Chiang Mai is the most popular city in the northern part of Thailand and while it is much smaller than Bangkok, it offers an admirable range of activities and fun things to do. Chiang Mai’s charm is its low-key atmosphere and laidback style, with the addition of cultural and adventurous highlights that will provide you with a vacation to remember.
Chiang Mai has an enviable location close to the mountains and hills of wild Northern Thailand. It also offers plenty of cultural activities from visiting important temples to taking cooking classes. And when you’re worn out after all that adventuring, it is one of the best places in Thailand for massages and spa breaks. If you’re visiting Chiang Mai after Bangkok, or you are heading to Chiang Mai as part of a longer Thai trip, check out the fun things you can do while you’re here.
1) Thai Cooking School
Chiang Mai is an amazing place for learning Thai cooking. There are a variety of cooking school options to choose from, and it is wise to ask for recommendations from other travelers or look online for reviews. The best places offer a full or half day cooking along with a visit to the market for purchasing supplies, cooking lessons, and the chance to eat your creations. You should also get the recipes for cooking at home.
2) Walking Chiang Mai
One of the most interesting – and cheapest – things you can do in Chiang Mai is to simply walk around. Of course, you will have to be careful in the heat but setting off early in the morning or later in the day will help. You’ll see the alleyways, small shops, and traditional houses that make Chiang Mai special and can stop off along the route for coffee and food.
3) Sunday Walking Street Market
The Sunday market in Chiang Mai starts in the late afternoon at 4 pm and goes on into the night. This is a great place to go to wander and browse, and it sells all kinds of items. You’ll also find some tasty food and can get cheap massages.
4) Chiang Mai Night Market
Another excellent market in Chiang Mai, the night market is open every night and is located towards the east of the historic city center. The food stalls here are amazing value and there is a wide variety of goods on offer, although the quality is perhaps not as high as at the Sunday Market.
5) Elephant Nature Park
This park does not offer elephant rides, as this can be a disturbing experience for the elephant, but it is a great place to get to know these amazing animals. You can wash the elephants, feed them, look at where they live and generally hang out with these creatures. The admission includes transport from the city as well as a big lunch and the full day at the park.
6) Chiang Mai Day Trips
Any tour operator in town and there are many of them, will offer you a wide variety of day trips from Chiang Mai, normally in a minibus and visiting some of the nearby sights. You will visit places like the White Temple, the hill tribes, markets, and hot springs. You can choose from half day and full day trips. It’s a good way to see the most famous sites around Chiang Mai but it won’t give you much flexibility as you will be following a tour group.
7) Spa Breaks in Chiang Mai
Spas are very popular in Chiang Mai and you can find many options for relaxation and general pampering, whether you want the full spa day treatment or just a massage or facial. There are many different massages available, plus beauty treatments and more, all in often luxurious surroundings – for a lot less than you would pay at home.
8) Talk with the Monks
At Wat Suan Dokm temple you can go and chat with the Buddhist Monks, and ask them questions about their culture and Buddhist religion. The monks can try out their English and you get a good experience of learning about what makes this religion and culture special.
9) Chiang Mai Arts and Culture Centre Museum
The museum offers a wide introduction to the history of the people living in the Chiang Mai area and relates stories to tableaus and exhibits. It is a nice place to visit for the afternoon, particularly on a rainy day.
10) Ratchaphruek Flower Gardens
The flower gardens are spread out over a huge area and there are some beautiful small gardens on display, which range from smallholdings to show gardens. It is quite hot to walk around in the middle of the day but there are shady spots and also places where you can get a message.
Check out PhuketOn for more Thailand inspiration and ideas. PhuketOn has travel news and tips for Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam, Laos and more.
Photo credits: Andrea Schaffer and AG Gilmore