We have been living in Thailand coming up to 6 months and we were fortunate enough to spend two months in the digital nomad delight which is Chiang Mai.

We could have easily stayed longer. Ask any digital nomad and they will tell you, life is good in Chiang Mai. It’s easy to make friends, get around, make the place your home and never get bored.

Confused by Tripadvisor’s top rated sights to see in Chiang Mai, I thought I would write up our top ten things to do in Chiang Mai.

So here it is, Tripmasher’s top ten things to do in Chiang Mai and surrounds.

1. Bua Tong ‘Sticky’ Waterfalls

So called for the limestone deposits that allow you to effectively ‘stick’ to the waterfalls and climb up.

Bua Tong sticky waterfalls, Chiang Mai
Bua Tong sticky waterfalls, Chiang Mai

Feel like a superhero climbing up while the cool water gushes down over your feet.

Things to do: Climb up the waterfalls. Take a seat in a cooling pool of water and watch the world go by. Bring a picnic and listen to the sounds of nature.

What to bring: Waterproof camera, sunscreen, insect repellent, swimwear and money for snacks and drinks at the small shop at the entrance.

How to get there: Located north of Chiang Mai old town along route 1001, the drive takes about 90 minutes one way. Ask your accommodation to write down the name of the waterfalls in Thai and then hail down a red songtaew.

Cost: Entry is free. A return songtaew journey with the driver waiting should cost around 1000 Baht.

2. Wat Pha Lat – Chiang Mai’s hidden temple

Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai
Wat Pha Lat, Chiang Mai
Wat Pah Lat, Chiang Mai
Wat Pah Lat, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is the capital of Wats (temples). With over 300 Buddhist temples in and around the town, you are spoilt for choice.

Our favourite was found by accident when we attempted the Pilgrim’s trail.

Moss-covered chedis and only the sound of the small waterfall and chimes makes this off-the-beaten track a magical find.

Things to do: Walk around this beautiful temple site, viewing weathered stone Buddhas, petrified trees and take in a great vantage viewpoint over Chiang Mai.

What to bring: Camera, sunscreen, insect repellent, modest clothing (shawl for covering shoulders and trousers past the knees).

How to get there: Located west of Chiang Mai old town, the temple is on the same route as Wat Doi Suthep and is about a 15 minute drive. You can rent your own scooter or hire a songtaew. There is a road sign for Wat Pha Lat which you need to keep on the look out for and ask your driver to pull over to what looks like a modest pagoda. There you will find a short windy path downhill to the entrance of the temple. Check out our journey here.

Cost: Entry is free, but kind to leave a donation. A scooter for 24 hours cost 250 Baht, or a songtaew should cost around 40-60 Baht per person each way, but you will need to wait to have a full pickup of 10 people. If you are in a large group you will find it easier to negotiate a price and get on your way.

3. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and hill-tribe trek

baby elephant
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai

If you have the time and budget to get close to these beautiful animals then I would highly recommend it. It’s a great day trip for every type of traveller and worthwhile to be supporting groups which are now providing a sanctuary for elephants formerly abused in riding camps. Here’s Tripmasher’s post about the experience.

Things to do: Play with Pachyderms of course!

What to bring: Camera, sunscreen, insect repellent, swimwear for the mud bath and river.

How to get there: Book directly with Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. The tour includes pickup from your accommodation and is about a 90 minute drive through beautiful countryside and smaller towns.

Cost: One day tour 2400 Baht and includes lunch.

4. River Tubing

Did you know there is a golden sandy beach in Chiang Mai?

sandy beach with palm trees
Chiang Mai’s sandy beach

About an hour drive out of the old town you can start your river tubing journey down the Mae Taeng River. A super relaxing, but also messy (if you choose to indulge in beverages of the alcoholic variety) day trip with pals.

Things to do: Meet new friends and enjoy the surrounds with a can in your hand. Here are Tripmasher’s Five R’s of River Tubing.

What to bring: Camera, sunscreen, insect repellent, swimwear and a change of clothes if you prefer to be dry.

How to get there: Book directly with River Tubing Chiang Mai. The tour includes pickup from the Tha Pae Gate outside McDonalds.

Cost: One day tour 599 Baht. Bring more money for your esky of drinks (you only pay for what you drink) and worth having a charged up phone with music to play via hired bluetooth speakers.

5. The ‘Grand Canyon’ of Thailand

Grand Canyon of Thailand, Chiang Mai
Grand Canyon of Thailand, Chiang Mai

Red ochre walls spliced against green pools of water. The ‘Grand Canyon’ of Thailand is a surprise find 40 minutes out of town.

Becoming more touristy each year, it’s still a great half day trip to catch the sunset and chill out on the floating bamboo ‘islands’. For a full account of directions check out Tripmasher’s post on Chiang Mai’s hidden gem.

Things to do: Cliff-jumping and floating about in an inner tube.

What to bring: Camera, sunscreen, insect repellent, swimwear and a change of clothes if you prefer to be dry.

How to get there: Rent a scooter and check out my directions.

Cost: 50 baht per person, but includes a refreshing purple drink.

6. Crank up the heat and get in a kitchen

Zabb E Lee Thai cooking school
Zaab-e-Lee’s Cooking School, Chiang Mai

If you don’t like Thai food then I really feel sorry for you and question your motive to travel to Thailand. If you are like the Tripmasher duo and eat your body-weight at every sitting of the perfectly balanced sweet, salty, sour and hot food, then join the fun at Zaab-e-Lee’s Cooking School.

A super fun evening making new friends and eating some of the best food you will taste in Thailand.

Things to do: Get ready to laugh and don’t take yourself too seriously. Best cooking is done without emotion. Read more about Tripmasher’s experience on getting tongue thai’d.

What to bring: Camera and your appetite. There are four courses, so go hungry!

How to get there: The tour will pick you up from your accommodation, but also located a short walk from the north entrance of the old town.

Cost: 900 Baht per person includes all the food, water, seasonal fruit and recipe book. Bring some extra money to toast your new found culinary skills!

7. Hang with the cool cats on Nimman street

Nimman Street, Chiang Mai
Photo Credit: http://theakyra.com/discover-trendy-nimmanhaemin-road-chiang-mai/

Chiang Mai’s old town is a lovely maze of sois to wander around. But if you are ready to see what the ‘real Chiang Mai’ is all about with its cool-cat university graduates and stylish bar and food offerings, then head to Nimman street.

Some of our favourite moments is hanging out with our new-found hairdresser friends discussing Thai’s ever changing political environment and Buddhism over a beer. A great guide and background on the street can be found on The Akyra.

Things to do: Walk the streets and watch the hive of activity come to life from day to night. Explore the many sois for all manor of food offerings, from beer buffets, to sushi, to ice creameries. Or try the endless supply of street food and coffee.

What to bring: Camera and your appetite.

How to get there: A 10 minute songtaew ride or scooter journey from old town.

Cost: Free, but bring some money for a snack or drink (or both!)

8. Markets of Chiang Mai

Get ready to get your shop on. Whether it’s for souvenirs, clothes, or food, Chiang Mai’s markets have everything you can think of. Our favourites? Walking street market, Warorot Market, Night Bazaar, Anusarn Market for the cabaret show and fresh food and Thai sausage from Suthep Market.

Night Markets, Chiang Mai
Night Markets, Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai -Markets-1

Thai sausage, Chiang Mai
Northern Thai sausage, Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai Cabaret show
Chiang Mai Cabaret show

Things to do: Shop! Buy fresh flowers, spices, souvenir trinkets, clothes, handbags, jewellery and food. My favourite stall was at the Night Bazaar selling bolero-esque tops. I never saw them anywhere else and bummed to not have picked up one or two.

What to bring: Money, camera and an appetite. You can’t help but buy a few snacks from the street-stalls.

How to get there: Walk. Ask your accommodation for a map and clock up those Fitbit steps. A great guide to Chiang Mai’s markets is this post by Travelling Apples.

Cost: Free, but bring money for your shopping and food splurges.

9. Do nothing

Chiang Mai River tubing
Do nothing

I would describe the Tripmasher duo as avid sightseers seeking both experiences as a visitor and wanna-be-local. But we are also some of the most horizontal people on the planet! We like to chill.

So we find sometimes the best off-the-beaten track experience you can find is doing nothing. The most might be grabbing your kindle and walking to the park or finding any of the numerous cafes for a moment of respite.

Things to do: Nothing. Give it a try!

What to bring: Nothing. Maybe a book.

How to get there: Walk out in any direction and stop when it feels good.

Cost: Free.

10. Pilgrim’s trail to Doi Suthep

muddy trail with a step incline
Pilgrim’s trail, Chiang Mai

I had to end this list with a complete cock-up of an experience. It would not be true Tripmasher if I didn’t include an experience we got completely wrong. I have listed it at the end because if you have more that 3 days in Chiang Mai, I would recommend it.

You are probably asking why Suzy? I read your post, you saw dogs with drawn on eyebrows and it’s a hot, sweaty walk. Why do you want to include it?

dog with drawn on eyebrows
What greets you at the top 🙂
Golden Stupa of Wat Doi Suthep
Wat Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai (if you have the energy to go on)

I guess because after numerous weeks, I can look back on it with kinder eyes. Also no traveller in their right mind would do it. So if you want to find a hidden-gem, or go off the beaten path, then it’s not always obvious, or easy, or the most fun you could have. But it will sure as stick in your mind for years to come and make for a great travel story!

Want to make the same mistake, follow Tripmasher’s path.

So long Chiang Mai, we will be back for a fleeting visit for the Lantern Festival. Until then, this is our top ten things to do in Chiang Mai.

Back in Bangkok listening to the sounds of the city and a dull bass coming from somewhere on Khao San Road.

Got any other special spots in Chiang Mai? Love to hear your top experiences.

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Top ten things to do in Chiang Mai
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