Fun Things to Do in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Situated in the northern, mountainous region of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a delight to many types of tourists. Depending on what you like to do, it can appeal to the avid shopper, food lover, curious creative, history and culture buff, or seasoned adventurer. Once the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lanna, this photogenic cultural and natural heritage is indeed a sight to behold.
Chiang Mai is a fascinating overview of the fusion of traditional and modern Thailand. With its lush landscapes, majestic temples, culturally infused festivals, delicious food, and relaxing massages, it would take long before you run out of interesting things to do—or see, or eat.
A connecting flight from Bangkok is usually the gateway to Chiang Mai. This flight takes around 1 hour and 10 minutes. From the airport, you can get to the city via tuk-tuk, a red songthaew (mini-bus), or taxi. Because Chiang Mai has so much to offer, it’s actually worth going there for a full week before moving on to your next destination or going back home.
Ready to pack your bags and head for Chiang Mai? Listed below are some fun things to do in Chiang Mai that you can do while you’re there. Now, we know that fun is relative, so it’s up to you to decide which ones are worth trying out!
1 – Go Temple Hopping
Chiang Mai is widely known for its Buddhist Temples, and there is no shortage of temples to visit and appreciate. The most popular one, the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, is a majestic golden temple atop a mountain. It also features a nearby hidden forest temple, Wat Pha Lat.
The Old City also features a variety of temples such as Wat Phra Singh, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Sri Suphan. Hopping from temple to temple really is one of the fun things to do in Chiang Mai.
If you are curious about the White Temple, otherwise known to locals as Wat Rong Khun, you can arrange for a trip to Chiang Rai province, which is two hours away from Chiang Mai. All of these temples have a rich history that will surely be appreciated by culture enthusiasts.
Some monks even allow tourists to join them in their meditations. If you are into that, you can ask for the schedule of their sessions and participate if it’s possible.
2 – Visit an Ethical Elephant Sanctuary
You’ve probably seen photos of tourists riding elephants in Thailand. However, more and more establishments are banning this activity because it compromises the elephant’s health for a variety of reasons. If you want to see an elephant in the flesh, you can meet them at ethical elephant sanctuaries, where you can give them a bath and feed them! Now that sounds like one of the top fun things to do in Chiang Mai!
Such sanctuaries will not have elephant riding activities because the elephants’ health are their priorities. Elephants are, after all, Thailand’s national animal. You can visit Elephant Nature Park to learn more about them in theory and up close. The trip may not exactly be that cheap, but the company uses the money to rescue other exploited elephants.
It is worth noting that you should consider booking them at least 30 days in advance. They offer day visits, week visits, and volunteer sessions.
3 – Go Up the Sticky Waterfall
Located in Sri Lanna forest, which is 90 minutes away from Chiang Mai, you will find Bua Tong Waterfall—or more popularly known as the Sticky Waterfall. It got its namesake because it has sticky residues that make it easy for people to climb up the rocks. Of course, make sure that you still exercise precaution at all times.
You must have your own pre-arranged transportation to get to the Sticky Waterfall, or you can also negotiate with other tourists so you can all go there via a songthaew.
4 – Visit the Doi Inthanon National Park
One of the fun things to do in Chiang Mai for nature lovers, Doi Inthanon is actually the highest peak in Thailand. Hiking the Kiew Mae Pan Nature Trail takes around two hours, but both the hike and the view on top are spectacular. You can also visit the Sriphum Waterfall, which is the tallest one in the whole region.
The Doi Inthanon National Park also features other attractions like the hill tribe market, the twin pagodas that are dedicated to King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, and the Wachirathan Waterfall. It’s recommended to have a car while touring this national park, because some places can be pretty difficult to get to.
If you want to get the best out of Doi Inthanon, it’s better to stay there for one night before going back.
5 – Enjoy the Street Food
Exploring fun things to do in Chiang Mai is going to involve eating Thai food at some point. Right? Thailand is wildly popular for their street food. You can find a variety of stalls featuring traditional and modern Lanna food near Chiang Mai Gate and Tha Phae Gate at night.
Check out this guide to all the best Chiang Mai street food spots.
Must-try specialties include northern Thai sausage (Sai Oua), fried pork skin (Cap Mhoo), roasted chili dip (Nam Prik Noom), and tomato chili dip (Nam Prik Ong).
The more exotic food choices, on the other hand, can be found in Kaad Ngua or the Cattle Market. While it was literally a cattle market before, now it also sells a variety of other stuff, including Lanna food specialties. This food route is recommended for people whose palates are adventurous.
Prefer a street food tour? Then check out our guide to the best food experiences in Chiang Mai!
6 – Enroll in a Thai Cooking Class
In Chiang Mai, there are cooking schools that offer lessons on how to cook Thai food. If you are a big fan of Thai food, this is definitely worth considering, as you can take the knowledge back home and cook your favorite Thai food for yourself.
Most of these schools have great reviews, so it is only a matter of convenience and price when it comes to choosing which one you’d go to.
7 – Join Artistic Workshops
The Bo Sang Umbrella Village is a great place to visit if you are into arts and crafts. It’s already pretty satisfying to look and appreciate their works. However, if you are feeling creative yourself, or if you want to explore your artistic side, there are workshops that you can join to channel your inner creative while doing another of the fun things to do in Chiang Mai!
Whether you want to create a doll, a paper umbrella, a t-shirt, or a Khon mask, there is something out there for you to try.
8 – See the Yee Peng and Loy Krathong Festivals
If you are into cultural festivals, the Yee Peng Festival (sometimes spelled as “Yi Peng”) and the Loy Krathong Festival are among the most aesthetic festivals you’ll ever come across. Yee Peng is a smaller festival that occurs just before the grander Loy Krathong Festival.
Yee Peng involves the mass release of sky lanterns as a means of letting go of past misfortunes. Loy Krathong, on the other hand, draws people to lakes, canals, and rivers to honor the goddess of water. It’s their way of thanking the goddess for providing what they needed the previous year. They do this by creating lotus-shaped rafts with flowers, incense, and candles, and releasing them into the water.
Indeed, these two festivals are great to witness and experience firsthand because photos do not justify what it feels like to be there. The exact date will vary per year, but it is always held during mid-November. The joyous atmosphere at these festivals easily makes it on this list of fun things to do in Chiang Mai.
9 – Get a Traditional Thai Massage
A Thai massage can be very relaxing because it focuses on various pressure points. It also involves stretches that you don’t have to do yourself. To make it more interesting and make it one of the fun things to do in Chiang Mai, you can get your massage at the Women’s Correctional Institution, where a current inmate will massage you. This is Thailand’s way of rehabilitating prisoners so they won’t have a hard time reintegrating into society once they get out of jail.
Some spas, like Lila Thai Massage, even hire former prisoners as their masseuse. Because massage was a big part of their rehabilitation program, you can be sure that they’ve had tons of experience doing this, and are therefore very good with their hands. You may have tried Thai massage in your home country before, but of course it’s still an experience to have one while you’re in Thailand.
10 – Find New Travel Buddies
What can be more fun in Chiang Mai than making new friends?! For social adventurers, meeting new people during their travels is a gift that they’re always looking forward to. One of the best ways to meet others who share the same passions with travel is to stay in social hostels in Chiang Mai, where the settings are especially catered towards safe interactions.
Aside from having affordable accommodations, you may be able to get some items on your itinerary for a lower price, as some hostels can arrange for group tours. This is especially helpful if you’re a solo traveler on a budget. While your new friends can make your stay more fun, who knows, you might even be lucky enough to find someone who can be your future travel buddy to explore more of the fun things to do in Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai is a great example of what it’s like to see history, culture, and nature blending well together. Best of all, it’s not an expensive place to have fun in. You might even have to come back because there isn’t enough time to explore all the fun things to do in Chiang Mai. If you are looking for places to visit in Southeast Asia, it’s highly recommended to add Chiang Mai to your list.
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