss the meat! Blue Diamond on Moon Muang soi 9 is one of the most famous vegetarian restaurants in Chiang Mai.
#24 – Must see in Chiang Mai: Witness sunrise from Thailand’s highest peak: Doi Inthanon
Thailand’s highest mountain, Doi Inthanon, is about 2 hours drive from Chiang Mai city. Standing at over 2,565 metres tall it is one of the most amazing places to see the dawn of a new day. You could drive there early in time for sunrise, but most people spend the night camping or a one of the bungalows on the mountain or in nearby Chong Thong town. Lastly, if trekking is your thing, you should not miss a complete day out trekking Doi Inthanon and its natural park.
#25 – Must do in Chiang Mai: Cruise along the river
Winding down the centre of the city, the Ping river used to be the main way travelers accessed Chiang Mai. These days it’s more of a delightful trip than a long adventure but the feeling of exploration still exists. The best way to see Chiang Mai’s riverside is by Scorpion Tailed boat, with a guide that will explain the history of this ancient waterway. Alternately take a dinner cruise along the river and spend sunset floating along Chiang Mai’s peaceful river.
Chiang Mai might be a small city but it is packed with adventure and great cafes, restaurants and things to do that will keep you entertain during your whole Chiang Mai holiday!