Known to be one of the world’s best upcoming digital nomad hubs, Chiang Mai, located 700 km north of Bangkok, Thailand, is also an ideal destination for adventurous souls with numerous outdoor and nature-friendly activities. Let us guide you through the top three activities you shouldn’t miss out on during your trip to the northern city of Chiang Mai.
Break a sweat: hiking, rock climbing, and cycling
Sweat it out with multiple activities in Chiang Mai! The city’s hills and mountains are not to be missed. One of the most popular hiking and trekking spots in the northwestern part of the city is the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. Test your stamina by climbing up to the Doi Suthep Temple or the H’mong village nestled at the summit of the Doi Pui Mountain.
Whichever trail you take, you will be passing various hill-tribe villages, where you can immerse yourself in the local culture. Some small restaurants and cafes have been set up to serve hikers on their ascent. You can enjoy some delicious local dishes or re-energize with a cup of coffee.
Abundant forests, wildflowers, hidden waterfalls, and cool streams are just some of the many treasures to be discovered along the way. Open your ears to the sounds of endemic birds and monkeys swinging around. Pay attention to the ferns and flowers in the park – there are up to 2,000 species of them! Once you get to the top, you are rewarded with views of the whole city.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is an impressive, golden-colored Buddhist temple that is still used as an important religious site. Here you can observe the locals as they go about their rituals, as the wind blows chilly air to cool down the sweat beads that will inevitably roll down your forehead as you make your way to the top. Take a moment to relax, enjoy what you’re seeing, snap some photos, and head back down before it starts getting dark.
Cycling in this area is also a favorite activity. There are many trails to follow, however, we’d recommend that you book a tour that combines both hiking and cycling, which will cover all the must-see areas of the park. We highly recommend booking with Mountain Biking Chiang Mai, and their tours cost from USD $25.00 – $150.00. There are even multi-day adventures so you won’t have to plan anything yourself!
If you’re feeling more adventurous, put on your harness, your best climbing shoes and chalk up your fingers. Head over to the Lampang Rocks to do some outdoor rock climbing! Take in the stunning views of Lampang’s landscapes and test your limits with a cave rappelling session before wrapping up the day at a local market.
You can book your tour with Thailand Climbing, which is known for its expertise and also for adhering to the safety regulations. If you book the whole-day experience which will cost you only USD $100.00, a traditional Thai lunch will be included. Your guides are certified and you do not need prior climbing experience at all. You will be in good hands.
Let’s get wet: River rafting, waterfalls, and the Grand Canyon
Chiang Mai is a landlocked city but not having a beach around doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy water sports. In fact, you can take your outdoor skills to the next level with high-intensity river-rafting at Mae Taeng or spend a relaxing day enjoying the water-based activities at the Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon Water Park.
Mae Taeng is a famous location for water-rafting, due to its many grade III-V rapids. Warm-up during the first few kilometers with the stunning scenery of lush jungles and water-worn rocks. If you are lucky, you will catch sight of an elephant while paddling through this section of the river.
Once you know the drill, the real fun starts as the boat drops into a series of class IV-V rapids. Brace yourself – it’s going to be a bumpy ride! You can find many companies offering white water rafting and prices start from USD $30.00 and up. Go with Chiang Mai Tours for a fun and safe adventure.
The Grand Canyon Water Park is also a great option if you are into water sports. Built in an abandoned limestone quarry, this place has everything water-related to offer, from a floating playground, to a children’s pool, to massive slides to kayaking on the tranquil lake, or partaking in more extreme challenges, such as cliff jumping and wall climbing. The park opens at 9:30 AM and it will cost you USD $15.00 to enter and you can stay all day if you like. Well, until 6:30 PM, which is closing time.
If you are more of a traditionalist, a sight-seeing trip to one of Chiang Mai’s waterfalls can never go wrong. An hour-and-a-half drive from the city will take you to Bua Thong, a multi-tiered waterfall made of limestone and mineral deposits. Coming from a mineral spring, the water here is clear year-round, speckled with light-colored rocks.
Fun fact: Bua Thong is called “sticky waterfall” because its limestone creates friction. This makes the overall surface less slippery and allows for an easy climb to the top. There is no slime or algae on the rocks, so rest assured that you can step straight into the oncoming water without tripping over.
There are other less-crowded waterfalls near Chiang Mai too, should you want a more peaceful experience amidst nature. The trip from Chiang Mai to the Bua Thong will take you about an hour and a half. The waterfall is 60 km north of the Old City, up Route 1001, in the Sri Lanna National Park.
Head out of the city to Chiang Rai, Pai, and Chiang Dao
Chiang Rai, Pai, and Chiang Dao are the destinations around Chiang Mai that you should definitely check out. A motorbike ride from Chiang Mai to one of those spots (or all three of them) is truly irresistible. Along the winding roads, you will encounter numerous paddy fields and tropical trees, which alongside the sunset make for great photogenic shots. This experience is a must if you love venturing to the less-touristy hidden gems of Thailand.
The city of Chiang Rai, which was founded in 1262 as the capital of the Mengrai Dynasty, is home to an impressive array of temples, art spaces, and cultural hubs. Pai, in contrast, boasts a series of natural landscapes, such as the Tha Pai Hot Spring, Mo Paeng Waterfall, and Pai Canyon. Tucked away under the shadow of a mighty limestone mountain, Chiang Dao combines the niches of both Chiang Rai and Pai with one of Thailand’s deepest limestone caverns, an ancient temple, a wildlife preserve, and some interesting restaurants to dine in and grab a glass of craft beer.
Chiang Mai may be a great city to relax away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, but it is also an extremely adventurous place that offers plenty of activities to keep you busy for days. Put your Indiana Jones persona on and hit the road then!