The mountain city of Chiang Mai has been growing in popularity among travellers for many years. We originally visited this funky place back in 2011 and loved it so much we came back in 2015 to spend a few months living there in amongst the booming digital nomad and travel blogger community.
Due to this large community of digital nomads in Chiang Mai there are plenty of bloggers, entrepreneurs and travellers that have decided hop on a bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to check out what Chiang Mai is all about. That’s why when we put out the call for the Best Things to See, Do & Eat in Chiang Mai we knew we’d get the latest and greatest tips.
So let’s dive into it – Chiang Mai Attractions: What to Do, See & Eat in Chiang Mai Thailand
What to Do In Chiang Mai
Sarah – Live, Dream, Discover
Get a Sak Yant tattoo from a ajarn
“Chiang Mai is a magical city full of rich history, beautiful temples and delicious food but I would have to say my top experience was the gift of a Sak Yant tattoo from a well respected ajarn. I had read about this ancient and sacred art of protection and blessing and really wanted to receive it, but I had also heard scary stories about unsanitary conditions at some of the temples. Luckily the fates were for it and led me to someone who would assure an authentic and safe experience with a reputable practitioner of the art. What followed was an unforgettable journey infused with culture, spirituality, education, beauty and yes pain…but it was well worth it. I now have a forever, meaningful reminder of my time in Thailand and the wonderful people of that magical land.”
Hannah – Eat Sleep Breathe Travel
Get a Massage
Thai massages are a tourist favourite throughout Thailand, so when I found out I could learn some of those techniques and bring them home with me I jumped at the chance. NOMA Yoga and Massage is a top rated studio in Chiang Mai Old Town, just inside the Thapae gate. They offer half day and full day massage classes, as well as longer programs for those interested in learning the tricks of the trade. I signed up for the half day course (3 hours) and spent the morning one on one with an instructor. The class took place in a large padded room with a full length mirror and we took turns practicing the techniques on each other, so I as the student could feel and see how it was supposed to be before trying it myself. This meant not only did I learn (and get an instruction book to take home with me) but I also got a massage too. Not too bad for bout $30 USD (you get a discount if you bring a friend!) and definitely a cool experience to have while visiting Chiang Mai.
Chris – One Weird Globe
The Elephant Poo Paper Park
Opened in early 2013, it’s a stone’s throw away from the incredibly touristy (and ethically questionable) Tiger Kingdom. As you’ll guess from the name, they really do make paper from elephant poo. Not just from elephant poo, of course, but it is an ingredient. The park documents the process, and you’ll get to watch how things go from poo to paper. You’ll also have the chance to make a greeting card or a mini-journal (pay when you leave).
In case you’re wondering how elephant poo is used to make paper, it’s explained on-site. The gist: elephants don’t digest their food very well, leaving plenty of fibers in their poo. It’s boiled to separate it from the rest of the, um, matter, which has the effect of sterilizing it. That’s right, folks – the fiber that was once inside an elephant’s bowels is now almost certainly cleaner than your kitchen counter.
Address: 87 Moo 10, Amphoe Mae Rim, Chiang Mai, 50180 (GPS: 18.925398,98.931604)
Directions: From Doi Suthep, head back down the way you came up and back to Huay Kaew road. Turn left onto route 121 (also called the Canal or Outer Ring rd.). After about 11 kilometers, turn left onto route 107. Stay on for a little over 7 kilometers, then turn left onto route 1096. Take the first right to follow the river, then take a left across the first possible bridge, about 700 meters away. Stay straight and look right.
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Alice – Teacake Travels
Visit the Amulet Market
Hidden on the quiet outskirts of Chiang Mai city but easily within reach of its defining wall, Chiang Mai Amulet market is a treasure hunter’s paradise. A far cry from the stressful experience of vendors clawing for your attention you may have experienced in Asian markets, you can peacefully walk through Aladdin’s cave here. Full of intriguing bits, bobs and curiosities, I came across items radiating good luck and well wishes. Other objects had a more sinister and dangerous power according to my local Thai guide. Some amulets are made from wood, others from the ashes of cremations. Others are clearly gold and incredibly expensive. Locals and Buddhists come and go here every day. Shopping here for your next amulet is very much a common thing. You may find you are the only foreigner here. Whether you are here to peruse at your own leisure or seek out protection from the troubles in your life, a visit here after receiving a Sak Yant Tattoo from a local monk was the perfect day for me.
Ian – Where Sidewalks End
Get wet at the world’s biggest waterfight
I’ve been to a lot of festivals in my time, and there are some which are colourful, loud, exciting and some that are even scary – but none are as much fun as Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai!! An ancient festival that is celebrated all over Thailand, celebrating the beginning of the Thai New Year, water has always played a role. Traditionally, Thais would visit a temple and pour some water over Buddha’s shoulder. They would also pour a little water over elders hands as a blessing and sign of respect. Happening just at the end of dry season, there are likely some roots to wishing for a wet rainy season with good crops. However, in the bigger cities, it has expanded to what can only be described as the world’s BIGGEST water fight! Super soakers, buckets and water balloons are carried by every man, woman and child! You might even catch a duel between police officers and tourists splashing each other amicably!
Some general rules of decency apply:
* don’t blast people in the face
* don’t blast people wearing backpacks
* don’t blast people with unprotected valuables (cameras, phones, etc)
* have fun, and make sure those involved are having fun too! 🙂
Songkran festival happens annually April 13-16th.
Natalie & Rob – Love and Road
Visit a Ladyboy Cabaret Show
A list of the best places and best attractions in Chiang Mai won’t be complete without a funny night at the Cabaret Show. Leave all the prejudices outside the door and join this amazing group of boys and girls for an artistic and unique night. Located at the back area of the Anusarn Night Market, the bar is simple and the drinks are cheap, but the performance is fantastic. Last time we were there we paid 200 Thai Baht per person, including a beer and a bag of peanuts. If you feel like having an extra dose of fun I would recommend to go early and grab a seat on the first row. Although, if you want to enjoy the cabaret show from a “safe” distance, the 3rd or 4th rows are the best bet. The ladyboys put up a great show with glittering costumes, amazing lip singing and good jokes. Be prepared to laugh from the start to the end. For us, the Cabaret is one of the best things to do in town and it’s on thelist of things to do Chiang Mai.
Carole – Travels with Carole
Visit the Umbrella Making Centre
At the Umbrella Making Centre in Borsang Village–also known as “Parasol Village”–workers assemble paper umbrellas in a covered outdoor pavilion. I was intrigued to see how frames were constructed and how paper was made from the bark of mulberry trees. Umbrellas come in all sizes and colors, and some are truly gigantic. But the most spectacular sight was watching the hand-painted finishing.
Megsy & Tommo’s Pick
Have a Bath with an Elephant
Getting up close and personal with these magnificent creatures is one of the BEST things you can experience in Chiang Mai, BUT you have to choose your elephant park carefully. There are quite a few amazing elephant reserves in Chiang Mai that do not work the animals, that have rescued them from bad conditions and these are the ones to sign up for. If the company is offering elephant rides or painting etc….give them a miss and find a company that is looking out for the wellbeing of the elephants.
Still need more things to do in Chiang Mai? Click here for more….
What to See in Chiang Mai
Taylor + Daniel of Travel Outlandish
Chiang Mai may have some 300+ temples, but none are quite as impressive as Doi Suthep. Sitting high above the city, Doi Suthep is an ornate Buddhist Temple accessible only by a nauseating 15km songthaew ride and a 309 step staircase. The temple is well worth the climb, and its location makes it a fantastic place to get views of the city. Watch as Buddhist devotees light a candle and circumambulate clockwise around the primary stupah. With elaborate gold-plated decoration, blossoming pink bougainvilleas, and orange clad monks, visiting Doi Suthep is a colorful and fascinating experience with Buddhist culture, and definitely one worth having.
Gabor – Surfing The Planet
Wat Chedi Luang Temple
The Wat Chedi Luang Temple, located in the center of Chiang Mai, is one of the most worshipped temples of the city, and it’s one of the most important temples you can visit during your travel to Thailand. The origin of the temple dates back to the 14 th century, when it was built for almost a hundred years with the aim of burying the ashes of the king’s father inside. It was more than 80 meters tall, but as a result of an earthquake, part of the temple was destroyed. Once the Emerald Buddha was kept in this temple, but after the earthquake it was transported to Luang Prabang in Laos. This partially destroyed, decadent aspect seemed really charming to us, which gives the temple a mysterious look. The lateral stairs of the temple lead up to 4 large doors, where different Buddha statues can be appreciated. The side façade of the temple is decorated with beautiful elephant statues. Around the main temple building, you can find other small sanctuaries dedicated to Buddha.
Alesha & Jarryd – Nomadasaurus
Mae Hong Son Loop
One of the best things to see and do in Chiang Mai isn’t actually in Chiang Mai (but it does leave from there)! The Mae Hong Son Loop is a road circuit that connects the towns of Chiang Mai, Mae Sariang, Mae Hong Son and Pai through beautiful mountains and gorgeous national parks. While this loop can be explored by public transport, the best way to see it is actually on a motorbike or scooter. Pick up a rental in Chiang Mai and give yourself at least 4 days to complete the trip (the longer the better). Don’t miss out on the spectacular waterfalls along the way, and with more time you can ride up into a few of the minority villages that are found off the main road. Finish with a couple of days relaxing in Pai and you would have completed one of the funnest adventures in all of Northern Thailand!
Dave – Travel Dave
Take a trip to Chiang Rai
It takes roughly 4 hours to drive from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, which makes this close by city a popular day trip destination in Northern Thailand. My suggestion would be to extend your day trip and stay overnight in Chiang Rai as the local night market is worth checking out with a large selection of street food to choose from it would be a shame to miss out. Although the city itself is not as exciting as Chiang Mai its totally worth the trip out to explore the white temple alone. Wat Rong Khun, known by many as the white temple was designed, constructed, and opened by local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. Chalermchai Kositpipat was born and grew up in Chiang Rai which was one of the main reasons for the location of Wat Rong Khun as he wanted to create a reason to draw visitors to his beloved city. The temple is a privately funded project and its doors are open for visitors to explore the grounds.
Wat Rong Khun is a stunning temple to explore as its not like any other temple in Thailand you might have seen. The artist has added a modern twist to temple interior. As you’re not allowed to take photos inside the temple you simply have to go and see it for yourself.
Megsy & Tommo’s Pick
Experience the Loi Krathong & Yi Ping Festivals
Loi Krathong & Yi Ping are annual festivals that are celebrated on the full moon of the 12th month in the traditional Thai lunar calendar – generally, this is around November. Loi Krathong is the releasing of small handmade baskets into the local rivers containing small offerings, Yi Ping is the releasing of lanterns into the sky – thousands and thousands of them in fact. While this is a festival that happens every year – it seems every year it is almost impossible to get solid information about when events will be held. Keep an ear out with travel and expat groups to get the latest info.
Looking for somewhere to stay in Chiang Mai
What & Where to Eat in Chiang Mai
Amanda – Marocmama
Get a real local experience
For me, getting to understand a place means that I understand their culinary culture and there’s no better way to do that (in my opinion) than by taking a food tour with a local. In Chiang Mai we booked a tour on Chiang Mai Street Food Tours to show us the ropes. I was hesitant to try much street food because I simply didn’t know what things were. But, taking this food tour helped helped me not only understand the food but the culture behind it. It also was a really fun activity for all ages – something that isn’t always easy when you’re on the road.
⇒ Click Here to listen and learn about the fascinating (& surprisingly recent) history of Thailand’s National Dish – Pad Thai on our Travel & Food Podcast “The Dish”
Sher – Sher She Goes
Eat Khao Soi
Khao soi is a staple of Northern Thailand and instead of going for pad thai, make sure you try this dish at least once while in Chiang Mai! The noodles are fried and crunchy, like fresh ramen, and mixed with flat wheat noodles for incredible texture. Everything is covered in a savory curry broth and you can add on tons of condiments like limes, chilis and pickled veggies to customize the dish to your liking.
Khao Soi developed in Chiang Mai due to the influence of Burmese and muslim Chinese immigrants who settled in the area. There are a million restaurants and roadside stalls that sell this but to have the absolute best khao soi you need to get yourself to Grandmother’s Khao Soi! She manages to make a really rich and intense broth and you can choose from 3 different proteins: beef, chicken or pork.
Tamason – Travelling Book Junkie
Try the Coffee
Tucked down one of the many side streets of Chaing Mai sits the delightful Mountain Coffee Bar, an open air coffee shop that makes a fantastic cup of coffee and in a city where coffee shops are in abundance to find one in particular that stands out is quite an achievement.
Perhaps it helps that you know your coffee is fresh. How do you know this? The owner, whilst you are happily sipping your warm drink, is cooking up his coffee beans in his very own burner – a cement mixer.
In the time that we sat there, the coffee beans had been suitable dried, added to the mixer, cooked, aired and taken off to be grounded. The whole process from start to finish means that within an hour and a half customers are able to enjoy the freshest cup of coffee in town.
Nathan – Fit Living Lifestyle
Ever considered a raw vegan detox retreat….?
Chivasuka is a raw vegan detox retreat hidden in the beautiful Lanna hills outside of Chiang Mai Thailand. It is set high up on a hill with amazing views and luxury cabins. There you can learn the idealogy and recipes that this type of diet consists of. They provide 5 star service, elegant raw vegan meals, yoga sessions and local hikes and excursions. If you are looking for a unique health experience or a place to detox and reset your body, Chivasuka may be just what you’re looking for. They have 3 experiences to choose from. You can choose Rivitalization, detox or weight-loss packages for 3 days or 1 week.
So next time you are looking for something outside of the norm in Chiang Mai, look no further than Chivasuka. Not only will you get some amazing food and views but you may just come away with a clear body and mind.
Jub – Tiki Touring Kiwi
Chill at Huay Tung Tao Lake
Huay Tung Tao Lake is a great way to spend a few hours away from the city of Chiang Mai. There are wooden huts scattered around the lake to hang out in, water you can safely swim in and for the love birds, you can pedal about in the swan chariot boats.
The best way to get to there is by scooter, or you can arrange a Songthaew in advance (you’ll need to negotiate a price you are happy with and a plan for getting picked up). The entrance fee to the lake is 20 baht.
When you choose a hut, there will be a shop serving food and drinks to your hut which is free if you buy a bit of food and/or drink. There’s plenty of seafood on the menu and a few common Thai dishes. If you decide to take the scooter, don’t get carried away with too many beersies otherwise it’ll be a cold night at the lake.
If you struggle to keep still, you can take a 4km walk around the lake or scout out the hiking trails on the hill overlooking the lake.
Nathan – Foodie Flashpacker
Chiang Mai is the perfect place to indulge in upscale or fancy meals that would normally put a major dent in your wallet back home. Being that Chiang Mai is home to so many expats there is a huge selection of restaurants that cater to foreigners. You are able to find organic, farm to table, made for Instagram meals that cost a fraction of what they would cost elsewhere. You can also visit famous hotels such as the Shangri La to indulge in one of their decadent Sunday brunches for much less than the same meal would cost you around the world.
Megsy & Tommo’s Pick
What is your favorite thing to Do, See or Eat in Chiang Mai? Let us know in the comments…
Looking for somewhere to stay in Thailand? Click here for our Best Hotels in Chiang Mai Post
Also, check out this blog by HotelsCombined on Where to Stay in Chiang Mai: Nimman or Old City for more accommodation options to choose from in Chiang Mai.
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