Thailand: Complete Guide to the Essential Chiang Mai Experiences

During my previous trip to Thailand some years ago, I got the chance to go to Chiang Mai and my experience was absolutely delightful. I loved its laid back way of life and its kind and smiling people enough to come back and settle for a longer time before going back to my travels beginning of 2017 .

This Chiang Mai guide I made will help you enjoy to the fullest the city and discover some of the best spots around. I will be providing you all the tips about what to do and see, where to stay and how to move around this charming city. But I must warn you, Chiang Mai has all the assets to seduce you, charm you and steal your heart. It worked on me! Will it work on you?

Where to Stay in Chiang Mai?

via GIPHY

Here are few neighborhoods I would recommend for you stay in Chiang Mai. My favorite ones are definitely the Old Town, Nimman and Santitham being very convenient and close to pretty much everything you need.

  • The Old City: The Heart of Chiang Mai/ Tourist Epicenter
  • Nimman : The modern/ Trendy neighborhood ( also called “Nimmanhaeminda” or “Nimmanhaemin”)
  • River Side : By the river, near the Old Town, active night life
  • Lang Mor: Low Budget/ Students area (right behind nimman)
  • Santitham: Well located between Nimman and the Old City, local/affordable neighborhood

How to Move Around Chiang Mai? 

Public Transportation

  • Tuk-Tuk is probably the most famous and popular way of transportation in Thailand. There are a 3wheel Moto vehicles that can take up to 3 people. I personnally love Tuk-Tuk rides. They are a nice way to discover the city. Make sure to negotiate the price before starting your ride. Prices in Chiang should never go over 60 to 80 baths even for some long distances such as old town to Nimman.
  • Songthaew What is that? Songthaew are truck taxis where you share a ride with other people. They do not have a specific route so they would generally stop and ask you where you are going. If it’s on their way they will drive you there. If not they will simply tell you to wait for the next one. To make them stop you have to wave your hand kind of like you would do for a Cab. I would recommend bargaining the price. They tend to put it way higher for foreigners.

chiang mai experiences

  • Public Buses are an option but as tourist you might never need to take a public Bus.

Other transportation

  • Uber is available in Chiang Mai and the prices are very reasonable. You can either pay your ride in the Uber app or by cash. Make sure to enjoy the promotions they give very often in order to keep it up with their competitors.
  • Grab is the Thai Uber and is as cheap and efficient. I used it several times and I have to admit it was a lifesaver. You can download the app on your phone and use it exactly like you would use Uber.
  • Cabs are one more option for you to get around the city. But there is no need for use to take a Taxi as it is pricier than any other transportation mean and there is nothing special about it.
  • Bicycle is what used all the time to get around the city. Car drivers are very aware and it felt very safe to ride around. You can rent one from your guesthouse or from several bicycle rental shops in Nimman Neighborhood and the old city. It coast around 60Baths per day and 1200Baths per month.
  • Moto Bike is with no doubt the most popular way for tourists to get around in Thailand. You can rent one at your hotel or guesthouse for an average of 200Baths per day.

Best Chiang Mai experiences

I would recommend staying at least 3 full days in order to discover a bit of Chiang Mai. It is a very interesting city with so many things to do.

Chiang Mai is really everything that Bangkok is not! It is relaxed, calm, clean, and has stunning nature. It blends perfectly ancient Khmer ruins with modern buildings which gives it a very unique character.

I listed for you some of the best things you should experience while being in Chiang Mai beyond the very touristy sightseeing.

1 Eating Khao Soi

chiang experiences kao soi

You might be wondering how can this be the first experience I am listing, but believe me there is nothing that says “I am in Chiang Mai” more than eating this northern delicacy. It is a slightly spicy yellow curry with coconut milk that has egg noodles with beef or chicken (some places have vegetarian options) topped with crispy noodles. They will usually serve it to you with lemons, cilantro, pickled cabbage and shallots a side. It is a very delicious dish that taste different from the rest of the Thai gastronomy. It is personally one of my very favorite.

You can find it pretty much everywhere, from street strolls to luxury restaurants. In the streets a bowl of Khao Soi costs between 40 to 80 baths depending on what it has. In restaurants, prices are much higher but are still very affordable for western standards.

Here are my very favorite places to eat Khao Soi in Chiang Mai:

  • Sangwiroon Vegetarian Restaurant 

How to get there: 

Address: Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Hours: 7am to 3pm

Price Range: Very Cheap (40 baths per person)

  • K’s Kitchen 

How to get there: 

Address: Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand

Hours: 12pm to 9pm

Price Range: Cheap (100baths per person)

  • Street strolls 

Well, for these, I can’t give you any specific locations. Most of the time, street food is much tastier that the one you would eat at a restaurant or a café. Follow your intuition, and if the place looks clean there is no reason not to try the street food! Delicious!

2 Temple Hopping

Chiang Mai is the city that has one of the most beautiful Buddhist Temples in Thailand. There is a myriad of Wat (temple in Thai) all around the city and they are all different one from another.

Here is a list of the temples I recommend to visit by night.

  • Wat Phan Tao

I have been there twice, and both times were at night. This temple’s architecture is slightly different from the ones I have seen before. It is made of wood and is very simple. At night, its garden is full of candles and lanterns, which is mainly why I appreciate it so much. The show of lights is simply stunning. I would definitely recommend going there by night.

chiang mai experiences

Address: Phra Pokklao Rd., Phra Sing, Mueang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Entrance fee: Free

How to get there:

  • Wat Sri Suphan (Silver Temple)

It has become a habit to go the Wat Sri Suphan on Saturday Night after eating at the night market. I love this place where I feel in peace and serein. It is beautiful by night with lanterns and I particularly like the Ganesh statue. During the Market night, it usually host special events such as dance shows or Monk blessings. It is definitely worth a visit walking around the Saturday Night Market.

chiang mai experiences

Address: 100 Wua Lai Rd, Tambon Hai Ya, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

Entrance fee: Free

How to get there:

Here is a list of the temples I recommend to visit by day.

  •  Wat Suan Dok

This Buddhist temple is located outside of the Moat. It is very different from other Buddhist temples I have seen so far in Thailand. The prayer hall is open on the sides and it hosts relics and tombs of some members of the royal family. It is all white and has some unique features such as the tremendous chapel. I felt calmer and happier each time I visited this temple. It definitely deserves half an hour of your time while in Chiang Mai.

chiang mai experiences wat suan dok

Address: 139 Suthep Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Entrance fee: Free

How to get there:

  • Wat Chedi Luang

This is one the most popular temples in Chiang Mai and I totally understand why. It is beautiful. I was really impressed by the architecture of this temple and decided to go deeper in my research and know more about it. I discovered that this Wat was destroyed by a violent earthquake in the 14th century and partially restored. It is a must see in Chiang Mai.

chiang mai experiences

Address: 103 Road King Prajadhipok Phra Singh, Muang District, Chiang Mai, 50200, Thailand

Entrance fee: Free

How to get there:

To know more about the best temples to visit in Chiang Mai check out my article: Thailand: 6 BeautifulTemples In Chiang Mai You Should Not Miss”

3 Take a Day Trip to a National Park

chiang mai experience doi inthanon parc

When I travel to large cities I always try to get out and go to nature at least once a week. In Chiang Mai, I had several options to choose from to go in a little adventure in nature. My best memories in Chiang were in national parks. Nature is stunning and you can let your self go and have fun hiking, kayaking, rappelling… etc.

Here is a list of national parks around Chiang Mai I would recommend.

  • Sri Lana National Park

This national park is about 30miles away from Chiang Mai. I had so much fun spending a day there with my friends. In the morning I did some kayaking and jumping on a water trampoline in the Mae Ngat Dam. I had lunch and took a nap at a floating house. And finally, in the afternoon, I did rappelling at the “Boa Thong sticky waterfalls”.

Finally, I visited the Tham Boa Thong Cave with its big Golden Buddha statue inside. I absolutely loved my experience at the Sri Lana National Park. It was indubitably one of the Highlights of my stay in Chiang Mai.chiang mai experiences sri lana parc

Address: Nam Phrae, Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai 50190, Thailand

Entrance fee: 100 Baht for Adults, 50 Baht for Children, 20Baths per Vehicle

How to get there:

  • Doi Inthanon National Park

    chiang mai experiences Doi Inthanon

The so-called “Roof of Thailand“ is about 70miles away from Chiang Mai. It will take you around 2hours to get there by car or by Songthaew (Local red Trunk Taxis) . You will need to spend a day there to enjoy it.

You first start by going up to the highest point of Thailand “The Summit of Doi Inthanon”. Then, drive down to visit the two beautiful Pagodas “Phra Maha Dhatu Naphamethinidon and Naphaphonphumisiri”. Give your self some time to discover the magnificence of the architecture and the flower garden around the pagodas before heading to hike the “Gew Mae Pan Trail”.

By then it should already be mid afternoon. Drive to the “Vachiratharn” Waterfall to have some relaxing time and have a cup of local coffee. This day trip will for sure please the outdoor activities lovers.

I had so much fun at the Doi Inthanon National Park. If you are looking at something off the beaten path this is where you should go. Make sure you take a jacket and wear warm clothes; temperatures can be very low in this area.

chiang mai doi inthanon

Address: Ban Luang, Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai 50160, Thailand

Entrance fee: 300Baths for Foreigners (150 for Children), 50 Baths for locals.

How to get there:

4 Explore a Night Market

Chiang has dozens of Night Markets scattered around the city. You can find food, clothes, drinks, flowers, souvenirs… etc. I love walking around and try new food, talk to the merchants. Experiencing a night market is totally essential while being in Chiang Mai. Don’t miss it.

Here is a list of the Night Markets worth to check.

  • Maya Mall Market

Right outside the Maya Mall on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays (Schedule may change) takes place some kind of “gourmet” Night Market with several options to choose from. This Market is definitely my very favorite one!

Suggestions: Vegan Dim Sum, Passion Fruit Mango Smoothie, Grilled Sweet Potato, Vegetarian Pad Thai.

Address: 55 Huay Kaew Rd Tambon Chang Phueak, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand

Opening Hours: Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 5:00PM to 10PM (Schedule may change)

How to get there:

  •  Saturday Night Market

One of the biggest I have seen in my whole life. Walking around is so much fun. I am not a big fan of the food served in this one though. I really like it for its ambiance and the temple near by.

Suggestions: Sushi, Lychee wine, BBQ Corn, Grass Hopers ( The market is huge but the location below links directly to where you can find the specific strolls I am referring to)

Address: Wua Lai Rd, Tambon Hai Ya, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand

Opening Hours: Every Saturday from 5:00PM to 10PM

How to get there:

  • Chiang Mai Gate Food Market

This Market is there everyday in the morning and evenings. It has all types of Thai Food. It is right by the Chiang Mai Gate which makes it very convenient to access to if your housing is in the old city.

Suggestions: Papaya Salad, Khao Soi, Mango Sticky Rice

Address: 59/3, Bamrungburi Road, Tambon Prasing, Amphoe Muang Chiang Mai, Chiang Mai, 50000, 50000, Thailand

Opening Hours: Everyday from 5:00PM to 10PM

How to get there:

5 Short Meditation Retreat

One more fulfilling experience you can have in Chiang Mai is to take a short meditation retreat at a temple. There are two options you can choose from, either the one day initiation to meditation course(every Friday) or the 2day meditation retreat(from Tuesdays to Wednesdays) at the Wat Suan Dok. You can apply for the course at 9pm half an hour before it starts. At 9:30pm the first class starts with an introduction to the principales of the buddhist philosophy. The monks start by introducing themselves then invite their guests/students to do the same. Then, after the introduction to buddhism, the group takes their first sitting meditation session for about an hour.

At noon, all participants take an hour and half to rest and have lunch before taking once a again a sitting meditation session for 20minutes. Then, its time for walking meditation. The monks take their students for a walk around the temple, explain the history behind the constructions and initiate the participants to the breathing and walking meditation technics. They also take advantage of walking around the temple to explain the meaning of the tiger surrounding some of the buddhas statues.

Later in the afternoon, around 3:30pm the monks shared with the participants the offering they received from their devotees. We had tea, coffee some sweets and a lot of fruits. around 4pm, the retreat was over and we were able to take some pictures with the monks and make our money donation for the temple.

I strongly suggest to participate to one of the retreat if you have enough time in Chiang Mai. Make your self a gift and take some time to treat your body and mind the way it deserves. Breath away from your daily stress and learn how to meditate at home for your wellbeing.

6 Chat with a Monk

CHIANG MAI EXPERIENCE MONK CHAT

Why limit our selves to observe monks when we can actually talk to them and share a quality moment with them. During my stay in Chiang Mai, I tried the monk chat at the Wat Suan Dok and I appreciated the experience.

I learned more about Buddhism and helped a monk practicing his English. If you have time, this is an experience I would definitely recommend. It will give you a different perspective of life and priorities.

Address: 139 Suthep Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

Opening Hours: Mondays and Fridays from 5pm to 7pm

How to get there:

7 Get a Massage at the Park

Well, get a massage everywhere you go in Thailand, Right? Massages in the country of smiles are so cheap and so well done that it makes me want to live here. Joke aside, it is so worth it to take some time for your self to relax and feel better.

In Chiang Mai, you can get an hour massage for as cheap as 150 Baths at the park, with a very nice view and relaxing sound of water. The spa is very basic but the masseuses are nice. Make sure to let them know if they are going too strong on you.

Address:Phra Sing, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thaïlande

Opening Hours: 10 am to 8pm

How to get there:

8 Dare to Try Insects

chiang mai experiences insects

Most of you will probably skip this one and I think it is a pity. Once in a lifetime, do something crazy, something that challenges you. Get out from your comfort zone and do what locals do, snack on grass hopers and silkworms.

The taste is quite neutral. It is salty and is very similar to fava beans. You can get a mix of three different insets for 40 Baths at the Saturday Night Market. Try it and let me know how you felt about it.

9 Take a Muay Thai Class

A trip to Thailand would not be complete without a good sweat at  a Muay Thai Camp. You can either take a group training or a private session with a coach. The Muay Thai experience is very fun and will help you burn some calories stocked during your vacation. Perfect deal, isn’t it?

There are plenty of camps to choose from and there is no need to go deep in your research if it is just for one session. Go for the most convenient option, the closest one to where you will be staying.

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