What are the best things to do in Chiang Mai?

Katie Goldstein
  • Katie Lara

  • Correspondent

  • New York City, New York

With its hundreds of Buddhist temples, lively markets, and close proximity to spectacular natural wonders and camps housing exotic wildlife, Chiang Mai is one of the most-popular destinations in Thailand and has plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy for days. Here are  Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best things to do
in Chiang Mai:
 
1. Wat Phrathat. Climb 309 steps or take a tram to the top of Doi Suthep, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside while exploring this beautiful golden temple. A visit here is sure to be a highlight of any trip to Thailand.
 
2. Night Bazaar. Located in the heart of the city, near the banks of the Ping River, Chiang Mai’s night market teems with street food vendors and stalls packed with Thai silks, handicrafts and housewares, t-shirts, jewelry and just about anything else you can imagine. This is the best place in the city to do your souvenir shopping.
 
3. Ride an Elephant. There are a few elephant camps within an hour or so drive of the city where you can get up close and personal with these mighty mammals, but we recommend the Elephant Training Center Chiang Dao, which is praised for its humane treatment of the elephants and offers fun treks through the jungle on the backs of their lumbering residents.
 
4. Cooking Classes. This is your chance to learn some of the techniques and secrets behind all that unbelievable Thai food you’ll be eating during your travels around the country. You’ll have a number of different classes to choose from, but if you want to splurge on a truly luxurious experience, consider taking your class at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai’s Cooking School. Your lesson begins early in the morning with a trip to a local market, and concludes about seven hours later when you dig into all the delicious cuisine you and your classmates have prepared.

5. Play with Tigers. We’re not kidding – you can safely get into a tiger pen to pet, play with and have your picture taken with cuddly baby tigers at Tiger Kingdom, which is located in the Mae Rim district. If you’d prefer to simply see them and not pet them, you can also watch them from a safe distance while dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    What is the best day trip from Chiang Mai?

    Guided day trips that commonly include lunch, visits to a butterfly farm and elephant camp and a ride down the peaceful Ping River on a bamboo raft are popular with travelers based in Chiang Mai who only have a few days to spare in northern Thailand. However, if you have more time to explore this lush part of the country, Forbes Travel Guide’s editors think a visit to the Golden Triangle in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province is the best excursion from Chiang Mai.
     
    The Golden Triangle, where you can straddle the Thailand, Laos and Burma borders at the meeting of the Ruak and Mekong rivers, is only about a 2-3 hour drive from Chiang Mai. Once infamous for its connection to the opium trade, today the Golden Triangle captivates visitors with postcard-perfect scenery and a breathtaking ambience found aboard boat rides along the Mae Khong River. Yes, it’s all gotten to be a bit touristy, but we still think it’s a worthwhile stop on any tour of Thailand.
     
    Be sure to visit the Hall of Opium while you’re there to get a history of the old opium trade and to learn about the plant’s cultivation process, and on your journey to the Golden Triangle consider stopping to soak your feet in the Mae Kajan Hot Springs.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    What is the best thing to bring home from Chiang Mai?

    Whether it’s a scarf, shawl, pillow case or tie, Forbes Travel Guide’s editors feel you can’t leave Chiang Mai – or Thailand, for that matter – without purchasing something made from the country’s famous silk, which is woven by hand and in its finished state has an unmistakably Thai style. You’ll have no trouble finding silk items for sale in Chiang Mai – the Night Bazaar is a good place to browse and bargain – and if you wish to simply purchase the silk itself, stop in one of the many fabric and tailor shops to buy a couple yards of it at prices far more affordable than what you’ll find back home.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    What are the five best Chiang Mai food experiences?

    While Bangkok may be the unofficial food capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is the best city in the northern part of the country to get a tasty tour of the region’s distinct, often super-spicy cuisine. Don’t leave without indulging Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for five of the best food experiences in Chiang Mai:
     
    1. Sai Krok. These plump, juicy little sausages made from either pork or beef and mixed with fresh herbs are widely available from street vendors throughout the city. Bursting with flavor and usually served with a small bag of fresh veggies, sai krok is one of Chiang Mai’s must-try specialties.
     
    2. Jackfruit. Native to Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia, jackfruit is a massive tropical fruit that tastes somewhat like a tart banana. You can buy it in the street in its fleshy, freshly chopped-up state, or get it canned or dried in a supermarket. Our favorite way to enjoy jackfruit, however, is in a spicy salad that’s served at just about every Thai restaurant in the city.
     
    3. Khao Niaow Ma Muang. This rich, refreshing dish made with fresh mangos, coconut sticky rice and coconut milk is commonly enjoyed either for breakfast or dessert, but once you’ve tried this classic Thai treat we can pretty much guarantee you’ll strongly consider having it for every meal of the day.
     
    4. Street Food. This is a somewhat broad recommendation, but eating like the locals and grabbing a plastic bag of freshly squeezed fruit juice, a just-mixed som tam (green papaya salad) with sticky rice or any number of grilled meats on a stick is a quintessential Chiang Mai food experience – and one of the cheapest ones, too.
     
    5. Khantoke Dinner. Bring your appetite for a traditional khantoke meal, which consists of several plates of northern Thai cuisine including various curries, noodles, meats and sauces. Many of these meals also include cultural performances, depending on where you go.
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  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    Where is the best nightlife in Chiang Mai?

    The nightlife scene in laid-back Chiang Mai is considerably tamer than that of, say, Bangkok, but if you still have some energy to burn after a long day of sightseeing you’ll have no trouble finding a mellow bar serving cold, cheap bottles of Chang and Leo beer, nightclubs with dance floors packed until the early morning hours or a karaoke bar to belt out a song or three in the company of locals and tourists alike. For the highest concentration of all of the above, our Forbes Travel Guide editors recommend heading to the popular tourist areas on Moon Muang Road, near the Old City, and around the Night Bazaar on Loi Kroh Road, where you dance the night away at megaclubs like Mandalay or sip beers at any one of the many English-style pubs.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    What is the best way to see Chiang Mai in one day?

    Try to allot at least three days for your visit to Chiang Mai, which should give you enough time to both explore the city proper as well as to take a day trip into the countryside. That said, it is possible to see many of the top sights in Chiang Mai in just one day – but you’ll have to get an early start and be ready for a whirlwind itinerary.
     
    Your sightseeing day in Chiang Mai will actually begin outside of the city on a guided tour of the lush countryside, which your hotel should be able to help you arrange. Tours vary, but many start with a quick stop at a butterfly farm and perhaps a local market before moving on to the Elephant Training Center Chiang Dao, where you can feed the elephants bananas by hand, then hop onto one for a short trek through the jungle, stopping along the way to visit a local hilltribe village. Afterwards you’ll enjoy a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, then take a relaxing trip down the serene Ping River on a bamboo raft.
     
    Arrange for your tour guide to drop you off at Doi Suthep, where you can take a tram to the top for stunning views of the area from magical Wat Phrathat’s mountain-top location. Afterwards head back to your hotel to quickly freshen up and perhaps take a dip in the pool, then make for the Night Bazaar, where you can browse Thai handicrafts, nosh delicious street food snacks and sip a cold bottle of Chang beer. Finally, take a deep breath and relax over dinner at one of the nearby riverside restaurants, where you can grab a table under the stars on an outdoor terrace.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    Where is the best shopping in Chiang Mai?

    Chiang Mai is easily the shopping capital of northern Thailand, and Forbes Travel Guide’s editors say its lively Night Bazaar is undoubtedly the best place to find just about anything you’re looking for.
     
    Located just off the Ping River, the Night Bazaar is a labyrinthine maze of shopkeepers who line the streets with stalls packed with competitively priced handicrafts, silverware, antiques, clothing, artwork, decorative Thai housewares, silk, jewelry – you name it, you’ll probably see it. You can grab snacks or a cold beer from any number of street food vendors or at a centrally located food court, and you’ll also likely see some form of live entertainment such as traditional Thai dancing performances. Bargaining to a price that both you and the vendor are comfortable with is common, and keep in mind that most if not all of the designer goods you see are likely knock-offs.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    What are the best things to do with kids in Chiang Mai?

    A mere day or two in Chiang Mai will undoubtedly leave kids talking about their experiences in this spellbinding northern Thailand city for years to come. From elephant rides to cooking with mom and dad, Forbes Travel Guide’s editors think these are the five best things to do with kids in Chiang Mai:
     
    1. Ride Elephants. A visit to the well-regarded Elephant Training Center Chiang Dao will likely be the highlight of most youngsters’ trip to Chiang Mai. Located about an hour north of the city, the training center gives visitors a chance to feed elephants bunches of bananas by hand, watch the elephants show off their strength and smarts and to hop on one of these magnificent beasts’ back for a short trek through the jungle. Careful attention is given to safety here, and the center is regularly praised for its humane treatment of the animals.
     
    2. Play with a Baby Tiger. Just as you and your kids don’t often get a chance to ride an elephant, you also won’t find many places where you can safely play with and pet a tiger. That’s exactly what you can do at Tiger Kingdom, which is a short 15-minute ride from Chiang Mai. Again, every safety precaution is taken here, but if you’re still too nervous about getting into the tiger pen, you can watch them play from a safe distance while enjoying a reasonably priced buffet lunch.
     
    3. See Monkeys. Okay, your little one trekked through the jungle on an elephant and played with a baby tiger, so cap off his or her Jungle Book adventure with a visit to the Chiang Mai Monkey Centre, where you can watch monkeys do all sorts of tricks during a 30-minute performance; the staff may even let you hold and feed one.
     
    4. Cruise in a Tuk Tuk. Kids will love zipping around town in an open-air tuk tuk, a unique mode of transportation favored by locals in Thailand. Tuk tuk rides are cheap, too, but do be sure to negotiate and settle on the price with your driver before setting off on your journey.
     
    5. Cook Some Thai Food. Cooking classes with an expert Thai chef are a great way for kids to get a hands-on introduction to Thailand’s culinary culture – and for you to pick up some techniques and recipes to try out back home. You can ask your hotel for recommendations and help booking a class, but we think May Kaidee’s Vegetarian Cooking School and Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai’s Cooking School are two great options.
  • On September 18, 2012
    Katie Lara answered the question: Katie Lara

    What are the best things to do in Chiang Mai?

    With its hundreds of Buddhist temples, lively markets, and close proximity to spectacular natural wonders and camps housing exotic wildlife, Chiang Mai is one of the most-popular destinations in Thailand and has plenty of sights and activities to keep you busy for days. Here are  Forbes Travel Guide’s editors’ picks for the best things to do
    in Chiang Mai:
     
    1. Wat Phrathat. Climb 309 steps or take a tram to the top of Doi Suthep, and you’ll be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding countryside while exploring this beautiful golden temple. A visit here is sure to be a highlight of any trip to Thailand.
     
    2. Night Bazaar. Located in the heart of the city, near the banks of the Ping River, Chiang Mai’s night market teems with street food vendors and stalls packed with Thai silks, handicrafts and housewares, t-shirts, jewelry and just about anything else you can imagine. This is the best place in the city to do your souvenir shopping.
     
    3. Ride an Elephant. There are a few elephant camps within an hour or so drive of the city where you can get up close and personal with these mighty mammals, but we recommend the Elephant Training Center Chiang Dao, which is praised for its humane treatment of the elephants and offers fun treks through the jungle on the backs of their lumbering residents.
     
    4. Cooking Classes. This is your chance to learn some of the techniques and secrets behind all that unbelievable Thai food you’ll be eating during your travels around the country. You’ll have a number of different classes to choose from, but if you want to splurge on a truly luxurious experience, consider taking your class at Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai’s Cooking School. Your lesson begins early in the morning with a trip to a local market, and concludes about seven hours later when you dig into all the delicious cuisine you and your classmates have prepared.

    5. Play with Tigers. We’re not kidding – you can safely get into a tiger pen to pet, play with and have your picture taken with cuddly baby tigers at Tiger Kingdom, which is located in the Mae Rim district. If you’d prefer to simply see them and not pet them, you can also watch them from a safe distance while dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet.