Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai Thailand Must See Activities
As you know from my post about the Four Seasons Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai is definitely one of my favorite cities I ever visited. While the Four Seasons is set in Mae-Rim, which is an idyllic countryside, the city of Chiang Mai is brimming with culture and wildlife sanctuaries where you will get closer than you ever though possible to elephants, tigers and monkeys! Here are my top picks for the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar: This is located in the center of the downtown area along the Ping River. This is one of the best night markets I had the chance to visit while in Southeast Asia and trust me I dragged my husband to more than a few (Luang Prabang, Siem Reap, the list goes on…). The main street is lined with vendors selling everything from Thai silks, t-shirts, jewelry and fake purses. Definitely get your souvenir shopping done here. And don’t forget to bargain!
Doi Suthep/Wat Phrathat: This steep hike up 309 stairs, (or tram ride for a tiny fee) will bring you to the peak of Doi Suthep. From here you can take in breathtaking views of Chiang Mai’s countryside. While up here your visit is not complete without exploring Wat Phrathat, my personal favorite, golden temple. Definitely probably the one must-see temple here if you’re pressed for time.
Elephant Rides: After learning much more about sustainable travel, I realize that this isn’t something that tourists should be doing. While you can visit elephant rescue camps, you shouldn’t ride on them. This ensures that elephants are treated humanely and not taken advantage of for tourist purposes. I did do this and while I liked it, I no longer think this is a good idea.
Food Glorious Food: While in Thailand I invite you to eat up all the street food you can! Noodle carts, freshly squeezed fruit juices and other delightful snacks like sugary rice sticks. (I loved the passionfruit juice! YUM!) I also recommend taking a cooking class to learn the techniques and secrets behind all of the delectable goodies you’re eating while here. It will be the gift that keeps on giving. We did the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai’s Cooking School, which was pricey but fabulous. It’s in a gorgeous open-air kitchen and you use all fresh ingredients. I’m sure you can find cheaper places but we loved this one, I think it was about $200 USD pp. And speaking of food, be sure to check out my favorite picks for the best restaurants in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
You may also choose to do a street food tour, which I think is a great way to experience some of the best food Thailand has to offer! Thailand has some of the best street food I have ever tasted in the world. It’s also a great way to eat like a local and experience some of the most authentic recipes. Doing a guided tour allows you to learn more about what you’re eating and make sure you’re hitting up the best spots. With Locals offers some amazing tours.
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Where else are you going in Southeast Asia? Check out the Best Things to do in Luang Prabang, Laos
Check out the tour group I used while I was in Southeast Asia that I swear by: Trails of Indochina.
I also highly recommend visiting Hanoi, here are my Top Ten Things to do in Hanoi, Vietnam, maybe one of my favorite places I’ve ever been to because it’s so different!
Hey Katie, fantastic overview of Chiang Mai. I’ve done a few of these things you mentioned, and hoping to spend more time in Chiang Mai in the future – a great place!- November 18, 2012
So glad you liked it! And thanks for visiting our site. We just adored Chiang Mai. I should work for their tourism office I have convinced so many people to make a trip!- November 20, 2012
I just love this one. I have never been to Thailand so this one is a must-see for me in Chiang-Mai. I love the photo you had with the tiger, so full of life and happy.
Happy travels for you and hubby 🙂- November 19, 2012
Thanks so much! And thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll return! Happy travels for you as well!- November 20, 2012
well, for a great blog such as yours, I am coming back all the time and just as like today I am spreading a little bit of good cheer!
Happy travels for you too 🙂- November 20, 2012
Hi Katie. Love your blog!! Have similar trip planned but only 2 weeks….so have to cut something. Are Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang similar enough to cut Chiang Mai. Would you recommend skipping Koh Samui in favor of Danang/ Hoi An or vice versa. I don’t want to let any of it go, but Im gonna need to make some tough choices. Any thoughts?- August 10, 2013
Hi Jon! I’m so sorry to reply so late, I’ve been away. I would say that Chiang Mai and Luang Prabang aren’t really very similar. I loved Chiang Mai for the wildlife experiences–namely the elephants and the tigers but you may be able to do the Tigers in LP and I know you can do elephants in LP. I would definitely skip Koh Samui, although I loved it there, there is so much to see in Southeast Asia and KS is really just a lovely beach town. I loved Hoi An–if you go you MUST stay at the Nam Hai. It was simply incredible! Hope that helps! Let me know if you have further questions!- August 13, 2013
One of the best and by far the most exciting experience in Chiang Mai was zip-lining in the rain-forest canopy. Exhilarating, scary, but an unforgettable experience for me and my then 10-year old daughter. My husband thought we were mad. Make sure you wear closed walking shoes (slippers or flip-flops could could fall off) as there is a bit of a trek/climb to the first station. The equipment and harnesses are very safe and allow for fantastic views as you zip through way above the idyllic scenery beneath. Loved it. Highly recommended. They picked and dropped us from our hotel in Mae Rim.- August 12, 2013
Wow! That sounds pretty incredible! I will definitely keep that in mind if I go back!- August 13, 2013
Try the different varieties of fruits in Thailand. I’m sure you’ll love it. -Dave of Things to do in Chiang Mai- February 13, 2014
Absolutely! That was one of my favorite parts!- February 13, 2014
$200 for a cooking class? Seriously? We payed $30 and that included a bicycle ride to the local market to source ingredients. I guess when you’re staying at such a hotel they milk you for all they can!- April 15, 2014
Yes it is pricey but it’s the convenience of having a gorgeous and professional school right on the property. We loved it. It’s a five star experience.- April 15, 2014
Would you say that Chiang Mai, (Thailand in general) is safe for western children?- May 24, 2014
Hi Nicole, Yes, I think that as long as you’re staying in areas that are known as safe for tourists that you should be fine. Just be sure to drink bottled water 🙂- May 30, 2014
Looks like you had an incredible time in Chiang Mai. I did many of the same things when I was there, but missed out of the Tiger Camp!- July 27, 2014
Nice article but people should realise that the elephants have been through 1 week off hell, bieing tortured in a cage to break them and make them obedient. No matter how well they might treat them now, they have all been through this, and this will continue as long as people keep doing ‘elephant tours’. And did you ever wonder how tigers could be so calm around people? Maybe because they are drugged up every day of there lives? Well, not maybe, thats a fact, and people should not support and encourage this!’its disgusting. Anyway just something to think about. Other than that, great article and nice read.- August 7, 2014
As seasoned travellers we have explored many parts of the world. Chiang Mai has to rank as being at the very bottom of the pile. It’s a polluted dump. However, the local people are very nice. Avoid the tiger and most of the elephant parks on ethical grounds. Also the Long Neck Karen Hill tribe near the Tiger Park – Avoid at all costs, unless you want to pay £10/$15 per person to look at a few market stalls with Long Neck women selling absolute garbage! Chiang Mai is tacky tourism and catering for western men looking for young thai brides and young boys.- September 16, 2014
You may want to take down parts of your article about elephants and tigers.
Did you know how elephants were tortured and starved first before they are trained? They’re not like dogs who respond to positive reinforcement. These elephants were hit with metal sticks, wooden sticks, they were roped, tied up, starved, shackled in chains with sharp prongs slicing their all four ankles, they’re also hit repeatedly with bullhooks, they also deprive them of sleep. All these just to “break the elephant spirit” and submit to humans. All baby elephants are torn away from their mothers just a few weeks after they’re born just so they can train them much faster without the protection of the mothers. (These babies also go through what the captured adults go through — endless torture and punishment.) The babies wail and cry for their moms, the moms cry for their babies and some of them even die of broken hearts.
Please do not support this type of cruelty. Please do not pay for these kinds of entertainment. We do not need animals to entertain us, you know.
Here’s a snippet from Wikipedia about Elephant crushing:
“National Geographic reports on the use of nails and sticks stabbed into the ears and feet of an elephant the subject of a crush in Thailand. Other reports cite the use of beatings with sticks, chains or bullhooks, sleep-deprivation, hunger, and thirst to “break” the elephant and make them submissive to their owners.”- November 2, 2014
I think it’s quite horrible how many people do and recommend visiting the tigers. Doesn’t it break your heart to see them caged? I agree with the person who wrote before me, tigers are wild animals and should not be played with, no matter how cute and majestic they are – don’t you realize they have been sedated to accommodate your photo lust? Same goes for elephant camps – please be careful where you visit them and in what conditions they are held.- December 5, 2014
Never ride an elephant – they actually dislike having a huge cage on their backs carrying ignorant tourists that unfortunately don’t know any better.- January 15, 2015
The Tigers are drugged up to their eyeballs. There are more tigers in captivity than in the wild, they are captured when Cubs or bred in captivity. They will never see their freedom – the owners make too much money from the tourists. It should be banned.
Think before you venture into these places. Animals should not be held captive for our amusement and benefit.
Research and visit reputable, caring places for animal rehabilitation only.
Yes, thank you for supporting ANIMAL EXPLOITATION. Why don’t you try next time to be a more responsible traveller and do your research? where do these tigers come from? maybe being farmed in China? might they be sedated all day? please next time, stop and think a little bit how animals end up enslaved for the amusement of humans, some of them, such as the case of gibbons, have their families killed so the poachers can get the babies, and now the forest are getting silent (if the forest itself is lucky to still be there). STOP SUPPORTING THIS PRACTICE.- January 22, 2015
I read about how they torture the elephants. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to riding on an elephant while trekking through the rain forest. However, after doing some research I found a place that rescues these elephants. It’s the Elephant nature park in Chiang Mai. They have wonderful programs from walking side by side with the Elephants on a nature walk, feeding the elephants and bathing them. I checked out the reviews on trip advisor and found excellent reviews.- February 10, 2015
Yes, I was assured by many people that Te one I went to was also a rescue. Definitely the way to go.- February 10, 2015
If you’re allowed to ride the elephants it’s definitely not a rescue. They’ll assure you it’s a rescue to get your money and make you think you’re not doing anything wrong.- June 10, 2015
It says she is a luxury travelling blog. She is not an activist or hippie backpacker, so give her a break…there’s worse crimes…if you are not one of them rich people who don’t care or luxury traveller, please go to other blogs.- June 14, 2015
Appreciate your solidarity 🙂- July 29, 2015
I see interesting articles here. Your website can go viral easily, you need some initial traffic- September 18, 2016
only, you should search for: Bushano’s traffic sources
I lived in Thailand for a while and that included about two years in Chiang Mai. I’m always glad when someone loves the city I considered my home for so long but this post breaks my heart. I spent a lot of time working with and for animals and I hate to see such ignorant people spreading positiv things about horrible attractions like elephant riding or the tiger temples where the animals are being druged to let tourists near them. That you said it is important to look for rescue centers is good but you seem to have no clue when it comes to this topic. No serious rescue organisation would let tourists ride on the elephants back. And the fact that you don’t react to comments that are critical shows that you are more interested in clicks than in the right content and the right view on some serious issues.- November 28, 2016
You are absolutely right. I have updated my post to reflect the best choice to ensure elephant safety. I did believe at the time that I did it that I went to a place where the elephants were treated well but I learned after that it may not have been the case.- January 3, 2017
Please just take out the part about going to see the tigers. I see that you were informed that riding elephants is not ok and that it hurts them. No one can know until they are told, so it is understandable that you didn’t know but please encourage people to also not support tiger camps. Your instincts were right in that it should be highly dangerous and there should be no way that you can pet or pose with them. It’s ok that you didn’t know but please just let others know for the future since you have this travel blog and people read it for info on Thailand. Wish you all the best.- November 29, 2018