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Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand is an absolute gem. It’s a big City but it has such a relaxed and magic vibe to it and no one I’ve ever met has not liked it!
Thailand is most famous for its Beaches in the South but Northern Thailand offers so much too and Chiang Mai is pretty much the centre of that so Chiang Mai must be part of your Thailand Holiday or Thailand Backpacking Trip!
Be sure to give yourself at least 2 days in Chiang Mai, if not 3 or 4 days if you have time because there are lots of things to do in Chiang Mai and as you’ll soon realise as you start reading my must-do activities in Chiang Mai, it’s also really reasonable in price and the best budget-friendly place in Thailand meaning you can eat and do a lot more here than any other place in Thailand!
Things to do in Chiang Mai!
Explore the Cities Buddhist Temples.
Chiang Mai is a big City but the main tourist centre is within the 4 walls of the Old City, which are easily viewable on a map. Inside and just outside of the Old City are so many incredible Buddhist temples, in fact Chiang Mai as a whole has over 300 Buddhist Temples!
You’ll come across so many by wandering around the Old City but the best temples in Chiang Mai’s Old City are: Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Sri Suphan, Wat Inthakin and Wat Phra Singh.
Although you do not need to cover up when walking around Chiang Mai, shorts & a t-shirt or tank top’s are fine, you do need to cover your legs and shoulders. So ladies be sure to take a sarong to wrap around your legs and or shoulders and men, be sure to wear shorts that are not too short.
Also, look out for the Monk and Meditation Evenings in Chiang Mai that are held regularly if you fancy being able to speak to a Monk and ask him some questions, and then having a meditation lesson/practise. I went to a Monk Chat at Wat Sri Suphan which is a temple covered in silver back in 2014 and enjoyed it. The Monk chat is offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, from 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm, with a meditation practise from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Get a Massage, or three.
Ok, so now we get into how cheap Chiang Mai is compared to the rest of Thailand and the massages on offer are a great way to show how much more budget-friendly Chiang Mai is!
Massage parlours and shops can be found all over Chiang Mai with a Full Body Thai Massage starting from 200baht, they start from 250-300baht on the islands.
If you are happy to pay a bit more for your massage and put the money to a good cause there are a few Massage Centres for ex female prisoners set up and also a blind massage parlour.
For an extra cheap massage and especially a foot massage, look out for the massages that are offered within some temples and the massages offered at the famous Chiang Mai Sunday Street Market. A 30-minute foot massage is just 70baht and it’s a great way to do some people watching at the same time!
Take a Thai Cooking Class.
Chiang Mai offers many Thai Cooking Classes, some of which have locations in the City Centre like in Bangkok for example however the best thing about doing a cooking class in Chiang Mai is that many cooking schools will start the tour in the centre by taking you to a local market and then you head to their school in the Countryside surrounded by rice paddies to do the class!
I did a cooking class with The Best Thai Cookery School whilst on my STA Travel & Contiki Tour and it must be the best cooking class in Chiang Mai because it was so much fun, we cooked amazing 4 dishes and ate 5, and the staff that worked there were so good, funny and friendly!
Along with that school here are other options you can look into which offer local and unique experiences!
Visit Elephant Nature Park.
You have probably already associated Northern Thailand with Elephants and you should. You are hopefully aware that Elephant Riding is a huge NO NO, and if you don’t know why, please read this article. However, unfortunately, a lot of Elephant Riding does still happen in Thailand, especially in the South.
Elephant Nature Park is the first centre that was created in Thailand, and perhaps in the world where they offer the chance to get close to the Elephants but not to ride them and they also show very openly what Elephants have to go through in order to be ridden.
They have created a huge and incredible shift in the way Elephants are used in Thailand and now there are so many Elephant Sanctuaries in Northern Thailand. The reason for these sanctuaries is that although the Elephants cannot and do not get ridden anymore, the families and business owners still need to make money through tourism in order to keep the Elephants fed and alive as Elephants eat so much each day, they are very expensive to keep and could not survive in the wild now!
For the best elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, I recommend going to Elephant Nature Park as I have been there myself in 2014 and I know it’s totally legit with the Elephants intentions at heart.
However like I say there are many more Elephant Sanctuaries near Chiang Mai too which you can go to, just be sure to do your research online and read the reviews before booking as if you book in a travel agent the person will, of course, tell you it’s great!
Elephant Nature Park does book up fast and I would 100% recommend booking online before you arrive in Chiang Mai in order to book yourself a day trip there!
It will be one of the best things you do in Thailand I promise!
Related Post: If this is your first time to Thailand, be sure to read my 60 Tips To Know BEFORE Going to Thailand To Have The BEST Time!!
Go to the Night Markets.
Chiang Mai loves a night market and one can be found every night. There’s a night bazaar which is on every day of the week along Changklan Road.
In addition to that, the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market is very famous and definitely worth going to if you’re in Chiang Mai on a Sunday, and there’s also a Saturday Night Market although I haven’t been to that.
In these markets, you’ll find everything you could ever want plus a lot you didn’t know you wanted from Clothes to Souvenir Items, Bags and a lot of good Street Food!
Shop til you Drop.
On that note, Chiang Mai is the cheapest place to shop in Thailand. Bangkok is fairly cheap too but in places like Khao San Road where it’s really touristy the prices go up, the islands are much more expensive because of the transport fees to get products to the islands.
If you need to buy souvenirs or you want to update your travelling wardrobe with some elephant pants, loose beach dresses, bikinis, flip flops, t-shirts, bags etc, Chiang Mai is the place to do it!
Just remember to barter if you’re shopping from the stalls on the street or in shops that do not show prices.
If you still need to book accommodation in Chiang Mai, have a look on Booking.com here! I’d recommend staying in a hotel in Chiang Mai’s Old City within the 4 walls however I stayed at The Small Hotel Chiang Mai which is a budget-friendly option not far from the Old City.
Chill in the Cool Cafes with a Coffee.
There are a lot of things to do in Chiang Mai but it’s also a place to take it easy.
Chiang Mai is a popular digital nomad hub and what comes along with this is an array of really cool cafes selling really healthy interesting food, including lots of vegan and vegetarian foods. Cafe Gardens are also a popular thing in Chiang Mai now so it’s really easy to chill for a few hours there with a drink and a healthy sweet treat or meal.
Not only this but the coffee in Chiang Mai is amazing and there are so many cool coffee shops too! Most of the coffee on offer will be sourced from Northern Thailand so by drinking it you are actually indulging in the culture!
If coffee isn’t your thing, or even if it is, be sure to try a Thai Iced Tea, they are so good!
My favourite cafes in Chiang Mai which are known as some of the best cafes in Chiang Mai for coffee and Vegetarian Food are Blue Diamond, Reform Kafe, Asa Vegan Kitchen, Clay Studio Coffee In The Garden.
Indulge in Cheap Local Food.
The cool cafes are great and need to be visited bur don’t forget about the local cafes too which will not only offer delicious local Thai food but also offer it at a really cheap price! Especially compared to South Thailand!
Khao Soi is a noodle dish which is from the Northern Thailand, Laos and Myanmar area. You cannot get Khao Soi in Southern Thailand and the islands, trust me, I tried! So be sure to try lots of Khao So in Chiang Mai!
For the best and cheapest local food in Chiang Mai, head to one of the many street food stalls!
Go Zip Lining.
Although Chiang Mai is a city you don’t need to travel far to be out of the city and in the Jungle! A fun activity to do near Chiang Mai is to go zip lining and this is a great family activity in Chiang Mai too if you have children!
I went zip-lining with Flight of the Gibbon which you can book here too and loved it! I’ve been on a few zip lines around the world and this was honestly the best! It didn’t just have zip lines there were jumps and drops too, it lasted a long time and the staff were so much fun!
There are also lots more zip lines on offer and some which combine zip lining, hiking and water rafting!
Visit Doi Suthep Temple.
If you fancy seeing another Buddhist Temple then head to Doi Suthep Temple just 15km away from Chiang Mai. It’s an incredibly impressive temple and on a clear day offers views over the City!
To help you get there and make the most of a day out of the city you can do tours to Doi Suthep Temple which include a guided tour around the temple plus bike riding, hiking, seeing local villages. These are some of the tours on offer:
Enjoy Chiang Mai Cabaret.
For things to do in the evening in Chiang Mai be sure to check out some of its cool bars with live music but also head to Chiang Mai Cabaret! This is a cabaret show performed by LadyBoys, they sing (well lip-sync) to popular songs and put on a fantastic dance routine.
It is not seedy at all, ladyboys in Thailand are part of the society and this is not a sex show or anything like that (although if you are male and sat in the front you can have a pair of fake boobs put in your face, just warning you now!). It’s great fun and such a laugh!
The Chiang Mai Cabaret is located in Anusarn Night Market where the Night Bazaar is, it’s on at 9:30 pm, it costs to get in but once inside the drinks are a reasonable price.
I went to a Lady Boy Cabaret in Koh Tao after going to one in Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai’s was so much better!
Look out for a Festival.
Chiang Mai is full of culture and they love their festivals too! It just so happened that the annual Flower Festival was on in February when I visited.
Other very popular festivals in Thailand which are very much celebrated in Chiang Mai are: Loi Krathong which is the festival of lights in November. Songkran Festival in April which now involves a few days of nothing but water fights, Chinese New Year and so many more.
So either plan your trip to Chiang Mai around one of the festivals or check out what’s on when you get there!
How To Get To Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai has an airport with great connections to elsewhere in Thailand and Asia. Flights can often be very cheap in Asia so see what flight deals you can get to and from Chiang Mai on Skyscanner here!
Or, you can book a bus or train in advance on 12GO Asia here from Bangkok to Chiang Mai!
For more of my posts on Thailand see: