15 Coolest Things to Do in Chiang Mai

Almost every traveller has Chiang Mai on their itinerary while backpacking through Thailand. And with good reason. Chiang Mai is filled with an abundance of weird and wonderful things to do. I was only supposed to spend four days there, but ended up staying for an entire week!

15 coolest things to do in Chiang Mai

Visit temples

You can’t go to Thailand without visiting a Buddhist temple. That’s like travelling around Europe and not visiting a Cathedral. OK, you could do that. In fact, I try to do that because I don’t like how much they usually rip you off in churches. But at least the Buddhist temples give you the option to donate.

Anyway, you can easily spend an entire day cycling around temples in Chiang Mai. There’s over 300 of them! My favourites were Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Srisupan and Wat Phra Singh.

Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai

Tip: Make sure you take off your shoes when entering a temple, and cover your shoulders and knees.

Chat with a monk

Ever wanted to ask a monk about his life? Many Buddhist temples (including Wat Chedi Luang) run a program called “Monk Chat” where visitors can ask a monk questions.

Monks in Chiang Mai

Take a Thai cooking class

The local food in Thailand is incredible. I got completely hooked on pad thai and red thai curries. It was even better learning how to cook Thai food so I could make it again when I got back home. Our group all had a laugh together and it was so interesting to see which ingredients were used in each dish.

Thai cooking class in Chiang Mai

Get a massage by a prisoner

The Womens Correctional Institution have set up massage parlours in Chiang Mai as part of a training scheme to help integrate prisoners back into society. The masseuses I met were genuinely lovely people. I got an amazing 1 hour oil massage for 380 baht (£9) and came out feeling 100x lighter.

Go to a UAV reggae bar

I basically lived in THC rooftop bar when I stayed in Chiang Mai. The cocktails were cheap, the DJ played great songs and the atmosphere was really chilled. I knew it was my kind of place when I saw the ground level tables and luminous wall art.

THC Rooftop Bar in Chiang Mai

Watch a Muay Thai boxing match

Muay Thai boxing is an art. It’s part of Thai culture. I underestimated how crazy it is though. The ceremonial dancing, customary music and locals chanting creates the wildest atmosphere. I was completely mesmerised as I watched two small Thai boxers dangerously repeatedly kick each other in the face. Still, it’s exhilarating and you should totally go to a match.

Bathe an elephant

This is the best out of the 15 coolest things to do in Chiang Mai for me! Recently, light has been shed on the horrendous abuse that elephants receive in the tourism industry. Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is well-known for paving the way for ethical elephant sanctuaries. Instead of riding elephants, Elephant Nature Park rescues disabled elephants and allows visitors to feed, bathe and stroke the gentle giants.

I stayed overnight at the park and had the best time. In the morning, I sat out on my private bungalow’s patio beside the river, and watched elephants freely play in the water. I knew that my money was going towards a good cause which was far better than ignorantly funding a cruel industry of animal abuse. I guarantee that the experience is far more satisfying than riding elephants.

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai

Tip: Book weeks in advance if possible.

Take a day trip to Bua Thong waterfalls

The multi-tiered “sticky” waterfalls are a one hour north of Chiang Mai. Either rent a motorbike, hire a local guide or hire a red Songtaew to take you there and wait to drive you back (around 1000 baht/£23 return). At least entrance to the park is free!

Zipline through the rainforest

I paid 4000 baht (£90) for 2 hours of ziplining through the canopy of the rainforest in Chiang Mai. Was it worth it? Yes. I even got to see wild gibbons swinging in the trees.

Ziplining with Flight of the Gibbons in Chiang Mai

Tip: Most hostels will arrange the trip for you. Book a few days in advance.

Listen to live jazz music

North Gate Jazz Co-Op plays live jazz music seven days a week at the north end of the old city. If you want to chill out and listen to musicians jam, this is the place! It opens 7pm to 11pm everyday.

Get a songthaew to the Temple of the Golden Mountain

Wat Phra That Doi Kham (the Temple of the Golden Mountain) is only 30 minutes outside of Chiang Mai old city. Then there is another couple hundred steps to reach the temple. The views are worth it though. There’s also a cable car to the top.

Either rent a motorcycle, hire a red Songtaew (60 baht/£1.50 with 12 people) or order an Uber to get there. The temple opens from 8am to 5pm and entrance costs 30 baht (70p).

Tip: Arrive early in the morning or late in the evening to avoid the crowds.

Eat in a hidden garden

Although it’s more expensive than the dirt cheap street food in Chiang Mai, it’s good to get away from the city bustle. The Faces is a secluded outdoor restaurant inside ruin-like walls with jungle-like vegetation. I came here a few times just to relax, have a cold beer and eat some delicious food.

The Faces Restaurant in Chiang Mai

Cliff jump at Chiang Mai grand canyon

Although it’s more of a quarry, jumping off a 10-15 meter cliff into emerald water is still exciting. To get there, either rent a motorbike or red Songtaew (300 baht/£7 max). There’s also a water park. Entrance for observers is 150 baht (£3) or 320 (£7) baht for swimmers.

Tip: Be careful. Safety isn’t really on the priority list for unofficial parks like this, and there have been injuries.

Go to the weekend markets

There are two different markets at the weekend. One is on Saturday at Wua Lai Road, and another one is on Sunday at Tha Pae Gate. The stalls stay open from 4pm to midnight on both days and stretch for 1km.

The markets really come alive at night with street performers and musicians. Although all I bought was more pad thai (typical), it’s the perfect place to buy souvenirs for family and friends.

Night Markets in Chiang Mai

Dance all night

When I say dance all night, I mean dance in the bars until they close at 12am and then find anywhere else that’s open. Usually everyone goes to Spicy afterwards which closes at 3am, but I didn’t find it to be good…

There’s a small area filled with bars in the old city of Chiang Mai which I went to a few times. The first time, a group in our hostel headed to Zoe in Yellow which was crazy. Think blasting dubstep and everyone chugging buckets because you would need to block out the psychological damage being done to your brain.

On my last night there, I went to Roots Rock Reggae which was way more chilled. A big group of us had the best night ever dancing to live reggae music.

Go to a 3D art museum

The 3D interactive murals are probably more aimed at families, but it’s a fun place to take creative photos. The art gallery opens from 9am to 7pm and entrance costs 400 baht (£9).

Pin it for later!

15 Coolest Things to Do in Chiang Mai


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  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 12:46 pm

    To think that’s where we met!!!
    I miss this perfect place <3 <3 <3

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 10:49 pm

      Ahh I know! I can’t believe it’s over a year ago!! I miss it too <3

  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 12:53 pm

    I went to Chiang Mai a few years ago, and my favorite experience was definitely the cooking class I did. It was so fun and I learned a lot. I hadn’t heard of the 3D art museum. Will have to check that out next time I am there.

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 10:49 pm

      Yeah the class is so much fun, isn’t it?! Thanks for reading Anisa!

  • Reply
    Lindsey Nicole
    August 31, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Love this! Getting a massage from prisoners is a good one! How long were you in Chiang Mai?

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 10:48 pm

      Yeah it was such a great experience! About 11 days I think!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 3:13 pm

    Wow! Me and my friends are planning to go to Thailand next year but I didn’t know you can do a lot of interesting activities there like chatting with a monk or getting a massage from a prisoner. Can the monks also give you life advice?

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 10:48 pm

      Yeah there is so much cool stuff to do! The monks would definitely give life advice too or at least they would give insight on how they live!

  • Reply
    August 31, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    Thank you for highlighting tourism fueled animal cruelty. I hate it when people post photos of them riding on elephants. I loved the idea of a cooking class and reggae music:-)

    • Reply
      August 31, 2017 at 10:47 pm

      Me too, it pains me that people are unaware about the dark truth behind elephant riding! I’m just trying to spread awareness. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    September 1, 2017 at 4:46 am

    Definitely had to Pin for later. This seems like such an awesome place. The cooking classes seem like something interesting to do. Especially learning about different foods and cultural spices.

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks Kellyn, it was so amazing! The Thai cooking class actually lets you see into Thai culture!

  • Reply
    Margarita Ibbott
    September 1, 2017 at 4:52 am

    I have to say taking the cooking class and dancing all night long would be my top two… great post!

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      Yeah they were definitely up there on my favourites!

  • Reply
    September 1, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    I loved bathing with elephants! And getting a massage from a prisoner??!! hahah that’s quite surprising!

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      Aw you did it too? Yeah, it was an amazing experience, and ethical too!

  • Reply
    Diana - MVMT Blog
    September 1, 2017 at 3:16 pm

    Wat Chedi Luang is my favorite temple in Chiang Mai too! Which cooking class did you take? I did one through Thai Farms Cooking School, and my guide’s name was Yummy – how apt for a cooking class guide! haha. I love Chiang Mai, there are so many fun things to do there. I’d love to go back again soon.

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 6:42 pm

      Hahaha I love the name of your guide! Mine was called Nancy, she was hilarious. I think it was called Siam Rice!

  • Reply
    September 1, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    The zip lining sounds like a dream! I didnt even know Chiang Mai had one there the two times I went. Well third time is a charm! I also appreciate how you included jazz music over, must have been nice to listen to in that kind of environment 🙂

    • Reply
      September 1, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      Yeah it’s not in the city centre but it’s so much fun! Enjoy if you go next time!

  • Reply
    Kim Feinzilberg
    September 2, 2017 at 2:47 am

    Great blog! Nicely organized and easy to navigate! Love your photos ❤️

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 10:17 am

    I loved Chiang Mai! Great article with some great recommendations!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 11:25 am

    Definitely bookmarking this for future reference! I’ve wanted to go to Thailand for so long. I’d definitely love to visit an elephant sanctuary and take a cooking lesson. There’s nothing better than Thai food is there?! Aha

    • Reply
      September 4, 2017 at 11:00 am

      Thanks Emily! Thai food is honestly my favourite now after visiting Thailand haha.

  • Reply
    Alyssa | Yellow Birch
    September 2, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Everything you did looks like such a blast – especially because I just adore elephants 😉 I’ll definitely be saving this for my future travels!

    • Reply
      September 4, 2017 at 10:59 am

      If you adore elephants, you would love the nature park. It brings you into an intimate environment with the elephants and the whole experience just warms your heart 🙂 Thanks Alyssa!

  • Reply
    September 2, 2017 at 8:00 pm

    I love Chiang Mai! Went there years and years ago for a high school trip. Zip-lining looks like so much fun, it’s firmly on my list! Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      September 4, 2017 at 10:58 am

      You went on a high school trip when you were there?! What age were you? Yes, ziplining should be on your list! Thanks for reading Kamara.

  • Reply
    September 9, 2017 at 1:00 am

    My boyfriend and I plan on going to Thailand late January 2018, excited to have found this post! I want to do everything on this list! I was going to choose three, but it’s so hard, they all sound cool! Great post!?

    • Reply
      September 12, 2017 at 12:08 pm

      That will be an amazing trip Tyra! Thanks for reading!

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