In our list, there are only 10 things to do in Chiang Mai, but we tried to pick the best in the city. If you have a motorbike-riding experience then you can explore the most interesting motorcycle routes of the northern Thailand on your own. Cat Motors Lease terms — here, a range of motorcycles for rent — here, tips for riders you should DEFINITELY get acquainted with — here. So, what to do in Chiang Mai? See the best Chiang Mai attractions below. Go!
1. Doi Suthep
Things to do in Chiang Mai #1 – Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep. Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep is a Buddhist temple (wat) in the province of Chiang Mai in Thailand. The temple is often called Doi Suthep, although it is the name of the mountain on which it is located. A temple is a holy place for many Thais, and it is located 15 kilometers to the west from Chiang Mai, on the elevation of 1,073 meters above sea level and rises on 700 meters above the city. A picturesque view opens to the city from the temple.
The history of the construction of the temple sank into oblivion, and we know only some common myths of the creation of the temple. Old stories tell you about the events taking place back in the 14th century, about a traveling monk and a dying elephant, a hermit, and countrymen who joined their forces to build a road to a sacred place. Combined with the physical aura of the place these stories weave a magical web for travelers heading to the North of Thailand.
In the old days, it was very difficult for pilgrims to get to the top of Doi Suthep. The road rose through the jungle and it was narrow and bumpy. The journey took about five hours on foot. There was even a well-known expression that only adepts can reach the top.
To the traveler for a note
Thais say that you have not experienced Chiang Mai until you eat a bowl of local Khao Soi (See Things to Do in Chiang Mai #8) and visit Doi Suthep.
2. Wat Suan Dok
Things to Do in Chiang Mai #2 – Wat Suan Dok. Each temple of Chiang Mai can surprise the traveler. You’d think that you will hardly find anything new after you have seen a few Buddhist temples. But when a tourist faces the view of Wat Suan Dok, it makes him hold his breath for a minute. The first amazing thing that affects the visitor of local holy places is the predominance of white color. While the other temples are full of gold and multi-colored ornaments, Suan Dok is beautiful in his sleek snow-white color.
It’s impossible to ignore the alley of small white stupas — these tidy gravestones belong to the once ruling royal dynasty of the Kingdom of Lanna. However, it is not the only valuable crypt on the territory of Suan Dok, because the largest chedi contains a sacred relic of Buddha. The opportunity to visit the holy remains attracts many residents and guests of the country to this place. The central chedi also can be seen from far among other buildings because of its huge golden pointed dome against the sky.
In addition to the sacred relics, you can find the most valuable Buddha statues in the temple. It is remarkable that one of the statues does not look towards the east, as it is traditionally common in Buddhist temples. The holy image faces the main chedi thus indicating how important and worshipped it is.
3. Doi Inthanon
Previously, the mountain Doi Inthanon was known as Doi Angka. The ruler of Chiang Mai, Prince Intharawichayanon, understood the importance of forests, especially in the northern part, which contained most of the country’s river sources. He provided funds to research this geographic area. The study of the ecosystem of rain-forests gave a boost to the development of Thai folklore. Thai folk culture describes the rain-forest area as the home of Phiphannam, the spirit who shares different waters. After the death of the Prince, the mountain was renamed in his honor. The Prince’s last will was to place his ashes at the top of Doi Angka mountain.
Since 1972, the top of Doi Inthanon mountain and the area around it, which covers about 272 square kilometers, were declared as the National Park. Today this National Park covers the area of more than 1005 square kilometers. A large number of locals are eager to visit the top of Doi Inthanon, just as Americans want to see the Grand Canyon in Colorado and Japanese want to climb to the top of Fujiyama. Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in Thailand. Its height is 2565 meters above the sea level.
Because the National Park is located at 2 565 meters above the sea level, the climate is quite cold there, the humidity is high throughout the year, especially at the upper slopes of the mountain terrain of the National Park. The average temperature at the top of the mountain is 15°C above zero. The night temperature sometimes reaches 8°C below zero.
Doi Inthanon mountain is included in one of our routes for motorcyclists – Mae Hong Son Loop. This “Things to do in Chiang Mai” is recommended not only to those who come to Chiang Mai, but also to those who come to Thailand, since Doi Inthanon is the highest point in Thailand, and there is no other such place in Thailand.
4. Wat Chedi Luang
Things to do in Chiang Mai #4 – Wat Chedi Luang. Wat Chedi Luang temple literally translates as Temple of the Great Chedi (chedi = stupa) and was originally made up of three temples — Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin. The construction of the temple started in the 14th century by King Saen Muang Ma who planned to enshrine the ashes of his father there. After ten years of building the king passed and construction works were continued by his widow. The temple was finished during the reign of King Tilokarat in the middle of the 15th century.
The Stupa was about 90 meters high and had a base diameter of 54 meters. It was the largest building of the Lanna Kingdom in those days.
The Emerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche in 1468 and stayed here for 75 years.
In 1545 the upper 30 meters of the temple was destroyed as a result of an earthquake and shortly thereafter in 1551, the Emerald Buddha was moved to Luang Prabang (Laos).
In 1928 the chedi was restored with the funding from the Japanese government and UNESCO. However, some elements of the temple developed a style of Thai architecture and not the style of Lanna.
In 1995, a copy of the Emerald Buddha made from black jade was again installed in the eastern niche. It was named Phra Phut Chaloem Sirirat, but people usually call it Phra Yok.
To the traveler for a note
Also on the territory of the temple, south of the chedi you can find a cross-shaped viharn called Sao Inthakin that stores the city pillar of Chiang Mai — Lak Mueang. Around this building, small statues of guardian spirits are placed in small shelters of the walls. Legend has it that a hermit, whose image is in a shelter on the west side of the building, one day went to God Indra to ask for protection for the city from the foreign invaders. Having promised to protect, Indra commanded two mythical creatures Kumaphan (human-beast) to carry the “city pillar” from the heaven to Inthakhin.
The prince Chao Kawila moved the city pillar here from the temple of Wat Sadeu Muang in 1800. The prince also planted there three Yang Na trees in the same year, which he supposed would help the city pillar protect the city from evil spirits.
Besides Sao Inthakin, at the entrance to the temple, is a Buddha statue known as Phra Chao Attarot (the 18-Cubit Buddha) that was created at the end of the 14th century.
5. Mae Hong Son Loop
The most popular route in the area of Northern Thailand starts in Chiang Mai and passes through two provinces in the Kingdom of Thailand — Mae Hong Son and Chiang Mai. On the way, you can enjoy spectacular mountain landscapes, beautiful attractions, and untouched nature. The real Northern Thailand and breathtaking landscapes are the main features of this interesting route.
List of POI on the route
Main sightseeing attractions of this Things to do in Chiang Mai: Chiang Mai Erotic Garden, Mok Fa Waterfall, Pong Dueat Geyser and Hot Spring, Pai Memorial Bridge, Pai Canyon, Coffee In Love, Legendary Pai Bamboo Bridge, Wat Nam Hu, Santichon Chinese Village, Yun Lai View Point, Pai Hot Springs Spa Resort, Sunset with Big White Buddha, Walking Street, Kiew Lom View Point, Tham Lod Cave, Phang Ma Pha View Point, Tham Pla Fish Cave, Pha Sua Waterfall, Pang Tong Palace, Ban Rak Thai, Pang Tong Under Royal Forest Park, Nai Soi Long Neck Village, Sunset on Doi Kong Moo, Wat Chang Klang, Wat Chong Kham, Pha Bong Hot Spring, Pha Bong View Point, Mae Surin Waterfall, Thai-Japan Friendship Museum, Wat Phra That Si Chom Thong, Mae Ya Waterfall, Wachirathan Waterfall, Great Holy Relics Pagodas, Doi Inthanon, Highest Spot in Thailand, Ganesha Museum.
Read more about POI on this route – here.
6. Night Bazaar
Things to do in Chiang Mai #6 – Night Bazaar. Thailand, as well as the whole of Southeast Asia, is famous for its markets. Markets in the morning, in the afternoon, night markets, weekend markets, markets that operate certain days of the week (like the Saturday market on Wualai Road), markets associated with some events and holidays.
The famous Night Market (Night Bazaar or Grand Bazaar) is located in Chiang Mai. Locals call it Kalare Night Bazaar. Actually, it is difficult to call it night market, it is rather evening market as it starts working about 6-7 p.m. to midnight. But the trade peak is about 8 to 10 p.m. After 10 p.m., sellers slowly start collecting their products and return home.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is located at walking distance of Old Town, in the Chang Klan area.
It’s believed that Night Bazaar is only for tourists, but it is not. Night Bazaar is a place where tourists and locals can find completely different products, including handmade goods, all in the same place: here you can buy various souvenirs from solid wood, interior design items, huge teak wall panels, a wide range of modern and traditional clothing, perfumes, jewellery, watches, bags, wallets and many other things. Also, most importantly a food court with Thai food is located there, where you can eat cheap. Besides the food court, there is a stage with live concerts in the evenings.
7. Thapae Gate
The main gates of Chiang Mai date back over 700 years. Every Sunday there is a big market (See Things to Do in Chiang Mai #10) on the street located next to Tha Phae Gate, where you can mostly find handmade products and, obviously, food. Two feet away from the gates there are Starbucks, McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, and a bunch of small shops and cafes aimed at tourists.
8. Northern Thailand Food Cooking Class
OMG! Food! Things to do in Chiang Mai for gourmets!
The Northern Thai specialty is meat and vegetables in a special sauce served with rice. This is just a simple formula for countless combinations of various dishes. Here, in the North, unlike the southern regions, sticky rice (khao niew) is very popular and is eaten with hands. First, you squeeze rice in your hand, then make a deepening in the rolled ball with your thumb, and use this simple tool as a spoon, dipping it in the food and popping it in your mouth, while helping with the thumb.
If you want to understand the specialties of the Northern Thailand cuisine and acquire the cooking skills in this region, here’s a list of important dishes that you need to learn: naam phrik num, naam prik ong, laap moo, khao soi, kanom jeen, kaeng park bang.
9. Elephant Nature Park
It is a well-known fact that elephants are social animals. In wildlife, they live in big family groups. Females remain with their mothers, sisters and other female congeners throughout their lives, and males do not leave their mothers until the age of fifteen. During the day, these magnificent animals pass dozens of kilometers.
However, in the view of many researchers and animal activists, the most part of zoos are unable to satisfy all these and other physical, psychological and social needs of elephants. Today you can see often that the territory of elephants in the zoo is an insufficient space for the normal life of these giants. Also, existing relationships between individuals are often destroyed when elephants are transported from one zoo to another for the purpose of breeding.
All these and other factors often result in serious health problems for elephants. That’s the reason as to why many animal rights organizations are constantly fighting against keeping unique animals in zoos.
When you’re in Chiang Mai, you can visit elephant parks and villages, where elephants are kept in conditions close to real ones. Here you will not find elephant riding or perform circus tricks, as well as physical violence against animals. Only a natural habitat where elephants move independently across an open territory, take a bath, eat and so on.
10. Sunday Market
Things to do in Chiang Mai for shop-o-holic =) The Sunday market is located at Tha Phae Gate, which was mentioned above. Here you will find an enormous amount of goods, paintings, souvenirs, food and etc. Be ready for the huge number of people and the lack of parking lots for personal vehicles on account of the fact that everything is busy. It’s better to be there by 5 o’clock in the evening when large crowds of tourists and locals are not there yet.