Things to do and see in Chiang Mai Thailand

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Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and certainly one of the most beautiful and impressive in the country. Although it’s a popular destination for travellers, it’s much quieter and less crowded than frenetic Bangkok, but also less cosmopolitan. So if you’re travelling to Thailand, we recommend you visit Chiang Mai and experience a different kind of Thailand, less touristy but still with plenty to see. Its imposing temples, Chiang Mai is considered the centre of Buddhism in northern Thailand, and the nature that surrounds the city is the perfect combination of urban and rural.

Organise your travel itinerary with Passporter easy and functional. Get inspired by the experiences of other travellers and choose the places that interest you the most, adding them to the route map.

Places to see in Chiang Mai

The centre is the best place to start seeing the city. This is where most of the temples are located, as well as sightseeing, such as museums and restaurants, and not so touristy, such as markets and shops, where you’ll learn about everyday Thai life.

The historic centre of Chiang Mai corresponds to the old city, which is surrounded by a wall and moat. It can be entered through one of its legendary four gates, which are worth a visit in themselves. There are more than 300 temples in Chiang Mai, and even if you don’t have time to visit them all, walking through the streets and finding them is an unforgettable experience. Here are some of the must-see temples to visit.

Temple Wat Chedi Luang

This temple, which once stood 85 metres high, is undoubtedly one of Chiang Mai’s must-see attractions. We say that it reached 86 metres because in an earthquake in 1545 it lost half of its stupa, of which the ruins of about 50 metres now remain. Inside you can see an interesting golden Buddha in a reclining position. The grounds are also very beautiful, with a huge prayer hall and its famous standing Buddha. Admission fee: 40 baht (1€)

Not as impressive as the previous one, but equally interesting, the Wat Phan Tao temple is very close to Wat Chedi Luang and can be visited next to it. Free admission.

what to see in Chiang Mai Wat chedi luang
What to see in Chiang Mai Wat Chedi Luang @phuu

Wat Phra Singh

One of the most beautiful and important temples in Chiang Mai. It is the largest temple in the city and has been considered a Royal Temple since 1935, when King Rana VIII bestowed the honour on it. Inside is a highly revered Buddha figure with a long history, having been stolen several times on its journey from India until it finally reached its destination. The statue of Phra Buddha Sihing, after which the temple is named, is paraded through the streets of Chiang Mai during the Thai New Year. Admission: 40 baht(1€)

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man, built around 1300, when the city was founded, is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai and, for this reason, as well as for its breathtaking beauty, one of the must-see temples on your trip to this Thai city. In addition to its two Buddha statues, its beautiful golden pagoda, elevated on elephant sculptures, stands out. Free admission.

Doi Suthep National Park

On the mountain range that separates Myanmar and Thailand lies one of the must-see places in Chiang Mai. This is Doi Suthep National Park, home to one of the city’s most impressive temples. The place is beautiful in itself, the green nature, the waterfalls…. But as if this were not enough, it is lucky enough to house the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. To reach it, you have to climb a staircase of more than 300 steps, flanked by two beautiful dragons (or take the lift). Once at the top, you’ll find the best views in all of Chiang Mai.

The temple is actually a Buddhist monastery and pilgrimage site dating back to the 14th century. As well as its beautiful natural setting, it’s notable for its tall golden pagoda that will take your breath away. Admission to the park is 30 baht (0.79€). Opening hours: 8:00-18:00

Monastery of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Monastery of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a must-see in Chiang Mai @Unsplash

Night Bazaar

Markets are one of the main sources of life here and most especially at night. This time of day is when the streets fill with people and bustle and the city awakens. The Night Bazaar is proof of this. At the intersection of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Khro Road, from 18:00 to 22:30 at night, a myriad of stalls selling handicrafts, souvenirs, handmade clothes and restaurants open their doors to offer you one of the most authentic experiences in the city.

Also, very close to the Night Bazaar is one of the best places to see in the city. This is the Ploen Night Market, an open-air space where performances, live music, the best Thai street food and a relaxed atmosphere all come together in one place.

What things to see near Chiang Mai

Chiang Rai, the former capital

Chiang Rai, the capital of the Mangrai dynasty, is 180km from Chiang Mai. The city was conquered by the former Burma until 1899, when it was recaptured. Chiang Rai is a small city that can be visited quickly and is characterised by temples that look like something out of a movie. The most famous is the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun, on the outskirts of the city, built in 1997. It’s interesting to walk around the temple and observe its different styles of Buddhist, Hindu and contemporary art, with a sort of sea of white hands sticking out of the ground and appearing to call for help. Price: 50 baht, 1’30€. Opening hours: Mon-Fri 8:00-17:00, Sat-Sun: 8:00-17:30

Another of Chiang Rai’s most important temples is located in the centre of the city, the Blue Temple or Wat Rong Suea Ten. Although it is built on top of another temple, the one we can see today began construction in 2005 and opened its doors in 2016 and, as with the previous temple, it feels like you’re entering an unreal place. Admission is free and opening hours are daily from 8:00 to 17:00.

There are many companies offering tours to Chiang Rai from Chiang Mai in one day. The price of the tours is around 45€.

How to get to Chiang Mai Thailand

As one of Thailand’s largest and most important cities, Chiang Mai is very well connected and easy to reach both from abroad and from other parts of the country. Although it has its own airport, Chiang Mai International Airport, there are no direct flights from Europe, all of which make at least one stopover in other cities on the Asian continent or in Bangkok itself. Return flights from Spain cost around €600.

From Bangkok

On trips to Thailand it’s common to start in Bangkok, not just because it’s the capital, but because it’s the most direct destination. Once you’ve seen Bangkok, a good option is to travel to beautiful Chiang Mai. These two cities are 700km from each other, so the quickest and most convenient way to get there is by plane. And if you’re one of those travellers who prefer to improvise rather than plan ahead, you’re in luck because there are flights almost every hour that connect the two cities, for a price of between 16-50€ and a duration of less than an hour and a half.

Where to eat in Chiang Mai

Travelling to Chiang Mai is a real experience, not only because of the unique sights to see and the opportunity to experience Thai culture, but also because of the delicious cuisine. Thai cuisine is characterised by its mixture of flavours, the use of rice in most of its dishes and its delicious sauces such as Siracha, famous all over the world. If you travel to Chiang Mai, Thailand, don’t forget to try the Pad Thai!

  • Tikky Café: A small place with excellent customer service, delicious dishes at a good price and a nice terrace. Price range: 1-4€
  • Kat’s Kitchen: A good Thai restaurant, with a wide variety of dishes and generous portions. Price range: 2-3€

It’s also worth noting that Thailand, like many Asian countries, is a street food paradise. Its streets are full of food stalls where you can try authentic Thai delicacies. Be careful, though, especially with water, which should always be bottled.

Chiang Mai travel street food
Chiang Mai travel: street food @worldtraveler

Where to sleep in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai, and Thailand in general, is a destination with a wide range of accommodation to suit every budget and every traveller’s needs. From hostels to spend a night with your backpack, to luxury hotels, you’ll find the perfect accommodation for you in this city without any trouble at all. The best areas to stay in Chiang Mai are the Chang Moi district, Nimman Haemin (the university area) and the city centre.

  • The August Hostel: A two-star hostel in the heart of Chiang Mai. The perfect place to rest from €5 per night for a bunk bed and €14 for a room for three. But don’t let the prices fool you, The August Hostel is a comfortable, clean and very modern place. Free cancellation.
  • Phra Singh Village: If the opposite is your thing, check out this 5-star hotel, one of the best you’ll see in Chiang Mai. Also centrally located, it has fantastic rooms, a swimming pool and a beautiful garden where you can have breakfast every morning. Price range per night: 57-170€ (depending on season). Breakfast included.

What to do in Chiang Mai in two days

First day in Chiang Mai:

  • Get a tour the old town of Chiang Mai
  • Visit the temple Wat Chedi Luang
  • Then Wat Phan Tao
  • And the temple Wat Phra Singh
  • Check out the Night Bazaar

Second day in Chiang Mai:

  • Doi Suthep National Park
  • Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
  • Wat Chiang Man
  • Ploen Night Market

Tips for your trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand

  • The currency in Thailand is Thai Baht (1 baht = 0.026€).
  • Bring your money with you beforehand, currency exchanges at airports are very expensive.
  • Carry some cash at all times, as not all shops accept credit cards.
  • Be prepared for medical emergencies: travel with insurance.
  • The best time to see Chiang Mai is from December to February, the least rainy period.
  • Best to drink only bottled water, as tap water is not always safe to drink.
  • Beware of unlabelled street products.
  • Keep your mosquito repellent handy at all times.
  • To enter temples you should be barefoot, wear trousers or skirts below the knees and clothes that cover the shoulders.
  • Opt for responsible tourism and avoid activities that involve the abuse of animals and humans.

How to organise your trip to Chiang Mai Thailand

Sign up or download the Passporter App and discover all its possibilities.

  • Get inspired by the experiences of other travellers.
  • Create your own itinerary and add the app’s suggestions to it.
  • Add the stops that interest you most, as well as the restaurants and bars where you want to eat (you can use the points of interest listed in this post as a reference).
  • Organise your itinerary by route days according to their location on the map (you can take inspiration from the routes we present in the post)
  • Check the travel budget that the app calculates according to your travel stops, restaurants, and leisure activities.
  • Make the modifications you need and you’ll be all set for your trip.
  • Share your experience. Upload photos of each of the places you have visited on your trip to the app and recommend other travellers what to see in Chiang Mai Thailand.

If you have doubts about how to do it, you can check our post: How to create a travel itinerary in Passporter.

Frequently asked questions about a trip to Chiang Mai

How many days do you need to see Chiang Mai?

Two days will be enough to capture the essence of the city and visit its main sights.

What does Chiang Mai mean?

Chiang Mai translates as ‘New City’. It was given this name after the loss of the city of Chiang Rai, the former capital of the Mangrai dynasty.

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