Chiang Mai Travel Guide – The best things to do

A Chiang Mai Travel Guide including the best things to do, bars and restaurants

Nestled in the lush mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai, often referred to as the “Rose of the North,” is one of the biggest cities in Thailand. The city has a rich history and vibrant culture and is a great representation of Thailand. If you are not into big cities, such as Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a great alternative. Chiang Mai offers ancient temples, many local markets and great day trips. Furthermore, it is a great place to experience local restaurants and bars, including the speciality dishes from Northern Thailand. This Chiang Mai Travel Guide gives you an overview of the best things to do, the best restaurants and bars and the best places to stay, combined in one travel blog.

Check out my complete 3-week Thailand itinerary here

How to get to Chiang Mai?

Chiang Mai is easily accessible by air, with an international airport serving direct flights from major cities across Asia and Thailand. When I visited Chiang Mai, I flew in from Surat Thani after my trip to Khao Sok. Alternatively, you can take the night train from Bangkok. However, be sure to book the train in time as they book out quickly. Often, Chiang Mai is combined with a visit to Pai, which can be reached by mini bus. The best way to plan your trip within Thailand is by using 12go.asia.

How to get around Chiang Mai?

Once in Chiang Mai, it is easy to get around. There are multiple options, such as tuk-tuks, taxis or Grab. I used the latter most. When you want to go outside the old town or Nimman neighbourhood, walking is not advisable anymore, as there are quite major roads. When staying within the neighbourhoods, you can do most by foot. Another option is the songthaew (shared red trucks) that are available for short and common distances. Lastly, you can rent a scooter to get around or to visit sights outside the old town. However, remember Chiang Mai is a larger city and the traffic is way more intense than in for instance Pai.

How many days to spend in Chiang Mai?

I stayed in Chiang Mai for 3 nights, which allowed me to explore the city for a full two-days. Personally, I think you can see the sights in Chiang Mai within a day. However, there are plenty of tours and activities that make you want to stay longer. Therefore, I would decide in advance what activities and trips you want to do in and near Chiang Mai. as that will influence the time you need in Chiang Mai. However, generally, I would suggest you stay 3 to 4 nights, which allows you to explore Chiang Mai and do a full-day tour.

Chiang Travel Guide Summary

  • Chiang Mai Old Town
  • Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Tong)
  • Temples in the old town (Wati Chedi Luang, Wat Pra Sing, Wat Sri Suphan, Wat Phantao)
  • Nimman neighbourhood
  • Nigh Bazaar / Night Market
  • Doi Suthep
  • Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat
  • Biking tour
  • Cooking Class
  • Muay Thai Class
  • Thai Massage
  • Day trip Doi Inthanon
  • Day Trip to Chiang Rai

  • Ristr8to
  • Pegasus Cafe & Roastery
  • My Secret Cafe In Town
  • Reform Kafe
  • Manifreshto
  • Khao Soi Kun Yai
  • Why Not?
  • Tong Tem Toh
  • Kat’s Kitchen
  • Lost Hut
  • Writer’s Club & Wine bar
  • THC Rooftop Bar
  • The North Gate Jazz Co-Op

The best things to do in Chiang Mai

1 || Chiang Mai Old Town

Explore the heart of the city, Chiang Mai Old Town, surrounded by ancient walls, and the perfect place to walk around, and take in the historic architecture, traditional markets and trendy cafes.

Chiang Mai Old Town, Travel Guide, Thailand
Chiang Mai Old Town, Travel Guide, Thailand

2 || Sticky waterfalls (Bua Tong)

The sticky waterfalls (Bua Tong Falls) are located about an hour away from Chiang Mai. The easiest way to get there is by motorbike, however, you need to be comfortable driving in a bigger city and on the highway. Alternatively, you can find a driver for half a day with a group of others or book a day-tour to the waterfalls. 

The waterfalls are known because you can climb them due to the sticky nature of the rocks. A perfect day trip if you want to explore the Chiang Mai area.

One of the most popular tours from Chiang Mai visits the Elephant Sanctuary and the Sticky Waterfalls and rafting!

3 || Visit the temples in Chiang Mai Old Town

There are plenty of temples in Chiang Mai’s old town. Upon arrival in hotel, I asked about the most popular and must-visit temples in Chiang Mai. Therefore, I visited Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Pra Sing and Wat Phantao. In total, I spent around 2 hours visiting the 3 temples and walking around the temple complexes. Also, slightly outside the old town, Wat Sri Suphan (the silver temple) is a good temple to visit. 

It is also possible to book a Chiang Mai Old Town & Temples walking tour

Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide, 3-week Thailand Itinerary
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide
Temples in Chiang Mai Old Town, Thailand Travel Guide

4 || Explore the Nimman neighbourhood

Discover the hip and contemporary Nimman neighborhneighbourhoodood, which is popular among digital nomads. In Nimman, you can find plenty of boutiques, art galleries and trendy cafes. Therewith, Nimman is a perfect place for a cup of coffee or a drink in the evening, as well as an alternative location to stay over the old town.

Nimman Neighbourhood, Roast8ry Lab Coffee
Nimman Neighbourhood, Manifreshto for breakfast

5 || Visit a night bazaar or a night market

Next to the temples, Chiang Mai is well known for the night markets, specifically the Sunday Night Market. However, there are plenty of options for similar markets on any other day in Chiang Mai. Firstly, the Sunday Night Market takes place on Sunday evening, starting around 4 pm till 10:30 pm, in the Old Town. Specifically, the market is on the Ratchadamnoen Road between Wat Pra Singh and the Tha Phae Gate (east gate). 

However, when you are not in Chiang Mai on Sunday, you can also visit the Saturday Night market on Wua Lai Road, one street south of the old town. 

Lastly, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is open every day of the week and is located east of the old town. Make sure to also visit the part that is referred to as the  “Ploen Ruedee Night Market”.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai Travel Guide
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai Travel Guide
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai Travel Guide
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, Chiang Mai Travel Guide

6 || Visit Doi Suthep: A sight you can't miss in a Chiang Mai travel guide

Doi Suthep is the best-known temple complex in Chiang Mai and even one of the largest temples to visit in Thailand. Therefore, this temple can’t be missed in a Chiang Mai Travel Guide. One of the easiest ways to get to Doi Suthep is by Songthaew, departing from many main locations in the old town or the Nimman neighbourhood. Alternatively, you can take a Grab up to Doi Suthep and take the songthaew to go down (80 baht). Lastly, it is also possible to walk up to Doi Suthep from the Monk’s trail (more the best things to do in Chiang Mai – point 7).

The temple is located on one of the highest points of Chiang Mai and offers great views over the city. Moreover, you have to climb over 300 steps to get up to the temple. 

Furthermore, the entry for the temple is 50 baht and the temple is open between 6:30 and 18:30, however, it is possible to visit the temple outside of opening hours. Also, dress properly, cover your shoulders and knees and wear socks to avoid walking around bare feet.

Tip: There are multiple tours towards Doi Suthep, such as a sunrise tour (to avoid the crowds) and a specific night tour

Doi Suthep, The largest temple in Chiang Mai, Travel Guide
Doi Suthep, The largest temple in Chiang Mai, Travel Guide
Doi Suthep, The largest temple in Chiang Mai, Travel Guide
Doi Suthep, The largest temple in Chiang Mai, Travel Guide
Doi Suthep, The largest temple in Chiang Mai, Travel Guide
Doi Suthep, The largest temple in Chiang Mai, Travel Guide

7 || Monk's Trail to Wat Pra Lat

One of the greatest activities near Chiang Mai is to hike the Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat. This temple is a hidden gem nestled in the jungle, providing breathtaking views and a serene atmosphere.

Take a Grab to the trailhead of the Monk’s Trail and walk up to Wat Pra Lat. It’s a pretty easy walk that takes less than 1 hour. From Wat Pra Lat you can either walk back to the trailhead or continue a more steep path to Doi Suthep. If you are planning on hiking the Monk’s trail, read my detailed guide here (coming soon) 

Wat Pha Lat Monk's Trail to Doi Suthep, Hiking in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Wat Pha Lat Temple, Chiang Mai
Monk's Trail to Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Monk's Trail to Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Monk's Trail to Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai, Thailand
Monk's Trail to Wat Pha Lat in Chiang Mai, Thailand

8 || Biking tour through Chiang Mai

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do all the activities in this Chiang Mai Travel Guide, however, I stil want to share them with you. If you are looking for a different means of transport to explore Chiang Mai, a biking tour through the city is a great idea. The infamous Co van Kessel tour (at least, among Dutch people) is also available in Chiang Mai and also Get your Guide offers biking tours of Chiang Mai.

9 || Thai Cooking Class

You can take a cooking class at almost every destination in Thailand, however, Chiang Mai is known for its great cooking classes including food from Northern Thailand. Unleash your culinary skills with a cooking class at, for example, Thai Farm Cooking, where you’ll master the art of Thai cuisine amid picturesque surroundings. Also, in the cooking class, a visit to a local market is included.

10 || Thai Massage or a Muay Thai Class

Some self-care during your travels and in this Chiang Mai travel guide is important, and fortunately, Thailand has some local activities you can perform. Indulge in the ultimate relaxation with a traditional Thai massage for example at C and R Thai Massage (the best I had in Thailand) or channel your inner warrior with a Muay Thai class at Dang Muay Thai.

11 || Day trip to Doi Inthanon

Doi Inthanon is a National Park with the highest point in Thailand, located near Chiang Mai. The park is known for multiple waterfalls and temples and can easily be reached with a day trip. However, if you want to go on your own, I would advise you to stay in the area for a night, to be able to avoid the crowds. 

12 || Day Trip to Chiang Rai

Lastly, you might know the famous white temple in Chiang Rai. If you have limited time in Thailand, a day trip from Chiang Mai to visit the temples is a great option. However, be prepared for a long day in the car and arrive at the temples at prime time. Nevertheless, it is a good option when you want to visit the temples without the time to stay in Chiang Rai for the night. 

The best bars and restaurants in Chiang Mai

|| The best coffee bars in Chiang Mai

  1. Roast8ry Lab – One of the best coffee places in town (Nimman) and a coffee brewer that has won international prices.
  2. Nowhere Coffee Brewers – A small coffee place with a little square to enjoy your coffee in the old town.
  3. Pegasus Cafe & Roastery – Another small coffee bar located on a patio with amazing coffee in the old town.
  4. Artisan Cafe – A modern cafe located slightly south of the old town, which is popular among digital nomads and suitable for work.
  5. Nine One Coffee Chiang Mai – Another cute coffee bar in Nimman, where you can also get a variety of toasts.
  6. Diciotto SlowBar Coffee – A coffee bar that prepares your drink with quality and care, one of the best ones in Nimman and Chiang Mai.
Pegasus Coffee, The Best Coffee Bars in Chiang Mai
Pegasus Coffee
Pegasus Coffee, The Best Coffee Bars in Chiang Mai
Pegasus Coffee
Nimman Neighbourhood, Roast8ry Lab Coffee
Roast8ry Lab
Roast8ry Lab, The Best Coffee Bars in Chiang Mai
Roast8ry Lab

|| The Best Restaurants in Chiang Mai

  1. My Secret Cafe In Town – A small cafe hidden in the back alleys of the old town, with great coffee, breakfast and sweets. 
  2. Reform Kafe – This restaurant is often packed, not in the first place because of the great courtyard. All meals are vegetarian. 
  3. Ginger Farm Kitchen – A similar concept to Reform Kafe, but located in the Nimman neighbourhood. A great place for lunch if you are around. 
  4. Manifreshto – This place in Nimman fills up quickly when it opens. They have great breakfast and lunch options. 
  5. Khao Soi Kun Yai – The most popular place in Chiang Mai for Khao Soi where you can get your meal at a little stall. It is open between 10 am and 2 pm, but make sure you get there early as they close when the food is finished.
  6. Khao Soi Arak – If there is no space at the previous place for Khao Soi, Arak is a good replacement.
  7. Aroy Dee  – A traditional Thai restaurant in the east of the old town 
  8. Chang Phueak Pork Leg Rice – Also known as the Cowboy Hat lady, a food stall where you can find the best pork leg rice in town. 
  9. Why Not? – If you crave Italian food, Why Not? in Nimman is the place to go. The pizzas are to die for, they have so many cheeses and different Italian wines.
  10. Tong Tem Toh – A very popular restaurant in Nimman serving Northern Thai food. You might have to queue.
  11. Kat’s Kitchen – A Thai restaurant with plenty of seating in the old town. 
My Secret Cafe in Town, Best breakfast in Chiang Mai
My Secret Cafe in Town
My Secret Cafe in Town, Best breakfast in Chiang Mai
My Secret Cafe in Town
Manifreshto, Brunch in Nimman, Chiang Mai Travel Guide
Manifreshto
Why Not? Italian Restaurant in Chiang Mai
Why Not?
Khao Soi Khun Yai - The best traditional Northern Thai food
Khao Soi Khun Yai
Khao Soi Khun Yai - The best traditional Northern Thai food
Khao Soi Khun Yai
Reform Kafe, The best restaurants in Chiang Mai
Reform Kafe
Reform Kafe, The best restaurants in Chiang Mai
Reform Kafe

|| The best bars in Chiang Mai

The best bars in and around the old town in Chiang Mai

  1. Writer’s Club & Wine bar – A popular place in. the old town to settle down with a glass of wine.
  2. THC Rooftop Bar – Experience Chiang Mai’s nightlife with panoramic views over the river.
  3. Roots Rock Reggae – Groove to reggae beats in a lively and friendly atmosphere.
  4. Analog – Immerse yourself in a retro-themed bar with craft cocktails.
  5. The North Gate Jazz Co-Op – Enjoy live jazz performances and a laid-back vibe. This is one of the most popular bars in town.
  6. The White Rabbit – A quirky cocktail bar with craft cocktails. 
  7. Lost Hut  – A small bar in the old town with a terrace to enjoy your afternoon or evening beer.

The best bars in the Nimman Neighbourhood in Chiang Mai

  1. Hotel YaYee Rooftop  – With a wide selection of drinks, this slightly hipster bar is a perfect place for sunset.
  2. Rise Rooftop Bar – This is the rooftop bar of the Akyra Minor Hotel, and slightly more fancy than other bars on the list. 
  3. Caravan Bar – Another great cocktail bar in the Nimman area.
  4. Forbidden bar – A speakeasy vibe cocktail bar in Nimman, with great cocktails. 
  5. My Beer Friend – Even though craft beer is not too big in Thailand, you can find a wider selection at this bar or at Beer Lab. 
  6. Before Dawn – Another cocktail bar, but here, they also serve good wine and pasta.

The best hotels and hostels in Chiang Mai

When it is your first time in Chiang Mai, I would highly advise you to stay in the Old Town. To be fair, I underestimated the distances and even though my hotel was lovely, it was quite far out resulting in high Grab costs I could have spent on a hotel in town. However, another great option is to stay in Nimman. There are plenty of great bars and restaurants in Nimman, so you won’t be bored. Quickly scroll through for the best places to stay as part of this Chiang Mai Travel Guide.

If you are looking for a nice boutique hotel in Chiang Mai and are open to staying in the Nimman neighbourhood, the Samantan Hotel is a great option. The rooms are modern and the hotel is centrally located in Nimman. However, this might lead to slightly noisy rooms. You can book a room for €32 a night.

Courtesy of booking.com

A beautiful hostel in the old town is Hostel One Art & Gallery. The staff is very friendly, the rooms and dorms are modern and the overall facilities are great. A bed in a dorm starts from €11, while you can stay in a private room starting €42. 

Courtesy of booking.com

A perfect option for couples is Chada Mantra Hotel, located in the old town. With decent rooms and a small swimming pool, this is the perfect hotel if you want to relax after your day exploring Chiang Mai. Rooms start around €35.

Courtesy of booking.com

A great location, with pretty rooms and helpful staff. All the ingredients for a great stay in Chiang Mai, which you can have at Le Canal Boutique House. A twin room starts from €31.

Courtesy of booking.com

When staying at the Somwang Boutique Hotel, you’ll also receive a great breakfast. Also, there is a pool available and therewith a more luxurious hotel option in Chiang Mai. Rooms are around €40 a night.

Courtesy of booking.com

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Chiang Mai Travel Guide - Explore Northern Thailand. Including the best things to do, the best restaurants, bars and places to stay in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Travel Guide:

Chiang Mai Travel Guide - Explore Northern Thailand. Including the best things to do, the best restaurants, bars and places to stay in Chiang Mai.