14 Best Things To Do in Chiang Mai For Your First Time

Best Things To Do In Chiang Mai

1. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without experiencing the breathtaking <a class="container"<span class="logos--google-maps"> </span>  Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

It's perched atop Doi Suthep mountain, offering stunning panoramic views of Chiang Mai city. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep promises an unforgettable experience, blending cultural immersion and breathtaking beauty.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - Things To Do in Chiang Mai

Steeped in history and legend, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is cherished in Thai culture.

Legend has it that a sacred relic from Sukhothai miraculously split, with one half finding its home at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. This event solidified the temple's status as one of Thailand's most sacred sites. Many devotees visit the temple to pray and find solace.

A friend of mine shared a personal story about a wish coming true. Whether you choose to follow suit is entirely up to you, but approaching the temple with respect and an open mind is key.

What to Wear to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

You have to climb 306 stair steps to reach the temple, we recommend:

  • Wear comfortable walking shoes
  • Bring water and a hat if you go in the daylight

And also, since it's a sacred Buddhist temple, cover your shoulders and knees.

2. Wat Chedi Luang

Chiang Mai boasts a treasure trove of ancient temples, but Wat Chedi Luang stands out as a true marvel.

A devastating earthquake centuries ago humbled this once-dominant structure, leaving a powerful testament to the resilience of the Chedi and the Lanna people.

Wat Chedi Luang - Top Things To Do in Chiang Mai

Wat Chedi Luang, with its tall stupa damaged by earthquakes, shares stories from the past. Despite being only half its original size, this grand structure continues to impress visitors with its huge scale.

Even after multiple visits, I can't help but be stunned by Wat Chedi Luang's presence. The architecture of the Lanna Kingdom inspires awe and respect for its skill and craftsmanship.

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3. Wat Umong

Nestled amidst the foothills of Doi Suthep lies a secret sanctuary - Wat Umong.

Carved into the hillside, Wat Umong offers a unique temple experience. Explore ancient tunnels and remnants of a bygone era and discover hidden Buddha statues bathed in an ethereal glow.

Wat Umong provides a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Step into its hushed embrace. Lush greenery and the soft murmur of prayer flags create an atmosphere of serenity, inviting you to shed the city's clamor and reconnect with your inner peace.

Visiting Wat Umong In A Different Way

There is a unique and cool way to visit Wat Umong and Wat Phra That Doi Suthep - a night tour.

A night tour offers a different perspective on these popular Chiang Mai landmarks. You'll start your journey at Wat Umong, explore the ancient tunnels, and see the Buddha image bathed in the fading light.

Then, as the sunset arrives, you'll head up to Doi Suthep, enjoying the breathtaking panorama of Chiang Mai illuminated against the twilight sky. The glittering cityscape is a sight to behold.

Also, you can also explore the magnificent Wat Phra That Doi Suthep bathed in soft lighting. The golden chedis and intricate architecture take on a special charm under the night sky. You might even get the chance to witness a traditional evening ceremony performed by monks (depending on the tour).

Get this unforgettable experience here

4. Wat Sri Suphon

Wat Sri Suphon, popularly known as the Silver Temple, is a unique architecture in Chiang Mai.

This temple is not as popular as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep or Wat Phra Singh, as it's a small temple. But what makes it so special is that the whole temple was built with a mixture of aluminum and silver.

As you enter the temple's grounds, you'll see its stunning exterior decorated with detailed silver designs that shine in the sunlight. The facade is adorned with silver panels showing scenes from Buddhist mythology and local folklore, displaying the exceptional skill of the artisans who created this masterpiece.

The interior of Wat Sri Suphon is equally impressive. Delicate silver decorations adorn every surface and reflect the soft glow of candlelight.

However, it's worth noting that only men can enter the temple's interior. Women can only walk around the temple's exterior and admire its beauty.

5. Wat Phra Singh

Right in the heart of Chiang Mai's Old Town is a jewel of Lana architecture radiating spiritual significance - Wat Phra Singh.

The 14th-century temple is stunning with its classic Lanna style, featuring golden chedis and intricate teakwood structures.

Wat Phra Singh - top things to do in chiang mai

The main attraction of Wat Phra Singh is its stunning golden chedi, which appears to reach into the sky and has been a guiding light for worshippers for many years. The golden chedi, with its surface glistening in the sunlight, is a truly awe-inspiring sight and the most iconic feature of the temple.

Another popular attraction is the revered Phra Buddha Sihing statue, a sacred relic that holds immense significance for Thai Buddhists and is believed to date back over 700 years. Wat Phra Singh is also home to Chiang Mai's most famous Buddhist library, its ancient walls sheltering a treasure trove of sacred texts and manuscripts.

Don't miss visiting Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai to experience its rich culture and spirituality.

6. Baan Kang Wat Art Village

Check out Baan Kang Wat Art Village if you're in Chiang Mai. It's our favorite place.

It's a vibrant community of artists, designers, and craftspeople specializing in everything from ceramics and woodwork to textiles and jewelry.

baan kang wat art village

Beyond the unique souvenirs and handmade treasures, Baan Kang Wat offers a chance to immerse yourself in the creative process. Join a workshop, learn a new skill, or relax at a cozy cafe surrounded by artistic inspiration.

Whether you're an art enthusiast or just looking for a place to relax and enjoy the local culture, Baan Kang Wat is a true gem waiting to be discovered.

7. Chiang Mai Old City

At the heart of Chiang Mai, you'll find a living, breathing, and colorful place - Chiang Mai Old Town.

Chiang Mai's Old Town exudes timeless beauty and endless fascination. Every corner reveals a new adventure, and every step is a journey through history. It's a great place to learn about the city, with culture and charm all around.

The streets are narrow and lined with beautiful temples, each with its own story to tell. Wat Chedi Luang has impressive ruins, while Wat Phra Singh is known for its intricate beauty.

Tip:

  • Is Chiang Mai Old City walkable? Yes, exploring Chiang Mai Old City on foot can be a great way to experience it. So, make sure to wear comfortable walking shoes to fully enjoy the experience.
  • Another great way to explore the city is by renting a bicycle and riding around. This allows you to enjoy the city at your own pace and in a delightful manner. Renting a bicycle can cost about 100 - 150 THB /day.
  • Don't forget to check out flyers in hotels or public places for cool events. We stumbled upon the Chiang Mai Design Week event while wandering the city, and it was an amazing experience.

8. Chiang Mai & Lanna Kingdom Museums

We believe understanding the history enhances the overall experience, transforming the destination into more than just a place.

Chiang Mai is an ancient city in Thailand. When visiting, it's important to delve into the city's history and the Lanna Kingdom. Here are two excellent museums that we think you should visit.

Lanna Folklife Museum:

Immerse yourself in the rich tapestry of Lanna's life at the Lanna Folklife Museum. Explore meticulously crafted dioramas showcasing traditional village life, from everyday activities to intricate crafts. Listen to the soft murmur of explanations as you navigate the thoughtfully curated galleries, each offering a unique window into Lanna's vibrant past. Learn about the history and traditions behind the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals, and see their colorful decorations come alive through detailed explanations. The Lanna Folklife Museum is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in uncovering the secrets of Northern Thai history and culture.

Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center:

Step across from the Lanna Folklife Museum to the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center, where the city's story unfolds. This museum delves into Chiang Mai's fascinating journey, from its ancient founding to its contemporary cultural tapestry. Explore well-laid-out exhibits that introduce the diverse communities that call Chiang Mai home. We personally have a deep love for Chiang Mai and always make a point of visiting this museum whenever we are in town. Learning more about what you love is always a good thing in our book.

9. Loy Krathong & Yee Peng Festival

If possible, travel to Chiang Mai during Loy Krathong (usually in November, but double check as it varied by year). It's the most magical and beautiful time in Chiang Mai, we assure you!

Loy Krathong and Yee Peng are two different festivals that happen at the same time. So, you can get to experience two beautiful festivals in one go!

  • Loy Krathong (Festival of Lights): Loy Krathong is a water festival celebrated on the full moon of the 12th lunar month. People float krathongs, small decorated baskets, on rivers and lakes, symbolizing the release of negativity and honoring water spirits.
  • Yee Peng (Lantern Festival): This ancient tradition lights up the night sky with a mesmerizing display of floating lanterns. During this festival, people gather to release lanterns into the sky, creating a magical display that symbolizes the release of worries and hopes for a brighter future.

Note: Releasing sky lanterns within the city is prohibited due to safety concerns. However, there are privately organized events where you can release sky lanterns, typically costing $150 to $200 to attend.

During the Loy Krathong festival, Chiang Mai transforms into a vibrant hub of celebrations with parades, traditional performances, and contagious energy filling the streets.

While the lanterns steal the show, there's so much more to discover. Witness beautiful temple decorations, participate in lantern-making workshops, and soak up the spirit of the festivities.

Loy Krathong and Yee Peng in Chiang Mai is a sensory overload in the best way possible. It's a chance to witness breathtaking beauty, experience vibrant culture, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Tip to enjoy Loy Krathong in Chiang Mai

  • Local events occur every 3 days during the Loy Krathong festival at various city locations. The schedule may vary, so ask locals for accurate information.
  • It usually begins in front of the Three Kings Monument with a traditional performance, lantern decorations, and more.
  • Then, the main parade will start from the Tha Phae gate to the Ping River.
  • You can also go to the rivers and float your krathong out into the water.
  • If you get to the parade, it will be packed with people, so be careful with your belongings.
  • You will walk a lot if you want to fully enjoy the event, wear really comfortable shoes!

10. Jing Jai Farmers Market

In addition to the Baan Kang Wat village mentioned earlier, another place we fell in love with in Chiang Mai is the famous Jing Jai Farmers Market.

This weekend market is where you can buy locally produced organic food and high-quality handicrafts. It's a vibrant cultural hub in Chiang Mai, featuring many local brands that sell beautiful items.

Jing Jai is known for its popularity and is a must-visit for anyone in Chiang Mai. However, it can get quite crowded, so arriving early (before 8 am) is best to secure parking and avoid the rush. After 9 am, the place is packed.

11. MAIIAM Museum

After Jing Jai Market, for a dose of contemporary art, head to MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum. This hidden gem features a collection of groundbreaking works by established and emerging Thai and Southeast Asian artists, pushing the boundaries of traditional art

Step into MAIIAM and creativity wash over you. The architecture itself is a marvel, blending modern lines with touches of classic Thai style.

Inside, a diverse range of contemporary art – from thought-provoking paintings to captivating installations – challenges perspectives and ignites your imagination.

A visit to MAIIAM isn't just about viewing art; it's a journey that sparks emotions, broadens your horizons, and leaves a lasting impression

Tip: Combine visiting Jing Jai Market and MAIIAM museum to save transportation time, as both are a little far from the city center.

12. Vibrant Night Markets

As the sun sets in Chiang Mai, the city comes alive with its famous night markets!

From the bustling Chiang Mai Night Bazaar with street food and souvenirs to the lively Saturday Walking Street with live music and handcrafted goods, there's a market for everyone. Exploring a night market is a must-do in Chiang Mai.

It's a sensory experience with dazzling lights, friendly vendors, and the aroma of delicious Thai cuisine. Don't miss trying classic pad Thai, fragrant curries, or crispy spring rolls. Finish with mango sticky rice and a refreshing Thai iced tea.

After shopping and snacking, relax with a foot or traditional Thai massage at one of the market's massage parlors to recharge and soothe your weary feet after exploring.

Our favorite night markets in Chiang Mai:

  • Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market: The night market opens only on Sundays in front of the Three Kings Monuments. It's the biggest here and you can find almost anything. Keep your belongings with you as it can get crowded.
  • Wua Lai Walking Street: The Saturday Night Market is located on Wua Lai Road, just off the south side of the old city walls, and is renowned for its delectable street food.
  • One Nimman Night Market: It's more of a hippie and modern culture hub where you can find lots of fantastic coffee and food. Some of them are even in the Michelin guide. However, the prices are a bit higher than other night markets.

13. Chiang Mai's Street Food

One of the reasons why we love Chiang Mai so much is its food. Really, the city will tantalize your taste buds, nourish your soul, and leave you with a lasting appreciation for the art of  northern Thai cuisine.

Northern Thai cuisine is a delightful blend of sweet, salty, sour, and spicy flavors. One of the most iconic dishes from northern Thailand is Khao Soi, a delicious meal consisting of rich coconut milk broth, springy egg noodles, and tender meat. We absolutely adore it.

While Khao Soi is a must-try, Chiang Mai offers a treasure trove of unique dishes waiting to be discovered. Sample the explosion of herbs and spices in Sai Ua, a delectable sausage packed with lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves. For a lighter experience, explore Nam Prik Ong, a smoky chili paste dip perfect with fresh vegetables.

Our Favorite Restaurants in Chiang Mai

There are numerous fantastic restaurants in Chiang Mai. We'd like to highlight some of our favorites, and we're always eager to return to explore more.

  • Khao Soi Khun Yai. The best khao soi restaurant to us. It gets packed really fast so you should come early.
  • Kao Soy Nimman. A Michelin Guide-recommended restaurant known for its variety of khao soi options, including more than just the traditional beef and chicken.
  • CHUM Northern Kitchen. A great restaurant with a slightly higher price but the taste of their northern Thailand food is killing it.
  • Aroy Dee. A small street food vendor is excelling by offering authentic northern Thai cuisine. We suggest trying the delicious stir-fried shrimp with curry powder.
  • ร้านตำยำช้างเผือก. Our favorite place for papaya salad and roasted pork. Warning: This place only serves spicy food.
  • SP Chicken. Amazing roasted chicken with sticky rice. The food is delicious, but the queue is long. Oh, don't forget to try its spicy beef soup.

14. Chiang Mai's Coffee Culture

If you're looking for a place where your love for coffee is celebrated and nurtured, look no further than Chiang Mai. This captivating city boasts a coffee culture deeply rooted in tradition and brimming with exciting innovation.

Chiang Mai's coffee story begins with the rich, fertile soil of the surrounding mountains, ideal for cultivating high-quality Arabica beans. Local farmers meticulously process these beans, preserving their unique flavors. But Chiang Mai's coffee scene doesn't stop at the bean.

Here, you'll find a vibrant community of passionate roasters dedicated to bringing out the best in each cup. The true magic of Chiang Mai's coffee culture lies in its cafes. These welcoming spaces are more than places to grab a caffeine fix; they're vibrant hubs for connecting with fellow coffee enthusiasts.

You can find award-winning baristas serving high-quality lattes at Ristr8to. Or, you can enjoy a really good cup of Dirty coffee at Brewginning, a famous Instagrammable place known for its great taste and photogenic qualities. For a more authentic and relaxed atmosphere, head to Bart Coffee to enjoy your day.

There are so many places in Chiang Mai with a diverse range of coffee experiences for you to explore.

As someone who works remotely, I can tell you that Chiang Mai's cozy cafes are perfect for getting work done. Take a seat, soak in the ambiance, and let the world drift by as you enjoy a delicious cup of coffee.

Where To Stay In Chiang Mai

When traveling to Chiang Mai, the best place to stay depends on your preferences and itinerary. The city is not very big, so transportation is not a big concern. You can choose where you prefer to stay.

For instance, if you want to stay in the heart of Chiang Mai to learn more about the culture and history of the city, Chiang Mai's Old Town would be the best option. But, if you prefer a place with a more modern lifestyle and easier access to cafes and restaurants, Nimmanhaemin would be a better choice. Or, you can find a resort near the riverside to relax and enjoy the scenery.

The choice is yours.

How To Get To Chiang Mai

Flight

You can fly directly to Chiang Mai International Airport, which is located near the city center, just 10 to 15 minutes away.

Tip: It’s best to acquire an eSIM in advance to book a ride using apps like Bolt and Grab. Buy your SIM online here.

Train

The train route from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a popular choice, known for its beautiful scenery. Depending on the train you choose, the journey takes around 10 to 14 hours.

We recommend purchasing at least a 2nd class sleeper with AC for a more enjoyable journey, costing around $50. You can check the price here.

Tip: Buy it online or get to the station to buy the ticket a few days before as it runs out fast.

Bus

Chiang Mai is well-connected to many other cities by bus, including Bangkok. The journey takes around 10 hours and costs about $25 for a first-class seat. You can also book a bus ticket here on 12go.

If you want to travel on a budget, consider taking the night bus to save on hotel and transportation costs.

How To Get Around Chiang Mai

Getting around Chiang Mai is easy since the city is not very large. You can explore Chiang Mai Old City on foot or by renting a bicycle, making it convenient to get around.

Although there is no public transportation, you can rely on the famous Red trucks, known as Song Taew. You can simply hop in and pay about 40 THB for a short trip. If you need to travel a longer distance, ask the driver for the price.

We recommend renting a motorbike to get around Chiang Mai and its outskirts. Driving can be a challenge as they drive on the left, but it's an authentic and cool experience. We rented from Billy Tour Chiang Mai for about 300 THB per day for a scooter. You can choose to deposit 3000 THB or your passport. Overall, our experience was smooth, but you can choose any convenient rental shop.

Or, for a more comfortable experience, download rail-hailing apps like Bolt and Grab. Those apps offer both car and bike options.

How Many Days in Chiang Mai?

With so many things to do in Chiang Mai, you will need more time to fully explore the city. A 3-4 day trip will allow you to see all the main attractions in the city and nearby. However, if you want to enjoy Loy Krathong and have a day trip to visit Doi Inthanon National Park, you might need an additional 2 or 3 days.

How Much Money Does Chiang Mai Cost?

Chiang Mai is one of the most affordable places to visit in Thailand. Even though Chiang Mai is a big city, you don't need to have a big wallet to enjoy your time there. There are many inexpensive places to eat and stay without breaking the bank.

Cost of Traveling in Chiang Mai:

  • 🛏️ Accommodation: Around $20 /night for a clean and comfortable room for two.
  • 🍽️ Food: You can easily find affordable street food for about 50THB, so expect 150 THB per day.
  • 🚕 Transportation: Renting a motorbike costs 250 THB / day plus fuel, for a total of around 300 THB. If you don't drive, assume it costs the same amount for songtaew and taxi.
  • 🎫 Activities: Most Chiang Mai temples will charge a 50 THB entry fee. The museums can be 100 THB / person.
  • 🚩 Tour: Tour tickets may be slightly more expensive than other activities. For a day trip to Doi Inthanon, the cost is around 1,800 - 2,000 THB. Book your tours here!

Disclaim: Cost depends on many factors, especially your preference and timing. The calculation here all based on our true cost and experience (we keep update based on time but not really accurate). So, just use it as an example.

Best Time To Visit Chiang Mai

November to January are some of the best months to visit Chiang Mai. During this time, the city is filled with a festive vibe thanks to the Loy Krathong and Yee Peng festivals. Additionally, the weather is a little cooler than usual in Thailand, making it perfect for sightseeing.

However, hotels and tours can get booked quickly (and a little bit more expensive) during this time, so you should book in advance.

Shoulder seasons like May, September, and October are good times to visit, but you might expect occasional rain.

Check out our dedicated article to discover when is the best time to visit Chiang Mai!