Visit Chiang Mai Like Boss – Ultimate List Of What To See And Do

July 11, 2019

The Bucketlist Of What To See And Do In Chiang Mai

After living in Chiang Mai, Thailand for over two years, you can say we did our share of experiencing some of the best things to do. We took our time looking for the most amazing places to see and fun things to do in during our time in "Thailand's Northern Capital." Although we would never call ourselves local, we weren't exactly tourists either. Our suggestions of what to see and in Chiang Mai include some top tourist attractions as well as more laid back, "off the beaten track" activities and places. Though some of the items on our "Chiang Mai Bucketlist" below may be underrated, don't underestimate how epic of a time you can still have trying them on your visit.

1. Hang Out With Elephants

Notice that I didn't say "ride elephants." Spending some time with elephants would be my number one recommendation (without a doubt one of the top ten) of things to do in Chiang Mai. The best way to experience some time with these lovely creatures is by choosing an ethical elephant camp. These are camps where badly treated elephants are given a chance at a decent life and are not trained to entertain people for profit purposes.

Places like Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary allow visitors to interact with elephants while learning about their backgrounds and behaviors. It is so much fun to feed the elephants and see their personalities. You also get to cover them in mud and give them a bath in the creek, in their natural habitat. There aren't that many places in the world where you can have such a rich experience with these giants, so take advantage of it while you're in Thailand!

best things to do in Chiang Mai - feed elephants

Pro-Tip: Here are our top favorite things to do for quick reference:

2. Mae Sa Waterfall Picnic & Swim

If you're looking for a truly local thing to do while in Chiang Mai, head over to Mae Sa Waterfall. You can easily spend half a day here either hiking or splashing around in the water. To make your trip even more memorable, pack a lunch with you and have a picnic there.

There are pic nic tables available but you can also rent a mat from one of the vendors at the bottom of the waterfall. Alternatively, if you happen to have a camping hammock, this would be an awesome place to take it for the day! You can also purchase food for your pic nic from these vendors. Try the grilled chicken with sticky rice and papaya salad for a truly authentic Thai outing!

top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai - Mae Sa Waterfall

3. Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Undoubtedly, one of the top ten things to do for visitors in Chiang Mai is a tour of this majestic temple on the mountain-top.  This holy Buddhist temple is a dazzling structure, providing a peaceful and spiritual station for prayer and reflection as well as meditation.

After a tour of the temple and surrounding grounds, take a look at the incredible views of the city. Chiang Mai can be seen in it's entirety from the viewpoints up here and should certainly not be missed.

If your travels in Southeast Asia also take you to Myanmar, you might also like to see what we had to say about the temples in Bagan.

top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai - See Doi Suthep Temple

4. See Temples In The Old City

The Old City Chiang Mai is itself a famous tourist attraction as well as being the downtown. Walking around this part of town will most likely include a temple sighting, even if unintentional. A lot of famous Buddhist temples are located within the moat that border the Old City. Some of our favorite temples to see include, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Phan Tao which are all within walking distance of each other.

what to see and do in Chiang Mai - Old City Wat Chedi Luang

5. Go To The Famous Night Markets

Even if you're not really looking to make any purchases, we highly suggest you still try to catch one of the night markets in town. The weekly Saturday and Sunday night markets are massive. Even in the rainy season they may be packed with both tourists and locals.

Some great street food can be had here. We would suggest trying some Pad Thai here as well as sticky rice with mango. If you do feel like doing some shopping, make sure to haggle and bargain for lower prices. The markets are a great place to purchase souvenirs and gifts, but just fun to walk around in as well. If you're not there on a weekend, you can always stop by at the Night Bazaar any day and get the same experience.

top 20 things to do in Chiang Mai - go to a night market

6. Drink Amazing Coffee In The Nimman Neighborhood

We lived in the Nimmanhaeminda area and can tell you that we tried pretty much all of the cafes there. If you're a coffee connoisseur you must stop by at some of the famous cafes here such as Ristr8to, Nine One,  and Dolcetto. The coffee here is fantastic!

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Cafe in Nimman

7. Go For A Motorbike Ride Around Samoeng Loop

The beauty of Norther Thailand is way better on motorbike than from the inside of a car. If you have an international license (and helmet) go for this scenic ride. It takes about 4-5 hours to complete with a couple of rest stops. The best place to stop is once you arrive at the Samoeng Forest Viewpoint.

best things to do in Chiang Mai - motorbike Samoeng Loop

8. North Gate Jazz

Enjoy a night out with live music and some drinks with friends.

North Gate Jazz in Chiang Mai Things To Do

9. Eat Authentic Northern Thai Food

Go with a local guide to try some tasty foods in this area.

top 20 things to do in Chiang Mai - eat northern Thai food

Khao Soi and Norther Thai sausage are delicious foods that we loved while living in Chiang Mai.

10. Take A Thai Cooking Class

Every time we had visitors in Chiang Mai, we took them to Thai Cooking classes and they loved it!

what to see and do in Chiang Mai - Thai Cooking Class

Click here to check out a cooking class that we recommend in Chiang Mai.

11. Buad Haad Park

This park is on the outer corner of the Old City and a great place to chill, even get a massage!

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Buan Haad Park

12. Chill Out Under A Bungalow at Huay Tung Tao Lake

what to see and do in Chiang Mai - Huay Tung Tao Lake

What a relaxing place this is! Sit back and enjoy this gorgeous reservoir with Doi Suthep mountain in the background! You can spend at entire day here. Take a board game, eat some fantastic Thai food, and take a nap, all under a cool bungalow.

This is one of our favorite day trips to take when we are in Chiang Mai. It's just nice to be able to go a short distance and get away from the hustle and bustle (and tourism) of the city and just hang out where the locals do.

13. Walk Up The Sticky Waterfall

Take a tour there!

best things to do in Chiang Mai - climb sticky waterfall

14. Have a Night Out By The River

There are some great, underrated places top enjoy a drink or a meal by the Ping River, away from the crowds and with the most romantic views.

what to see in Chiang Mai - Ping River Night Life

15. Eat The Best Street Food

Hit up the North Gate or South Gate food stalls nightly for some of the best street food you can find.

16. Check Out The Street Art

Chiang Mai things to see and do - street art

17. Get A Massage

top 20 things to do in Chiang Mai - get a massage

18. Ride The Public Transportation

Ride A SongThaew and a Tuk Tuk. Songthaews are the red trucks that you'll see all around town. A ride should cost around 30 baht just about anywhere you want to go in town. Tuk Tuks are a bit more expensive but fun to experience!

top 10 things to do in Chiang Mai - ride tuk tuk

19. Drink Thai Iced Tea

20. Visit One Of A Kind Cafes

Giant Chiang Mai

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Giant Tree Cafe

Clay Studio

best things to do in Chiang Mai- Terra Cotta Cafe

21. Go On A Night Safari

22. Chiang Mai Zoo

The perfect thing to do in Chiang Mai with kids!

23. Go To A 3D Art Museum

Take some fun photos with some tricky art. Get tickets here.

#throwback to our visit to #artinparadise #3dart #museum in #chiangmai #thailand #tbt

24. Zipline The Forest Canopy

You might even see some wild gibbons! I had a blast with Flight Of The Gibbon Zipline Tours.

top 20 things to do in Chiang Mai - zipline

25. Soak In The Hot Springs

Visit San Kampaeng hot springs and boil an egg for a snack!

what to see in Chiang Mai - San Kampaeng Hot Springs

26. Go To The Highest Place in Thailand: Doi Inthanon

See the twin pagodas at the top of the highest peak in the country. This national park also has some stunning waterfalls to see!

what to see in Chiang Mai - Doi Inthanon National Park

27. Sleep In A Treehouse

Just a short distance from Chiang Mai is a resort with some unique accommodations. You can choose from several different treehouse designs and see how it feels to sleep in the forest for a couple of nights.

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Treehouse Resort

28. Experience The Lantern Festival

Yee Peng is a once a year festival when you can see thousands of floating lanterns in the night sky.

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Yee Peng Festival with Lanterns

29. Bo Sang Umbrella Village

Try to catch the Umbrella Festival if you can for the best display of these lovely, colorful parasols.

what to see in Chiang Mai - Bo Sang Umbrella Village

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Taiss Nowrouzi

About the Author

Taiss Nowrouzi

Hi! I'm just a California girl addicted to travel and adventure with a passion for art and dance on the side. Born in Iran, but I consider myself a citizen of Earth, adhering to the belief that "The world is but one country and mankind its citizen." I strive to make a positive impact on everyone I meet and learn as much as possible from them. My degree out of college is in Marketing. However, I entered the hospitality business at an early age and worked my way up to hotel management. After about 13 years in that industry (5 of which I was a hotel assistant manager), I made the decision to move to Thailand and leave the 9 to 5 grind behind. My husband and I set off for a life of living abroad and hopes to continue traveling the world, just 3 months after our wedding. It all started with the two of us, along with our cat, together in Thailand. Can't wait to see where life takes us next!

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Great tips. Chiang Mai definitely grew on us and we have many favorite places, many of which you mentioned. We also enjoyed the weekly hikers group that goes up Doi Inthanon (they post events on facebook).'
    Taiss Nowrouzi

    I love the weekly hike up Doi Inthanon idea! Thanks for letting us know about the FB group! We will have to join that on our next trip!'

Whenever my friends are coming here in Chiang Mai, I always tell them to go here during the lantern festival. Being able to see all the lanterns in the sky is so surreal it makes you feel like you’re in a magical place. To be honest, I have never seen anything like it and I wouldn’t get tired of watching it every year.'
    Taiss Nowrouzi

    Yes, Chiang Mai has the best Lantern Festival! We loved the two times that we’ve experienced it!'
    Rosio Soto Fraire

    Hi HappyLuke,

    We are planning our first lantern festiva this year and we are lost on what location to go to and where to purchase tickets. Can you please help!!! Which one should we go to? Where should we stay? How long in advance should we book a hotel?'
      Taiss Nowrouzi

      Hello Rosio! We have another article that gives details about the Lantern Festival in Chiang Mai.You don’t necessarily need to purchase tickets to attend unless you want to go to the private event at Mae Jo University (it’s probably expensive anyway). You can just go to the festival at the Ping River. If you get a hotel in the Old City you will be close. I think you would probably book your stay at least a couple of weeks in advance as this is a busy time! Let us know if you any other questions!

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