Chiang Mai Travel Guide : Top 7 Things To Do in Chiang Mai

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Chiang Mai is essentially one of the most popular destinations in Thailand. The city is the largest city in the northern region of Thailand, about 700 km north of the capital Bangkok.

There are many things to do in Chiang Mai, with the main metropolitan area surrounded by ancient city walls and trendy neighbourhoods sprouting up around it. From cool mountain hills and ancient temples to night markets and hipster cafe streets, Chiang Mai has so much to offer. In this Chiang Mai travel guide, I have included all interesting sights I had visited to explore in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

When is the best time to visit Chiang Mai?

Located in the Southeast region, Chiang Mai does not have four seasons like winter and autumn. Chiang Mai is a great place to visit most of the months of the year. It has 3 distinct seasons : hot, rainy and cool seasons.

Hot season (March – April): The hottest months of the year fall in March through April. The weather in these two months is burning hot and the temperature could reach up to 40C.

Rainy Season (May – September) : The monsoon season in the northern region and you might want to avoid visiting in these five months.

Cool season ( October – February ): This is the best time to visit Chiang Mai as the weather is cool at around 25C.

Traveling to Chiang Mai

Like most part of Thailand, the transportation mode in Chiang Mai is mainly made up of train, bus, Songthaew and bike. 

By Air:

We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai and arrived in less than three hours. This is also the easiest and quickest way to travel to Chiang Mai. If you are traveling to several regions in Thailand and travel from Bangkok, you could arrive in about 1 hour by flight.

By Train:

If you have more time, you can opt to travel to Chiang Mai by train. The journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is about 13 – 15 hours by sleeper train. It is a good option as you get to enjoy the cross-country scenery along the journey.

By Bus:

Traveling to Chiang Mai from Bangkok by bus is the cheapest option of all. The trip is also shorter compared to the train and it takes about 10 hours to arrive. 

Chiang Mai Travel Guide: Getting Around in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai old town is a walkable city. If you are staying in the old town area, it is very convenient to get around on foot. But if you are getting further, then you might want to consider the other options of transport in Chiang Mai.

Songthaew: In Chiang Mai, you will see this taxi truck rather frequently. This is the cheapest and easiest way of transport in Chiang Mai. Simply hail any taxi truck on the road and tell the driver your desired destination. If the driver is going in the same direction then the driver will tell you the fare and you simply hop on.

Grab: Grab is an e-hailing service widely used in Southeast Asia. When I was traveling in Chiang Mai, I used Grab most of the time. It is rather convenient, especially when we need to travel far beyond the old town area. It is a great alternative if you don’t want to deal with the trouble of taking a public Songthaew. The fare is also very competitive and sometimes we found it cheaper than Songthaew.

Chiang Mai Travel Guide: Where to stay in Chiang Mai?

If you are planning to do major sightseeing in Chiang Mai, then it is best to stay near the walled Old City. It is very convenient to explore on foot throughout the Old City and the surrounding area. This region has historical sites, temples, cafes, and stores. 

There are plenty of hotels in this region and a few highly rated ones in the region too:

Budget : 

POR Thapae Gate : This hotel is a real steal. With less than 40USD a night, you can get excellent service, excellent facilities and cleanliness. Nevertheless, the location is great too!

T.Heritage Hotel (SHA Plus+): If you are keen to experience heritage-style stay, then you shouldn’t miss out on this T.Heritage Hotel. It has a mixture of heritage and modern decoration. The rooms have more of a modern aesthetic whereas the reception and communal areas are decorated in a heritage manner.

Mid-range :

Chala Number 6 (SHA Extra Plus), Chiang Mai, Thailand: For a mid-range hotel, this hotel is on a high standard. A five-star hotel with a very strategic location to almost every top sight in the city. If you like to explore the Sunday walking street market, this hotel is perfect in the middle of the walking street which is super convenient!

U Chiang Mai: Also with strategic location, this 4-star hotel offers exceptional services not less than any 5-star hotels. 

Luxury :

The Inside House (SHA Extra Plus): Stay in this hotel  if you like beautiful architectural design and modern deco. They even have a Glass Suite with a Private Pool which is usually sold out due to its uniqueness and popularity.

Anantara Chiang Mai Resort (SHA Plus+) : This resort is located at Riverside, an area which is slightly far away from the city center.

Chiang Mai Travel Guide: Best Things to do in Chiang Mai

1. Explore the old city of Chiang Mai

The Old City of Chiang Mai, which is populated with historic monuments and temples, offers a wealth of cultural experiences. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai and many are located in the old city of Chiang Mai. Some of the temples that I recommend visiting :

2. Visit the temples in Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang is very distinctive from other temples in Chiang Mai. It is very rare to find ruins in Thailand generally. Much of Wat Chedi Luang was destroyed due to the earthquake in 1545 but also restored in the 1990s. Its huge built up makes it the biggest structure in Chiang Mai.

Operating Hours: 6AM-6PM, daily

Admission: FREE

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This temple is located at the mountaintop and it is one of the famous temples to visit in Chiang Mai. Due to its popularity, it is always crowded with locals and tourists. 

The temple is 15km away from the old city. We hopped into a songthaew and arrived at the base in less than 45 minutes. When we arrived, it was crowded with tourists and locals as well as vendors selling souvenirs and snacks at the base. 

We climbed the staircases from the bottom to the top, where the temple is located. Take caution as you climb because the stairs are steep.

The temple has an outer and inner terrace and there are many monuments and shrines to explore when you reach the summit. Apart from the shining gold shrine that caught my eyes, I was also amazed by the view of Chiang Mai from the top of the mountain.

There are many half-day tours to this temple and the surrounding area. One of the tour I highly recommend is the half day tour of Wat Doi Suthep together with Wat Umong.

Operating Hours: 6AM-8PM, daily

Admission: THB 100

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man
Wat Chiang Man
Stone Elephant at Wat Chiang Man

The oldest temple in Chiang Mai since 1296. One of the unique architectural styles of this temple is the stoned elephants protruding from the chedi. Although this temple is less crowded than the well-known Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, I nevertheless suggest going to visit it to see the older architecture. The temple is also famous for housing the oldest Buddha image dating back to the year 1465.

Wat Umong

Chiang Mai travel guide: Wat Umong
Wat Umong
The Tunnel Temple
Wat Umong

This temple is situated in a rustic forest setting, about 2km away from the old city of Chiang Mai. It is also called “The Tunnel temple” which makes it unique and attractive. This Wat contains a network of centuries-old tunnels that house Buddha statues and are still used by monks and locals for meditation purposes.It is a calm and tranquil location that is less busy than Chiang Mai’s more well-known temples.

Wat Umong is frequently visited as part of a half-day tour with Wat Doi Suthep. Check out one of the best half day tours to this temple here.

Operating Hours: 8AM-5PM, daily

Admission: FREE 

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra SIngh
Wat Phra Singh

The biggest temple in Chiang Mai, which is also known as “The Monastery of the Lion Buddha” . Many quoted this temple as the most beautiful temple in Chiang Mai as the complex features classic Lanna architecture and golden chedis.

Operating Hours: 6AM-8PM, daily

Admission: FREE

3. Go to Sunday Walking Street Market

Every weekend, there is a huge stretch of traffic road closed temporarily for holding the night market on Saturday and Sunday. There are hundreds of stalls in the night market with many of the stalls serving a variety of food and entertainment.

I personally prefer the Sunday Walking Street Market which is held at Tha Pae to Ratchadamnoen Road. It is busier than the Saturday’s Market and has a lot more things to see and buy. It is best to plan your trip to visit on a Sunday so you do not miss out on this highlight!

4. Explore Chiang Mai’s night bazaar

Aside from the weekend night market, there are a few night bazaars that happen on the weekdays too. Night markets are a part of Thailand culture. Nearly every Thai city I visited has a night bazaar.

There are a few interesting night markets in Chiang Mai that you could explore. This great article listed out the best markets that are worth visiting.

5. Sip Coffee at Nimmanhaemin

Although Chiang Mai is well-known for its ancient buildings and temples, don’t overlook Nimmanhaemin, or Nimman for short, where you can discover hip cafes and handcraft shops.

I personally love the vibe here. There are countless trendy cafes and restaurants on this street with a cool and charming atmosphere.

6. Learn about Chiang Mai's history at Chiang Mai National Museum

The National Museum in Chiang Mai is mainly influenced by the Lanna Kingdom artifacts. There are three main sections to exhibit the artifacts of Lanna Kingdom, the evolution of the social and economic trade of the Kingdom. The museum is large and very interesting to explore. Usually spend about 1.5 – 2 hours in the museum. 

7. Visit Elephant Sanctuary

Elephant is the iconic animal in Thailand. While visiting Chiang Mai, make sure to make a stop at the Elephant rehabilitation centre – the Elephant Sanctuary in the countryside. 

You will get to see the life of the elephant in the rescue centre and how the volunteers take care of the elephant. The round trip is about 3500 Baht for each person which I find quite worth it as this full day trip included lunch and a return trip.

Check out the day tour here.

Best food to try in Chiang Mai

1. Khao Soi

Khao Soi
Khao Soi

When talking about the best food I had in Chiang Mai, it is definitely Khao Soi. In a creamy, curry-like sauce prepared with coconut milk, crispy and soft egg noodles make up the popular Chiang Mai dish known as Khao Soi. It is similar to my hometown food – Penang Curry Mee but Khao Soi tastes sweeter.

2. Khao Kha Moo

Khao Kha Moo is an iconic dish not only in Chiang Mai but in Thailand generally.  Khao Kha Moo is a delicious plate of stewed pork leg served with rice and an egg. It also includes pickled mustard greens and garlic chilli sauce to mix into the pork and rice.

I hope you find this Chiang Mai travel guide useful and help you plan your trip to Chiang Mai. This guide is based on my visits to the city. If you have any suggestions, you’re welcome to let us know in the comment section below.