Next time you set your sights on Thailand, head up north and visit Chiang Mai. There’s so much to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s premier northern city. Chiang Mai is far more accessible and easier to navigate than Bangkok. It also has its own brand of charm and culture. From natural wonders to big-city attractions, you will not run out of things to do and see in Chiang Mai.
Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai
1. Wat Phra Singh
One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is to check out some of the Buddhist temples. Wat Phra Singh is an older temple built in 1385. It’s known locally as the golden temple for its bright golden hue.
One of the most fabulous things about this temple is how the gold leaf marries so well with the Lanna architecture of the north. Even if you have seen a lot of temples in your life, make sure that you put this one on your bucket list. It’s truly breathtaking.
2. Chai Lai Orchid Elephant Camp
If you have several days to spend up north, you have to check out the Chai Lai Orchid Elephant Camp. It’s one of the most exciting and enriching things to do in Chiang Mai, and going there will really help immerse you in the culture and give you a new appreciation for the gentle beasts we call elephants.
Spend some time with the elephants and get to know them. Participants can bathe, feed, play with and interact with the elephants in an eco-friendly sanctuary. It’s one of the highlights of the region and a great way to get back to nature and learn about Thailand’s favorite animal.
3. Wiang Kum Kam
Seeing this ancient archeological park is something that you must do in Chiang Mai. Located right on the Ping River, Wiang Kum Kam was once an important location for the great Thai kings of old. This massive park was built during the time of King Mangrai, and its proud remains are a testament to the power of the kings of old.
Many people prefer to spend the better part of the day exploring Wiang Kum Kam. You can take as long as you’d like, and you will undoubtedly re-emerge into the modern world with a new appreciation for the Lanna Kingdom and ancient Siam.
4. Royal Park Rajapruek
This newer park is one of the most essential things to see in Chiang Mai. It was built to honor the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was one of Thailand’s most cherished and esteemed rulers. The landscape of Royal Park Rajapruek is fantastic, with acres of manicured lawns and plenty of beautiful plants.
This pristine and peaceful park is a great place to go to get out of the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai and really get back to nature. You can walk through the park or explore it by bicycle.
5. Wat Lok Moli
If you love Lanna architecture, you can’t miss a visit to Wat Lok Moli. It’s one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai, and it will give you an unparalleled appreciation for the region and its history.
This temple is over 500 years old and was once a highly significant religious site. Today, people come from all over the world to see the meticulously carved wooden decorations.
See also: Where to stay in Chiang Mai
6. Chiang Dao Caves
There is plenty to do in Chiang Mai if you are a nature-lover. The Chiang Dao Caves are an intricate system built right into the northern Thai mountains.
There are roughly 100 caves to explore, although not all of them are open year-round. Choose which cave you want to delve into based on your fitness level and how much time you can spend. If you’re lucky, you might run across a hidden shrine deep within the cave complex itself. There is a small fee to enter, but most visitors agree that it’s well worth it.
You can easily access them from the city of Chiang Mai, and they make for a fantastic day trip. Look for tours within the city itself, or rent a car or bike to go explore the mountains on your own.
7. Weekend Market
Chiang Mai is known for its boisterous and beautiful weekend markets, and you would be missing out if you visited the city without checking one out.
The Chiang Mai weekend market is located right on Rachadamoen Road and is full of unique, handcrafted wares that you can only get in Chiang Mai. If you are looking for the perfect place to pick up souvenirs, this is it!
Chiang Mai is known for its intricate and lovely wood products, as well as a variety of different textiles. Generally speaking, you can haggle with the vendors to get the prices down if you wish.
You can also find incredible food at the weekend market, so don’t miss trying some of Chiang Mai’s prized dishes like Khao Soi Gai or northern sausage.
8. Three Kings Monument
Pay homage to the Thai kings of old at Three Kings Monument. This famous monument is one of the top things to see in Chiang Mai, and it will give you a deeper understanding of royal tradition and the history of northern Thailand.
The three kings featured are King Mengrai, King Ngam Muang and King Ramkhamhaeng. Several food stalls also surround the monument, so you can find something to snack on while you are learning about the importance of these great kings.
9. Doi Inthanon National Park
If you love adventure and the great outdoors, visiting Doi Inthanon National Park is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Located right at the breathtaking Doi Inthanon mountain range, this park is absolutely bursting with incredible hiking and trekking, as well as plenty of opportunities to get that perfect picture. If you’re feeling up to it, try to scale part of Doi Inthanon, the highest mountain in the country.
Doi Inthanon National Park is an easy day trip from Chiang Mai and the perfect place to lose yourself in the beauty of nature. Since there are trails fit for all fitness levels, there’s no reason why everyone can’t enjoy the majesty of this incredible Thai park.
10. Elephant Care at Elephant Retirement Park
Elephants are one of the most important animals in all of Thailand, and Elephant Retirement Park is a wonderful place to see these creatures enjoying life in their natural habitat.
It is a safe sanctuary where visitors are encouraged to interact with the animals and learn about them through entertaining and educational means. Elephants are well-cared for by their mahouts. Visit this sanctuary next time you are in Chiang Mai.
>>> Book your tour to the Elephant Conservation Centre <<<
11. Chang Puak Gate Night Market
You can’t visit Thailand without going to the Night Market. The Chang Puak Gate Night Market is one of the top things to see in Chiang Mai. This market is vast and full of wonderful wares and incredible food.
Even if you are not looking for any souvenirs, you will love wandering the streets of this iconic night market, soaking in the atmosphere, and sampling some of northern Thailand’s best dishes.
Be warned that you might get lost for a long time while wandering through the Chang Puak Gate Night Market, so set aside plenty of time for your outing. You are sure to find something spectacular in one of the stalls, and you will cherish your experience at the night market for years to come.
12. Huay Kaew Waterfall
This waterfall is hidden away in the bountiful nature that surrounds Chiang Mai, and you can visit it with an easy day trip from the city. It is known for its soothing natural splendor and offers visitors a sense of relaxation and calm.
People love to visit this waterfall to picnic and relax, but you can also go hiking. If the weather is nice, people like to swim in the waterfall pools, but these can get somewhat chilly at certain points during the year.
The Huay Kaew Waterfall is a sublime example of the natural wonder that surrounds Chiang Mai, and what makes this city so unique.
13. Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden
Queen Sirikit is Thailand’s beloved queen mother and one of the most celebrated figures in the country. In Chiang Mai, the Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is a wonderfully bright and fragrant collection of pristine gardens that you simply must see to believe.
The garden is set outside of the city itself, but you can get a tour in town or rent a bike to go there on your own. Visitors can easily spend the better part of the day immersing themselves in the beauty of the garden and learning about Thailand’s various species of tropical flowers.
Visiting Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden is a great way to spend the afternoon, and not too many tourists make the trip to do so. You might find yourself all alone with the glorious expanse of the gardens, a great way to recharge your batteries and experience the best of the Thai north.
14. Chiang Mai Zoo
Located right in the center of the city, the Chiang Mai Zoo is a world-class attraction and one of the primary things that you should see in Chiang Mai. It’s a massive complex that stretches almost 200 acres and houses hundreds of different kinds of animals.
The sheer size of the Chiang Mai Zoo means that all of the animals have ample habitats to roam around in, so it is conservation and animal friendly as well as a fun place to spend the afternoon.
One of the most notable exhibits at the Chiang Mai Zoo is the unique birds. This zoo boasts dozens of species of rare birds, and you are unlikely to see them anywhere else in the world, in the wild or in captivity.
15. Bua Tong Waterfall
Another must-see waterfall, Bua Tong Waterfall, is notable for its composition. Locals refer to it as a sticky waterfall, and you can climb up the side of it if you dare. The stickiness is caused by the slick limestone that makes up the waterfall and attracts plenty of daredevils every year.
If you decide that climbing the waterfall isn’t for you, you can always hike out there and enjoy your day near the base of the Bua Tong Waterfall. There’s plenty of space to hike and picnic right around the waterfall itself.
Although it’s a small distance outside of Chiang Mai, you can easily get a tour from the city or head out by yourself on a motorbike.Be advised that motorbikes sometimes act up if you are going up an incline, so prepare to walk a bit if you want to experience the waterfall in its true glory.
16. Wat Srisuphan
Also known as the silver temple, Wat Srisuphan is a gorgeous complex that was initially built in the time of King Mangrai. It remains a popular place to meditate and pray today, and there’s a good chance that you may encounter at least one Buddhist monk if you visit this temple.
The decorations are what really make Wat Srisuphan so spectacular. The intricate carvings put other temples to shame, and the lustrous silver craftsmanship is second to none. If you take your time, you can easily spend the better part of the morning or afternoon soaking in the delights of this fantastic temple.
17. Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre
If you need a break from temples but still want to learn about Thai history, why not check out the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre? This state-of-the-art facility takes visitors on a deep dive into how Chiang Mai came to be, its importance in the early days of Siam, and the Lanna culture.
Chiang Mai is different than Bangkok in the south, and this museum lovingly points out how the two cities differ but are the same. There are plenty of artifacts, and even a tiny Lanna village recreated out of wood. You can see the delicate details in the replica and fully appreciate Lanna art and culture.
18. Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is one of the best examples of ancient Lanna architecture in all of Chiang Mai, and it’s something that you should not miss when you are visiting this city. Visitors can soak in the floral carvings and intricate bits of the ancient facade, as well as stroll through the stunning gardens that surround this temple.
Built in the 14th century, Wat Phan Tao was one of the most important temples in the ancient world. Today, it’s a monument to innovation and the Lanna culture. If you love history, visiting this temple is one of the best things that you can do in Chiang Mai.
19. Karen Hill Tribe
Step outside of Chiang Mai and head up to the hills to spend the day with a phenomenal tribe of people that you will not forget anytime soon. The Karen Hill Tribe are also known as the longneck people because of their unique jewelry choices.
The tribal women wear heavy rings around their necks, elongating them over the course of their lives. The Karen people welcome visitors to their village, and you can buy any number of exciting and unique souvenirs while you are there.
These fascinating people have a deep history steeped in tradition and lore, and you should go to visit them on your next trip to Chiang Mai. Tours to visit the Karen Hill Tribes can be booked in Chiang Mai itself. You can also visit the tribes on your own by renting a motorbike and heading up north.
20. Walking Street
Most Thai cities have a Walking Street, and Chiang Mai is no exception. Walking Streets are the places where there’s fun to be had, plenty of souvenirs, and authentic food. Chiang Mai’s Walking Street is located at Tha Pae.
On Sundays, you can visit the Tha Pae Walking Street Market and really get a good glimpse of what Chiang Mai is all about. Plan to spend the day at the market, because you will want to linger for hours with all of the sights, sounds, and traditional Thai foods that you can enjoy.
This street is famous for silk and wood products, so why not see if you can score that fabulous kimono that you’ve always wanted, or pick up a wooden carving. Remember to haggle!
Chiang Mai is one of the most charming and magical cities in all of Thailand. From the stunning natural beauty of Chiang Mai’s countryside to the bustling city streets themselves, there is so much to do and see in Chiang Mai.
Put these twenty things on your bucket list, and set aside some time to do a little bit of exploring on your own. You might stumble across something fantastic!