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10 Unmissable Things to Do in Chiang Mai

10 Unmissable Things to Do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s most beguiling cities. With ancient temples, lively night markets and gorgeous palaces – we’ve chosen our favourite ten things to do in Chiang Mai. 

Thailand’s capital of the north Chiang Mai offers a taste of tradition blended with modern culture. 

The old city was founded in 1296, and is Thailand’s second biggest city – it’s a must-see stop on any Southeast Asia itinerary.

With hundreds of intricately carved Buddhist temples, herds of linked elephants stomping through the grounds of sanctuaries, tribal villages tucked between the overlapping hills of Doi Suthep and with sacred Sak Yant tattoo artists, there are always things to do in and around the city.

With that in mind, here’s our list of the top things to do in Chiang Mai.

1. Doi Suthep National Park and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Best things to do in Chiang Mai - Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Climbing to just below two thousand metres, Doi Suthep and Doi Pui form the twin peaks of granite mountain along the western edge of Chiang Mai. Covered in thick, deciduous forests, cascading waterfalls, and winding mud paths, Doi Suthep is dominated by the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple.

While Chiang Mai is dotted with hundreds of temples, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Buddhist temple is one of the most well-known places of worship in the city.

The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple is a sacred site to many Thai people along with being tied to ancient legends. Positioned at the front of the temple sits the White Elephant shrine.

The relevance of the elephant links to the story of the monk named Sumanathera who found Gautama Buddha’s shoulder bone and gave it to the king, the king placed part of the relic on the back of a white elephant who climbed to the top of Doi Suthep, trumpeted three times, and then collapsed.

Dating back to the thirteenth century, the temple has since been expanded to include several new holy shrines, stone statues, and tiered pagodas.

Once appropriately dressed, visitors of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple must climb the three hundred steps to the entrance of the temple. Here you can wander the temple grounds and see the original copper plated chedi.

The Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is the stuff of legends, earning its place on our list of the top things to do in Chiang Mai.

The National park located along the route to the Doi Suthep summit is home to another Buddhist temple and the Bhubing Palace (the residence that King Bhumibol Adulyadej stayed in during the winter months.)

Speckled with different varieties of flora and fauna, the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park is a protected area in the city.

Explore the Doi Suthep mountain along with the other peaks that form the Thanon Thong Chai Range (including Doi Luang Chiang Dao and Doi Inthanon.) As the tangled clusters of evergreens clear at the top of the twin peaks you’ll be able to look out over the city of Chiang Mai – an absolute must on any Chiang Mai itinerary.

2. Bhubing Palace

Bhubing Palace - one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai
Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in the Doi Suthep mountains sits the royal home of various kings, queens, and their families for winter visits to Chiang Mai. Bhubing Palace was built in 1961 and is now a spot popular with tourists.

Overlooking the city, Bhubing Palace is one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai for its ‘ruean mu’ architectural style exterior and famous rose gardens.

The grounds are decorated with well-groomed gardens, elegant fountains, and a teak wood pavilion that can be explored on foot or by renting a golf cart. Alongside the Bhubing Palace structure, there are several guesthouses and log cabins often used by prominent state visitors.

If you’re after the royal treatment, Bhubing Palace is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.

3. Take a Cooking Class

Cooking Class in Chiang Mai - An absolute must-do if you're visiting the city.
(c) Julianna Barnaby

Northern Thai cuisine is very different to the food that you will find in the south of the country. Take time to learn and understand the flavours of Northern Thai food at a cooking class at Chiang Mai Farm Cookery School.

The class starts with a visit to a local market to buy some of the ingredients for the day’s cooking, but then deviates from the norm with a walk around the school’s extensive grounds to harvest crops to use in your dishes.

Classes take place in gorgeous open-air buildings, and the teachers are jus tas funny as they are knowledgable about every aspect of local cuisine. Plus you can always use your new-found skills when you return home.

Read more: How to pick a cooking class in Chiang Mai

Love Thai Food? This Thai food feature will blow your mind (and your tastebuds) – complete with recipes for you to try out. 

4. Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, Chiang Mai
(c) Julianna Barnaby

Other than the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, Chiang Mai is also home to the Wat Phra Singh, Wat Umong, Wat Suan Dorg, and the Wat Chiang Man temple just to name a few. While many of these sacred sites warrant viewing, the Wat Chedi Luang is one of the most majestic temples in Chiang Mai.

Known for its towering, crumbled chedi (destroyed by either an earthquake back in the sixteenth century or cannon fire during the eighteenth century), the Wat Chedi Luang is now a mismatch of the original fourteenth-century Lanna design and the 1990’s renovation work.   

The Wat Chedi Luang is surrounded by elephant sculptures, tall pillars, chapels and shrines. In the eastern section of the temple sits the Phra Phut Chaloem Sirirat black jade replica of the emerald buddha (now housed in Luang Prabang.)

Another thing to do in Chiang Mai in the Wat Chedi Luang is talk with the monks that sit in the shade of trees offering advice or simply conversation.

Looking for more inspiration for your Thailand trip? We’ve picked our favourite things to do in Thailand to help you plan your next adventure. 

5. Monthathan Waterfall

In Doi Suthep National Park you’ll find the glimmering, nine tiered Monthathan Waterfall. The waterfall provides a bliss escape from the bustle of Thailand’s busy cities, offering a hideaway surrounded by woodlands.

The Monthathan Waterfall cascades over blackened rocks, spraying water over the several tiers of rugged crags before falling into a scenic swimming hole. The cool waters of the shallow pool are popular with tourists for paddling and swimming while taking a break hiking the steep slopes of the Doi Suthep landscape.

We recommend a trip to the picturesque Monthathan Waterfall as the most stunning natural beauty on our list of things to do in Chiang Mai.

6. Elephant Nature Park

Visit the Elephant Nature Park when you are in Chiang Mai

Another place on our list of the top things to do in Chiang Mai is a day trip to the Elephant Nature Park.

With over two hundred and fifty acres of gardens, the park is dedicated to providing a sanctuary for dozens of rescued elephants along with buffaloes, cats, dogs, and many other animals.

Visitors can feed the elephants with bananas, cucumbers, and bamboo bark along with going on hikes alongside the gentle giants. While learning about where the elephants came from, you’re invited to bathe and brush the elephants.

In Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park the animals are treated as equals, there’s no tempting with treats, bullhooks, or elephant rides. This way visitors can enjoy spending time with the elephants, exploring the tropical jungle, and snacking at the cafe whilst the creatures roam the grounds freely.

7. Royal Park Rajapruek

Royal Park Rajapruek, Chiang Mai
(c) Shutterstock

The Royal Park Rajapruek is a popular attraction in the city of Chiang Mai. Built as a commemoration for King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s sixty years on the throne, along with the king’s eightieth birthday, the park offers beautiful landscaped gardens, a diverse range of flora and fauna, and tram rides.

The Royal Park Rajapruek is divided into different sections each showcasing unique themes; there’s a tropical garden displaying desert plants, herbs, and Thai tropical plants, an international garden zone with contributors from thirty three nations, and a lotus garden among many others. The Gardens for the King is a section playing tribute to His Majesty with the Thai government and private sectors creating their own garden designs.

At the entrance of the Royal Park Rajapruek blooms a two hundred and fifty million years old pine tree with many pieces of architecture including the Ho Kham Luang Royal Pavilion spotted around the gardens.

For next to no cost, a trip to the Royal Park Rajapruek is high up on our list of the top things to do in Chiang Mai.

8. Tha Phae Gate

tha phae gate, Chiang Mai
Wikimedia commons

Dating back to ancient times, the Tha Phae Gate acts as the east entrance to the old city within Chiang Mai.

While the gate was originally designed to protect Chiang Mai from a Burmese invasion, the tall, rectangular walls are now the site of many festivals including the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. At the time of the flower festival each February the Tha Phae Gate acts as the centre of floral exhibits and beauty contests while colourful floats graze past the sand coloured bricks.

The Tha Phae Gate is a must see attraction in Chiang Mai for its historical value; as part of the eight gates of the old city, the Tha Phae Gate signifies prosperity and was once the access point for monks and traders.

With markets, shops, restaurants, and cafes surrounding the towering walls, the Tha Phae Gate is always thriving with noise, crowds, and colours. A trip to Tha Phae is a must when travelling to Chiang Mai, earning its spot on our list of the top things to do in the city.

9. The Tribal Museum

Besides the many temples, forests, and falls of Chiang Mai, there are also museums and galleries worth adding to your check list of things to do in the city.

With exhibits dedicated to the history and culture of Thailand’s tribes, The Tribal Museum is our favourite museum in Chiang Mai. Alongside the museums collection of tribal clothes, artefacts, and tribal huts, there’s also a monthly tribal market offering authentic, handmade crafts from the hill tribes in northern Thailand.

In Chiang Mai you’ll also find the Chiang Mai National museum (home to displays of Thai art), the Lanna Folklife Museum, and the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders.

The Art in Paradise galley is a notable mention for its impressive 3D murals that visitors can snap pictures of or interact with. There’s even an app that can bring the paintings to life!

If you fancy a break from exploring the green landscapes and rocky cliffs of Chiang Mai then the Tribal Museum, along with the other various museums and galleries, is the thing to do.

10. Warorot Market

Night Bazaar Chiang Mai
Night Bazaar (c) Julianna Barnaby

The final place on our list of things to do in Chiang Mai is Warorot Market. Positioned along Ping River, the Warorot Market is one of the best places to shop in the city for anything from fresh produce to beauty products.

Striped market stalls stretch out in almost every direction offering dried fruit, herbs, clothing, jewellery, and sunglasses. The Warorot Market also divides into smaller sections including a Flower Market and Tribal Market.

Many Thai locals shop at Warorot Market for the inexpensive prices and assortment of goods.

Another market in Chiang Mai worth visiting is the Night Bazaar. With similar products to those being sold at Warorot Market, the Night Bazaar also has a selection of food stands and is often lit by trails of glowing fairy lights with the occasional accompaniment of live music.  

Want to try somewhere different? The Umbrella Village in Chiang Mai is a glimpse into a lesser-known part of the city.

The markets in the city are on our list of the top things to do in Chiang Mai for the range of cheap products, lively atmosphere, and free entertainment including puppeteers and street performers.

Places to Stay

When it comes to choosing a hotel in Chiang Mai, we’ve got you covered. The bustling city centre of Chiang Mai offers a selection of luxury, mid range, and budget places to stay so we’ve picked our top hotel for each price bracket.

Price Guide for Hotels in Chiang Mai




Dhara Dhevi

The Dhara Devi is the place to stay in Chiang Mai for ultimate luxury
Dhara Devi, Chiang Mai (c) Julianna Barnaby

The Dhara Dhevi is the most luxurious place to stay in Chiang Mai. While the main structure of the building is heavily influenced by the architectural style Lanna, the sixty acre grounds boast landscaped gardens, two outdoor pools, an elegant spa, and the choice between nine restaurants.

Along with the fitness centre (including a tennis court and sauna), hot tubs, twenty four hour rooms service, and practical location (located on the busy stretch of Sankampaeng Road with only a fifteen minute drive from the airport), the Dhara Dhevi also has its own hairdressers, gift shop, and selection of clothing stores on site.

Guests can choose between a selection of deluxe villas all of which either have their own pool or private tropical garden area.

Cost: £££

Check Prices on Tripadvisor

Anantara Chiang Mai Resort

With only a brief walk to the Night Bazaar and Warorot Market, the Anantara Resort provides both the ideal location (positioned along the Ping River) along with nature, culture, and adventure experiences.

The hotel offers groomed gardens spotted with trees, a selection of indoor and outdoor pools, and a spa serving massages along with other treatments.

The Anantara Resort also has its own restaurant, bar area, cooking school, and room service including a complimentary breakfast. The rooms feature their own private balconies where you can look over the city of Chiang Mai.

Cost: ££

Check prices on Tripadvisor

Rimping Village

Located in the thriving city centre of Chiang Mai, the Rimping Village resort offers guests a comfortable stay in one of their modern rooms with private balconies or deluxe suites. The grounds of the resort are covered in tropical plants and banyan trees along with an outdoor pool.

The Rimping Village boutique hotel also has its own restaurant alongside providing a complimentary breakfast on the morning of your first day. Rated four stars, a stay in the Rimping Village promises comfort and calm with many luxuries for an affordable price.

Cost: £

Check prices on Tripadvisor

So we’ve reached the end of our list of the top things to do in Chiang Mai. A trip to the picturesque, temple spotted city is one we’d definitely recommend.

Do you have a favourite thing to do in Chiang Mai? Let us know in the comments below!

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