Top 10 things to do & Travel Hacks for Chiang Mai City of Thailand

Interestingly I never believed in this Top 10 thing but while I was travelling in Thailand, I was searching such posts for different place. Certainly I consulted multiple blogs to decide what aligns with my interests but I found it useful. Through this post, I am going to share about main things to visit in Chiang, activities to do, why Chiang May is great place for shopping, Currency exchange tips, tips for cheap commute within & around the city etc. This post shares lot of Travel Hacks for travelers and backpackers visiting this beautiful city in North Thailand.

Interestingly I never believed in this Top 10 thing but while I was travelling in Thailand, I was searching such posts for different place. Certainly I consulted multiple blogs to decide what aligns with my interests but I found it useful. Through this post, I am going to share about main things to visit in Chiang, activities to do, why Chiang May is great place for shopping, Currency exchange tips, tips for cheap commute within & around the city etc. This post shares lot of Travel Hacks for travelers and backpackers visiting this beautiful city in North Thailand. 


This post has lot of details which would help you plan Chiagn Mai trip well, but would like to share about top 10 things which are recommended to as per my experience of the place : 

1. Mountain-top Temple : Doi Suthep    This is a Buddhist temple on the hills, and is pretty much like all other Wats. But to reach it, you need to climb up >200 stairs and the terrace offers an excellent view of the Chiang Mai city. You can also see the entire airstrip and watch planes take off and land. It is a good place to spend a couple of hours. But we had only 40 minutes. So we did our best.


This is a Buddhist temple on the hills, and is pretty much like all other Wats. But to reach it, you need to climb up >200 stairs and the terrace offers an excellent view of the Chiang Mai city. You can also see the entire airstrip and watch planes take off and land. It is a good place to spend a couple of hours. But we had only 40 minutes. So we did our best. 

When we were there, Doi Suthep was crowded. Apparently this is also the season when a lot of local Thai Tourists visit the temple. So it was difficult to click pictures and we had to wait a lot to get a frame without another human being photo-bombing it. It was miracle we made it to the meeting place in time and the minivan could immediately leave for Chiang Mai. 

2. Temple Hopping : Chiang Mai is city of Temples/Wats, so walk enough to experience it well :     Whole city has plenty of temples and it's certainly worth walking around to appreciate this heritage of the city. These temples are built over the years. Although architecture looks similar but there are various changes with respect to the time when they were built. One can easily walk around and see these temples. These temples like Wat Chedi Luang, Phra Ram are nearby and in the middle of the city.

2. Temple Hopping : Chiang Mai is city of Temples/Wats, so walk enough to experience it well : 

Whole city has plenty of temples and it's certainly worth walking around to appreciate this heritage of the city. These temples are built over the years. Although architecture looks similar but there are various changes with respect to the time when they were built. One can easily walk around and see these temples. These temples like Wat Chedi Luang, Phra Ram are nearby and in the middle of the city. 

3. Don't miss Wat Chedi - The temple of Big Stupa    Wat Chedi Luang is located well around the market and especially the place where Sunday market takes place. While the initial couple of buildings are in regular Buddhist Temple style, the real gem is hidden deep inside the complex. It is an old crumbling structure that is no longer safe. So you cannot go inside. But the old elephant statues, the dilapidated stupa, and the broken staircase tell their own stories. We spent some time here, and found that the temple was very difficult to photograph because of the bad light and wrong direction of the sun.

3. Don't miss Wat Chedi - The temple of Big Stupa

Wat Chedi Luang is located well around the market and especially the place where Sunday market takes place. While the initial couple of buildings are in regular Buddhist Temple style, the real gem is hidden deep inside the complex. It is an old crumbling structure that is no longer safe. So you cannot go inside. But the old elephant statues, the dilapidated stupa, and the broken staircase tell their own stories. We spent some time here, and found that the temple was very difficult to photograph because of the bad light and wrong direction of the sun. 

4. Eat Khao Soi :    Khao Soi (Northern Thai Chicken Curry with Noodles - speciality of Northern Thailand) is popular dish in North Thailand and that's highly recommended when you are in Chiang Mai. I couldn't find good Khao Soi on streets so you need to find a decent restaurant to enjoy it well.

4. Eat Khao Soi :

Khao Soi (Northern Thai Chicken Curry with Noodles - speciality of Northern Thailand) is popular dish in North Thailand and that's highly recommended when you are in Chiang Mai. I couldn't find good Khao Soi on streets so you need to find a decent restaurant to enjoy it well. 

5. Walk around the Sunday Market :    If you are planning a trip to Chiang Mai during Sundays, you must explore Sunday market which is setup near Wat Chedi Lunag. Another best part is to walk around Sunday Market street and also keep a watch on other temples around the street. All these temples are very well lit, so you would get different view of the temple in night lighting. Entry ticket works for a day, so you can visit Chedi Luang again in the evening and witness it in different lighting.


If you are planning a trip to Chiang Mai during Sundays, you must explore Sunday market which is setup near Wat Chedi Lunag. Another best part is to walk around Sunday Market street and also keep a watch on other temples around the street. All these temples are very well lit, so you would get different view of the temple in night lighting. Entry ticket works for a day, so you can visit Chedi Luang again in the evening and witness it in different lighting. 

6. Chiag Mai Night Market needs more than a night to explore well :    I can definitely say that Night market of Chiang Mai is best in comparison to what you see in Bangkok, Phuket or Aaytthaya. It's huge with brilliant variety of food, art-pieces, cloths etc. It has various sections and almost each section has some sort of performance happening. You need to enter in different sections of the market to explore it well and then you would be able to appreciate it's grandness and range of things to experience/buy.

6. Chiag Mai Night Market needs more than a night to explore well :

I can definitely say that Night market of Chiang Mai is best in comparison to what you see in Bangkok, Phuket or Aaytthaya. It's huge with brilliant variety of food, art-pieces, cloths etc. It has various sections and almost each section has some sort of performance happening. You need to enter in different sections of the market to explore it well and then you would be able to appreciate it's grandness and range of things to experience/buy. 

7. Eat on streets and save money while eating some of the best Thai food :     I don't think I need to say a lot about it. We enjoyed street food in Thailand for 10 days with few exceptions when we had our meals at a fine dining restaurant or a pub.     8. Trek in the Jungle :    Chiang Mai is surrounded by beautiful green landscapes and trekking around some of the nearby forests can be an interesting thing to do but it's something which is recommend only if you have time. It certainly takes a day easily to enjoy it well. Folks also trek till Doi Suthep, so it depends which one you chose.

7. Eat on streets and save money while eating some of the best Thai food : 

I don't think I need to say a lot about it. We enjoyed street food in Thailand for 10 days with few exceptions when we had our meals at a fine dining restaurant or a pub. 

8. Trek in the Jungle :

Chiang Mai is surrounded by beautiful green landscapes and trekking around some of the nearby forests can be an interesting thing to do but it's something which is recommend only if you have time. It certainly takes a day easily to enjoy it well. Folks also trek till Doi Suthep, so it depends which one you chose. 

9. Hmong Tribe :    The part of the tribal village that you can explore in half-ha-hour is essentially just the market. I would have liked an opportunity to experience the Hmong culture and find out about their history, language, clothes etc. The market sells some "hand-made" goods at sky-high prices. We couldn't bring ourselves to buy anything from here. It was like throwing away money. Also, you will probably find many things in Chiang Mai markets too. Because of shortage of time, we were not able to visit the waterfall, the flower garden, the church. Nor were we really able to observe anything too unique about these people. Some were definitely in Hmong dresses, but they seemed more like costumes now than a way of life.

9. Hmong Tribe :

The part of the tribal village that you can explore in half-ha-hour is essentially just the market. I would have liked an opportunity to experience the Hmong culture and find out about their history, language, clothes etc. The market sells some "hand-made" goods at sky-high prices. We couldn't bring ourselves to buy anything from here. It was like throwing away money. Also, you will probably find many things in Chiang Mai markets too. Because of shortage of time, we were not able to visit the waterfall, the flower garden, the church. Nor were we really able to observe anything too unique about these people. Some were definitely in Hmong dresses, but they seemed more like costumes now than a way of life. 

If you go to these places in a guided tour, you may not get much time to explore well. So rented scooter is best option. 


10. Thai massage in Chiang Mai is best & cheap 

In Chiang Mai you can walk a lot and that's a good enough reason to have a good Thai Massage during one of the evenings. It's cheapest in comparison to other tourist cities of Thailand. 

Apart from these if you usually like bonus tips on this blog, go visit Flower market around the river bank in Chiang Mai. It's very interesting to walk around in the evening. 

While I was writing about all these places in Chiang Mai, I realised that I must mention about cost effectiveness of this Thai city. Amongst other popular tourist destinations of Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the cheapest one. Because of that you don't want to miss following activities if you intend to these in Thailand :    1. Currency Exchange : If you are landing in Thailand without Bahts and going to Chiang Mai as first destination, only get currency worth $200 from Bangkok or other airports. You get much better conversion rate in Chiang Mai city.

While I was writing about all these places in Chiang Mai, I realised that I must mention about cost effectiveness of this Thai city. Amongst other popular tourist destinations of Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the cheapest one. Because of that you don't want to miss following activities if you intend to these in Thailand :

1. Currency Exchange : If you are landing in Thailand without Bahts and going to Chiang Mai as first destination, only get currency worth $200 from Bangkok or other airports. You get much better conversion rate in Chiang Mai city.

2. Chaing Mai is very good for shopping. Its relatively cheap and you get lot of artistic stuff to buy. Be sure that you walk for a while before making the buying decision. Huge bargaining happens in these markets and you can get stuff at 1/3rd of the first ask price. 

3. If you are visiting Thailand, experiencing Thai Massage is a must and Chiang mai is best for that experience because of money as well as kind of expertise you can find here. 


4. You can get single ticket for Arts & Cultural Center, Lanna Folklife Museum, and the History Museum . It around $6. 

5. 7-Eleven is your friend for drinks/food/snacks/etc and pocket friendly - Did I mention that they have best deals on Thai beers and some exotic cocktails. Chang, Leo and Singha are some of the local beer brans you can find anywhere and its pretty cheap. Apart from that you can have ready to eat stuff and they heat the stuff for you. 

Most of the options shared above are within city or close by, if you have time and want to explore more around & outside Chiang Mai city :      Huay Tung Tao - A manmade lake    Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens     Mae Sa Waterfall    Phu Ping Palace

Most of the options shared above are within city or close by, if you have time and want to explore more around & outside Chiang Mai city : 

Huay Tung Tao - A manmade lake

Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens

Mae Sa Waterfall

Phu Ping Palace

Apart from all these details, it would be unfair if we don't talk about nightlife of Chiang Mai City.     Loi Kroh Road : This road is popular for it's sports bars and ladyboy bars.  End of the road has Chiang Mai Entertainment Complex and has some of the places to find Muay fights, if you are interested.     Charoenrat Road : A place where you want to be for live bands. And not only english bands but also Thai bands with unique charisma.     Night Market of Chiang Mai is already discussed and recommend in top-10, but worth mentioning again :)

Apart from all these details, it would be unfair if we don't talk about nightlife of Chiang Mai City. 

Loi Kroh Road : This road is popular for it's sports bars and ladyboy bars.  End of the road has Chiang Mai Entertainment Complex and has some of the places to find Muay fights, if you are interested. 

Charoenrat Road : A place where you want to be for live bands. And not only english bands but also Thai bands with unique charisma. 

Night Market of Chiang Mai is already discussed and recommend in top-10, but worth mentioning again :)

Now that we have talked enough about main things to visit and do in Chiang Mai city of Thailand, let's also talk about things which you may want to skip and I would also share why I say so -    Elephant Nature Park or Elephant's related activities:     Personally I can't relate to this fact that we use animals for tourism and we keep them busy all the time. I know it's debatable, but personally I don't find it's something that you do when on vacation.

Now that we have talked enough about main things to visit and do in Chiang Mai city of Thailand, let's also talk about things which you may want to skip and I would also share why I say so -

Elephant Nature Park or Elephant's related activities: 

Personally I can't relate to this fact that we use animals for tourism and we keep them busy all the time. I know it's debatable, but personally I don't find it's something that you do when on vacation. 

Muay Thai :

I don't have a strong reason about it except that it's un-relatable when I would want to watch flights during vacation. It simply doesn't align with my taste of travel. I may not even watch something like this in my city. (It may sound biased)

Chiang Mai Night Safarai

If you have time, I have heard good things about this place but again something which can be experienced in better places like Singapore Night Safari. We simply skipped it because there are lot exciting things to do in night at Chiang Mai. 

Tiger Cafes or Tiger Kingdom kind of places :

The reason is exactly the same like Elephant nature park.

Zipline experience in Chiang Mai -

This is again something which cant be related to Chiang Mai. You can find much better Zipline experience in other parts of the world and it's not something which is closely related to Chiang Mai as city. 

Getting in and around Chiang Mai (Local commute as well as connectivity from different cities of Thailand)    Rent a bike : This is one of the best options to explore Thailand cities. Rent a bike and feel free to explore places around the city. It saves lot of your time, money and offers you freedom. Just be aware that at times there are chances of getting into scam when owner may claim more money when you return the bike.     Songthaew : The linked blog shares very good information how to use Songthaew like a local and reach places while saving money in Chiang Mai. They can be found almost everywhere in Chiang Mai City.

Getting in and around Chiang Mai (Local commute as well as connectivity from different cities of Thailand)

Rent a bike : This is one of the best options to explore Thailand cities. Rent a bike and feel free to explore places around the city. It saves lot of your time, money and offers you freedom. Just be aware that at times there are chances of getting into scam when owner may claim more money when you return the bike. 

Songthaew : The linked blog shares very good information how to use Songthaew like a local and reach places while saving money in Chiang Mai. They can be found almost everywhere in Chiang Mai City. 

App based taxi Grab : It's like uber in Thailand and works well. There can language challenges at times but works decently. 

Buses : Most of the places within city are at walkable distances but still bus can be helpful in some cases. e.g. - going from centre of the city to river side or flower market. But it's not very easy to locate buses in Chiang Mai. 

Try to avoid Tuk-Tuks in Chiang Mai. 


Trains from Chiang Mai to other cities of Thailand :

Lot of folks prefer overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. You have the option of getting a bed on an overnight sleeper train for approximately 800 bahts or taking a seat on the express train during the day for approximately 600 bahts. 

One can also take trains for other touristy places in Thailand. Chiang Mai to Aayutthaya is one of the popular routes and there is overnight train available, which lands you in Ayutthaya at around 10:30am. 

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