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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.