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What to Do in Chiang Mai For the Perfect Trip

  • Post last modified:May 7, 2024
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Thailand is known for its stunning beaches in the south, but some of our favorite things to do in the country actually lie all the way in the north! If you're wondering what to do in Chiang Mai and other cities in the area, we're here to help.

From stunning temples, to epic elephant experiences, Chiang Mai is definitely a city you'll want to be adding to your Thai travel bucket list.

Not only will we cover what to do in Chiang Mai, but we'll help you learn how to maneuver your way around the city, and the best way to travel to Chiang Mai. Let's get started!

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Where is Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai is located all the way in northern Thailand. It is the biggest city in the north, and is the capital city of the Chiang Mai region.

Travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is located all the way in the north of Thailand.

Travel to Chiang Mai: How to Get There

Chiang Mai can be reached in a number of ways, both by flight and bus. Here are the different options to travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Travel to Chiang Mai by Flight

The easiest way to travel to Chiang Mai is to take a flight. Chiang Mai Airport (CNX) serves flights both domestically and internationally. The cities within Thailand that service Chiang Mai include Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, Hua Hin, Rayong, Khon Kaen, Hat Yai, and Bangkok with several departures per day.

International cities that fly to Chiang Mai include Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Chengdu in China, Seoul in South Korea, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and Singapore.

Flight Tip: Using Skyscanner you can put from "your city" to "Thailand". This way you can see which is the cheapest airport in the area to fly. Also, you can check the calendar to see which are the cheapest dates to go there!

Search for a flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Travel to Chiang Mai by Bus

If you're on a tight budget, or traveling to other cities in the north of Thailand, then taking a bus may be the option for you. 

Cities that service Chiang Mai via bus include Chiang Rai (3 hours away), Pai (3 hours away), and even Bangkok, which takes around 12 hours. This is definitely a great way to save money, although it may not be the most comfortable.

Here are some trips you can book to Chiang Mai in advance:

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Travel to Chiang Mai by Renting a Car

If you plan on exploring more areas of Thailand, than renting a car and driving from Bangkok would be a super fun road trip!

It's a 9 hour drive from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and you can easily get a car from the airport. We love using Local Rent a Car, as it connects you with local companies that you can rent with.

Note: They drive on the left hand side of the road in Thailand! It was stress free driving there, it just took an extra few seconds when doing turns. 

Book a rental car from Bangkok:

Entry Requirements for Thailand

If you're looking to travel to Chiang Mai, you'll need to keep in mind the requirements to enter Thailand. Here is everything you need to know for entering this country.

Visa Requirements for Thailand

First thing's first- let's make sure you are able to enter Thailand without any problems due to visas. Currently Thailand offers visa free visits up to 30 days to 64 different countries, and allows 18 countries to receive their visa upon arrival.

If you would like to extend your stay to 60 or 90 days, you can simply apply at your local embassy, or do so once in Thailand. Applications are $30. Another option can be to leave the country and visit a neighboring one, and return to restart your 30 days in the country.

If you'd like a bit more info on the visa process, or to see if you personally need one, you can check the official website of Thai Embassies.

Covid Entry Requirements for Thailand

Thailand, and many other Asian countries have been quite conservative with restarting tourism. As of this year, Thailand is now open to tourists who either are fully vaccinated, or obtain a negative Covid test result within 72 hours of flying.

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Local Adjustments for Thailand

Whenever you travel there are things that you may forget about, that may be different from the place you are coming from. Here are a few local adjustments to keep in mind while traveling to Thailand.

Language Spoken in Thailand

The official language in Thailand is Thai. If you are a westerner, this language won't be so simple to pick up.

I'm not going to lie- I definitely thought there would be much more people with a higher level of English than I experienced. Especially when dealing with taxis and tuk tuks, it is important to have an app ready to help, such as Google Translate.

Currency Used in Thailand

The currency used in Thailand is the Thai Baht. Currently (May 2024) every 1 USD or 1 Euro is equal to 36.89 Thai Baht.

It is important to note that it is very rare to be able to use a credit card in Thailand. 

Unless you are staying at a big hotel or dining at a fancy restaurant, cash is normally the only method of payment accepted. (There is also a transfer option, but this is only for those that have a Thai bank account).

Outlets Used in Thailand

Thailand is actually great when it comes to outlets, because their outlets can serve both American and European appliances. Plug types A, B, & C are all accepted. The standard voltage in Thailand is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz.

This is important to know if you have American appliances. This is because the plug may fit, but the energy may not be the same. In this case, you'll need an energy converter so you don't blow out your electronics.

Is the Water Safe to Drink in Chiang Mai?

If you travel to Chiang Mai you may notice some people saying the water is safe to drink, and some not.

We think it honestly depends on your tolerability, as well as the exact establishment that you are in.

We suggest asking someone working there if their water is in fact safe to drink or not. If you are sensitive, then we suggest sticking with bottled water.

Tipping Culture in Chiang Mai

The tipping culture in Thailand is not really set in stone. Tipping in Thailand isn't super typical. However, the fancier the establishment, the more likely you'll find others tipping a bit (up to 10%). For street food, taxis, and salon services, it isn't necessary at all.

However, if you're dining at a 5-star establishment (which chances are you wouldn't be in Chiang Mai), then you should considering leaving something a little extra.

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What to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Now that you know the basics for your travel to Chiang Mai, let's get into the fun stuff. Here we'll dive into what to do in Chiang Mai, inside the city, and outside.

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what to do in Chiang Mai pin
what to do in Chiang Mai pin

What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #1: Go Temple Hopping

If you're looking to explore some awesome temples in Thailand, then you'll definitely want to travel to Chiang Mai.

In just a few hours we saw over a dozen temples! Honestly you could spend days visiting the temples, as it truly seems like there is an endless amount.

While it may get a bit repetitive, there are definitely plenty of unique temples to check out. Here we'll list some of the best temples in Chiang Mai to check out.

temples, what to do in Chiang Mai
temples, what to do in Chiang Mai
temples, what to do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is full of beautiful and unique temples.

Wat Lok Moli

Located in the north of the city center, this was the first temple that we went to check out. This temple has beautiful design, and is pretty traditional looking.

Wat Lok Mol, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Lok Mol, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Lok Mol, what to do in Chiang Mai

Wat Lok Moli is traditional but has beautiful detail.

Wat Rajamontean

Located just across the street from Wat Lok Moli, this is another temple that has a stunning design and is pretty traditional in the way it looks. You won't need much time here, but due to it's convenience to Wat Lok Moli it definitely deserves a quick visit.

Wat Rajamontean Temple, what to do in Chiang Mai

This beautiful temple is just across the road from Wat Lok Moli.

Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan

We particularly liked this temple because it had a lot going on. When we went there was an event and they were giving out free Thai teas! The inside had tables for people to sit and enjoy their drinks as well.

Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan, what to do in Chiang Mai

Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan has tables and chairs inside.

Wat  Chiang Men

This is another pretty traditional temple. The feature that makes me recommend this one is one of the buildings built out of rock, as well as an impressive gold roof on top.

Wat Inthakin Sadue Muang

We particularly liked the black color of this temple. It also makes me think of the different colored temples that you can find in Chiang Rai.

Wat Jet Lin

Located on a small lake, I loved this temple for its bamboo bridge that leads from the temple and crosses the water. Wat Jet Lin has a cute and colorful atmosphere, making it more fun to walk around than some of the others.

Wat Jet Lin, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Jet Lin, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Jet Lin, what to do in Chiang Mai

Wat Jet Lin is super colorful and has a long bamboo bridge.

Wat Chedi Luang

This was another of my personal favorites. The complex houses several small temples, and a massively impressive stone tower in the middle.

Not only was it special for its unique ruins, but this is where we were able to experience our monk chat! (Keep reading to learn more about this).

Wat Chedi Luang Temple, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Chedi Luang Temple, what to do in Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang has unique temple ruins in the middle.

Wat Phan On

This magnificent red temple with gold accents  is not only stunning, but uplifting.

Simply walk around the garden that surrounds this temple and you'll find positive notes for better humanity. Wat Phan On also has picnic tables and a few food kiosks and souvenirs to check out.

Wat Phan On, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Phan On, what to do in Chiang Mai
Wat Phan On, what to do in Chiang Mai

Wat Phan On has a picnic area with kiosks and cute notes.

What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #2: Venture to An even More Epic Temple

The most famous temple of Chiang Mai is in fact outside the city. Head a half hour outside the city and you'll find Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a temple perched up in a mountain overlooking the city of Chiang Mai.

To get here you'll have to hire a tuk tuk, or grab a Grab. Make sure to dress properly before heading out there!

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What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #3: Have a Monk Chat 

When I was searching what to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I kept hearing of these "monk chats". It didn't spark my interest too much at first, but it ended up being such a special experience.

Junior monks love to practice their English, and tell others about what its like to be a monk. During a "monk chat" you can simply sit with one of these junior monks and have a casual conversation learning all about Buddhism and the life of a monk.

The monk and two young girls that were sitting with them were the sweetest people we met, and really taught us a lot about the daily life of a monk, and the beautiful values that they have. There is no price, no appointment necessary, and no time limit- just simply connecting with other humans!

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What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #4: Explore the Night Markets

Did you know that Thailand has some of the best markets in the world? Chiang Mai has several night markets, which actually are all lined up right near the river. 

You could seriously spend hours here browsing the homemade souvenirs and beautiful clothing, as well as indulging in the local food.

night market, what to do in Chiang Mai
night market, what to do in Chiang Mai
night market, what to do in Chiang Mai

The night markets are huge and offer a variety of handmade goods.

We suggest starting down at Anusarn market and walking up through the Night Bazaar Place. There are hundreds of kiosks, and you can even bargain a bit to add to the fun.

night market, what to do in Chiang Mai
night market, what to do in Chiang Mai

There are plenty of talented artists at the night markets.

What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #5: Take a Thai Cooking Class

Northern Thailand has incredible dishes, and one of the most fun things that you can do is have a cooking class with a local. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to do one, but my twin sister did one on her honeymoon, and highly recommended it. 

Here are a few ones that we've found you can book:

What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #6: Check Out the Straw Market

While the markets truly come alive at night, there is a mother small market that we were able to visit during the day that we loved. The straw market is located near the river as well, and has all handmade straw products. You can find everything from cute purses to extravagant furniture!

straw market, what to do in Chiang Mai
straw market, what to do in Chiang Mai
straw market, what to do in Chiang Mai

The straw market has all beautiful woven goods.

What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #7: Stop by the Umbrella Factory

This isn't one of the things that I would put at the top of the list, but only simply if you have extra time and are wondering what to do in Chiang Mai for extra activities.

Umbrellas are a staple of manufacturing in Chiang Mai, and there is a museum and factory where you can see them, as well as some other souvenirs. Located a bit outside the center, you'll have to take a taxi here. We suggest going early, as we got there around 4 and everything was closing.

umbrella factory, what to do in Chiang Mai
umbrella factory, what to do in Chiang Mai
umbrella factory, what to do in Chiang Mai

Just a little outside the center you can see the center of umbrella making in Thailand.

Play With the Elephants

This was hands down my favorite thing to do in Thailand. Chiang Mai is known for its elephant sanctuaries, but you have to be careful. Interacting with elephants is a magical experience, and you want to make sure you're visiting an ethical place.

Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. what to do in Chiang Mai
Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. what to do in Chiang Mai
Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand. what to do in Chiang Mai

My favorite experience in Thailand was visiting this elephant  sanctuary.

The one we went to we bathed the elephants, went on a trek through the jungle, and even got to wake up to them next to our cabin!

Want to know more about this experience? Make sure to check out our full article about the best elephant sanctuary in Thailand by checking out the guide below.

Thailand is full of fun and exciting experiences, and one for the bucket list is to visit an elephant sanctuary in Thailand. There are a lot of things to know about visiting these, and it's important to know your stuff before you choose a random tour.Using animals for tourism can

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What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #8: Enjoy the Nightlife

I love a good night out, and if you're wondering what to do in Chiang Mai after dinner, then I'm here to help. The nightlife was a super fun backpacker vibe, with a good mix of bars and clubs. Want to learn more? Skip to the nightlife section.

What to Do in Chiang Mai- Activity #9: Take a Trip to Chiang Rai

While Chiang Mai does have a number of beautiful temples, Chiang Rai is definitely home to the most stunning ones in the country. Chiang Rai is a popular day trip from Chiang Mai, and can easily be done with the great amount of tours out there.

white temple, things to do in Chiang Rai

Chiang Rai is home to the most stunning temples in Thailand.

Here are a few tours that you can choose from:

What to Do in Chiang Mai: Food & Drink

If you're wondering what to do in Chiang Mai for some great food, then we have a few recommendations. From the best local dishes to a good western brunch, here are our top picks for food & drinks in Chiang Mai.

Top Restaurant Picks in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is known for its markets, and here is where you can really enjoy some of the great street food. Apart from street food though, I did pick a few of my favorite sit down restaurants in the city.

Mama Thai Food

If you're looking for some great home cooked Thai food, then this is your spot. Everything we had was incredibly tasty, and the place is run by a local family. My top choices were the Pad Thai, spicy noodles, and the broccoli. Not only is the food delicious, but the prices are great!

Mama Thai, best restaurants in Chiang Mai

Mama Thai is a family run restaurant with delicious homemade food.


If you're one that likes cute cafes and Instagrammable spots, then Mars.cnx is a place you'll want to add to your list. We ended up not being able to sit down and eat here, but the inside was super cute! One of the walls actually looks like you've teleported to one of the slot canyons in the US.

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SS1254372 Cafe

With a name like this, it's hard to have high hopes. However, this was definitely our best breakfast in Chiang Mai! When it comes to breakfast, Thailand can be pretty hit or miss. Western breakfasts are very different than Eastern ones, and I love me a good western breakfast.

This cafe has everything from different eggs Benedict options to lavender infused coffee. The food is unbelievably delicious, and the interior of the cafe is cute and cozy.

lavender latte, best restaurants in Chiang Mai
best breakfast in Chiang Mai

Ma Chill Dee Cafe

This is another one of those super Instagrammable cafes to add to your list. Although located a bit outside the center, Ma Chill Dee Cafe is a fun spot to get some coffee and snacks while snapping away.

This place is super unique because it has large transparent domes filled with cushions and teddy bears. This is truly a little girls dream spot, as well as any influencer.

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Nightlife in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand has some great nightlife, and while most people think of the islands when they imagine partying the night away, I have to say Chiang Mai was a super fun night out.

Zoe in Yellow was first on our list to check out. Little did we know that this bar is actually surrounded by other small bars. We suggest starting at the smaller ones for some drinks (some even give popcorn too), and then heading to Zoe in Yellow when you're ready to start dancing.

In this area the bars closed around 2. But don't worry- because just down the road the party continues! Head over to Spicy if you're feeling a long and wild night out.

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What to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand For Getting Around

If you travel to Chiang Mai, you'll notice that there isn't anything like trains or metros, but simply tuk tuks, tuk tuks, and more tuk tuks. Oddly enough though, there are 2 different types of tuk tuks- the touristy ones, and the "local" ones.

Local Tuk Tuks

The local ones are larger, and fit more people. The drivers usually don't speak as much English, but the prices are super fair, and you don't need to sit there trying to bargain your way to a normal fare.

We absolutely loved this option, and found one to take us all over the city on our own tour for just a couple hundred baht. Honestly, we would have walked everywhere, but it was pouring rain the entire day, so it was a nice alternative.

Tourist Tuk Tuks

These are the typical small tuk tuks you'll find all over the city. They're honestly the biggest con artists, and look at westerners with dollar signs in their eyes. 

It's important to bargain like crazy with these tuk tuks, as they truly try to take advantage of tourists. You may think "oh it's just a few dollars" but at the end of the day giving in only makes the scenario worse and worse for those that travel to Chiang Mai, especially those on a budget, or that are living there.

Taxis in Chiang Mai

Taxis do make their way around the city, and can be flagged down if you're lucky. However, what we found was the best way to travel to Chiang Mai's outskirts is to use the Grab app. It's kind of like Uber, and although it's not the cheapest way to get around, it definitely eliminates the issue of trying to haggle your way to a decent price.

Here are a few other fun ways to get around Chiang Mai:

Rental Cars in Chiang Mai

While you don't need a car for the city center of Chiang Mai so much, there are a lot of great things on the outskirts of town.

So if you want to fully explore Chiang Mai, then it may be worth it to rent a car rather than taking a ton of tuk tuks or taxis. This will also help you save time, and the energy of having to bargain with drivers.

You can rent easily from the airport. We suggest doing so in advance so that you can save both time and money. We went in person and found only a few places had cars, and they were more expensive than the prices given online.

Rent a car in Chiang Mai:

What to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand For Accommodation

Chiang Mai is quite a big city. When I first started researching where to stay, I'll admit I felt a bit lost. Looking back now, it seemed much easier than I thought! Chiang Mai has a center, and it is outlined on Google Maps by a large square.

Anywhere located in the square is pretty ideal, or a bit to the east of it is okay too. We stayed at Lanna Tree, and really loved it! It was clean, spacious, had a pool, and was perfectly located near everything we wanted to do.

Additionally, Lanna Tree was just around the corner from the square of bars, making it perfect for those that want to grab some drinks and have a quick walk home.

Want to see some of the other best places to stay in Chiang Mai? Our friend Abbey has a full article to check out the best options:

Lanna Tree, where to stay in Chiang Mai

Lanna Tree is affordable, spacious, and is centrally located.

Is Chiang Mai Safe?

Chiang Mai is a very safe city, and at no point did I ever feel in danger, even walking around by myself or at night. Like anywhere though, you should always watch out for your belongings, as tourists are always targets for pickpocketing.

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