Chiang Mai is located in the north of Thailand. It is the second largest city to visit in the country. It is a destination with a millenary culture, nature and very magical places. It is known as the city of 300 temples, impossible to get bored! We personally liked Chiang Mai very much, it is a city with a lot of history and a lot to offer. We stayed 5 days as we took the opportunity to rest a bit. We think that 3 days are enough, but if you want to take a day to make an excursion to Chiang Rai we recommend you to stay 4 days.
How to get to Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is a very accessible city. It has an international airport, there are multiple buses that make the journey from the south of the country to Chiang Mai and it also has a train station .
You can find all the options and see prices at this page.
We went from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai by bus, the trip was a bit long as it took about 12 hours but it was quite economical.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai?
One of the things to keep in mind when deciding where to stay in Chiang Mai is to have a map of the city in mind. The old part of the city is well differentiated from the new one as it is walled. Below you will be able to see it better:
The nightlife, the night market, most of the restaurants and bars, and many temples are located in the old part. In other words, it is the most touristy area. It is therefore one of the best areas to stay in, so the cheapest options are outside the city walls.
We stayed in the new area one block from the wall in a block full of hostels.
How to get around Chiang Mai?
Almost everything you need to see is in or around the walled area, so the main mode of transport in Chiang Mai will be your feet. It's a perfect place to walk around, getting lost and discovering amazing places.
However, there are some temples that are a bit far away. There are different ways to get around Chiang Mai:
Tuk Tuk: The typical way of getting around in the southeast.
Grab: the Uber of Asia.
Songtaew: These are shared red vans that function as "colectivos". You will see them everywhere. Just stop the driver and ask him if he can take you where you are going. Usually the fares are between 40 to 70 baths. We used them to go to the bus station and to Doi Suthep.
What to do in Chiang Mai?
Wat Doi Suthep
It is one of the most sacred temples in Chiang Mai. It is located about 12 km from the old city on top of a mountain (Doi Suthep - "doi" = mountain / "wat" = temple).
To get to the temple you have to climb about 300 steps. It is a very long staircase flanked by two dragons, impressive!
The site is quite large and there are several viewpoints, places to pray and temples.
- Open from 5am to 9pm
- Entrance fee 30bath (USD 1)
- TIP: Go as early as possible to avoid the tourists and appreciate the monks praying. We went at noon, definitely the worst time to go to the most touristy place in the city.
- There are different ways to get to the temple. We went by Songtaew for 80 bath (USD 2.57), but you can also go by grab or motorbike. Songtaew usually takes you to the zoo (30 baths) which is at the foot of the mountain and then from there you take another one to the temple ($40 baths). It takes about an hour to get to Songtaew from the wall area.
If you have time, there are several hiking trails from Doi Suthep Mountain. There is also the Wat Phra Lat temple, situated in the middle of nature.
2. Doi Inthanon National Park
Our favourite in Chiang Mai and a must-see when visiting the north. It is located 100km from the city and is one of Thailand's most important national parks. Mount Inthanon, at 2565 metres, is the highest in the country. For this reason it is also known as the roof of Thailand. The mountain is named after King Inthawichayanon, who worked hard to preserve the forests of northern Thailand.
What to see in the national park?
- Wachirathan Waterfall: The park is known for its beautiful and spectacular waterfalls. This is one of them and is easily accessible by car. It has a drop of about 80 metres.
- Trekking in the park: We did the Kiu Mae Pan trekking and we loved it! This trekking takes between 2 and 3 hours and it is mandatory to do it with a local guide. It is a path that goes through a half jungle forest, waterfalls, you will enjoy nature in a spectacular way. The views along the trail are really beautiful.
- Twin Pagodas : Near the top of Mount Inthanon are the twin pagodas, built to honour the 60th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej (in 1987) and Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara (in 1992). In addition to the pagodas and the incredible views, there are beautiful gardens!
We did the excursion with a tour we booked in Chiang Mai. The tour lasts all day and also includes a visit to a village and market. For us the full day tour with food and entrance fees included cost 1000 baths per person (USD 32).
You can also go on your own but we prefer the excursion as the park is quite far from Chiang Mai.
- TIP: Bring a warm coat, it gets quite cold up in the mountains.
3. Wat Phra Singh
This is another of Chiang Mai's most important and revered temples. It is located inside the walled city. This Buddhist temple was built in 1345. It has a huge golden pagoda and a very important Buddha image (a statue that is taken out of the temple and paraded through the streets of the city during the celebration of the Thai New Year).
- Open from 6am to 8pm
- Entrance fee 50bath (USD 1.60)
Wat Chedi Luang
This temple is also located inside the walled city. It has a huge 50-metre stupa in a mixture of Sukhothai and Burmese style. Although it was originally 80 metres long, it housed the famous Emerald Buddha. On the grounds there is also a beautiful reclining Buddha to see and a large standing Buddha.
- Open from 6am to 6pm
- Entrance fee 40bath (USD 1.30)
5. Talking to a monk
In most of the temples in Chiang Mai there are so-called Monk Chats where monks chat with tourists on various topics to practice their English. A different experience.
6. Wat Chiang Man
This is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, founded by King Phaya Mengrai in 1296. It is located to the northeast of the old walled part of the city. It is notable for its pagoda with elephant statues.
- Access is free of charge.
7. Visit an elephant sanctuary
One of the most common activities to do in Chiang Mai is to visit an elephant sanctuary. It is very important to be very careful when choosing which sanctuary to go to in Chiang Mai as many call themselves "sanctuaries" but are not.
We found this video from IATI where they explain very well how to choosing an elephant sanctuary responsibly to visit in Thailand.
8. Wander around the Walled City & Night Market
One of the best ways to get to know the walled city is to walk around aimlessly. It is full of markets, temples, shops and cafes. Don't forget to try Khao Soi, the typical northern dish.
Look at the place we found on our aimless walks.
9. Wax Monks
A great curiosity that stayed with us during our visit to Chiang Mai were all the wax monks that we saw in its temples. From what we found on the internet, they represent important monks in Thai culture who have passed away.
The detail in the sculptures is incredible! It took us a while to realise that they were not real monks.
10. Wat Sri Suphan
It is a temple completely covered in silver, aluminium and nickel. It is a rather small temple but with hundreds of details. Only men are allowed to enter the prayer hall.
- Open from 6 am to 5 pm.
- The entrance fee is 50bath (USD 1.60).
11. Wat Umong
The name of the temple translates to "Temple of Tunnels and Buddha Dhamma Garden". It is a forest temple located west of the city of Chiang Mai. It has meditation tunnels and caves with various Buddha images. It is a temple that is more than 700 years old.
It is also a famous meditation centre. If you are interested in dedicating a day or a week to this practice, Wat Umong may be a good place to do it.
- Open from 6 am to 6 pm.
12. Wat Suan Dok
It is located outside the wall. It is a temple with several small white stupas and a larger golden one. As it is not so well known, there are hardly any tourists.
- Open from 6 am to 9 pm.
- Access is free of charge.