The question of whether or not you should visit the north of Thailand is easily answered once you see all the things to do in Chiang Mai. Once the capital of the old Lanna Kingdom, this city captures the essence of Thai culture through its historical temples and unique sites. It also boasts gorgeous views and trendy neighborhoods that diversify your experience. Chiang Mai makes an excellent alternative to visiting the Thai capital or the perfect addition to a tour of the country. Here are some of the top activities and attractions in Chiang Mai you are sure to enjoy.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep is a mountain of wonder that stands tall over Chiang Mai. Part of Doi Suthep–Pui National Park, the mountain’s dominating presence, calming waterfalls, and royal vacation home call all travelers. But it is the gleaming golden chedi of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep that will most likely catch your eye and beckon you to the peak. The history of this temple goes back 700 years, and its name means a holy relic of Buddha is enshrined in the chedi. Pilgrims come to worship here, and tourists are welcome to explore the grounds. Spend time at the murals which show the life and teachings of Buddha and learn more about this faith at the International Buddhism Center. Head here early in the morning if you want peace during your time at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. You’ll be able to spend more time admiring the longest water serpent balustrade in Thailand as you climb the 300-plus steps to the temple grounds.
Chiang Mai Old City
Step through Tha Phae Gate and enter ancient times with a visit to Chiang Mai Old City. The walls surrounding this square once protected all that existed of this former capital. Today, they outline an incredible piece of history and culture that make the moat area an epicenter for all travelers. There are several museums and galleries plus restaurants and bars keeping this area lively. Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center helps you envision the hundreds of years of life through video, scaled models, and wall murals. The modern, multimedia experience will surely give you a strong grasp of the city’s roots. But the incredible temples are the must-see sites of the area. Wat Chedi Luang was built in the early 1400s with the building and grounds being quite a sight to behold. Wat Phan Tao is adjacent to Wat Chedi Luang and contains one of Chiang Mai’s last remaining all-wood structures. There is also Wat Phan Tao with a viharn showcasing the traditional Lanna style. Built in 1497 and restored in the 1990s, it is a great spot to experience contemporary religious art.
Chiang Mai Night Safari
Lovers of wildlife looking for things to do in Chiang Mai will be thrilled at the experience provided by the Chiang Mai Night Safari. There is adventure to be had throughout the day within the attraction’s three zones – Jaguar Trail, Day Safari, and Night Safari. You’ll want to plan your visit beforehand as each zone operates at different times:
- The Jaguar Trail is open from 11:00am until 9:30pm and lets you walk through a landscaped trail of wild habitats for flamingos, tortoises, white-striped tigers, and jaguars.
- The Day Safari operates from 3:00pm to 4:30pm with tours departing every 30 minutes.
- The Night Safari has tram tours between 6:30pm and 10:00pm. Tours in English set off starting from 6:50pm.
There is certainly more to do than observe caged creatures here. Safely get up close and personal with giraffes, zebras, and more through interactive activities such as feeding. You’ll learn a lot about the beautiful animals and their habitats, enjoy shows that give you a better understanding of various species, and gain insight into how the staff at Chiang Mai Night Safari does its best to care for each creature. Be sure to stick around until after sunset and cap off a great time with the highly recommended laser light show.
Bo Sang Handicraft Village
A few kilometers away from Chiang Mai Old City is the Bo Sang Handicraft Village. For a long time, locals here have specialized in the art of making paper umbrellas by hand using Sa paper – Sa being Lao for mulberry tree. You’ll get to watch the men and women of this old profession work through every step of the construction process with inspiring skill and beautiful results. The final products are hand-painted with original floral designs, Chiang Mai’s rural scenery, and many other styles. Everything from the cocktail umbrellas to the parasols for patios make for wonderful souvenirs and gifts. But getting to see the admirable creation of them by the talented locals is what really adds to this valuable and memorable visit.
By now, there is no doubt Chiang Mai is a revered and historic city filled with traditional and cultural things to do. Striking out with a trendier and more fashionable vibe, that may be exactly why the area of Nimman Road is a draw for tourists and locals alike. You’ll indeed be reminded of present times among the famous restaurants, bars, boutique hotels, and shops that thrive in Chiang Mai‘s most expensive area. Take on the Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center by day and get a great view of the sunset from the mall’s Myst Rooftop Bar. The nearby Chiang Mai University is also worth checking out, and the Student Night Market in front of the school opens at sunset with fashion and food.
Where to Stay in Chiang Mai