Top 7 Things to do in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is one of the most popular cities in Northern Thailand, surrounded by mountains and valleys on all sides. It draws its appeal for too many reasons to list. However, in this article, I’ll tell you about the top 7 things to do in Chiang Mai.

When people think of Thailand, they usually think of Bangkok or the beaches and islands down south. As such, Thailand is often treated as more of a party destination. However, there are some true gems in Northern Thailand as well. The city of Chiang Mai is the perfect base from which to explore all of those hidden treasures.

I spent a period of two weeks in Chiang Mai. Over that time, I also explored the regions around Chiang Mai. In this article, I’ll give you an outline of the top 7 things to do in Chiang Mai.

Read: Bangkok Travel Guide — Navigating Asia’s Sin City

1. Sightseeing

Chiang Mai is every bit as developed as Bangkok. However, it’s not as chaotic. It’s a pleasure to simply walk around the city and explore all that it has to offer.

If you love exploring pagodas, you’re in luck. Chiang Mai Old City has hundreds of temples. Some of the most popular temples in the city are Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Umong, and Wat Sri Suphan.

If you’re really interested in them, you can read this article on the 7 Best Temples in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang Chiang Mai Thailand
Wat Chedi Luang | Image Source: ChiangMai.Bangkok

One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is to speak to the monks. Several of the temples give tourists a private audience with a monk. As such, if you have any questions about their lives, you can ask away!

Chiang Mai Old City also has a river running right through it. Most of the backpacker hostels are located around it because it’s the most beautiful spot in the city. You can walk along the riverside and explore all the dining options and street food joints.

chiang mai thailand riverside
Taking a stroll by the river in Chiang Mai Old Town.

2. Bathing an Elephant

Almost everyone who visits Chiang Mai takes a day to go to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Chiang Mai.

One of the reasons why Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is so popular is that they treat their elephants with love and care. I know that sounds like something that all sanctuaries should do. However, it’s not. I’ve been to plenty of places that treat animals terribly and encourage the most abusive tourist practices. They left a pretty bad taste in my mouth.

As such, initially, I was also pretty queasy about going to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. However, as I eventually learned, they’re an ethical sanctuary that puts the needs of the elephants ahead of all else.

For starters, they don’t let anyone ride the elephants. The Elephants aren’t made to do little tricks for the amusement of tourists either. Furthermore, all tourists are given outfits that won’t be jarring to the elephants’ sight.

You can touch them if you please, admire them in their natural habitats, and bathe them.

elephant jungle sanctuary chiang mai
Elephants being bathed. | Image Source: Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Gallery

3. Witness a Muay Thai Boxing Match

Muay Thai is a type of Boxing that’s considered Thailand’s national sport. It’s also one of the toughest forms of martial arts.

As such, one of the popular things to do in Chiang Mai is witnessing a Thai Boxing match. The most popular stadiums for this are Kawila Boxing Stadium and Thapae Boxing Stadium. The entrance fee is between ฿400 to ฿600 (Approx. ₹800 to ₹1200 | $12 to $18).

May Thai Boxing Chiang Mai
May Thai Boxing | Image Source: ChiangMai.Bangkok

4. Go on a Culinary Expedition

You can’t really know a city until you’ve tried some of its local cuisines. North Thailand has a set of cuisine unique to it, different from the rest of the country. The following are some of the must-try dishes, according to me at least.

Cha Yen

Cha Yen is a traditional Thai Iced Tea. It’s one of the most refreshing drinks in Thailand. You can find one in any restaurant in the city or in the street joints as well.

Tom Yum Noodles

This is a type of sour and spicy noodle soup served with chicken or beef, along with lemongrass. However, the most delicious aspect of this dish is the type of noodle they use. It’s a crispy noodle that gradually grows soft as it’s allowed to soak up the gravy around it.

tom yum noodles in chiang mai
Tom Yum Noodles and other dishes.

Khao Soi

Khao Soi is a typically North Thailand dish made of red curry and coconut milk. It’s served with noodles and chicken.

If you’re on a budget, and you’re looking for a place to eat at regularly, try The Samurai Kitchen. Everything in their menu costs just ฿59 (Approx. ₹115 | $1.75).

the samurai kitchen chiang mai
Ramen Noodles at The Samurai Kitchen.
the samurai kitchen chiang mai
The Samurai Kitchen.

5. Partying

There are a bunch of great spots for partying all around Chiang Mai. However, the riverside area in Chiang Mai Old Town has some of the best party places. It’s lined with bars and clubs that blast music late into the nights.

If you wanna’ go bar hopping, you can check out this list of Top 10 Nightlife spots in Chiang Mai.

My personal favorite party spot was The Ram Bar. It’s a gay bar that hosts some of the most stunning Cabaret shows in all of Thailand. While the drag shows in Bangkok are comedically driven, Ram Bar is purely performative.

If you enjoy drag shows, definitely check it out.

Read: A Queer Guide to Chiang Mai Gay Bars and Hotels

lgbt-friendly ladyboys drag queens
With Ladyboys and Drag Queens in Ram Bar, Chiang Mai.

6. Day Trip to Chiang Rai

One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is to take a day-trip to Chiang Rai. It’s located about 2 to 3 hours from the city center. You can simply book a tour from your hostel or hotel. However, if you’ve got a bike, that’s even better.

What’s so special about Chiang Rai?

Chiang Rai has some of the most unique buddhist temples in all of Southeast Asia. They’re popular for their Black and White Temples. These are temples painted either entirely white or entirely black. It’s a stunning sight to see.

However, the prime attraction is the Pure White Temple.

The Pure White Temple Chiang Rai
The Pure White Temple | Image Source: Oriental Escape

7. Weekend Trip to Pai

Pai is a hilltop city that’s extremely popular in the backpacking community. It’s located about 4 hours from the city, and makes for a great weekend getaway.

A lot of people I know went to Pai for just a weekend but ended up staying for a month or two. There are a number of really chill hostels in the city. Furthermore, there are a great many things to explore. They have stunning waterfalls, bamboo bridges, hot springs, etc.

Basically, Pai is a really fun and chill place to be in.

Read: Top 7 Things to do in Pai

bamboo bridge pai
Walking the Bamboo Bridge in Pai.

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai

Best Backpacker Hostel in Chiang Mai — D-Well Hostel

D-Well Hostel is quite a luxurious backpacker hostel in Chiang Mai. They have really clean facilities and comfortable dorm rooms.

Furthermore, they have a common room with TV, plenty of couches, etc. It’s a great place to meet other people.

They also serve breakfast in the hostel, which comprises nutella, jam, toast, milk, cereals, etc. And they also leave out plenty of snacks for you to keep munching on all day long.

A bed in a dorm room for a night costs ฿500 (Approx. ₹1000 | $15). You can make the booking from the D-Well Hostel Agoda page.

Best Luxury Resort in Chiang Mai — Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa

Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa is a minimalist resort that looks a bit like a wooden box from the outside. It’s located right next to the river and features 84 luxury accommodations surrounded by reflecting ponds with water lilies. It’s a true paradise resort.

You can check out the latest rates at the Anantara Chiang Mai Resort & Spa Agoda page.

You can also find other suitable Chiang Mai hotels and accommodations in Agoda.

So these are the top 7 things to do in Chiang Mai. However, this is really just a beginners manual on things to do in Chiang Mai. There’s so much more to do and see in Chiang Mai if you’re there for a longer period.

Do comment down below and let me know what your Chiang Mai travels were like. If you think I missed out on something vital, feel free to mention it down in the comments!

things to do in Chiang Mai Thailand