When people think about Thailand, usually beautiful sandy beaches with clear waters come to mind. The scenery of Chiang Mai, Thailand is completely different than that, but it is one of the most incredible cities in the world. (That’s coming from someone who has only been to two foreign countries, but still! After visiting Chiang Mai, it is my GOAL in life to live there some day.)
If you plan to visit Thailand, DO NOT leave Chiang Mai off of your list of places to visit. In fact, make Chiang Mai your main Thailand destination. You will not regret it.
While there are too many things to do in Chiang Mai to have enough time to discuss, here are some of my MUST DO recommendations.
1. Go to the night market every night! There are different markets all across the city each night where vendors sell food, clothes, accessories, etc. Just walk around outside once it starts to get dark and follow the people. These markets have the best food and a super fun atmosphere. There are some markets that are tailored more to tourists, but the food sold at these ones are quite a bit more expensive. I recommend checking out the places where you see more locals, because this is where you will find the best food for the best price! Three of my favorite night markets are the Pavilion Night Bazaar, the Tha Pae Walking Street Market, and the street vendors outside of the Warorot market.
Pavilion Night Bazaar: 145 ChangKlan Road., Chang Khlan, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand. Open 24 hours. Grab yourself some street food at this market and get it to go or eat it in a food court style room while you listen to music and make friends with tourists and locals.
Tha Pae Walking Street Market: Mun Mueang Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand. Starts at the Tha Phae Gate and spreads throughout the Old City. Open from 5pm-10:30pm and sometimes later on SUNDAY NIGHTS ONLY. The largest night market in Chiang Mai.
Warorot Market Vendors: Wichayanon Rd, Tambon Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand. From around 6pm-10pm you will find lots of street food vendors outside of the Warorot Market. The food is super cheap, but there isn’t really anywhere to sit, so you will either need to get your food to go or eat it as you explore the market.
2. Visit the Art in Paradise Museum. 199/9 Changklan Rd, Chang Khlan Sub-district, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand. This museum is full of illusion art. The murals are all incredibly painted to create optical illusions, but in addition to that, the museum has an app that you can download once you are there that brings some of the paintings to life! For only around $12 USD this is amazing activity that will allow you to escape from the Thailand heat and have some fun indoors for a couple of hours. Make sure you wear shoes that you can easily take off and put back on because most of the murals require that you take your shoes off if you want to take a picture in front of them.
3. Shop for local produce, meat, snacks, and more at the Warorot Market. Wichayanon Rd, Tambon Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand. The market is open from 4am to 6pm and is a busy place where you can find just about anything for cheap. There are three stories of goods to explore and even more outside. So, set an hour aside and walk around to experience delicious food and a chaotic (in the best way possible) local vibe. Be sure to try out some of the delicious fresh fruit that vendors sell in various locations around the market. This was my favorite part!
4. Visit an elephant sanctuary. This was probably my favorite activity that my husband and I did this whole trip! It is on the pricier side at 1,700 baht (~$56 USD) per person for a half day, but the experience is priceless. There are also a few other types of visits to the sanctuary that include a full day, one day walk with elephants, and an overnight visit. There are several elephant sanctuary companies, but the one that we visited is call the Chiang Mai Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We booked the morning visit and that seemed like the perfect amount of time to spend with the elephants.
The employees pick you up from wherever you are staying and drive you and your group about an hour to the sanctuary. They speak English, so it is easy to communicate with them. The drive, though bumpy in some areas, was absolutely stunning and gave us time to meet and talk with some of the people in our group. Once you get to the sanctuary, you hike for around 5 minutes to get to where the elephants are. You are given bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephants with and have the opportunity to take pictures with them. Then your group and the elephants are led to a mud pond where the elephants can cool down. After that, everyone walks to a nearby creek where the elephants get washed off. To end the visit, the sanctuary provides a delicious, freshly made lunch and then takes you home. https://elephantjunglesanctuary.com/chiang-mai/
5. Walk around the Old Village. This historic city is jam-packed with restaurants, shops, and temples. If you are interested in visiting some historic sights of Chiang Mai, shopping for souvenirs, eating delicious food, or just want to explore, the Old Village is the best place! One of my absolute favorite place that I visited in the Old Village is a skincare shop called Herb Basics. I could literally spend hours in this store, and I made my husband go with me TWICE. Good thing he’s a patient man! They carry lots of natural skincare products at an affordable price. If you love skincare like me, definitely make a trip, or two, to this shop!
6. Go swimming. It is H-O-T in Thailand. The humid heat causes you to almost instantly start dripping sweat the second you walk outside. Cool yourself off during your stay by spending the day swimming! Most hotels or airbnbs have pools that you can swim in, but another option is to visit the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai. The Grand Canyon is a man-made floating water park that has obstacle courses for all day fun. For more information on the park, click the link below!
7. Talk to the locals. Some of the most kind, caring people that I have ever met were in Thailand. The locals are extremely friendly and welcoming. They want to make your Thailand experience a good one and they do an incredible job at doing just that. Our Airbnb host, Adisorn, was one of those amazing people. He offered to pick us up from the airport and take us back to the Airbnb, which made it so much less overwhelming when we arrived in Thailand. Adisorn worked at the airport so he was able to meet us inside, help us find the best place to exchange money, and then take us to his Airbnb. He was extremely helpful and went out of his way to give us suggestions of places to visit, things to do, and where to eat. His Airbnb was extremely clean and had all of the essentials that we needed.
Adisorn is a superhost on Airbnb and has multiple apartments that you can rent. We stayed in his 1 bedroom “luxury apartment @ the Astra near night bazaar”. If you are looking for a perfectly located Airbnb, definitely check this one out for your Thailand trip! There are security guards on sight, a coffee shop, a gym, a spa, a pool, and a rooftop garden. We felt extremely safe here and truly enjoyed our stay. If you are interested in staying here, I’ve left the link to Adisorn’s page below.
One thing that I noticed about Thailand is that there are hardly any places to throw trash away in the streets. As a result of this, the garbage from all of your street food will stack up as you walk around the night markets. So many of the vendors offered to take our trash, even if we didn’t buy anything from them. It was so refreshing to be around people who are genuinely selfless and kind.
I could go on and on about all of the situations where we were able to converse with the locals, but you would be here for a while. Just take my word for it and make sure that you think of others and build relationships even when you are all the way across the world!
Travelling is such a personal thing. Everyone has a different idea of “fun”, but hopefully you are able to be inspired by a few of the things that we were able to do during our time in Chiang Mai.