My Top 20 things to do in Chiang Mai, in no particular order…
1 Doi Suthep – Start your time in Chiang Mai at this beautiful mountain top temple. Known for holding Buddha’s relics, this temple boasts stunning views of the city. Tip: Go early in the morning for sunrise. You’ll have the place virtually to yourself, see an awesome sunrise, and witness the monks chanting and collecting their daily alms. Plus climbing the mountain by starlight with Chiang Mai twinkling below is pretty magical.
2 Sunday Walking Street – I think this has to be one of the largest walking streets I’ve seen yet. It’s goes for many blocks, branching off into various side streets. And you can buy pretty much anything: food, sweets, smoothies, art, clothes, lanterns, massages, haircuts, etc.
Just be aware: this is not for the claustrophobic. It gets extremely crowded and when you’re ready to leave, be prepared to spend 30 + minutes of fighting the crowd.
3 Grand Canyon – Okay, so it’s not actually a canyon, just an old mine/quarry that has now been filled in with water. That being said, the water is pretty deep and there are cliffs you can jump off of into the warm water. And if the jumps aren’t for you, you can sunbathe or relax on their many floating bamboo rafts! It’s 50 baht to get in and more than worth it. And right now, not too many people know about it; It’s on the brink of becoming Chiang Mai’s new hot spot so get there ASAP! Also, take your motorbike. It’s significantly cheaper to rent than a 500-700 baht taxi.
4 Monk Chats – These are by far my favorite aspect of Chiang Mai. At various temples, Wat Chedi Luang being the most popular (and my favorite temple, too), you can sit with a monk and just talk. It helps them practice their English and you can learn about anything: their lives, Buddhism, Thai culture, and beyond. It’s probably the best way to get to know the city and country.
6 Run the Moat – I realize this isn’t for everyone, but the Old City Moat is a great place for a morning/evening run. You pass the different corners and gates, with old walls in tact, fountains, and flowers. And along the way, be sure to visit…
7 …The Buak Haad Park in the southwest corner of the Old City. It’s a nice escape from the nearby bustling roads with a pond, a walking path that loops around, fitness machines, and a few ladies selling yummy coconut ice cream. After running around the moat, be sure to stretch and workout at the park.
8 Temples – As the rest of Thailand, there are a ton of temples scattering the city. My favorite being Wat Chedi Luang. It’s gorgeous exterior continues on the inside. It features the Pra Buddha Attharos pose, signifying peace between each other. I found my way to the temple many times, enjoying simply sitting there, sometimes thinking, other times practicing meditation. And it’s free!
9 Meditation Retreats – While there are a lot of retreats all over Thailand and Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai has a few. Visit dhamma.org for vipassana meditation retreats (across the world). Most, if not all, are free with donations encouraged. I’ll be doing mine in Cambodia!
10 Chiang Mai has hundreds of tattoo shops, both machine and traditional bamboo. Don’t tell Dad! Just kidding…
11 Muay Thai Boxing – Although I can not stand violence, Muay Thai is a central facet of Thai culture. They hold matches just about every night and gyms also hold daily, weekly, or monthly classes.
12 If you’re in the mood to go out, meet some people, and maybe even get on the dance floor, Zoe in Yellow is the place to be. It’s fun, crowded, and always has a DJ. But if house music and blinding strobe lights aren’t for you, it’s surrounding by a small square of rock, reggae, and outdoor bars.
13 Cooking Schools – Chiang Mai is known for schools that teach traditional Northern Thai cooking. It was too expensive for me, but fellow travelers had a great time and walked away with a recipe book with 30+ dishes. Most range in price from 800 – 1200 baht (almost two days worth of travel for me)!
14 Ploen Ruedee Night Market! – This little square near the Night Bazaar is full of mini food vendors, selling all types of international food and drink. It’s open Monday through Saturday evenings, has great live music, and plenty of seats for you and your friends. It reminds me of a Westernized food truck park, and definitely brings me home.
15 Samoeng Loop – If you want to get out of the city, I’d suggest renting a motorbike and riding the Samoeng Loop. It’s about 100 km around, starting at the north end of town. You go north towards Mae Rim, make a left on 1096, then loop around to 108 north. You can do it in an hour and a half, but I’d suggest taking your time; there are caves, waterfalls, orchid and butterfly gardens, snake and elephant farms, adventure parks, and beautiful mountain views.
16 Mountain Treks – Chiang Mai’s many tourist agencies offer different treks ranging from 1-day, to 3-days, to even longer through special arrangement. They all vary, some harder than others, some more touristy than others. Do some research, talk with multiple agencies. My 3-day trek was a lot of fun, but still had it’s touristic moments… If you have the time, head 3 hours north to Chiang Rai. They’ve got more authentic treks that benefit local villagers, education, and even HIV/AIDS prevention.
17 Anusuarn Market/Night Bazaar – These nightly markets have everything you need! From clothing, to food, to souvenirs, to lady boy cabarets! 😉
18 Elephant Nature Park – This elephant park is one of the best and most popular in Thailand. They focus on rehabilitating elephants and humane treatment, unlike many other camps that do not treat them properly. Just make sure to book well in advance if you want to do a 7-day volunteer program.
19 If you’re looking for a caffeine jolt that’s not the typical Nescafé from a street cart, head to Akha Ama Cafe for delicious espresso. I spent many an hour here, reading, writing, and blogging.
20And of course, the best that Chiang Mai has to offer, Loy Krathong Yi Peng Festival. It takes place each year on the full moon of November, so plan your travels around it. It’s a stunning celebration along the Ping River where people release lanterns and floating flower baskets, letting go of the past and welcoming the new. It’s a breathtaking festival that I will never forget. Read more about the festival here!
There are so many more reasons to visit Chiang Mai. What are your favorites!?