Chiang Mai, Thailand is a unique and fun city in Northern Thailand. The city is full of ancient history mixed with modern Thai life. It is now the fourth most populous city in Thailand! But it doesn’t seem massive like Bangkok, it is more of a large ancient town.
My boyfriend and I spent 10 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand in July 2019 and I cannot wait to go back. We loved riding a motorbike around the moats that make up the old city. This list is 10 things we enjoyed doing in Chiang Mai during that time.
Here is a map version of Chiang Mai including all the things I mention in this post:
1. Visit Temples Around the Old City
The city center of Chiang Mai (called the Old City or Old Town) is full of hostels, hotels, tourists, and lots and lots of temples. Take a morning (and avoid the heat) or afternoon to explore a handful of different temples that are all within walking distance of each other. Some of these temples are small and might only take 15 minutes of your time, while others are bigger and have more than just one temple in it, taking up to an hour to explore. In Thai, the word for temple is “wat”. Below you will see each of the temples with their Thai name.
Here are my suggested temples to visit within the Chiang Mai city center:
- Wat Phantao
- Wat Ched Lin
- Wat Chedi Luang
- Wat Phra Singh
- Wat Muen Ngoen Kong
- Wat Chiang Man
- Wat Tung Yu
Travel Tip: Make sure you dress moderately while visiting these temples. Men and women should cover their shoulders and knees to be respectful.
2. Take a Taxi Ride in the Red Taxis
Something very unique to Chiang Mai is the red truck taxis all over the city. It is basically a pick up truck with a cap over the back and bench seating. They are all over Chiang Mai ready to take tourists to wherever their hearts desire. Don’t leave Chiang Mai without getting in one!
3. Visit an Elephant Sanctuary
A trip to Chiang Mai would not be complete without a visit to an (ethical) elephant sanctuary. Elephant sanctuaries are common in Thailand, but are especially popular in Chiang Mai; however, be wary as some of the sanctuaries are not true sanctuaries. Please make sure they do not ride on the elephants or use hooks to train them before you choose your sanctuary.
During our stay in Chiang Mai, after extensive research, we choose Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary for a full day tour with rescued Elephants. This day was definitely a highlight of our time in Chiang Mai. Getting to experience elephants up close and personal for an entire day was a real treasure. The staff there absolutely love their 7 elephants and really want to teach you about them and make sure you have a great time. It is definitely worth the price.
If you want to learn more about how to choose a good elephant sanctuary, how much it costs to visit a sanctuary, and about our experience at Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary, you can read more here.
4. Walk Around the Old City
Chiang Mai is a unique city. Old city walls and moats still remain. Just walking around the old town is an experience in itself. You can walk through The Phae Gate (the East gate into the Old City), which dates back to ancient times. There are often people selling goods and kids chasing birds here. You can also walk around the moat of the old city which is green and has pretty fountains and bridges.
5. Visit Grand Canyon Water Park
Grand Canyon Water Park is just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is not a traditional water park but a water park with inflatable obstacle course, kayaking, wakeboarding, ziplining and so much more. We had such a fun day there. We played like children on the inflatable course and laughed so hard.
If you want to learn more about how much the Grand Canyon Water Park costs, how to get there, and our experience, you can read more here.
Travel Tip: Be sure to bring extra sunscreen to the water park. We were extremely sunburnt by the time we left. They do sell some at the water park, but it is overpriced.
6. Learn About Thai Food in a Cooking Class
I’ve been traveling for many years and had never tried a cooking class. This was my first, but since then, I’ve tried others and this still reins as the best cooking class. The cooking class is called Cookventure in Chiang Mai. The owner, Apple, picks you up and brings you to the local market to buy the ingredients. You are then welcomed into her home to learn how to cook five different dishes! The cooking class lasts a half day, with you cooking and eating, then cooking and eating again. By the time we left, we were completely stuffed!
If you’re even a little bit interested in a cooking class while you visit Thailand, I highly suggest doing it with Cookventure. To learn about how much it costs, what you can cook and our experience, you can read more here.
7. Explore Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
On the West side of Chiang Mai is a very large, mountainous National Park called Doi Suthep-Pui. There is a palace, temple, waterfalls, and really great look out points over Chiang Mai. When we visited, we drove our motorbike rental up the mountain, stopping at all the interesting spots along the way.
You can get a ride to the temple on the mountain, called Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, in a red truck taxi from anywhere in Chiang Mai. Once you make it to that temple, there are plenty more red truck taxis to take you anywhere on the mountain. If you’re looking for an adventure, I suggest renting a motorbike in town and riding up to the national park or even hiking up the mountain. Others told us there are great trails leading up to the attractions. If you choose to motorbike, it is a very easy ride consisting of only one road that leads up and down the mountain so no need to worry about getting lost! The roads are also in quite good condition all the way up to the national park.
8. Get a Massage (or Two)
My favorite thing to do in South East Asia is get a budget friendly massage. We spent 10 days in Chiang Mai and I tried out three different spas. Here is a list of the spas I went to:
Cheapest: Somphet Massage
You cannot beat this price- only 180 Thai Baht (about $5.88 USD) for a 60 minute Thai massage. Being this cheap comes with a less relaxing environment, for example, the masseuses kept talking to each other during our massage. My boyfriend said his masseuse did not really apply any pressure, yet mine used quite a lot of pressure. But you get what you pay for!
Middle range: White Orchid Massage
White Orchid Massage is just outside of the Old Town in Chiang Mai. I got the #3 massage: foot, neck, back, shoulder, head for 200 Thai Baht (about $6.53 USD). This place has great ratings and was very relaxing. The only downside was the street was quite loud outside. I really enjoyed my time here and think it was the best value of all the places I got a massage in Chiang Mai.
Expensive: Fah Lanna Massage
This was the most expensive massage I got during our time in Chiang Mai. It is located a bit further from the Old Town, but it was a very relaxing massage. I had an hour long back and shoulder massage and it was 500 Thai Baht (about $16.31). This place was definitely the nicest and prettiest spa of the three I visited but was on the top of my budget.
Over budget: Zabai Thai Massage & Spa Chiang Mai
If I was not on a strict budget I would have definitely tried this spa. It looked luxurious and very calming. I stopped by to see their prices since they had great reviews on TripAdvisor. Their prices were more around 700 Thai Baht (about $22.84) for an hour long massage which is too expensive for me.
9. Visit the Night Market
Asia is known for their night markets; Chiang Mai is no different. Starting at about 6pm lasting till about 11pm or midnight, the market sets up on one of the main streets outside of the Old Town. There you can find cheap souvenirs, eat cheap dinners, and people watch. The night market was pretty close to our accommodation outside of the Old Town which was fun to stroll through each evening. We picked up a few souvenirs to ship back to the USA to our parents since we had been away for about 6 months already.
Travel Tip: If you’re planning to send a package of souvenirs back home, make sure you do not send any Buddhas. It is prohibited to mail Buddhas in Thailand. We made this mistake and at the post office had to undo our box and take out the Buddha.
10. Watch a Thai Boxing Fight
This is something I wish we would have had time to do during our stay in Chiang Mai! There are several stadiums to see a Muay Thai fight from in Chiang Mai. We would have gone to Thapae Boxing Stadium if we had enough time to see one. Next time we are in Chiang Mai, we will definitely be seeing a fight there!
Bonus: Where to Stay in Chiang Mai on a Budget
Are you looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai on a budget? I highly recommend The Grace House. We originally booked seven nights then decided to stay an extra three after we had been there. The owners are very kind and welcoming. The location is also great- close to many food options and night markets. Their cafe has great breakfast which can be included in your room rate.