• Menu
  • Menu
Chiang Mai Complete Travel Guide Cover Photo

Chiang Mai, Thailand Complete Travel Guide

Nestled in the lush mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a vibrant city that effortlessly blends ancient traditions with modern charm. After spending a month living here, it’s quickly become one of my favorite places in Thailand. In this complete travel guide, I’ll share everything you need to know: from must-see sights and hidden gems to the best places to stay, how to get around, and insider tips to make the most of your visit. Let’s dive into the magic of Chiang Mai together!

Find a great hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand on Expedia!

Chiang Mai, Thailand Travel Guide

Why Visit Chiang Mai?

Why Visit Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai offers all the fun and excitement of a big city while maintaining a laid-back charm in a compact form. The Old Town is an enchanting maze of narrow streets, dotted with some of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, each exuding rich history and spiritual serenity.

Beyond the city walls, Chiang Mai’s lush surroundings offer incredible access to nature for day trips, from trekking through misty mountains to exploring breathtaking waterfalls. With its blend of culture, adventure, and tranquility, it’s no wonder Chiang Mai quickly became one of my favorite places in Thailand.

Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai

1. Visit all the Temples

Best Things to do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is home to over 300 temples, each offering a glimpse into the city’s rich spiritual heritage and history. Exploring these sacred spaces is an essential part of any visit. While many of the temples are located within the Old Town, others are perched on mountains or tucked away in hidden corners, providing a mix of easy-to-reach and adventurous destinations. Here are some of the best temples to visit:

  • Wat Chedi Luang: Once the tallest structure in Chiang Mai, this ancient temple dates back to the 14th century and is known for its towering brick chedi. It’s also home to the revered City Pillar (Sao Inthakin) and hosts regular monk chat sessions.
  • Wat Lok Moli: Located just outside the Old Town, this temple is distinctive for its large stone chedi and striking wooden viharn. Its serene garden is perfect for quiet reflection.
  • Wat Chieng Yuan: Often overlooked, this small temple features a beautiful golden chedi and intricately carved wooden structures, providing a peaceful atmosphere amidst the city bustle.
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep: Perched atop Doi Suthep Mountain, this iconic temple is a must-visit for its panoramic views of Chiang Mai and its stunning Lanna architecture. Climb the 306-step staircase or take a cable car to reach the temple, and don’t miss the dazzling golden chedi.
  • Wat Pha Lat: Often referred to as the “Hidden Temple,” Wat Pha Lat is nestled in the forest on the way to Doi Suthep. With its intricate stone carvings and tranquil atmosphere, this serene temple feels like a secret jungle sanctuary.

Whether you’re seeking a spiritual experience or simply marveling at the exquisite architecture, visiting Chiang Mai’s temples is a journey through centuries of history and devotion.

To learn more about the must-visit temples in Chiang Mai, check out my complete guide!

2. Elephant Sanctuaries

Visiting Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand

Chiang Mai is famous for its ethical elephant sanctuaries, where you can interact with these gentle giants in a responsible and respectful manner. There are several options for visiting elephant sanctuaries, but it’s crucial to choose reputable ones that prioritize the well-being of the animals. I highly recommend Elephant Rescue Park, where the elephants seemed well cared for and everything was above board. Here, you can learn about their stories, feed them, and even take a mud bath alongside them.

Make sure to do your research before visiting any sanctuary, and avoid places that allow riding or force unnatural behaviors. By choosing ethical sanctuaries, you’ll contribute to the conservation and protection of these magnificent creatures while having a truly memorable experience.

To learn more about elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai, check out my complete guide here!

3. Explore the Old Town

Exploring Chiang Mai Old Town

Encircled by ancient city walls and a moat, Chiang Mai’s Old Town is the historic heart of the city. Once a fortified stronghold, the walls served as protection from invaders and marked the center of the Lanna Kingdom. Today, exploring the Old Town means stepping back in time and immersing yourself in a rich blend of culture and history. Here are some of the top sights to see:

  • Tha Phae Gate: The main gateway to the Old Town and a popular meeting point, this restored gate is often the site of lively markets and cultural events.
  • Wat Chedi Luang: Known for its towering ancient chedi and home to the revered City Pillar (Sao Inthakin).
  • Wat Phra Singh: Famous for its intricate Lanna architecture and the sacred Phra Singh Buddha statue.
  • Wat Chiang Man: The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, featuring the Crystal Buddha and Elephant Chedi.
  • Sunday Walking Street Market: A bustling market offering handicrafts, street food, and live performances.

Strolling through the Old Town’s charming alleyways will lead you to hidden gems, local cafes, and fascinating historical sites.

4. Night Markets

Night Market in Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai’s night markets are a must-do, offering a vibrant blend of organized chaos, local crafts, and mouth-watering street food. These markets seem to stretch endlessly, with every kind of vendor imaginable. Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, handmade crafts, or a taste of local delicacies, the night markets have it all. Here are the top night markets in Chiang Mai:

  • Sunday Walking Street Market: The most famous market, stretching along Ratchadamnoen Road in the Old Town. Enjoy live performances while browsing local handicrafts and tasting Northern Thai street food.
  • Saturday Night Market (Wualai Walking Street): A smaller yet equally bustling market on Wualai Road, known for its silverware and unique souvenirs.
  • Chiang Mai Night Bazaar: Open daily on Chang Klan Road, it’s a shopper’s paradise with endless stalls offering everything from clothing to electronics.

No visit to Chiang Mai is complete without experiencing the vibrant night market scene!

5. Sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep with Monks

Watching the sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep while listening to monks chant their morning rituals was an unforgettable experience. Perched high on Doi Suthep Mountain, this iconic temple offers breathtaking views of Chiang Mai as the sun rises over the city. While you can visit on your own, I highly recommend going with a guide for deeper insights into the temple’s history and significance.

We had a fantastic experience with our guide, who shared fascinating stories and made the visit truly enriching. Here’s a link to his tour for a memorable sunrise adventure.

Be sure to dress respectfully, and don’t miss the opportunity to explore the temple grounds after the sun has risen. The tranquil morning ambiance and the spectacular scenery make this a must-do in Chiang Mai!

6. Enjoy the Thai Coffee Shops and Cafe Culture

Chiang Mai is known for its vibrant coffee scene, with countless cafés offering unique atmospheres and expertly crafted brews. Whether you’re a digital nomad looking for a cozy spot to work or a coffee enthusiast eager to try new flavors, you’ll find your haven in Chiang Mai’s café culture. Here are some of my personal favorites:

  • Art Farmer Cafe: A charming café surrounded by lush greenery, perfect for relaxing with a cup of locally sourced coffee.
  • Mavoix Coffee & Weed Chiang Mai: Known for its welcoming vibe, great brews, and great cannabis, this café stands out for its creative menu. And yes you can also buy legal weed here. They sell great stuff.
  • GRAPH: Famous for its innovative coffee creations and minimalist design, GRAPH is a favorite among coffee connoisseurs.
  • Roast8ry Chiang Mai: Offers exceptional specialty coffee in a sleek, modern setting. Their nitro cold brew is a must-try!
  • Ristr8to: Inspired by Melbourne’s coffee culture, Ristr8to serves world-class coffee with artistic latte art.

Each café provides a unique ambiance and taste experience, making Chiang Mai a paradise for coffee lovers.

7. Thai Cooking Class

While you can take cooking classes anywhere in Thailand, Chiang Mai offers a unique culinary experience focused on Northern Thai flavors. Learning to cook here means you’ll be crafting regional specialties like Khao Soi, a rich curry noodle soup that’s one of my favorite Thai dishes.

Classes usually include a market tour to pick fresh ingredients before heading to the kitchen to prepare a variety of dishes under expert guidance. Popular cooking schools like Thai Farm Cooking School or Zabb-E-Lee will teach you to make classics like Khao Soi and Som Tum (papaya salad).

The hands-on experience is both fun and educational, providing you with new skills and recipes to impress friends back home. If you’re a food lover, a Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai is an absolute must!

8. Chiang Mai Marathon

Chiang Mai Marathon Photo

While not for everyone, the Chiang Mai Marathon was one of the most fun experiences I had while in the city. You can choose from different race distances, including the full marathon, half marathon (which I did), 10k, and fun run. The route takes you through Chiang Mai’s historic streets and vibrant neighborhoods, offering a unique way to see the city.

The energy of the event is infectious, with locals cheering you on along the way. Whether you’re an avid runner or just looking for a fitness challenge, I highly recommend participating if you’re into running and fitness like me. The sense of camaraderie and the chance to explore Chiang Mai in a new light make it an unforgettable adventure.

Additional Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai

  • Thai Massage: Treat yourself to a traditional Thai massage at Lila Thai Massage or a luxury spa like Oasis Spa. The perfect way to relax and unwind after a day of exploring.
  • Amazing Restaurants: Savor Northern Thai cuisine and try local dishes. There are many amazing dishes to try that are specific to this region of Thailand you won’t find anywhere else.
  • Tuk-Tuk Tour of the City: Hop in a tuk-tuk and enjoy a guided tour of Chiang Mai’s top sights. It’s a fun way to see the city and get insider knowledge from your driver.
  • One Nimman Shopping: Explore this stylish lifestyle complex for boutique shops, trendy cafes, and the bustling Nimman Market, perfect for souvenir shopping.
  • Get Outside of Downtown: Visit nearby neighborhoods like Santitham or head to the outskirts for natural beauty in places like Mae Rim or Hang Dong.
  • Muay Thai Boxing: Watch a traditional Muay Thai match at Thapae Boxing Stadium or Kawila Boxing Stadium for an adrenaline-pumping experience.
  • Mae Kampong Village: Experience hill tribe culture in this quaint village, famous for its scenic landscapes, coffee plantations, and waterfalls.
  • Bua Thong (Sticky) Waterfall: Climb up this unique limestone waterfall, known for its “sticky” surface that makes scaling it surprisingly easy and fun.

With so many incredible activities, Chiang Mai offers endless ways to create lasting memories!

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai Thailand

Chiang Mai offers a wide range of neighborhoods, each providing a unique vibe and experience. Whether you’re a foodie, a digital nomad, or a history enthusiast, there’s a perfect spot for you. Here are some of the best areas to stay in Chiang Mai:

  • Nimman Area: Known for its trendy cafes, vibrant digital nomad scene, boutique shops, and lively nightlife. Nimman is perfect for those seeking a creative, modern atmosphere. The streets are lined with coworking spaces, art galleries, and unique eateries, making it an ideal spot for work and play.
  • Old Town: Enclosed within ancient city walls, this area provides easy access to historic temples, bustling markets, and charming backstreets. The Old Town is a treasure trove of Lanna culture and history, home to must-see temples like Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh. Staying here means being at the heart of Chiang Mai’s historical and cultural sights.
  • Riverside: Offering scenic views along the Ping River, this area is perfect for those seeking a tranquil environment. With its luxury resorts, relaxing bars, and upscale restaurants, Riverside provides a peaceful retreat while still being close to the city center. Enjoy riverfront dining and explore the nearby markets.
  • Santitham: A quieter, more residential area just north of the Old Town. Santitham features affordable accommodations and authentic local food, making it a favorite among budget travelers and those who prefer a more laid-back vibe. It’s a great spot to experience local life while remaining close to the main attractions.

Each of these neighborhoods offers a unique experience, catering to a range of preferences and lifestyles, ensuring that you find the perfect base to explore the wonders of Chiang Mai.

Find the best place to stay in Chiang Mai on Expedia using the form below!

Getting Around Chiang Mai: Transport Options

Chiang Mai offers a variety of transportation options to suit all budgets and preferences, ensuring you can explore the city with ease. Here’s a quick guide to the best ways to get around:

  • Grab: Use the Grab app for cars, scooters, food delivery, and even tuk-tuks. It’s a convenient, cashless way to travel and perfect for first-time visitors.
  • Scooter Rental: The cheapest and most flexible option, offering freedom to explore at your own pace. However, driving in Chiang Mai can be challenging due to hectic traffic.
  • Car Rental: Ideal for longer day trips outside the city. Rent a car to explore destinations like Doi Inthanon, Chiang Rai, or the nearby national parks.
  • Songthaew: These red, shared taxis are the most common form of public transport in Chiang Mai. Flag one down and tell the driver your destination. They’re a budget-friendly way to travel if you’re comfortable sharing your ride.
  • Tuk-Tuks: Fun and unique, tuk-tuks can be a pricey option but offer a memorable way to get around. You can even order an electric tuk-tuk through the Grab app for an eco-friendly adventure.
  • Walking: Depending on where you’re staying, the city is somewhat walkable. The Old Town is compact, making it easy to explore temples, markets, and cafes on foot.

No matter your transportation preference, Chiang Mai’s varied options ensure your adventures are both exciting and hassle-free.

Find a great deal on your Chiang Mai car rental on RentalCars.com using the form below!

Tips for Visiting Chiang Mai

Tips for Visiting Chiang Mai Thailand
  • Get Connected with Airalo e-SIMs: Stay connected with affordable and convenient e-SIMs from Airalo. Perfect for navigating maps, staying in touch, and booking rides via apps.
  • Try Northern Thai Dishes: Don’t miss dishes specific to Northern Thailand like Khao Soi, a delicious curry noodle soup, or Sai Oua, a spicy northern sausage.
  • Use the Grab App for Everything: From booking cars and scooters to ordering food or electric tuk-tuks, Grab makes getting around Chiang Mai seamless.
  • Get Lost in the Streets: Explore the charming alleyways of the Old Town or Nimman, where you can stumble upon hidden temples, quaint cafes, and street markets.
  • Dress Respectfully: When visiting temples, ensure your shoulders and knees are covered. It’s a sign of respect in Thai culture.
  • Carry Cash: Many smaller vendors and local markets only accept cash, so have enough Thai Baht on hand for street food, markets, and transportation.
  • Beware of the Burning Season: Avoid visiting during the hot season (March to May), when air quality can be poor due to the annual crop burning.
  • Practice Sustainable Tourism: Support ethical elephant sanctuaries, avoid plastic waste, and respect local customs.
  • Take a Cooking Class: Learn to cook Thai dishes like a pro at one of Chiang Mai’s many cooking schools, such as Thai Farm Cooking School.
  • Visit a Night Market: Don’t miss the lively Sunday Walking Street Market or Saturday Night Market for handicrafts, live music, and tasty street food.

These tips will help you make the most of your visit to Chiang Mai and ensure a memorable and enjoyable journey!

Best Time of Year to Visit

Best Time of Year to Visit Chiang Mai Thailand

Deciding when to visit Chiang Mai may be the most important part of planning your trip. Each season offers a different experience, and here’s what you can expect throughout the year:

  • Winter (November to February):
    The best time to visit Chiang Mai due to the cool, pleasant temperatures (15-25°C) and low humidity. Clear skies and blooming flowers make it perfect for exploring the city and enjoying day trips to nearby natural attractions. This is also peak season so prices will be higher but still not too bad.
  • Hot Season (March to May):
    Temperatures soar, often exceeding 35°C. This period is also known as the “burning season,” when farmers burn fields to prepare for new crops, leading to smoky air conditions. This causes some of worst air pollution on the planet. It’s best to avoid visiting during these months at all costs.
  • Rainy Season (June to October):
    Expect frequent afternoon showers and high humidity. The landscape becomes lush and green, providing excellent conditions for visiting waterfalls and nature parks. However, some outdoor activities may be affected by the rain.

Pro Tip: If you’re visiting in November, don’t miss the magical Yi Peng and Loy Krathong festivals, when thousands of lanterns light up the sky and floating baskets illuminate the rivers.

By carefully selecting the best time to visit, you can ensure your Chiang Mai adventure is both enjoyable and comfortable.

Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai

Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai Thailand

Exploring beyond Chiang Mai is easy whether you rent a car, hop on a scooter, or book a group or private tour. Here are some must-see destinations for a memorable day trip:

  • Elephant Sanctuaries: Visit ethical elephant sanctuaries like the Elephant Nature Park or the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. These provide a chance to learn about elephant conservation and interact with these majestic creatures in a respectful manner.
  • Doi Suthep Temple: Located just a short drive from the city, this stunning temple sits atop a mountain offering panoramic views of Chiang Mai. The temple is a serene and spiritually enriching site that shouldn’t be missed.
  • Pai: A scenic three-hour drive from Chiang Mai, Pai is known for its laid-back atmosphere, natural hot springs, and beautiful landscapes. It’s a great spot for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
  • Chiang Rai: Explore the unique White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and the striking Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten) in Chiang Rai. The city is about a three-hour drive and is also home to the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet.
  • Mae Kampong Village: Experience the traditional life of a hill tribe village, surrounded by lush forest and waterfalls. It’s known for its tea plantations and eco-tourism initiatives.

These day trips offer a diverse glimpse of Northern Thailand’s rich cultural tapestry and stunning natural beauty.


Chiang Mai has firmly secured its spot as one of my favorite destinations in Thailand. With its unique blend of rich history, vibrant culture, and natural beauty, it’s no wonder why so many fall in love with this charming city. Whether you’re exploring the temples of the Old Town, enjoying the trendy vibe of Nimman, or embarking on an adventure-filled day trip, there’s always something new and exciting to discover.

I hope this guide inspires you to visit Chiang Mai and experience its magic firsthand. From delicious street food to breathtaking mountain views, it truly is one of the best places to visit in Thailand. Safe travels and enjoy your journey!

Pin this Post for Later!

Chiang Mai Travel Guide Pinterest Pin