Discovering Chiang Mai: A Guide to the Top Attractions
Are you looking for the ultimate Chiang Mai itinerary? Well, your quest ends right here! Whether you have 2 or 3 days to spare in this captivating city, you’re in for a treat as I present you with a meticulously curated Chiang Mai itinerary that covers all the must-visit attractions. Prepare to embark on an unforgettable journey as I guide you to make the absolute most out of your trip to Chiang Mai.
Why visit Chiang Mai?
Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is a city known for its rich culture and history. It has been a center for Buddhism and traditional arts for centuries. Chiang Mai is surrounded by lush mountains and is home to many ancient temples.
Chiang Mai is the perfect destination for adventure seekers, with many opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. You can also visit elephant sanctuaries, where you can learn about and interact with these gentle giants in a responsible and ethical way.
Because of the easygoing vibe of Chiang Mai, it is also a popular destination for digital nomads and expats, with a thriving community of entrepreneurs and creatives. The city is known for its low cost of living and relaxed lifestyle.
You can reach Chiang Mai by plane, bus or train from Bangkok, which is some 700km away. It only takes about 1 hour by plane and around 10 hours by bus. Visiting Chiang Mai is a great opportunity to see the beautiful Northern Thai countryside and the different lifestyles of the Thai people.
Chiang Mai Yi Peng Lantern Festival
Chiang Mai is also home to one of the most beautiful festivals in Asia. The Yi Peng Lantern Festival is typically held in November, during the full moon of the twelfth lunar month.
Thousands of glowing lanterns are released into the night sky, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle. The sight of these delicate lanterns floating gracefully upwards is a sight to behold, leaving spectators in awe of its ethereal beauty.
As you immerse yourself in Chiang Mai’s rich heritage and warm hospitality, make sure to check the exact dates of the Yi Peng Lantern Festival to time your visit and experience this unforgettable event firsthand. It’s a magical experience that captures the essence of this remarkable city and will leave a lasting impression on your travels.
You can read about my experience and a full guide to the Yi Peng festival in my Yi Peng Lantern Festival post.
Chiang Mai Travel Itinerary: Arrival Day
Arrive in Chiang Mai and spend a day at Chai Lai Orchid
Upon arriving in Chiang Mai, check in at the Chai Lai Orchid, a beautiful eco-lodge set in the lush jungle. Take a leisurely stroll around the property, taking in the natural beauty and getting a sense of the serene atmosphere.
For lunch, head to the on-site restaurant for delicious, locally-sourced and organic meals. In the afternoon, one of the most unique experience is to swim with elephants in the waterfall, where you will get to interact and bond with these gentle giants in a natural and ethical way.
In the evening, return to the on-site restaurant for dinner, where you can enjoy more delicious food while reflecting on the day’s adventures.
I have a detailed blog post about my stay at the Chai Lai Orchid, so be sure to check it out!
Chiang Mai Itinerary Day 2 & 3
If you stay at the Chai Lai Orchid, you will start your day with breakfast with the elephants. This is an incredible opportunity to get up and close with these beautiful gray giants. After the breakfast, you have some more free time to enjoy the rest of your stay at the eco lodge!
Check out from the Chai Lai Orchid is 11 AM. Arrange a shuttle to drive you to your next hotel in downtown Chiang Mai, about 1 hour away from the jungle eco-lodge. We stayed at … in Chiang Mai and it was the perfect urban oasis with a beautiful pool to refresh and relax at.
Tour the temples & town!
Visit the famous temples, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh Temples, and Wat Lok Moli and check out the local markets and massage joints.
Wat Chedi Luang
Built in the 14th century, this is one of Chiang Mai’s most significant temple. It features a magnificent chedi (stupa) that once stood at 82 meters tall. Visitors can explore the temple grounds, admire the intricate carvings, and visit the City Pillar Shrine. Inside, you’ll find the smaller Phra Chedi Zuang and a vihara housing the revered Emerald Buddha statue. As an active religious site, respectful attire is required.
Wat Phra Singh
Another notable temple in Chiang Mai is the Wat Pra Singh. Inside the temple building, you’ll find the sacred Phra Buddha Sihing statue, dating back to the 14th century. The temple’s serene atmosphere and well-maintained grounds make it an ideal place for reflection and contemplation. Don’t miss the chance to experience the rich cultural heritage and spiritual beauty of Wat Phra Singh during your visit to Chiang Mai.
Wat Lok Moli
This hidden gem is a lesser-known but equally captivating destination for visitors seeking tranquility and cultural exploration. The temple’s full name is Wat Lok Moli Woramahaviharn, and it showcases exquisite Lanna-style architecture with intricate wood carvings and colorful ornamentation.
The temple’s main prayer hall (ubosot) is adorned with intricate woodwork and traditional murals depicting Buddhist stories. Inside the hall, you can pay your respects to a revered Buddha statue and observe the local devotees engaging in prayer and rituals.
Wat Chiang Man
Considered the oldest temple in the city, Wat Chiang Man holds great historical and cultural significance. Built in the 13th century, Wat Chiang Man served as the residence of King Mengrai, the founder of Chiang Mai.
Within the temple grounds, visitors can explore the beautifully landscaped gardens, adorned with statues and ancient structures. The main prayer hall (ubosot) showcases impressive murals depicting scenes from Buddhist mythology, while the library (ho trai) houses ancient scriptures and important religious texts.
Tha Phae Walking Street
Tha Phae Walking Street in Chiang Mai is a vibrant and bustling market that comes alive every Sunday evening. Located in the heart of the city, this pedestrian street transforms into a shopper’s paradise, offering a sensory overload of sights, sounds, and flavors. Stroll along the bustling street lined with colorful stalls selling a wide array of products, including handmade crafts, clothing, accessories, and delicious street food. Immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere, engage with friendly local vendors, and indulge in delectable Thai treats as you explore this must-visit market in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
As the sun sets, the bustling streets of Chiang Mai come alive with this nocturnal marketplace, offering a delightful sensory experience.
Here, you’ll find a treasure trove of goods, from handicrafts and textiles to souvenirs and fashion accessories. Bargain hunters will revel in the art of negotiation, while food enthusiasts can indulge in mouthwatering street delicacies. With its enchanting atmosphere and a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a must-visit for those seeking an unforgettable shopping adventure in the heart of Thailand’s cultural hub.
Chiang Mai Gate Market
Another cool market to check out when in Chiang Mai is the Gate Market. While the evening unveils a plethora of local food joints, I highly recommend experiencing the market’s unique charm in the morning as well.
Around 7am, you’ll witness a beautiful sight as Buddhist monks gracefully make their way to the market to receive offerings from the locals in exchange for blessings and prayers. This serene ritual provides an authentic glimpse into the spiritual traditions of the region.
Moreover, the morning hours are bustling with locals grabbing their breakfast before starting their day, offering a fascinating insight into the daily lives and rich culture of the community. Don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local way of life at the enchanting Gate Market.
Must-Visit Places near Chiang Mai / Chiang Mai Day Trips
There’s a lot more to see beyond Chiang Mai’s city borders. Depending on how much time you have, consider the following day trips.
Doi Suthep Temple
Doi Suthep Temple is an enchanting gem nestled on a mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. A visit to this iconic temple is an absolute must for anyone seeking a deeply spiritual and awe-inspiring experience. As you ascend the 309 steps or take a cable car ride to the summit, you’ll be greeted by intricate carvings, ornate architecture, and the soothing sounds of Buddhist chants.
The panoramic view of Chiang Mai from the temple’s terrace is nothing short of breathtaking, offering a serene escape from the bustling city below. Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage of Thailand as you explore the temple grounds and witness devotees engaging in prayer and rituals. Doi Suthep Temple is a place of tranquility, offering a glimpse into the spiritual heart of Chiang Mai that is sure to leave a lasting impression on every visitor.
Doi Inthanon National Park
A day trip from Chiang Mai to Doi Inthanon National Park is a must for nature enthusiasts and outdoor adventurers. Known as the “Roof of Thailand,” Doi Inthanon is the highest peak in the country, offering breathtaking panoramic views and a refreshing escape from the city.
The park is a treasure trove of natural wonders, with cascading waterfalls, dense forests, and vibrant flora and fauna. Hiking trails lead you through lush landscapes, leading to hidden gems like the stunning Wachirathan and Mae Klang waterfalls. The park is also home to a diverse range of bird species, making it a paradise for birdwatchers.
Don’t miss the chance to visit the twin pagodas that stand proudly at the summit, dedicated to the King and Queen of Thailand, and to marvel at the sea of clouds that often blankets the area. A day trip to Doi Inthanon National Park promises a memorable experience, immersing you in the natural beauty of Thailand’s picturesque countryside.
This hidden gem nestled in the mountains near Chiang Mai beckons adventurous souls and nature enthusiasts alike. The charming town of Pai offers an escape into a picturesque landscape of lush valleys, rolling hills, and cascading waterfalls. Immerse yourself in the laid-back atmosphere as you explore the vibrant local markets, where you can sample delectable street food and shop for unique handicrafts.
Discover the enchanting Pai Canyon with its breathtaking views and wander along its narrow ridges. Take a dip in the rejuvenating hot springs, or embark on a thrilling trek to explore hidden caves and secret waterfalls. Whether you seek tranquility or adventure, Pai has it all. Experience the soothing embrace of nature, indulge in local culture, and create unforgettable memories in this idyllic destination near Chiang Mai.
Chiang Rai & Golden Triangle
Chiang Rai and its surrounding area is one of the most popular day trips from Chiang Mai. Visit the renowned White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and the vibrant Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten). Explore the fascinating history of the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet. Discover the Opium Museum and indulge in the vibrant local markets.
Great Places for Food & Drinks
Chiang Mai has a lot to offer for your tastebuds! Here are my favorite places we ate and drank at when we were in Chiang Mai (besides the markets!).
Café Koff & Things
This Japanese-style café is caught our eye and we headed inside for some colorful and yummy drinks. The interior of the café is minimalist with lots of wood but the exterior looks like looks like a daytime version of the bathhouse in ‘Spirited Away’. Definitely recommend!
Kati Breakfast & Brunch
If you’re searching for a delectable and authentic breakfast experience, Kati Breakfast & Brunch in Chiang Mai is an absolute must-visit. We went for lunch and tried some modern versions of classic Thai dishes like Tom Yum and fried rice. Everything was delicious!
JAI Bed & Cafe
This cute little cocktail bar caught our eye on our way to the Night Bazaar so we dropped by for happy hour. The neon lighting and leather couches add to the nightlife vibe. Apparently the bar on the first floor is part of a hotel.
Best Spas in Chiang Mai
With its serene ambiance, ancient healing traditions, and skilled therapists, Chiang Mai offers a haven for spa enthusiasts. Whether you seek traditional Thai massages, luxurious spa treatments, or holistic wellness experiences, these top spas will pamper your senses and leave you feeling blissfully renewed.
This is my favorite spa in Chiang Mai and I visit each time I’m in the city. They offer a pick-up service and also drop you back off at the hotel after your treatment is done. From traditional Thai massages to specialized spa treatments, Kiyora Spa combines ancient healing techniques with modern comforts to deliver a truly unforgettable experience. Nestled in the heart of Chiang Mai, this exquisite spa promises to soothe your body, mind, and soul, leaving you refreshed and revitalized. Read more about Kiyora spa in my dedicated blog post.
Calm Massage and Spa
This is another beautiful spa we came across when exploring Chiang Mai and we completely enjoyed our experince. Drawing inspiration from the indigo color, which symbolizes “calm” in Thai, the spa seamlessly combines local fabrics, contemporary Lanna design, and a natural ambiance, creating a peaceful retreat. From the moment you step foot inside, you embark on a journey of rejuvenation, leaving with cherished memories and a renewed sense of well-being. With its commitment to excellence and reasonable prices, Calm Massage and Spa promises an unforgettable and affordable escape from the bustling city life.
A more budget friendly spa option is Daracha Spa near Gate Market. This spa is very close to Phor Liang Meub hotel, so we ended up going there twice during our stay. It’s cheaper than Calm Massage and Kiyora Spa but also not quite as luxurious. However, the staff were very friendly and we had a good experience.
Enjoy your time in Chiang Mai!
With this itinerary, you will get a good scope of Chiang Mai and its different areas and places to see.
If you are an efficient traveler and get through this itinerary quicker than my suggested itinerary, or you have a bit more time, check out the experiences below for more things to do in Chiang Mai.
Top Travel Experiences in Chiang Mai
Recommended Hotels in Chiang Mai
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai
Linda’s Reccommendation: Phor Liang Meun Terracotta Arts
Phor Liang Meun Terracotta Arts – SHA Extra Plus is a hidden gem nestled in the heart of Chiang Mai. From the moment I arrived, I was captivated by its serene ambiance and warm hospitality.
The hotel boasts a range of amenities, including a refreshing outdoor swimming pool, a delightful garden, and a fantastic restaurant serving delectable dishes. The attentive staff at the tour desk made exploring the city a breeze, providing valuable insights and assistance. The rooms were tastefully decorated and equipped with all the necessary comforts, from air conditioning to a flat-screen TV.
I was fortunate enough to have a balcony with breathtaking city views, which added an extra touch of magic to my stay. The daily breakfast was a delightful experience, offering a wide array of options to suit every palate. With its proximity to popular attractions such as Chedi Luang Temple and Tha Pae Gate, Phor Liang Meun truly exceeded my expectations.
I would highly recommend this exceptional 4-star hotel for an unforgettable experience in this enchanting city.
Other Hotel Options in Chiang Mai
Recommended Travel Guides for Thailand
If you want to learn more about Thailand and have a handy travel guide in your pocket, check out these three options below:
This Top 10 Bangkok guide is a great pocket guide that breaks down the best of Bangkok into helpful lists of ten – from selected highlights to the best temples, sizzling street food, colorful markets, and vibrant bars. Buy this book.
You really can’t go wrong with a lonely planet guide in your hand luggage! I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet and own this guide myself. What I love is the brand-new pull-out, passport-size ‘Just Landed’ card with wi-fi, ATM and transport info – all you need for a smooth journey from airport to hotel! Buy this book.
Whether you want to visit Buddhist temples, eat street food in Bangkok, get a Thai massage, or shop at floating markets, the local Fodor’s travel experts in Thailand can help! Fodor’s Essential Thailand guidebook is jam-packed with maps, carefully curated recommendations, and everything else you need to streamline your trip planning and maximize your time. This new edition has been completely redesigned, with an easy-to-read layout, new information, and stunning color photographs. Buy this book.
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