Population: 400,000 (with up to 1million in the surrounding region)
Vibe: Chiang Mai has an unmistakably youthful vibe and is popular with expats, artists, and backpackers. Thailand second city has all the fun of Bangkok but without the rough edges.
Known for: Being an adventure hub for outdoor enthusiasts with a huge range of adventure activities to get your adrenaline pumping and one of the best places to go hiking in Thailand.
Top Things to See and Do in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is a massive hub for adventure tours to explore the great outdoors. Choose from ziplining, trekking, kayaking, mountain biking, abseiling, stand up paddle boarding and ATV or segway tours. Check out the Activities tab above for a range of options.
Take a Thai Cooking Class
Learn the secrets of creating delicious Thai cuisine. The class starts with a trip to the local market before learning how to cook a range of Thai dishes. Impress your friends and family at the next pot-luck dinner!
Spend the day with an Elephant
There are several Elephant Conservation Parks around Chiang Mai where you can spend the day playing with, bathing and walking with elephants. Stray recommends Elephant Nature Park or Elephant Jungle Sanctuary as these two parks have met our criteria as ethical organisations with a focus on conservation.
Catch a Muay Thai Boxing Night
Betting on Muay Thai is the entertainment choice of the locals. Enjoy the atmosphere and a few beers at the Thaphae Stadium.
Explore the Old City
In Chiang Mai, the heart of the action lies in its Old City, which is a square surrounded by a moat and the old city walls. Spend an afternoon or two just walking through the Old City’s streets, where you’ll find an abundance of innovative cafes, hidden art galleries, and local boutiques.
Visit Chiang Mai's temples
This is a city of temples, with one on nearly every corner - visit Wat Chiang Man to see the oldest temple in the city, Wat Phra Singh to see the revered Phra Singh Buddha, and the bright gold Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep for its views over Chiang Mai.
Lanna Festival of Lights
Chiang Mai is home to its own unique culture, which can most easily be seen in its festivals. Ever seen those pictures of hundreds of glowing rice paper lanterns being released into the sky? That spectacular experience takes place at Yi Peng, the Lanna festival of lights that coincides with the Thai Loi Krathong, typically around November or October. It’s an experience not to be missed during your travels.
Another famous festival is Songkran, a city-wide water fight that takes place around April. Grab a waterproof bag, the biggest water gun you can find, and get ready to duke it out.
Learn about Chiang Mai's History
Chiang Mai was once the capital city of the Kingdom of Lanna (13th-18th centuries). The Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre and the National Museum are great to learn more about traditional Lanna culture.
Venture just outside of the old city walls to Nimmanhaemin Road and you'll find a culture hub populated by more locals than visitors, it is a great place to hang with Chiang Mai’s young and beautiful.
Anusarn Night Market
Once night falls, get your shopping in at one of Chiang Mai’s many markets, such as the Sunday and Saturday markets near Tha Pae Gate. Any night of the week you can head to the Night Bazaar to try out your bargaining skills or check out a fantastically flamboyant ladyboy cabarets. You'll never be bored in this city!
Eating and Drinking
Chiang Mai has some of the best street food in Thailand, and dishes only a few dollars. Khao Soi is officially the number one dish to try in Chiang Mai. Khao Soi is a coconut and curry-based soup with egg noodles, chicken, and some crunchy fried noodles for texture. It’s rich, distinctive, and best served with a lime wedge and a pickled mustard greens garnish. Another favourite is Gaeng Hang Lay, a Burmese-style sweet curry with a tamarind based soup, pork and shallots. If you're watching your Baht you can't go past the night markets for delicious, affordable thai food.
Chiang Mai has many great bars and pubs located within walking distance of the Night Market or Old Town and generally drink prices are cheaper than in Bangkok. Many bars have theme nights, live music or pool tables and you can often catch the football playing on the big screens. If you fancy a nice cocktail Deck 1 offers a good selection by the river. Zoe in Yellow is a live music bar/ club popular with expats and travellers. Or check out Boy Blues Bar on Monday night if you want to participate in Open Mic night!
The heart of northern Thailand, university town, nature hub, and artistic centre, it’s difficult to argue with the claim that Chiang Mai is Thailand’s coolest city.
Spend a day at the Elephant Nature Park and learn about the rescued and orphaned elephants that live there.
You'll visit the local food market before learning to prepare and cook your choice of different local dishes then enjoy your tasty creations!
Clifftop Adventures offer exciting rappelling and abseiling tours in the jungle.
Go White Water Rafting, Trekking, Ride an ATV or go Stand Up Paddle Boarding with 8 Adventures.
Spend a great day mountain biking in Northern Thailand's premiere National Parks. It's the...
Navigate through lush and overgrown waterways exploring the unspoiled natural beauty of Northern Thailand.
Experience real Muay Thai fighting at the Thaphae Stadium.
A night's entertainment you will never forget! Cabaret dancing and stage performances from Chiang Mai's finest ladyboys.