Chiang Mai holds the top spot as our favourite destination in Thailand.
There’s so much to do in this city and the surrounding province.
If I were to live in Thailand, Chiang Mai would be my first choice of where to call home.
We recently spent 8 days here and below is our list of things you must do if you find yourself in the area.
1 – Visit An Ethical Elephant Sanctuary.
If you’re not in Chiang Mai for long, or your budget only allows you to do a one or two things, Then visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary is that one thing you have to do!
Please please please do you homework before committing to one. Thailand’s animal welfare track record is not the best, a lot of the camps still permit riding and the use of hooks to control elephants. We do not condone this type of thing and urge you to do the same.
As soon as the demand for riding and performing stops, the cruelty and mistreatment will stop too.
There are a few good ones around, so please look into it in detail.
Elephant Nature Park comes very highly recommended, although they are usually booked out months in advance, so if this is the one for you, plan ahead.
We went with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and we had THE best time!
It was such a fun day, the elephants looked happy and it really was a pleasure to spend a day feeding and bathing these gentle giants.
So that’s number 1, it really is a must do. It’s not the cheapest activity to do, but honestly it is worth every penny!
For more information on our recent trip read the full post here.
2 – Doi Inthanon National Park
Take a day trip to the highest point in the whole of Thailand!
With views, pagodas, waterfalls, gardens and hill tribe villages it’s a great day trip from the city. Entrance to the park costs 300 baht, but in our opinion is worth the money.
The King and Queen pagodas right at the summit are a must see if you are in the region!
Read more about Doi Inthanon National Park here.
3 – Eat Khao Soi
Not much to say about this one other than just do it!
Khao soi is found everywhere in Chiang Mai, so give Pad Thai a rest and try some.
Eat it all day, everyday!
More about Khao soi here.
4 – The Temples Of Old Town
This is a nice easy-going way to spend a day, easy on travel and especially easy on the wallet. Spend a day walking around, camera in hand and have a good look at these very beautiful and unique temples. Majority of the temples are free to enter and well worth a visit.
Chiang Mai has over 300 of them, with many of them being in the walls of ‘Old Town’ so you don’t have to walk far to tick them off your list.
Read more about the temples of Old Town here.
5 – Visit The Sunday Night Market
If you’re planning to visit, try to make sure you are in Chiang Mai on a Sunday. The whole south side of the Old Town gets closed off and turns into a huge market!
Like any Thai market you can get anything from souvenirs to food, but this one is a little more special.
It’s actually quite refreshing to visit a market in Asia that has something a little different about it. Northern Thailand is home to many tribes and small communities who all sell their handmade goodies at this market. Meaning you can pick up something other than coconut bowls and hippie pants.
Another nice touch is the abundance of street performers entertaining you as you wander the busy streets grazing on delicious street food snacks and searching for that bargain.
Be warned, this market does get extremely busy, if you value personal space, or have young children I’d recommend getting there early. As night falls the whole town stops and heads to this market!
6 – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
The biggest tourist attraction in Chiang Mai.
The temple is often referred to as “Doi Suthep” although this is actually the name of the mountain where it’s located. It is a very sacred site to many Thai people.
It is located right on-top of the mountain, so has amazing views looking over the city. Sadly when we were there, it was very hazy (burning season) so the views were a little less than spectacular.
It’s cheap and easy enough to get too, a red songtheaw will take you there for 60 baht, but being so cheap and easy means it gets very busy!
The sheer amount of others tourist crammed into this actually rather small temple complex does take away from the beauty and general peaceful wonder you get visiting temples, but still worth the trip to see it.
Our top tip, get there early, as early as humanly possible!
7 – Check Out The Amazing Cafe and Coffee Scene
This one is perfectly paired with no. 4 on this list, combine them for a great day out.
Chiang Mai has very vibrant and buzzing cafe and coffee culture. We think this is down to the number of digital nomads and expats who choose to call this city their home.
There are hundreds of cafes to have a look in, all of them different but sharing a few simple things.
Great service, friendly staff and damn fine coffee!
For a short list of our favourite cafe’s in Chaing Mai click here.
8 – Get A Massage From a Female Ex-Prisoner
I can’t comment on this one personally, I don’t really like massages, far too ticklish. But the Women’s Massage Center by Ex-Prisoners comes very highly recommended by fellow travellers and locals we have met whilst being here.
The first massage center opened in 2014 with just a handful of the Thai Massage vocational graduates from the women’s prison in Chiang Mai.
By 2015, three massage centers were running to increase the capacity for these women in vocational rehabilitation who need practical support, in a safe environment.
With continual training once these women join the professional society, the services have expanded into massage oil, facials, pedicures or manicures and more.
It really is a great cause, and if I’m ever back in the city I vow to take one for the team and get one.
You should too, you’re getting a great massage and also helping to provide a stable environment for people who need it.
9 – Have A Drink At The Northgate Jazz Co-Op
Located near the north gate in Old Town the Northgate Jazz Co-Op is popular with expats, travellers and locals alike.
It’s always busy, with a band playing every night from about 8pm till midnight you’re guaranteed a good night.
The venue itself is very small, with limited seating. The crowd tends to pile out onto the street and have a dance and enjoy the music anyway. If standing isn’t your thing aim to get there early to secure a seat. Personally I like standing, just makes it easier to tap your feet.
Tuesday nights are open mic night and tend to be busiest night. Instruments are available and anyone and everyone is encouraged to get on stage and strut their stuff. Chiang Mai is an artistic hub in Thailand so you won’t be let down by the brave souls getting on stage and showing you what they’ve got!
Drinks are a very reasonable price and the entertainment is top-notch!
If you love live music, or simply want a break from the chart hits and dance music found elsewhere then make sure to pop in!
10 – Take A Cooking Class
In my opinion northern Thai food is by far the tastiest. So what better place to learn how to cook like a local than in northern Thailand.
Most of the cooking classes start with a trip to the local market to get your fresh produce for the day, this is great experience as you see how Thai people go about getting their food. Most locals do not use a supermarket like us westerners do.
Usually you get to choose what dishes you want to make so you can learn how to cook your all time favourite!
You can do full day, half day, beginner and even more advanced classes depending on how confident you are in the kitchen.
The list of options is endless! Do your research and find one that suits you and you are guaranteed a good day learning something new you can take back home to impress your friends!
So that concludes our list of things to do in Chiang Mai!
If you have found this list useful, or have anything you would add to the list please let us know in the comments!