Things to do in Chiang Mai

by Catherine Bodry

by Catherine Bodry | April 22nd, 2011  

What to do in Chiang Mai

Waterall outside Chiang Mai

Ah, wonderful Chiang Mai… a relaxed city that you could easily spend more than a week exploring. There are plenty of things to do in Chiang Mai, whether you’re a food lover, an adventurer, a soul seeker, an athlete, or merely a traveler looking for a good time.

Here’s a list of just some of the many things you do in the northern capital:

Eat. Eat a lot. With a night market (called “Wororat”) within walking distance of the west gate of the Old City and another small night food market at the south gate, you have two super cheap choices right from the get-go. But if you expand your world a bit, you’ll find seemingly limitless options. A night food market outside the Central shopping mall off the northwest corner of the Old City; trendy eateries close to Chiang Mai University and popular with Chiang Mai’s young residents; a Friday morning market across from a Muslim temple serving Burmese specialties and caffe boran (ancient coffee). We could go on, but then we’d never get to any of the other fun stuff to do in Chiang Mai.

Read up on how to eat Thai food here.

Shop. The shopping is so good in Chiang Mai that we wrote a whole post on it here. With a famous night bazaar that is open nightly as well as two other night markets held once a week (Saturday Walking Street and Sunday Walking Street), you have plenty of choices (and you can eat there, too!). But a few clothing designers are based in Chiang Mai, and you’ll find some fun boutiques scattered throughout the town. Nancy Chandler’s map of Chiang Mai is a great place to scout out good shops.

Relax. You’ll see signs everywhere for yoga, reiki, meditation, massage, energy work and more. Take advantage of it! Prices are much cheaper than back home, and usually the quality is very good. Besides one-hour sessions, you can take part in day- or week-long workshops.

Spas are also numerous in Chiang Mai (read our post for a couple of spa recommendations in Chiang Mai here) and you can get anything from a street-side pedicure to a daylong, full-on pampering.

Get outside. A great little mountain, Doi Suthep, is just outside Chiang Mai. I had a friend rent a bike and ride up to the temple at the top, but you can also take a songtaew or ride a motorbike. Waterfalls seem to dot every hairpin turn, and they make for some fun hiking. Doi Suthep National Park covers 265 square kilometers and is home to a few small (and a bit touristy) Hmong villages in addition to the waterfalls and temple.


Tour the temples.
Chiang Mai’s ratio of temples to square feet seems significantly higher than in the rest of Thailand, and that’s saying a lot. Beautiful wats, each with their own personalities, are on every block and corner in the city. Inside the Old City walls are Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phra Singh, some of the more-visited temples within the city walls.

Cook. Walk through one of the small wet markets around 8am and you’ll see a half dozen groups of travelers carrying baskets, taking photos, and listening intently as instructors explain the names and uses of various vegetables.

Vegetarian cooking classes are available through Mai Kaidee, a small chain of vegetarian restaurants. For a several-day immersion into northern Thai culture and food, consider Immerse Through, co-run by cookbook and culture writer Naomi Duguid.

See an elephant up close. About an hour and a half outside Chiang Mai, the Elephant Nature Park has won awards for its work with rescued or retired elephants. Around two dozen elephants live here, and visitors can wash or observe them (sorry, no riding!).

This list is but a very, very small sample of things to do in Chiang Mai. Add to the list trekking, white-water rafting, rock climbing, ziplining, and studying Thai, to name a few more.

Have any suggestions or comments? Post in the comments section below!

[Photo credit: nicolafchild, Flickr]

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