Why Visit Chiang Mai in 2023?
We have been lucky enough to call Chiang Mai home for over two years, so it’s an absolute pleasure to share the best this city has to offer with you.
Prepare yourself for an adventure in 2023 because, dear traveler Chiang Mai, the enchanting ‘Northern Thai Capital,’ waits to offer you an unmatched experience! A city with a vibrant mix of ancient and modern, Chiang Mai is known for its compelling history, delightful gastronomy, stellar parks, and distinctive landscapes.
Imagine wandering through the centuries-old temples, indulging in northern Thai cuisine, and exploring the heights of Doi Inthanon National Park—it’s all here!
In 2023, get ready for an even richer experience: exclusive cultural festivals, adventure-filled treks, night markets, tea gardens, and unique wildlife encounters. So, pack your bags and set sail for a Thai itinerary in Chiang Mai, the city that seamlessly marries tradition with excitement!
The 17 Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai
1. Take a Tour of the Old Town
Looking to explore Chiang Mai’s true essence? Begin your adventure in the Old Town! Prepare to get lost in quaint streets, stumble upon mystic temples, and uncover hidden coffee gems. This is where Chiang Mai’s heart beats.
Start your day with a visit to iconic temples like Wat Chedi Luang or Wat Phra Singh.
Follow this with a freshly brewed coffee at top cafes such as My Secret Cafe In Town or Pegasus Café & Roastery. By evening, the Old Town pulsates with live music at places like North Gate Jazz Co-op. No better way to understand Chiang Mai’s culture than an immersive old-town tour!
Remember, the best journeys are enjoyed, not rushed. Explore at your own pace.
2. Visit the Night Market
Travelers, hear up! A visit to Chiang Mai isn’t complete without exploring its bustling night markets. As night engulfs the city, the streets transform into an array of food, scents, clothing, and unique Thai treasures. Visit the vibrant Ploen Ruedee Night Market, relish Thai classics at Anusarn, or grab something vegetarian at Kalare. Fancy a shopping spree?
Don’t miss the renowned Night Bazaar. It’s busy, it’s crowded, but the fun lies in bartering your way through. Remember, keep negotiations friendly. So, grab those bargaining skills and dive into this quintessential Chiang Mai experience– it’s a memory in the making!
3. See the Famous Doi Suthep Temple
Explore the undisputed gem of Chiang Mai, the magnificent Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. Perched atop Doi Suthep mountain, encased in myth and legend, the temple supposedly houses a relic bone from Buddha himself.
Start your journey just 15 km from Chiang Mai’s city center. Challenge yourself and ascend via the monk’s trail through the forest (4h hike) or opt for a more leisurely approach by renting a motorbike or hitching a ride in a songthaew.
Amid the temple’s golden beauty, the breathtaking panoramic view of the city is a sight to behold. To enhance your experience, try visiting early morning or just before sunset when the monk’s chants reverberate through the complex.
Remember to dress respectfully – cover your legs and shoulders – and be ready to leave your shoes at the entrance. Let the spiritual ambiance envelop you in this extraordinary place.
Clip-On Baseball Cap Holder
4. Take an Elephant Experience
If you’re journeying to Chiang Mai, don’t miss the unique, enlightening experience offered at the Elephant Nature Park.
Providing a haven for previously mistreated elephants, this sanctuary allows you to responsibly observe these magnificent creatures in their natural environment- a truly remarkable encounter. Your presence contributes directly to the well-being of the animals, making for an unforgettable and impactful adventure.
- Book your visit in advance to avoid disappointment; this experience sells out quickly.
- Opt for a half-day or full-day trip. There are overnight stays available as well.
- Enjoy an included lunch and spend the day learning about and observing the elephants.
- Bring a change of clothes if you plan on bathing the elephants.
Remember, your experience here supports the park’s noteworthy efforts. So, set aside a day for this inspiring activity.
5. Visit Doi Inthanon National Park
If you’re traveling to Chiang Mai and have an adventurer’s spirit, don’t miss out on the amazing Doi Inthanon National Park, one of the top day trips or weekend getaways!
This nature sanctuary is a treasure trove of exotic wildlife, refreshing waterfalls, and breathtaking trails. And talk about views – it’s home to Thailand’s highest peak, the majestic Doi Inthanon, aptly dubbed “The Roof of Thailand.”
Pro-tip for the best experience: take on the famous Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail, visit the magnificent pagodas and the Wachirathan Waterfall. This park isn’t just a visit, it’s an absolutely exhilarating adventure waiting to unfold!
6. Enjoy a Spicy Bowl of Noodles
In Chiang Mai, indulging in a fiery bowl of noodles becomes an exquisite journey for your taste buds. It’s an experience that commands your senses, making each bite an adventure worth savoring.
Make a beeline for the acclaimed Khao Soi Khun Yai to partake in the authentic Khao Soi – an exciting fusion of curry, coconut milk, noodles, and your choice of meat.
Amplify this voyage of flavors by pairing it with a refreshing lime squeeze and complementing pickled vegetables, an insider’s tip to truly discovering the dish’s full spectrum of flavors. This is far more than a meal; it’s a true taste of Chiang Mai’s rich culinary heritage.
7. Watch a Muay Thai Fight
Step into a whirlwind of energy, skill, and pure adrenaline as you experience firsthand a Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai! Immerse yourself in the raw, thrilling heart of Thai culture as ancient martial arts echo through modern stadiums. Whether you’re a sports fan or not, this is an electrifying spectacle that is not to be missed during your visit.
To feel the pulse of this national sport, you can visit Kalare Stadium, Thapae Boxing Stadium, or Loi Kroh Stadium. Tickets range from 400 to 600 THB ($12-$15), guaranteeing an affordable experience.
Hint: hotel staff can be a treasure trove of local knowledge about fight schedules. So, just pull up a seat, let the fiercely rhythmical Muay Thai drumming wash over you, and let this unique Chiang Mai experience begin!
8. Go on an ATV Adventure
Get ready to rev up your adrenaline on the top-tier ATV adventure in Chiang Mai! Brace yourself for a ride through the rugged terrains, witnessing the impressive jungle, local culture, and incredible wildlife.
Trust us, it is more than just a ride. With professional bilingual guides and unique opportunities like rafting, zip-lining, and elephant sanctuary visits, the adventure ensures unforgettable memories.
Tip: For thrill-seekers, make sure to check out the quad-only private tours. Remember, always double-check for included features, as some offer meals and a coffee stop – all at the price of fun! It’s time to rough-ride through the Thai terrain!
9. Explore the Nearby Villages
Ever dreamed of escaping the city rush and diving deep into tranquil, rural bliss? Chiang Mai, with its rich plethora of nearby villages, offers just such an escape. Let’s embrace the scenic landscapes, meet local tribes, and indulge in the flavor of authentic Thai life. Here are my top picks for exploring:
- Pai: Known for its laid-back ambiance and stunning vistas. Rent a motorbike for exploration, or relax with a rejuvenating river tube ride.
- Baan Kang Wat: A haven for artists, it’s the perfect zone to appreciate Thai craftsmanship.
- Doi Pui Village: Though catering to tourists, it retains its traditional hill tribe charm.
Maximize your experience by joining local workshops in Baan Kang Wat and engaging with locals for a deep dive into their culture. And don’t forget to take back indigenous handicrafts as memories of your Thai sojourn. Embrace your adventurous spirit, and welcome the heart-warming rural hospitality of Chiang Mai!
10. Take a Motorbike Trip to Pai
Ready for an adventure in the heart of Thailand? Hop on a rented motorbike and embark on an exhilarating ride from Chiang Mai to Pai.
This thrilling journey weaves through the serene mountains across 90 miles of winding roads offering jaw-dropping scenery. Keep your camera handy; you’ll want to capture everything from the ethereal mountain landscapes to the idyllic rice paddies.
Don’t forget to plan stops at attractions like the tranquil waters of the local waterfalls and viewpoints. Remember, always respect local customs and attire, safety first, and ensure you hold an international driver’s license. Unleash your wanderlust and make your Thai trip unforgettable.
If you are feeling more adventurous, why not try the entire Mae Hong Son Loop by Motorbike?
11. Visit the Butterfly Farm
Immerse yourself in a burst of colors and scents at the Bai Orchid and Butterfly Farm in Chiang Mai. Just 22 minutes north of downtown, this enchanting space hosts thousands of butterflies gently gliding amongst an ocean of blooming orchids local to Asia.
Whether it’s to admire the botanical beauty, weave through picturesque trails, or dine at the lush garden buffet, it’s a unique day trip that promises a feast for the senses.
While there, don’t miss the opportunity to purchase your own seedlings and maybe a gold-dipped orchid souvenir. For an entrance fee of just 40 THB ($1.20), it’s a sight not to be missed when in Thailand – where the Orchid isn’t just a flower but a beloved symbol.
12. Take a Food Tour
Embark on one of the most delightful gastronomic journeys of your life – a food tour in beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand. You, the astute culinary explorer, will be an active participant in savoring northern Thailand’s vibrant food scene, packed with a variety of irresistible local dishes.
An exciting food tour will lead you through bustling markets and tucked-away eateries to sample famed delicacies like Khao Soi, Sai Oua, and Kaeb Moo. You can also enjoy local favorites at the Chiang Mai Gate Night Market and uncover hidden gems known best to locals.
Expert tip: Mornings and evenings are the best time to take the tour when markets are brimming with fresh produce and to escape the mid-day heat! Remember to bring along reusable utensils to be part of Thailand’s fight against plastic waste.
13. Experience a Thai Massage
Prepare for an enchanting experience, dear traveler, as you step foot in Chiang Mai – the spiritual center of well-being. The city is an oasis of healing, and experiencing a Thai massage here is unparalleled.
A Thai massage is a blend of blissful relaxation and dynamic movement as the therapist gently stretches and bends your body. Expect a whole-body workout, an age-old practice dating back 2500 years.
Chiang Mai abounds with quality massage parlors, but an extraordinary place to consider is the Women’s Prison. Here, soon-to-be-released inmates offer sensational massages, honing a skill that aids their reintegration. It’s an unexpected twist that leaves you rejuvenated and contributes to a good cause.
After exploring the city, rejuvenate with an affordable massage – it’s an authentic Thai treat. Even on a shoestring budget, you can enjoy this heavenly pampering every day. The golden rule: don’t settle for the first massage parlor calling for your attention. Wander, explore, and uncover the hidden gems of Chiang Mai’s flourishing massage scene!
14. Enjoy the Nightlife
Ready for an unforgettable night out in Chiang Mai, Thailand? Unwind and immerse yourself in the city’s pulsating nightlife that is as vibrant and diverse as the city itself. With a plethora of trendy bars, stunning live music venues, enticing cabaret shows, and bustling night bazaars, the nightlife in Chiang Mai offers an eclectic mix of experiences that are lighter on the pocket than in Bangkok.
- Dance away at the popular ‘The Monkey Club’ or ‘Zoe in Yellow’ for an electrifying evening.
- Indulge in Jazz at the must-visit ‘North Gate Jazz Co-op’.
- Explore unique finds at Chiang Mai’s famed ‘Night Bazaar’.
- Fancy a rooftop drink? Head to ‘Xanadu Pub & Restaurant’.
A pro tip: To savor an authentic Chiang-Mai-style night, buy a bottle of spirit and share it with sodas and ice.
Clip-On Baseball Cap Holder
15. Hike the Trails
Ready for an unforgettable adventure? Picture yourself hiking through mesmerizing trails in Chiang Mai, Thailand! Tucked amidst lush rainforest landscapes, these trails offer a rejuvenating escape from city life.
Get submerged in nature’s beauty as you tread through the city’s cradled mountains and hidden gems like Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail or the revered Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple.
To get to the trails, simply join the Doi Suthep Walkers, Chiang Mai’s hiking club that meets every Saturday at 7:30 am. If you’re visiting as a tourist, a quick tip – consider opting for a locally guided hike for enriching insights into the terrain.
Trust me – the thrill, camaraderie, and breathtaking views make this one of Chiang Mai’s must-do experiences!
For more Budget Friendly Tips, also read this article.
16. Enjoy the Views and Landscapes
Pack your bags, and let’s take an unforgettable journey to Chiang Mai, a majestic city enveloped in awe-inspiring mountains with beaming waterfalls and tranquil national parks.
Close your eyes and imagine lounging by the picturesque Huay Tung Tao Reservoir, relishing the peaceful ambiance, or perhaps partaking in a thrilling ATV ride nearby. Fancy catching a stunning sunrise? The reservoir is a perfect spot. Don’t forget to visit the “Roof of Thailand” – the sublime Doi Inthanon National Park, teeming with endemic wildlife and crisscrossed by beautiful trails.
Here’s a pro tip: make sure to traverse the Pha Dok Siew and Kew Mae Pan nature trails for a fulfilling experience. Adventure awaits in Chiang Mai!
Also read my complete list of The Best Places to visit in Thailand.
17. Visit the Wooden House Museum
Imagine stepping into a world where history and culture come alive in the heart of Thailand’s Northern treasure, Chiang Mai. Welcome to the Wooden House Museum. This is a place where centuries-old traditions blend seamlessly with contemporary Thai influences.
While at the museum, you certainly won’t want to miss:
- The delightful showcase of the land’s history and art at The Lanna Folklife Museum
- The fascinating and enlightening cultural presentations at the Chiang Mai Cultural and Artistic Center
- The captivating Tribal Museum that beautifully portrays the distinct identities of Thailand’s minority hill tribes.
What is Chiang Mai Best Known For?
Chiang Mai, the cultural capital of Thailand, is most renowned for its ancient temples, such as Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, great food, and amazing people. As you roam the city, you’ll encounter bustling night markets, stunning natural landscapes, and the distinctive dish Khao Soi. Experience the charm of this travel gem.
How Much Does Chiang Mai Cost?
Visiting Chiang Mai in 2023 can cost between $500 – $1780 USD per week per person, depending on your choice of accommodation, transportation, and activities. For example, a day’s expenses may include hotel ($25 – $200), transport ($3 – $15), food ($2 – $15), activities ($1 – $15), and travel insurance ($2 – $6).
Is There a Lot to Do in Chiang Mai?
Absolutely! Chiang Mai, the rose of Northern Thailand, is bursting with activities and places to explore. From visiting the ancient Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple, indulging in the night markets, to trying out the local dish, Khao Soi. Adventurous spirits can even ride a motorbike to Pai or bathe an elephant at the Elephant Nature Park. Trust me, you won’t be bored.
Make sure to also read my Complete Thailand Packing list.
Where to See Elephants in Chiang Mai?
To see elephants in Chiang Mai, consider a visit to the Elephant Nature Park. This sanctuary is dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating these amazing creatures, offering visitors the chance to feed and bathe them. Always remember to choose “no ride, no hook” experiences advocating for the animals’ well-being.
Where to Eat in Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is the city where your taste buds go on a culinary journey! Here, the gastronomic delights range from vibrant street food to gourmet dining, traditional Thai dishes, and even international cuisine. Die-hard foodies can experience affordable and sumptuous delicacies that bolden Chiang Mai’s rich culinary scene.
- Don’t miss the Chiang Mai Gate Market, renowned for its street food. Enjoy local favorites like pad kra pow and end your meal with fresh mango sticky rice.
- If you’re keen to explore, step off the beaten track to discover non-touristy, authentic places peppered throughout the Old City.
- For traditional local dishes like Khao Soi and Sai Oua, head to SP Chicken, a quaint cafe known for its juicy grilled poultry.
- Finally, sign up for a local food tour. With prices starting from $30, it’s a chance to immerse yourself in Chiang Mai’s intriguing food history and unique dishes.
Made by travelers, for travelers, check out the Barefoot Caribou Products below!
The Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai
Have you ever been to Chiang Mai, Thailand? What was your favorite activity? Comment below and let us know!