Ah….Chiang Mai, the beautiful northern city of Thailand, the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. I have now lost count of the number of times I have visited Chiang Mai, but I do remember the first time I travelled to one of my favourite cities back in 2008.
Ten years ago! Gosh, that’s gone fast.
So much has changed in Chiang Mai in the past decade. It has gone from quiet, sleepy small city, to one that is super popular with tourists. Yes, it can get busier in Chiang Mai these days, but if you look around you can still find quiet spots.
There is something so alluring about Chiang Mai. It’s architecture is relatively low-rise, there are tree-lined streets, hundreds of temples, you will often see Buddhist monks in their conspicuous orange robes walking the street.
Chiang Mai has the wonderful balance of being a big enough city to have loads to keep you entertained, along with being surrounded by stunning scenery to help you relax.
Of course, for me, Chiang Mai is the city where I met my husband 8 years ago. So it will always be a special place to me. I even had the chance to go back and visit Chiang Mai last September, and still loved the city as much as I did before.
Even after 10 years of visiting this gorgeous Northern Thai city, there is still loads more I’d love to do.
Below is my ideal itinerary on how to spend 3 days in Chiang Mai, as I know that is a popular length of time to visit. I would argue that you could spend a lot longer there if you can!
If you can spend longer, or want further inspiration I created an epic list of 45 Things To Do In Chiang Mai.
And if you need further inspiration on what to eat in Thailand, try my list of 47 Things To Eat In Thailand.
This itinerary is going to be a best case scenario where you get 3 days and 3 nights in Chiang Mai, obviously how much you can fit in will depend on when you arrive into the city.
HOW TO SPEND 3 DAYS IN CHIANG MAI
Arrive at the airport
Chiang Mai airport is pretty much IN the city so it shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes or so (pending rush hour traffic) to get to your accommodation (I’ve listed my recommendations at the end).
Likewise, if you arrive my train, the station is not far from most places.
From both airport and train station you can get a taxi, an Uber, or pick one of the red taxis (called Songtaew’s). They should charge around 30baht per person for a trip, but they will stop to pick up other passengers along the way. It’s like lift sharing.
Check into your chosen hotel or hostel. Have a quick freshen up, grab your sunscreen and camera, and head out to explore.
Visit the famous temple on top of the hill, Doi Suthep. There you can explore the beautiful temple and it’s glistening gold chedi. You can get blessed by a Buddhist monk. And take in the view from the hill out over the city and beyond.
Take a taxi songtaew up to Doi Suthep. Either arrange with your hotel, or you can pick up a songtaew taxi from outside the zoo.
Lunch on Nimman Road
Take the taxi back down the hill and head to Nimmanhaeminda Road (or called Nimman Road for short). This is the student-y, hipster area filled with cool coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques. Have lunch at one of the many restaurants.
My recommendations are for Khao Soi Nimman on Soi 7, the Burmese Restaurant on the corner of Soi 8, the Salad Concept on the corner of Soi 13, or Smoothie Blues on the corner of Soi 6.
Or if you want to get a spot of shopping in head to the Maya Shopping Centre and have lunch in the basement. It’s delicious food, and great value for money.
There are hundreds of cool coffee shops in the Chiang Mai, so if you need a caffeine fix you are in for a treat. In the Nimman Road area head down either Soi’s 7, 9, 11, 13, or 15 and explore to find a coffee shop you fancy.
Catch a taxi into the Old City of Chiang Mai to visit some temples. The Old City is based within a quad of moats and some of the original walls.
Visit the famous Wat Phra Singh, the largest temple in Old City. Also worth checking out Wat Chedi Luang Worewhian, Wat Suan Dok, Wat Sri Suphan, Wat Lok Molee, Wat Bupparam, Wat Chiang Man, and Wat Phan Tao
After all that temple touring you’ll be hungry again. Now for some street food!
If you are there on a Sunday I would highly recommend the Sunday Walking Market – start at Wat Phra Singh and walk down towards Taepae Gate. Be sure to eat at the street food stalls along the way.
Otherwise, head over to the Night Bazaar on the East side of the city. The Night Bazaar is home to stalls lining the main street as well as small markets located just off the main road. Some of these are covered so ideal if you’re there in the rainy season. Eat your way around the street food stalls, buy some handicrafts, and treat yourself to a foot massage.
See the Elephants
I highly recommend booking onto an outing to the Elephant Nature Park, it’s a sanctuary north of the city that takes in abused elephants who have been forced to work in tourism or logging. This sanctuary teaches you about elephants, about the dangers they face being worked in tourism, and allows you to get up close to these magnificent animals without riding them, and hurting them.
You can opt for a full day or half day excursion to Elephant Nature Park. With the full day option you get to bathe an elephant in the river. Both options include the chance to feed some elephants, and it includes a massive vegetarian lunch.
Dinner at the Riverside
Enjoy a delicious meal by the side of the river, surrounded by fairy lights and music, at the Riverside restaurant.
Or Dancing at Warm Up Cafe
Alternatively, get your glad rags on and hang out with the cool kids at Warm Up Cafe. There you can have food, drinks, and listen to cool music.
I also recommend taking a cooking class in Chiang Mai to learn how to cook Thai cuisine. I have taken several cooking classes over the years and I always thoroughly enjoy them. There are loads to choose from in Chiang Mai, and most hotels and tour agents will have some favourites that they recommend.
I went with the Chiang Mai Cookery School on my last visit and was super impressed with their teaching and facilities. Most cooking schools will come pick you up in a minivan from your place of accommodation, and they’re relatively easy to book onto.
I recommend going with the half day option, but there are full day cooking school’s if you fancy it.
Relax at the Lake or Quarry
Rent a bike, motorbike, or take a taxi to the Huay Tung Tao Lake. The lake is at the foot of the hills, and is a chilled place to hang out. Relax in a lakeside hut, order more food if you have room, paddle in the lake, or simply chill out as the sun starts to go down.
Alternatively head out to the Chiang Mai Old Quarry for striking cliffs which you can go cliff jumping from (although check water levels and local guidance first). Or simply chill out an a bamboo raft catching some sunshine.
Spa and massage
If you fancy some quiet time, head to one of the Chiang Mai’s many spas for the afternoon. There are spas and massage shops on almost every street in the Chiang Mai. It’s pretty easy to find somewhere for a treatment.
You could have a massage at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute, where female inmates are trained in Thai massage.
Thai Barbecue (Moogata)
Spend your last evening eating with the locals at a Thai barbecue. There is the mammoth Sukontha Thai Barbecue on Huaykaew Road, or try one of the smaller options such as …
The Thai barbecue is similar to a Korean one. You are given a small coal fired dish with a trough around the outside, you pick your raw meat and veggies and cook it all together. It’s lots of fun, and super social way to eat.
IF YOU HAVE EXTRA DAYS IN CHIANG MAI
- Go on a meditation retreat
- Hang out at the Pha Chor ‘Grand’ Canyon
- Visit the Sticky Waterfalls – Bua Thong
- Visit the highest mountain in Thailand, Doi Inthanon
- Day trip to Chiang Rai, a city further North
- Short Trip to Chiang Dao, sleepy Thai town
- Short Trip to Pai, small town in the mountains
- Drive the Mae Hong Son Loop
- Visit the Mae Wang Waterfalls and National Park
Check out my epic 45 Things To Do In Chiang Mai for more inspiration
WHERE TO STAY IN CHIANG MAI
- Lonely Planet Guide Book
- Travel insurance
- List of Chiang Mai info for expats and tourists
READ MORE THAILAND POSTS:
- My Two Week Trip To Thailand
- Thai Food: 47 Things I Ate In Thailand
- Hotel Review: RarinJinda Wellness Spa Resort
- Elephant Nature Park Experience, Chiang Mai
- Caturday, Cat Cafe in Bangkok
- Temples in Ayutthaya, Thailand
- Why You Should Not Ride Elephants
- How To Survive Chatuchak Market, Bangkok
Have you been to Chiang Mai? What was your favourite thing to do there?
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