Chiang Mai is the capital city of Northern Thailand and was for many centuries the capital of the Lanna Kingdom until being fully integrated into the more powerful Kingdom of Siam. The city and the provinces surrounding Chiang Mai have managed to preserve their local authentic cultures where ethnic minorities such as Karen, Mon or Shan have a deep influence on local beliefs, handicraft and food.
Chiang Mai makes a good base to further explore the unique Kingdom of Northern Thailand and its rolling hills, mountains, secluded villages, and beautiful temples. Read on for Chiang Mai travel tips, itinerary ideas and a comprehensive guide to getting there.
When to visit Chiang Mai
The destination is most popular during the cooler temperatures from November to February. Rainy season falls between May and September.
Top 11 Things to do in Chiang Mai
The city centre of Chiang Mai offers a variety of attractions with dozens of temples, ancient teak houses, old city walls, museums, markets, and gardens. Here’s what not to miss:
1. Visit Wat Phra Singh, a Chiang Mai icon
Wat Phra Singh temple, located along Sam Lan Road in the historical walled city of Chiang Mai, is one of the largest and most visited places in Chiang Mai, especially for the Viharn Lai Kham (the Assembly Hall) with its exquisite wooden sculptures and its ancient sculptures of Buddha.
Look also at the amazing elevated library building with its beautifully sculpted walls, the round chedi is inspired by Ceylonese architecture. On Sunday, part of the road running from the temple to Tapae Gate is turned into a walking street with many locals selling delicacies and handicraft.
How to get there: The temple is located at the end of Ratchadamnoen Road near the Tapae gate, which is part of the old walls.
2. Marvel at Wat Chedi Luang, the most impressive chedi
No tourist comes to Chiang Mai without paying a visit to Wat Chedi Luang with its huge chedi, one of the tallest in the city. Long sculpted serpents (naga) and elephants’ sculptures surround the chedi and are considered the most beautiful in Northern Thailand. There is a monk corner at the temple where visitors have the opportunity to chat with novices and young monks, helping them to improve their English knowledge.
How to get there: The temple is on Prapokklao Road – the main road along a north/south axis. It is just a few metres away from Wat Phra Singh.
3. Go back in time with Wat Chiang Man, Chiang Mai’s oldest temple
The construction of the temple dates back to 1296, according to experts. Located inside the walled historical city, the temple was built with the founding of the town. It is famous for its beautiful Ubosot (main hall) as well as a chedi supported by sculpted by elephants’ buttresses.
How to get there: The temple is located near to Chang Puak Gate along Ratchaphakhinai Road at the cross section of Sri Phum Road.
4. Oogle at Wat Chet Yot’s exquisite female figures
The location isn’t great: this temple is outside the walled city, standing next to a large highway and hidden by some advertising signage. But once inside the compound, you will discover seven chedis, which gave the name to the temple (“Seven Peaks”). Wat Chet Yot offers some of the most refined sculptures of goddesses, largely inspired by traditional Indian sculptures at Mahabodhi Temple in Gaya (India). A peaceful place with little tourists to discover…
How to get there: It is within 10 minutes walking distance of the Chiang Mai National Museum, in the direction of Huay Kaew road.
5. Wander around Chiang Mai’s charming walled town
Chiang Mai city centre still has a large number of old buildings with teak wood villas and administrative structures such as the City Hall built in an interesting blend of Victorian European and Thai styles.
Stroll around the district around the City Hall with its museum, old post office, and schools with their distinctive architecture. The city centre is surrounded by walls and gates as well as moats which have been converted into parks. Best is to rent a bike to discover the centre, although crossing the ring road around the wall can be a bit challenging!
How to get there: Follow signs to the city centre.
6. Stroll along the Ping River’s creative quarter
Opposite the walled city and across the Ping River between the Nawarat and Nakorn Ping bridges, lies Chiang Mai’s riverside Wat Ket district. This community lined with old teak houses is home today to indie coffee shops, small restaurants as well as many art shops selling traditional Lanna textiles, design objects and sculptures.
Pay a visit to Wat Gate, a temple with a museum looking like an old attic as well as to the 137 Pillars House, a hotel converted from a historic Lanna style mansion belonging to the Borneo Trade Company. There is a small museum inside the five-star luxury boutique hotel on the history of the teak wood company.
How to get there: Walk along the Ping River, passing an American church to enter into Charoen Rat Road.
7. Shop at the Chiang Mai night market
Not far from the night bazaar along Chang Klan Road is the entrance to the Anusarn Night Market. The market is popular with Thais who flock there to purchase fried pork rinds and the extremely hot green chilli dip called Nam Prik.
There are lots of giant food stalls as well, making the market a great place to have dinner. North of Tapae Road along the river, you’ll come to the flower market, where you’ll find roses, orchids and many other cut flowers on sale. The market is open until midnight and is most active late at night.
How to get there: The Market is located on Chang Klan Road in the Mueang Chiang Mai District.
8. Be dazzled by Wat Phra That’s gold and elegance
A holiday to to Chiang Mai without visiting Wat Phra That? It’s unheard of! The very much revered temple located half an hour away from town is a major pilgrimage destination during Buddhist holidays.
The temple dates back to the end of the 14th century and for visitors, its appeal comes from its elegant golden chedi surrounded by golden statues of deities and Buddhas, as well as from the amazing panorama offered over Chiang Mai city, when mist recedes over town.
While there is a funicular to take visitors to the top of Doi Suthep hill where the temple is located, the most courageous travellers will enjoy climbing the 309 steps to the temple compound.
How to get there: Songthaew (a small pickup truck) generally takes individual tourists to Wat Phra That from the small market area at the corner of Manneenopparat and Chotana Roads, next to Changpuak Gate and Central shopping mall.
9. Tour the winter palace and Doi Pui Meo Village
Just four kilometres away from Doi Suthep is a royal family residence called Bhubing Palace. Built in 1961 as a winter palace, Bhubing is well known for its lavish gardens which are open to the public when the Royal Family does not reside there — generally outside the months of January to March.
The garden is then open every day. Another three kilometres away from Bhubing Palace is Doi Pui Meo village which gives a glimpse into the life of Hmong ethnics. The village offers wonderful views over Doi Inthanon.
How to get there: Doi Suthep is located some 15 km away from Chiang Mai. The direction is along Highway 121 towards Amphoe Hang Dong. Add roughly 8 km for Bhubing Palace and Doi Pui Meo.
10. Hang out with elephants
Highly recommended for the high standard of safety and respect for the animals, the Elephant Nature Park located 60km from the city has received numerous awards since its establishment in the 1990s. It is not just a sanctuary for the dozens of distressed elephants from all over Thailand, but also home to rescued buffalo, dogs, cats and even birds. Visitors get to observe elephants feeding and bathing, and can even volunteer to take care of and improve the plight of the Asian elephant.
11. Feel on top of the world at Doi Inthanon
Doi Inthanon National Park in Chiang Mai is a must-visit, offering spectacular landscapes filled with lush jungles, green plains, and jaw-dropping waterfalls. The mountain is the highest in Thailand, standing at 2,599 m over sea level. Winters can then be particularly cold with frost often seen in December and January.
There are many trek and hiking trails to follow inside the National Park. One of the most spectacular trails is the Ku Mae Pan trail, which takes three hours and goes through oak and fern forests, hills covered by flowers as well as waterfalls. The highlight of the trail is the arrival in front of the Royal Twin Pagodas, built to commemorate the fifth cycle birthdays of King Rama IX and Queen Sirikit.
Among other activities at Doi Inthanon is the visit of Khun Klang Village, part of an agricultural royal project. There is also a bird watching centre with the possibility to observe migrating birds, particularly in winter months.
How to get there: Doi Inthanon can be visited on a day trip as it is only located 100 km away from Chiang Mai. It takes generally two hours to reach the national park, going west of Chiang Mai.
How to get to Chiang Mai?
The easiest way to get into Chiang Mai is by flying. Domestic and international flights arrive and depart from Chiang Mai International Airport, 3km southwest of the old city.
Alternatively, you consider taking buses or trains to get from other cities in Thailand to Chiang Mai. Find out more about traveling by land transport with our comprehensive transportation guides for buses and trains in Thailand.
Flights to Chiang Mai
Domestic flights within Thailand:
- Bangkok to Chiang Mai
- Hat Yai to Chiang Mai
- Krabi to Chiang Mai
- Khon Kaen to Chiang Mai
- Koh Samui to Chiang Mai
- Mae Hong Son to Chiang Mai
- Pattaya to Chiang Mai
- Phuket to Chiang Mai
- Surat Thani to Chiang Mai
- Ubon Ratchathani to Chiang Mai
- Udon Thani to Chiang Mai
International flights from Southeast Asia:
- From Laos: Luang Prabang to Chiang Mai
- From Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur to Chiang Mai
- From Myanmar: Mandalay to Chiang Mai
- From Singapore: Singapore to Chiang Mai
- From Vietnam:
International flights from East Asia:
- From Mainland China:
- Beijing to Chiang Mai
- Chengdu to Chiang Mai
- Guangzhou to Chiang Mai
- Hong Kong to Chiang Mai
- Kunming to Chiang Mai
- From South Korea: Seoul to Chiang Mai
- From Taiwan: Taipei to Chiang Mai
Trains to Chiang Mai
- Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a popular sleeper train route, passing by Don Mueang Airport, Ayutthaya and Lop Buri (also known as Lopburi).
Buses to Chiang Mai
Buses within Thailand:
International buses from Southeast Asia:
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