Chiang Mai is a beautiful, historic city in Northern Thailand. It was founded in the year 1296 and still has a lot of the ancient city’s moats and city walls. Currently, it is the fourth most populated city in Thailand. Planning a trip to Thailand without seeing this special city would be a shame.
My boyfriend and I visited Chiang Mai, Thailand in the end of July 2019 and only planned to stay for 7 days and ended up staying 10.
I have highlighted 4 adventure packed days that we had into this post. Feel free to space them out and relax with a massage in between. At the bottom of this post you will find recommendations on getting to Chiang Mai and where to stay, on a budget, once you are there.
Day One: Temples + Thai Cooking Class
For your first day in Chiang Mai, start by exploring the old city and seeing a few temples. The city center of Chiang Mai (called the Old City or Old Town) is full of hostels, hotels, tourists, and lots and lots of temples. Take the morning (and avoid the heat) to explore a handful of different temples that are all within walking distance of each other. Some of these temples are small and might only take 15 minutes of your time, while others are bigger and have more than just one temple in it, taking up to an hour to explore. In Thai, the word for temple is “wat”. Try to have a late breakfast this day and skip lunch because the afternoon is going to be mainly eating at the cooking class!
Here are my suggested temples to visit within the Chiang Mai city center:
- Wat Phantao
- Wat Ched Lin
- Wat Chedi Luang
- Wat Phra Singh
- Wat Muen Ngoen Kong
- Wat Chiang Man
- Wat Tung Yu
Travel Tip: Make sure you dress moderately while visiting these temples. Men and women should cover their shoulders and knees to be respectful.
For your afternoon spend it in a Thai cooking class called Cookventure. There are many different cooking classes in Chiang Mai, but Cookventure is honestly the best there is. Cookventure’s cooking class was a highlight of our time in Thailand. The owner, Apple, picks you up and brings you to the local market to buy the ingredients. You are then welcomed into her home to learn how to cook five different dishes! The cooking class lasts a half day, with you cooking and eating, then cooking and eating again. By the time we left, we were completely stuffed! Apple is a great host and truly wants you to have a great time.
If you’re even a little bit interested in a cooking class while you visit Thailand, I highly suggest doing it with Cookventure. To learn about how much it costs, what you can cook and our experience, you can read more here.
Day Two: Grand Canyon Water Park
Grand Canyon Water Park is just outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is not a traditional water park but a water park with inflatable obstacle course, kayaking, wakeboarding, ziplining and so much more. We had such a fun day there. We played like children on the inflatable course and laughed so hard. You can easily spend an entire day here enjoying the sun. When you’re finished at the waterpark, you’re going to be exhausted!
Travel Tip: Be sure to bring extra sunscreen to the water park. We were extremely sunburnt by the time we left. They do sell some at the water park, but it is overpriced.
If you want to learn more about how much the Grand Canyon Water Park costs, how to get there, and our experience, you can read more here.
Day Three: Elephant Sanctuary
A trip to Chiang Mai would not be complete without a visit to an (ethical) elephant sanctuary. Elephant sanctuaries are common in Thailand, but are especially popular in Chiang Mai; however, be wary as some of the sanctuaries are not true sanctuaries. Please make sure they do not ride on the elephants or use hooks to train them before you choose your sanctuary.
During our stay in Chiang Mai, after extensive research, we choose Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary for a full day tour with rescued Elephants. This day was definitely a highlight of our time in Chiang Mai. Getting to experience elephants up close and personal for an entire day was a real treasure. The staff there absolutely love their 7 elephants and really want to teach you about them and make sure you have a great time. It is definitely worth the price.
If you want to learn more about how to choose a good elephant sanctuary, how much it costs to visit a sanctuary, and about our experience at Mae Rim Elephant Sanctuary, you can read more here.
Day Four: Doi Suthep-Pui National Park
On you last day in Chiang Mai, Thailand, you can spend the day exploring the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. This National Park is on the north-west side of Chiang Mai. There is a palace, temple, waterfalls, and really great look out points over Chiang Mai. When we visited, we drove our motorbike rental up the mountain, stopping at all the interesting spots along the way.
You can get a ride to the temple on the mountain, called Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, in a red truck taxi from anywhere in Chiang Mai. Once you make it to that temple, there are plenty more red truck taxis to take you anywhere on the mountain. If you’re looking for an adventure, I suggest renting a motorbike in town and riding up to the national park or even hiking up the mountain. Others told us there are great trails leading up to the attractions. If you choose to motorbike, it is a very easy ride consisting of only one road that leads up and down the mountain so no need to worry about getting lost! The roads are also in quite good condition all the way up to the national park.
Where should I eat in Chiang Mai, Thailand?
Chiang Mai has some really great food options. Foods to try in Northern Thailand include: pad-si-ew stir-fry, tom-yum-kung soup, spring rolls, different types of curries, deep fried banana and of course, my favorite, mango sticky rice.
Here are some restaurants we liked during our stay:
- Taste From Heaven. A vegan restaurant where you can get all the delicious Thai food without meat and dairy! Try the spicy cauliflower wings! They were amazing.
- The Riverside Bar & Restaurant. This place has a beautiful location right on the river in Chiang Mai. They offer Thai and Western food. And it is reasonably priced for the great location.
- The night market on Chang Khlan Road, just outside the city center. This area has multiple locations for doing some evening shopping and bartering. There are many different places to eat here on a budget; it is wonderful. We visited this area several times to have our dinner.
How do I get to Chiang Mai, Thailand?
Chiang Mai is very accessible when visiting Thailand. You can easily get there from Bangkok by bus, train and plane. When traveling through Asia I often use the website 12go.asia for my transportation booking.
By bus from Bangkok, it takes about 10 to 11 hours. This is often the cheapest option, about $20 USD.
By train from Bangkok it takes at least 13 hours to get to Chiang Mai. Many people choose to do this on the night trains since you can book a 2nd class sleeper for around $37 USD and sleep while you travel.
By plane from Bangkok you can fly to Chiang Mai for $30-60 USD depending on how far in advance you book. This flight is only about 1 hour and 10 minutes long. So if you are short on time, this might be the way to go.
Where should I stay in Chiang Mai, Thailand?
Are you looking for a place to stay in Chiang Mai on a budget? I highly recommend The Grace House. We originally booked seven nights then decided to stay an extra three after we had been there. The owners are very kind and welcoming. The location is also great- close to many food options and night markets. Their cafe has great breakfast which can be included in your room rate.