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

what to do and see 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.

After being away for 5 years, we were just back in Chiang Mai a couple of months ago and had to experience all of these activities again!

We can certainly say that none of this ever gets old for us!

We’ve even added a few new things that we did during this last visit and even updated some additional information on some of the previously listed items.

You can be sure we’ve got it all covered here!

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

The last time we were in Chiang Mai, we decided to stay at Chai Lai Orchid so that we could get the ultimate immersion into the elephant experience.

They offer nice cabins in the jungle just outside the city where you can spend the night and be greeted by an elephant for breakfast! 

The stay was absolutely magical because it allowed us to hang out with elephants for an afternoon “happy hour” at the cafe as well as a full tour that included feeding and getting in the river with the elephants! 

Needless to say our whole family (especially our 4 year old) had an absolute blast!

Chiang Mai Elephants - must do in

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 picnic 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 picnic 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 its 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.image 8329250 10778981

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

For all the time that we had spent in Chiang Mai, we had never visited the “Silver Temple.” So, on this last visit we made it a priority to get to this one and it was great to see it!

Wat Srisuphan is over 500 years old and should be on your list of must-see temples in Chiang Mai.

There is even a meditation room where visitors are encouraged to stop in and practice or learn about meditation.

Wat Si Suphan - Silver Temple Chiang Mai

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

Now there is even a night market in the Nimman neighbohood! You can catch it at 1 Nimman.

The courtyard and outer edge of this modern complex get packed with vendors and food stalls. There is even live music on the weekends!

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!

We had delicious coffee while visiting Salento, Colombia and this was right up there with that experience so that says a lot!

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Cafe in Nimman

7. Go For A Motorbike Ride Around Samoeng Loop

The beauty of Northern Thailand is way better on a 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 Northern 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 is a great place to chill, and 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! We took this tour with our little one and it turned out to be one of her favorite activities.

The cool water and fun concept of being able to walk up the waterfall made it a great spot to visit!

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

Finding a massage place is not hard in Chiang Mai as there are at least a couple on almost every block in the tourist areas.

Sometimes they could be hit or miss but once you find a good spot, you might find yourself going back over and over like we did on our visit!

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

best things to do in Chiang Mai - Giant Tree Cafe
Giant Chiang Mai

21. Go On A Night Safari

22. Chiang Mai Zoo

The perfect thing to do in Chiang Mai with kids!

20150118 001353

23. Go To A 3D Art Museum

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

art paradise chiang mai
#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

We have also covered some of the different things to do in Chiang Rai compared to Chiang Mai for those visiting both cities in Northern Thailand.

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
Visit Chiang Mai Like Boss – Ultimate List Of What To See And Do
6 responses
  1. Happyluke Avatar

    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.

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      Taiss Nowrouzi

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

    2. Rosio Soto Fraire Avatar
      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?

      1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
        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!

  2. Michelle Avatar

    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).

    1. Taiss Nowrouzi Avatar
      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!

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Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. We set off to live a life in as many places as possible. To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.
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