Have you heard of Chiang Mai? It’s located in Northern Thailand and has become not only a popular tourist destination but a place where many ex-pats and digital nomads choose to call home. If you ever find yourself there, you will see why. This city has so much history, culture, and charm.
Chiang Mai is totally different from the sprawling city of Bangkok or the sunny Thai islands. It has a personality of its own and there are so many things to experience here. After living there for 6 months, I found some really fun things to do, that you won’t find on every list. So, here are 12 things to add to your Thailand bucket list when you make your way to Chiang Mai.
If you’re ready to start planning a trip to this amazing place, be sure to check out Wild Bum’s Chiang Mai travel guide for even more tips! And make sure to read up on all the things to know before going to Thailand.
#1 Kayak the Ping River
This was one of my favorite things I did in Chiang Mai. It is so peaceful to be in the middle of a busy city, floating on water and taking it all in from a very different viewpoint. The best place to go kayaking is Wat Fa Ham. It’s located north of Thapae Gate Rd. and over the river from Tha Phae Gate.
When you get there, you’ll want to walk all the way to the back (to where the river is). Just find someone who works there, or even ask a monk about the kayaks. They will take you back to the big storage room with all of the kayaks and equipment and they will bring them down to the river for you.
Kayaking is available from 4-6pm every evening and it costs only 100 baht (About $3) for the entire two hours! I will warn you, it’s not the cleanest of rivers, so don’t go for a swim. But, it’s still such a fun thing to do while you’re in Chiang Mai.
#2 Visit a Coffee Farm
I went to Suan Lahu Organic Coffee Farm and it was not only a highlight of Chiang Mai for me but a highlight of my life. There are many small coffee farms located just outside of Chiang Mai. They can be reached pretty easily by taking a red truck taxi or a motorbike. Another major one you could look at visiting is Akha Ama Coffee. If you are a coffee lover, this is a MUST do in Chiang Mai.
#3 Go to Doi Suthep For Sunrise
Visiting Doi Suthep is a pretty obvious thing you HAVE to do in Chiang Mai. But, may I recommend that you go for sunrise?! It is breathtaking and so peaceful. Honestly, it blows my mind the small number of people that go for sunrise. You will pretty much have the whole temple to yourself until about 8am when the crowds start rolling in.
You will have to hire a taxi or call a grab car to take you up to the top. Unless you’re feeling really adventurous, and you don’t mind getting up in the middle of the night. In that case, you can hike up to the top! But, it’s no easy feat! In either case, make sure to get there early enough to see the sunrise from the very start!
After watching the sun come up you can take a walk through the temple sans crowds! Then, there’s a cute little café on the other side of the temple where you can sit and enjoy a coffee. Take the famous stairs down to the main entry again and from there you can go back to the city or continue higher up the mountain!
#4 Visit the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
This place has only gained popularity in the past few years. I didn’t hear anything about it when I was in Chiang Mai last time! Coming back and going this time around was awesome and made me see why it has become a must-go place.
It’s just outside of the city (about half an hour). The canyon was formed from an abandoned pit that was originally dug out to extend the runway at Chiang Mai Airport. Over time, it filled with rain and underground water. Now, it’s a series of very deep lakes surrounded by rock cliffs. In hot Thailand, this is like a mini escape. The waters are crystal blue (soooo blue!) and so refreshing!
#5 Go to the Temples
With over 300 temples in Chiang Mai city, you could spend your entire visit just going to temples. (I don’t recommend it) Honestly, be wary of temple-overload. While each temple is very unique and beautiful in its own way, you shouldn’t feel the pressure to visit all of them.
Visiting the main ones, in my opinion, is enough! Some notable temples to visit: The Silver Temple, Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh, Wat Phantao, Wat Lok Moli, Wat Rajamontean, and Wat Khuan Khama (these 3 are located right by each other)
#6 Get Lost in the Old City
The old city is the main area of Chiang Mai. It’s the big square that you’ll see on any map of Chiang Mai. It’s surrounded by the moat and there are different gates leading into the square. The most notable gate (that you should visit) is Tha Phae Gate. The old city is a great place to get lost and just wander around! You’ll find some great cafés and restaurants and there’s tons of good shopping as well.
#7 Hang Out in Nimman
You know how every big city has “the cool area”? That is Nimman in Chiang Mai. It’s the place to be for digital nomads and it’s home to some of the cutest coffee shops. The streets are lined with pretty shops, guesthouses, and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon just mosey-ing around!
#8 Do a Meditation Retreat or Attend Monk Chat
Every Friday at Wat Suan Dok they have a monk chat session beginning at 9am. It’s free to join and is completely donation-based. I highly recommend it if you are even remotely interested in learning more about Buddhism or meditation.
Likewise, you can try a multiple-day meditation retreat. Chiang Mai offers many options. The same temple that hosts monk chat also hosts a 3-day retreat[LINK]. It’s great for beginners and it’s not a huge time commitment. I did this retreat last time and I really enjoyed it. There are also other retreats ranging from 5 to 30 days!
#9 Visit Nong Buak Hard Public Park
This is one of my favorite places in Chiang Mai. This park is located at the southwest corner of the old city, just inside the moat. This is a park that is always full of life and energy. It’s not too big, but just big enough to get in a nice walk or jog.
This park is so beautiful and very well kept with palm trees, flowers, and a lovely pond that runs throughout. There are TONS of free yoga and fitness classes that are hosted in this park every day of the week at all different times! Just take a walk through and you’re bound to find a class to join.
#10 Wander Down a Walking Street
Saturday night on Wualai Road just outside of Chiang Mai gate there is a walking street (or night market). It’s a place where you can truly take in the culture, eat all the food, do some shopping, or just people-watch! Fair warning, the street is not super wide and it can get VERY crowded. The merchants usually start setting up at about 5pm. I recommend getting there early because it’ll be less busy.
There’s also a Sunday walking street that’s very similar. The street is a bit wider, but this one can get just as busy! It starts right inside Thae Pae gate on Sundays, again around 5pm.
#11 Take a Walk Around Chiang Mai University
Chiang Mai University grounds are beautiful! They are very well kept, lush green, with flowers everywhere! If you have the time, I recommend just doing a little walk-through. It is a great spot to have a picnic or just lay outside and read a good book!
#12 Get Out Of The City
There are SO many things to do just outside of Chiang Mai city. Most people will get out to go to an elephant sanctuary. There are tons of great options for various elephant sanctuaries. I recommend Doi Inthanon Elephant Sanctuary. They don’t ride their elephants and they have many various packages for day trips. You will also get to visit the Karen hill tribe when you go with them.
Other options for things to do outside the city are visiting Doi Inthanon National Park, taking a trip to Pai, or just renting a motorbike and going for a drive! If you ever get the chance, Chiang Mai is the place to be for Loi Krathong – the lantern festival!
Chiang Mai is one of my favorite cities. It has so much to offer. It is a big city, with the feel of a town. By car, you can get almost anywhere in the city within 10-20 minutes. But, it’s also very walkable! It’s a must-visit city in Thailand. I hope you love it as much as I do!