Chiang Mai, also known as The Rose of the North, is continuously on the list of the best cities in Asia. The city seems unstoppable as new visitors keep discovering it. There is something for everyone here. Here are 75 things to do in Chiang Mai that I highly recommend.
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Mostly love but also some challenges
Chiang Mai has its challenges. The inferno of the smoke season pushes its people to go South for a month or two. In the last two years, pollution has hardly been much of an issue, though. Especially during this year, we saw a lot of early and refreshing rains that kept the pollution at bay. Without the smog, Chiang Mai suddenly becomes a beautiful area even in March and April when the Yellow Season features Golden Showers in bloom, and the Mango fiesta is ubiquitous.
Another issue is the traffic; it is increasingly becoming “Bangkokish”. Chiang Mai had a small historical centre, but now it covers a much larger area. It is both a city and a province.
There are plenty of delights in this lush, appropriate sized traditional city in the northern part of Thailand. Chiang Mais charms are legion: grand temples, super street food, cooling waterfalls, vibrant night markets. Then, of course, the outdoors, hiking, biking, climbing and kayaking opportunities.
Furthermore, it is the coffee capital of Thailand.
Chang Mai is an inviting city to visit with family and kids and also a great place to retire.
75 things to do is just a start
I decided to put together a list of 75 Amazing things to do in Chiang Mai and the North. See it as an introduction. It is impossible to cover everything, but by clicking the links, you will get more in-depth information about some of my favourite places in Chiang Mai and links to other sources.
So make sure to make use of the links.
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Amazing things to do in Chiang Mai and the North
- Explore the temples. The best way to understand the history of the city but also to understand Thailand and Chiang Mai of today. A contemporary temple that will knock your sandals off is the Wat Ban Den temple. The golden temple on Suthep mountain is the most revered in Chiang Mai. (The stupa is visible from downtown on a clear day). But you can embark on a temple odyssey that covers so many stunning temples in the city. Get some inspiration here. Wat Chedi Luang is such a beauty at sunset, and Wat Doi Kham and the mysterious Tunnel Temple with its enchanting smiling Buddha head are perfect for morning tours. Some personal favourites not yet on the beaten track are the White Pagoda of Ban Pong and the tiny but lovely Wat Ton Kwaen. Also, please take the opportunity to take part in a monk chat that will teach you more about Buddhism and will help young novices to practice their English. One temple that offers monk chats is Wat Suan Dok, a temple that hosts one of the best vegetarian restaurants in town, Pun Pun. Remember to pay attention to temple manners.
- Cool down in the waterfalls. Try the Sticky Waterfall, where you can actually walk in the waterfall itself. For a variety of pools and levels, go to the renowned Mae Sa waterfall and also enjoy a nice picnic.
- Water parks if you are travelling with kids, then you also have some water parks to choose from—Grand Canyon and Tube Trek, to mention two.
- Restaurants with Playgrounds are another great option when you travel with kids. Chiang Mai is an eldorado for travelling with children. See my review here.
- Khao Soi. When in Chiang Mai, you have to try Khao Soi, the traditional lunch, curry, noodle soup classic. To touch the origins, go to Khao Soi Islam just off Chang Klang road and the night market area. Or, for a modern take, test the six-hour smoked pork Khao Soi at the Pink Box in Mae Hia. Read more about Khao Soi restaurants here.
- Explore the fantastic coffee shops. Coffee tastes excellent wherever you go. In general, there is a unique theme. Want to enter a fairytale and cafe of horror? Try Into the Woods; you prefer to go to space, try Pluto, or why not enjoy some 1990 gaming Retro?
- Try the local chocolate. Yes, Chiang Mai is not only about coffee nowadays. Siamaya with innovative flavours like Thai Curry Chocolate and Thai tea, as well as Kan Vela for the craft chocolate, are putting Chiang Mai on the cocoa map. Both of these places have shops in town. The coffee, cocoa, and tea farm Skugga is also worth the visit.
- Stay a night or two in a Tree House. This is a memorable and unique experience to bring from the North. Set up a campfire, explore the caves in the area and enjoy majestic teak forests.
- Go camping; there are so many places to choose from. Doi Pui offers terrific views of the city; at Ob Khan national park, you can cool down in the river. Inn Doi Bo Luang, you can camp in a pine forest, and at Huew Nam Dang you will wake up in the mist.
- Go Glamping. We enjoyed Himdoi in Panghai, but there are so many options. Mon Cham still rules for most Thai people.
- Ice skating, Yes, you can do it at Central Festival.
- Go to Thailand’s highest mountain on a day trip or overnight. You can drive to the peak of Doi Inthanon, 2565m over sea level. Doi Inthanon national park is where Thai people come to search for close to 0 degrees C temperatures in the cool season from November through February. But it is a great place to explore hikes and waterfalls and see the majestic King and Queens pagodas with their pretty garden. If you come at the right time of the year, you can enjoy the rice terraces and homestay of Mae Klang Luang.
- Visit Chiang Mai’s small neighbour Lamphun. Rich in history, Lamphun offers some stunning temples, but also water parks and a unique festival. Read more about a day in Lamphun here.
- Chiang Mai a traditional handicraft city. Some of the areas with rich handicraft traditions are Bo Sang (for Umbrellas), Wualai (silver) and Ban Tawai and Sanpatong for woodcarvings.
- Try a Kantoke evening. The traditional cruise in combination with Thai Lanna dances.
- Thai Massage. There are many places to enjoy a Thai massage, from small shops near guest houses and markets to luxurious spas. Let’s Relax and Oasis, to mention some areas. I never much focused on the particular shop. I stick with a place as long as I am happy with someone on the staff. Currently, I like Lanna massage in the Mae Hia market.
- Food trucks and street food markets. More Space and Kad Farang market are my present choices. But again, there are so many local food markets around town. The Esarn cafe food truck is a must for Chicken and Thai papaya and corn salads. (Yam) On Canal Road 108. By 7/11 and Mingmitr Cafe.
- Day food market and more, Kad Luang/Warorot, is the obvious choice.
- Dine and party by the Ping river. On Charoen Rajd rd, you find institutions with live bands like The Good View, Riverside, and Deck 1, where you can borrow a kayak. For a more quiet and traditional evening go to the Gallery.
- Enjoy a smashing buffet in a great hotel. You can start checking from Shangri-La, Le Meridien, U-Nimman, Eastin or a carver night in Kantary Hills.
- Eat extremely cheap Western Food at My Kitchen from 100 baht (check out their Friday steak promotion) or similar treats at Brasserie September.
- Experience cherry blossom. Not a joke. But requires timing and the right altitude. Read more about Hanami in Chiang Mai here.
- See Pandas in Chiang Mai Zoo.
- Enjoy a small mountain town with lovely views, the city of the stars, Chiang Dao
- Elephant nature sanctuaries/ parks. Spend a day with elephants, learn about them, bathe them, and care about them. Try Chai Lai Orchid.
- Shopping, One Nimman in Nimmanhemin is a lifestyle mall with many handicrafts, good food and Italian themed square. Maya and Central Festival malls offer more brand shopping.
- Festivals. No one does festivals better than Chiang Mai. But we need to get back to pre-covid settings. My favourite is the Flower Festival in February. Especially to take pictures of the people in the parade and the floats before the parade starts. Songkran and the water fights around the moat and Thapae happen in April, and the fairytalish Loi Krathong &Yi Peng full moon festival usually is in November.
- Enjoy the Mae Rim valley, cool down in Mae Sa waterfall, fall in love with orchids and other flowers at Queen Sirikit botanical garden, see how they make paper from elephant poop, ride ATVs, go to a shooting range, visit an insect museum, and enjoy scones and High afternoon tea at The Chiang Mai Cream Tea House. If you can afford it, a night at the Four Seasons could be in place. Mae Rim can be done as a part of the Samoeng loop.
- Pick strawberries in the mountains—Mae Rim or Samoeng valleys, typically January to March.
- Eat great Chinese food. The Chinese food scene gets better and better with more and more Chinese moving here. Read more about it here.
- Folk songs at the White House Love and Memory Song. Amiable and good atmosphere. Meet the crowd that miss the songs from 1970 to early 2000. But still party like they were 22.
- Bicycle on the backroads and get lost in the beautiful countryside. Chiang Mai has become a cyclist’s paradise. The backroads up to Samoeng and along The Ping river are particularly lovely. Be aware of traffic and dogs ambushing you from the tiny backstreets. Some tour operators are offering an organised option.
- Kayaking is increasingly more and more popular. Check, for instance, this company.
- Hiking and trekking. This is one of the foundations of tourism in the North, and numerous operators offer hiking. There are groups on Facebook with volunteers and enthusiasts meeting up for hikes, and with apps like All Trails, you can find out how to do it yourself. Join a tour or a group if you lack experience, though. Have respect for the jungle and read the conditions for the hike carefully. In Chiang Mai, you can join the Walking and Talking hiking group or the Doi Suthep Walkers.
- Try Craft Beer at The Beer for the essential collection of important beers in Chiang Mai, or have it at the more trendy Yellow Pug in a refurbished theatre with a beautiful bar. If you prefer it with pool tables, then Renegade might be your choice.
- Michelin Guide for Chiang Mai. If you are on the Michelin trail, follow this link.
- The Doll Museum has a fascinating private collection of dolls from all over the world.
- Play golf. Like many other places in The land of Smiles, Chiang Mai is great for golf but often a lot cheaper. If you prefer mini golf, we have that too.
- Disc Golf. Try Gymkhana, Chiang Mais oldest sports club or Lanna Rock Garden.
- Join a cooking class—another classical must in Chiang Mai. You usually meet your host in the morning and go to the market to buy the ingredients, and then you end up in a lovely countryside setting or the old town for the actual cooking.
- Chiang Mai beach. We have a beach but no sea. You have to pretend that the Ping River is the ocean.
- Try Northern dishes like Sai Oua Sausage and Hangley pork curry with tamarind based sauce.
- Try a Texas Barbeque at Dinky’s.
- As a Swede, you will miss Toast Skagen and meatballs. Norden is so far the only reasonable option for a Scandinavian treat. Midsummer, Nationalday, and Christmas usually mean Norden to my family.
- Go rafting in Mae Wang or Mae Taeng.
- The Night Safari is a good evening för kids and offers a pleasant walk around their lake.
- The Lanna Folklife Museum in downtown is a perfect way to approach and understand Northern Thai/Lanna culture better.
- Clubbing, you would probably check out Warm Up Cafe, Zoe in Yellow, Tha Chang and maybe Tawan Daeng if it opens again.
- Ratchapreuk Flora. If there is an event going on, the flower arrangements can be gorgeous. Some play areas and an excellent place to exercise inside and outside.
- Japanese food, best for the buck, is probably the buffet at Oshinei. But you have good quality in Uchi with the chef’s table. Tengoku is also a classic.
- Rooftop places are not so spectacular in Chiang Mai. Still, Myst on Maya has excellent cocktails, Thapae grill is on a roof, and Akyra Manor on Nimmanhemin has a nice pool seating and offers good cocktails with Mountains views.
- On the Rock@Namphrae for arguably the best sunsets in Chiang Mai. Since we are in true hot pot and BBQ territory, this is an all-option.
- Go to the romantic and historic village of Mae Kampong. Stay at least for one night.
- Explore the Golden Rock. Nature is worth the trip, and yes, it is an excellent coloured rock.
- Walk Chiang Mais own Grand Canyon, Pha Chor.
- Step into the Chinese landscape painting of the Floating Pagodas can be done as a day trip but is best combined with a visit to Lampang.
- Eat at the landscape jungle restaurant Khao Mao Khao Fang.
- Experience Illusion Art at Art in Paradise museum.
- Chill or exercise at the Angkaew lake at Chiang Mai University.
- Roam the streets inside the moat and enjoy the old city of Chiang Mai. Temples, cafés, and second-hand bookshops.
- Eat and party around Mae Hia. Good View Village, Woodstock, and many local diners are ready to serve.
- Medical and dental tourism. Probably cheaper than your home country?
- Jump around at a Trampoline club at Promenada 50 fly.
- Sunday Walking Street market starts at Thapae Gate and meanders for almost one full kilometre. At its many booths and shops, you’ll find handcrafted gifts aplenty. You can also look forward to music from local bands and musicians, or why not enjoy a foot massage.
- Night Bazaar building and street. It remains to see if this tourist market institution on Chang Klang rd will recover to what it was before Covid.
- Enjoy the night colours of the Iron Bridge. If you book a table at the restaurant Rivermarket, you can ask for river and bridge views.
- Skateboard, yes you can!
- Explore pubs, shops, cafes and restaurants in the sois of Nimmanhemin area.
- Herbal sauna at the old Traditional Medicine hospital. Worn, but still a priceworthy sauna.
- Embark on a cruise on the Ping river. It is best done around sunset. Ping might not be the mightiest of rivers. But you still get to see the city from another perspective.
- Enjoy the Hot Springs of San Kamphaeng. Preferable in the cold season.
- Go rock climbing
- Eat a world-class vegan/vegetarian meal at Anchan restaurant in Nimmanhemin.
- Visit the Atlantis of Chiang Mai, Wiang Kum Kham.
- Take the Bangkok train to the Kun Than tunnel for about 1 h 20 minutes, hike and camp in KhunThan Nationalpark.