17 Fun Things to Do in Chiang Mai Thailand On Your First Visit

Chiang Mai Thailand

While many travelers head to Thailand for the big city life in Bangkok and its beautiful islands, there is also a can’t miss spot in the north! Centered around the ancient walls of Chiang Mai Old Town, the city is full of temples, incredible local food, and endless night markets. Join us for some of our favorite things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand and discover all of what makes it special!

Getting to Chiang Mai Thailand

Fortunately, it’s very easy to get to Chiang Mai Thailand from anywhere in Southeast Asia. International flights run from many major cities and domestic flights go daily from Bangkok. Use Skyscanner and search by month view to find the cheapest days to travel! 

You can even catch a plane from some of the larger islands like Phuket and Koh Samui to Chiang Mai International Airport. Just keep in mind you might have to transfer through the capital city first. 

If you’re looking for a unique way to get to Chiang Mai hop on the overnight train from Bangkok! We recommend booking the first-class sleeper cabin if possible as it’s the most comfortable option for the 12+ hour journey.

Planning a Trip to Thailand: 10 Step Easy to Follow Travel Guide

Chiang Mai Thailand Flight

17 Fun Things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand

1. Explore Chiang Mai Old Town

As soon as you arrive in the city, you’ll see that many of the best things to do in Chiang Mai are in or around its famous Old Town. The walls surrounding this section are more than 700 years old which gives it a feel like nowhere else in Thailand.

One of the things that makes Chiang Mai Old Town so interesting is its blend of modern and ancient attractions. This area is full of beautiful temples and traditions, while also playing host to modern hotels, restaurants, and funky cafes.

Things to do in Chiang Mai

2. Hit a Chiang Mai Cafe

As we mentioned above, Chiang Mai Old Town is home to many amazing cafes. Something that really drew us to the old city is how on every corner there seems to be a different and unique place to grab a morning drink!

The colorful walls and original decor will welcome you in for a wide range of brews. We love to order iced coffee which is perfect for a hot afternoon. There is also an abundance of teas, smoothies, juices, and fresh coconuts to enjoy. 

You’ll be happy to know you don’t have to limit yourself to Old Town when looking for the best cafes in Chiang Mai Thailand! Below are a few of our favorites to stop into on your visit.

  • Fern Forst Cafe
  • 9 Siblings Khao Soi & Cafe
  • My Secret Cafe In Town
  • Akha Ama Phrasingh
  • Cafe de Thaan Aoan

Chiang Mai Cafe

3. Eat Khao Soi in Chiang Mai

It should be no surprise that one of the most fun things to do in Chiang Mai is to eat! Northern Thailand has a reputation for having the best food in all of Thailand, and Chiang Mai is the foodie mecca. Although there are many incredible dishes to taste, if we had to pick one it would be Khao Soi. 

This egg noodle dish is made with a curry soup base, crispy noodles, and either beef or chicken. On the side, you’ll be given onions, pickled cabbage, a squeeze of lime, and all kinds of different spicy sauces. 

The flavor of Khao Soi is almost indescribable and like nothing else you’ll taste in Thailand. It’s so good that we’re constantly on the hunt for it in other parts of the country. Yet, the north is the only place we’ve been able to find this famous dish!

→ What’s Thai Food? 40 Delicious Dishes & Drinks You Must Try!

Khao Soi Chiang Mai

4. Shop at the Chiang Mai Night Markets

Chiang Mai Thailand is a good time during the day, but the real fun starts at night! There are so many night markets happening all around the city that it may feel like there is one every day. However, the best are typically held on the weekend and light up Chiang Mai. 

The most popular are the Friday Walking Street right outside the walls and the Sunday Night Market which runs straight through the center of Chiang Mai Old Town. Here you’ll find stall after stall of arts and crafts, jewelry, and clothing. There is also plenty of cheap eats available throughout the whole market including an entire food court area. 

Night Market Chiang Mai: 2 Best Weekend Markets You Can’t Miss

Chiang Mai Night Market

5. Tour the Chiang Mai Temples

By now you know one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is explore the many temples. And with over 300 sprinkled around Old Town and surrounding the city it’s no wonder people travel from all over to see them! 

Make sure to be respectful on your visit and dress appropriately. Thailand is over 95% Buddhist and the Chiang Mai Temples are very sacred places. Here are a few of the must-visit temples to see. 

  • Si Suphan
  • Suan Dok
  • Jed Yot/Phra Aram Luang
  • Chiang Mun
  • Phra Singh
  • Chedi Luang

Chiang Mai Temples

6. Drive-Up Doi Suthep Mountain 

Looking up from most places in Chiang Mai Old Town you will see the massive Doi Suthep towering over you. If you’re anything like us, it won’t be long before you start wondering how to get to the top of Thailand’s 3rd tallest mountain!

Unlike many attractions around Chiang Mai Old Town, you won’t be able to simply get there by hiring a tuk tuk or Grab taxi. The peak of Doi Suthep Mountain is 45 minutes away from the center of the city. To get there you’ll need to rent a car, motorbike, or hire a private driver. 

At the top, you’ll find the temple Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, along with magnificent views of Chiang Mai. You can even do some hiking or downhill mountain biking from here if you have time!

Book a Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park

Best Chiang Mai Things to Do

7. Grab a Drink at a Chiang Mai Rooftop Bar

The cafes in Chiang Mai Old Town are so much fun, but if you want a better view you’ll need to head to the rooftops! Specifically around sunset, we love to find a good rooftop bar and grab a cold beer.

There’s really no better way to end your day after experiencing the best things to do in Chiang Mai! If you’re in Chiang Mai Old Town make sure to check out Tha Phae Grill for awesome views of the night market and mountains in the distance.

Chiang Mai Rooftop Bar

8. Go to the Spa in Chiang Mai Thailand

Thailand is known around the world for its spas and massage therapy centers, and some of the very best are found in Chiang Mai Old Town! No matter if you’ve been traveling around or simply need to rest and relax, there are countless spas in the city to enjoy.

Our favorite time to head to a spa is during the mid-afternoon heat. It’s such a nice escape from the sun and a relaxing break from walking the streets. If you’re just looking for a way to treat your feet, there are foot massage chairs set up inside the Sunday Night Market.

Chiang Mai Thailand Spa

9. Experience Chiang Mai Chinatown

For something a little different, head to Chinatown in Chiang Mai! This bustling district is filled with shops, food, and colorful alleyways to discover. The food stalls in particular are worth visiting as they serve up delicious and cheap food throughout the day. 

Chinatown in Thailand

10. Buy Some Fruit at the River Market

Just down the street from Chinatown is the Mueang Mai Market. This was our go-to spot for buying fresh fruit in Chiang Mai Thailand!

Even if you’re not trying to stock up on fruits and veggies, this area is still interesting to walk through. The bright colors and local vibes by the river are a sight to be seen. 

Chiang Mai Thailand Fruit Market

11. Wander Around Nimman Neighborhood

Another exciting neighborhood in Chiang Mai is located on Nimmanhaemin Road. Nicknamed Nimman for short, this exciting area is known for its upscale and hip vibes.

Nimman is a fun place to go shopping and hit some of the greatest cafes and restaurants in the city. One of the most popular places to eat is here called Tong Tem Toh. Definitely stop by this awesome restaurant to try some of the tastiest Northern Thailand specialties around.  

Chiang Mai Tong Tem Toh

12. Take a Chiang Mai Cooking Class

As you can see, many of the best things to do in Chiang Mai have to do with its amazing food. For this reason, cooking classes have popped up all over the city!

Taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai is an interesting way to experience Thai cuisine while learning how to make some of their most famous dishes. 

Chiang Mai Thailand Cooking Class

13. Cruise Around in a Tuk Tuk 

Although it’s very walkable, Chiang Mai is bigger than it looks! We were actually staying just outside the city on our latest visit but it was no problem getting around. That’s because the most reliable form of transportation is the tuk tuk! 

We quickly found out that you can get pretty much anywhere in Chiang Mai for about 100 Baht ($3 USD). That means you can even stay outside the old city and get to Old Town or places like Nimman in just a few minutes. Not to mention these open-air vehicles are super fun to ride around in!

Chiang Mai Tuk Tuk 

14. Taste Street Food At the Local Market 

Just outside the Chiang Mai Old Town walls is the best place to try some Thai street food. Every day the stands pop up at the Chaing Mai Gate Market where you can sample some incredible soups, grilled meats, and more. It’s also nice to stop by here at night for some dessert! 

Chiang Mai Old Town

15. Hunt for Colorful Murals in Chiang Mai Old Town

While strolling around Chiang Mai Thailand you be taken aback by the cafes, temples, and rooftop bars. However, there is one more thing to keep your eyes peeled for. 

There is some amazing street art all around Chiang Mai Old Town! Local artists have painted these colorful murals all over the city from the residential section to the walls of Old Town.

Many say that the best place to see this art is at the abandoned women’s prison. Yet, these murals seem to be everywhere you look!

Chiang Mai Old Town Street Art

16. Indulge in Michelin Star Meals 

In many places around the world Michelan Star meals may cost you hundreds of dollars. Guess what?? Not in Chaing Mai Thailand! Here most of the Michelin Star meals are anything but fancy.

In fact, some of them won’t cost you more than $2-3 USD. Still, you’ll find that the restaurants that have been given this prestigious award are just as tasty. If you’re into Khao Soi make sure to check out the Michelin Star restaurant Lung Prakit Kaat Gorm. 

Michelin Guide for Chaing Mai Thailand 

Michelin Star Thai Food

17. Visit the World Famous Elephant Sanctuary

For animal lovers, there is one more stop on this best things to do in Chiang Mai list! About an hour from the city, you can see the world-renowned Elephant Nature Park.

Here you can visit these beautiful rescue animals as they are taken care of in a sustainable and ethical way. If you’re in the islands be sure to also check out the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary as well.

Book a Small Group Ethical Elephant Sanctuary Tour

Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Thailand 

Luxury The Inside House – Enjoy a taste of luxury in Chiang Mai at the Inside House! This unique resort features a rooftop swimming pool, large rooms, and on-site restaurant. 

Fun VacationTamarind Village – Located in the heart of Chiang Mai Thailand, this hotel has comfortable rooms surrounded by Tamarind trees. The traditional decor and balconies will make you feel right at home.

Boutique Hotel El Barrio Lanna – The beautiful setting and wide-open rooms of El Barrio Lanna are perfect for couples. A gorgeous pool sits in the middle of the property and is just a short walk from Old Town.

Hostel – The Common Hostel – If you’re looking for a hostel in the middle of all the action in  Chiang Mai Old Town, this is it! The Common features bunks with their own private lockers and a 24 hour front desk.

19 Amazing Chiang Mai Boutique Hotels You’ll Love in Old Town

Have any questions about the Chiang Mai temples or want to share some of your own favorite things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand? Leave us a comment below! 

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

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Chiang Mai

Thailand Travel Planning

 Transportation: While traveling through Thailand 12Go is where we find all our ferries, trains, buses, and transfers! You can find everything from island hopping speed boats to the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

 Tours: Check out Get Your Guide to find activities all over Phuket! You can find everything from a James Bond island luxury sunset cruise, to Phuket Old Town 15-taster food adventure, and 5-hour island tour

 Flights: We always find our cheap flight deals using Skyscanner and Kayak. That’s how we found flights from Bangkok to Phuket for $12 USD, and Thailand to Vietnam for less than $50! 

 Accommodation: Compare multiple sites to get to the best deal such as Booking.com and Agoda! Also,  Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget. 

 Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without protection. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.

 Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials

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4 Comments

  1. October 16, 2023 / 1:24 am

    This place is on my bucket list! I love this guide, I am going to print it out and add it to my notebook with all my goals for next five years! Thank you for sharing

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      October 16, 2023 / 4:59 am

      Anytime! This is such a fun city to explore in Thailand. Definitely worth adding to your bucket list

  2. Brenda
    October 15, 2023 / 12:55 pm

    This was so helpful in planning my itinerary! Thanks for the food and market recs!

    • Brigitte & Jake
      Author
      October 15, 2023 / 1:00 pm

      Of course! Chiang Mai is such a fun city to explore

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