The Best Things to See and Do in Chiang Mai: A Guide to Culture, Cuisine, and Adventure
Chiang Mai is a vibrant city in northern Thailand that offers visitors a wide variety of experiences–from exploring ancient temples and bustling markets to trekking through the mountains and interacting with rescued elephants.
In addition to its natural beauty and cultural attractions, the city is home to a thriving food scene, vibrant nightlife, and various outdoor activities.
Whether you’re looking for adventure, relaxation, or a little bit of both, this is a destination that will leave you with lasting memories.
Here are some of the top things to see and do:
- Visit the Old City: The Old City is the historic center of Chiang Mai and is home to many ancient temples, traditional Thai houses, and local markets.
- Explore the Night Bazaar: The Night Bazaar is a lively market open every night and famous for its street food, local handicrafts, and clothing.
- Visit Doi Suthep: Doi Suthep is a mountain located just outside of Chiang Mai that’s home to a stunning Buddhist temple and offers panoramic views of the city.
- Take a cooking class: Chiang Mai is known for its delicious cuisine, and taking a cooking class is a great way to learn how to make some of the local dishes.
- Visit the Elephant Nature Park: The Elephant Nature Park is an ethical elephant sanctuary that allows visitors to interact with rescued elephants in a natural environment.
- Go trekking: Chiang Mai is surrounded by beautiful mountains and jungles, and many trekking routes offer stunning views and a chance to explore the local flora and fauna.
- Visit the Sunday Walking Street: The Sunday Walking Street is a famous weekly market filled with local food, handicrafts, and live music.
- Get a Thai massage: A Thai massage is a traditional form of massage known for its therapeutic benefits, and many spas and massage centers offer this service.
- Visit the Chiang Mai Zoo: The Chiang Mai Zoo is home to various animals, including pandas, tigers, and giraffes.
- Visit the Chiang Mai Night Safari: The Night Safari is a unique experience that allows visitors to see nocturnal animals in their natural habitat.
- Take a bike tour: A great city to explore on a bicycle, there are many guided bike tours will take you to some of the city’s top attractions and hidden gems.
- Visit the Art in Paradise museum: The Art in Paradise museum is an interactive art museum that features 3D paintings that allow visitors to become a part of the artwork.
- Attend a Muay Thai fight: Muay Thai is a popular combat sport in Thailand, and there are several venues where you can watch live matches.
- Take a day trip to Pai: Pai is a small town about 3 hours from Chiang Mai known for its laid-back vibe, natural hot springs, and stunning scenery.
- Learn about the local hill tribes: The area is home to several ethnic minority groups, including the Karen, Hmong, and Akha tribes. Some many tours and experiences allow visitors to learn about their culture and way of life.
TIP: Please do not ride the elephants. Many are abused and whipped into submission, so that visitors can ride them. Only visit sanctuaries where you can walk, bath and sing to them.
Did you know?
Chiang Mai is known for its traditional handicrafts, particularly its intricate wood carvings. However, many people may not know that the wood used for these carvings often comes from a specific tree called the “mai keaw” tree, which translates to “green wood” in Thai.
This tree can only be found in a few select areas in Thailand, and its wood is highly prized for its quality and durability. The wood from the mai keaw tree is so valuable that it’s often smuggled out of the country, leading to concerns about deforestation and the sustainability of the local wood carving industry.
A little history:
The art of wood carving in Chiang Mai dates back several centuries, and it has long been a traditional craft in the region. The intricate designs and patterns carved into the wood are inspired by local flora, fauna, and Buddhist and Hindu mythology.
Historically, wood carvings were used to decorate temples and palaces, often commissioned by royalty and wealthy patrons.
The mai kaew tree has played a significant role in the wood carving industry. The wood from this tree is known for its durability and resistance to decay, making it ideal for intricate carvings that require a high level of detail.
However, the mai kaew tree has become endangered in recent years due to its limited availability.
Efforts are being made to promote sustainable practices in the wood carving industry, including using alternative woods and replanting the mai kaew tree. However, the high demand for traditional wood carvings continues to pressure the local ecosystem.
As a result, there is a growing awareness of the need to balance economic development in Thailand with environmental sustainability in this unique and culturally significant industry.