The Top Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Don't miss out on washing the rescued elephants of Elephant Nature Park
Don't miss out on washing the rescued elephants of Elephant Nature Park | © Loop Images Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Iona Proebst
21 September 2021

Welcome to Chiang Mai, Thailand’s Rose of the North. Here are the top things to see while you’re in the enchanting, ancient Lanna capital.

You can now visit Chiang Mai with Culture Trip as part of a small group of culturally curious travellers on our specially curated 10-day tour of Northern Thailand.

Visit Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

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Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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This sacred Buddhist wat is located at the top of Doi Suthep, among lush jungle surrounds. It is not only an important temple for Lanna culture, but is revered throughout Thailand, with families coming to visit the site from every corner of the country. Climb the 308 steps on the mythical Naga serpent staircase to the temple, where you will be rewarded with a wholesome cultural experience and breathtaking views of the city below. Our top tip is to visit the temple early in the morning before the crowds start to gather; a lift is available for those unable or unwilling to make the climb on a hot day. There are plenty of options for refreshing drinks and snacks as well as for picking up some authentic souvenirs.

Take a cooking class

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Tourists wearing farmer's hat having a tour on the vegetable garden, during a thai food kitchen class, Chang Mai.
© Paolo Bona / Alamy Stock Photo

Chiang Mai is the perfect place to further explore your love for Thai cuisine. Here, you’ll find some of the best food the country has to offer and an array of brilliant cooking classes, where you can roll up your sleeves and learn how to create those tasty dishes yourself. Thai Farm Cooking School has earned itself a brilliant reputation, and for good reason: the staff are fun, helpful and informative. The full-day class takes you to the market to learn about local ingredients and then to a tranquil organic farm in the Chiang Mai countryside. You can pick and choose which dishes you want to learn how to make, and you’ll even leave with leftovers.

Get pampered

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Thai Spa with Herbal Compress
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Exploring a new city is fun yet also exhausting. Take a much-needed rest as you opt for a relaxing foot massage or try the famous Thai massage (warning: this is not for those who dislike being contorted into different positions). Chiang Mai has plenty of spas to choose from, ranging from super-luxurious to cheap and cheerful. Why not try something a little different with a blind massage, where visually impaired people put their brilliant sense of touch to good work? Alternatively, you could get a massage at the Women’s Correctional Institution vocational-training-programme spa, where you will help soon-to-be-released inmates adapt and prepare for the “outside” world.

Unwind at Huay Tung Tao Lake

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Picturesque lakeside escape at Huay Tung Tao, Chiang Mai, Thailand
© dave stamboulis / Alamy Stock Photo

Chill like the locals do at Huay Tung Tao Lake. Located only a short 20-minute drive from the Old City at the foot of Doi Suthep, Huay Tung Tao is the ideal place for a relaxing afternoon. Set up camp in one of the bamboo huts on the lake shores, order a few refreshing beverages, some delicious Thai food, and dangle your feet in the water – what more could you want?

Go shopping at Sunday Walking Street Market

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Market stalls at the Sunday Market Walking Street. Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Thailand
© Travelscape Images / Alamy Stock Photo
The Sunday Walking Street Market is by far the most memorable and beautiful in Chiang Mai. Stretching from Thapae Gate all the way to Wat Pra Singh and spilling down the side streets, this market is bustling with hill-tribe crafts, homemade wares and delicious local food. This magical market is the ideal spot to pick up souvenirs or a few local keepsakes and runs every Sunday from around 4.30pm until midnight. It is advised to come early to escape the crowds.

Zip line through the jungle

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© Tong_stocker / Shutterstock

Gain a unique perspective as you swing through the jungle canopy. Thailand is world-famous for its zip-lining adventures, which offer nature lovers and adrenaline seekers the opportunity to get up close and personal with the jungle by literally hurtling through lush canopies at high speeds. It pays to do your research and choose a reputable company such as Flight of the Gibbon.

Climb up Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls

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Paradise touristic Sticky Waterfall close to Chiang Mai in north Thailand. Beautiful asian nature during honeymoon.
© Anna Bieniek / Alamy Stock Photo

Thailand boasts a wide range of stunning waterfalls, but Bua Tong have yet to find their equal. True to their name, they lack the dangers of slippery stones, allowing you to climb the steep slopes in a Spider-Man-like fashion. Nestled into the tropical jungle, the five levels of the waterfall are just waiting to be explored. They are located just over an hour from Chiang Mai and represent the perfect destination for a scooter trip. There is no charge, but make note of the donation box and fees for littering in an attempt to keep it spotless.

Visit Elephant Nature Park

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THAILAND, NORTH OF CHIANG MAI: Lek's elephant farm for rescued elephants, a place for alternative elephant tourism.
© Claudia Wiens / Alamy Stock Photo
Elephant Nature Park is one of the most respected and famous elephant conservation projects in the country. It is home to more than 35 free-roaming elephants, many of which have been rescued from the logging and tourism industries. A day out at Elephant Nature Park is both informative and fun; longer volunteer placements are also available. Get to know these gentle giants by feeding, bathing and walking with them; there is a strict no-riding policy.

This is an updated version of an article originally by Lena Blos.

These recommendations were updated on September 21, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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