If market meandering, temple hopping and coffee swigging is your thing, Chiang Mai in tantalizing Thailand is definitely the place for you. But what if you want to get out of the city for the day, and explore a little further afield than the ‘Rose of the North’? Then you absolutely need to consult this: A list of the best day trips from Chiang Mai.
Race over to Chiang Rai
It’s probably the most famous foray out of the city: a quick tour of neighboring town, Chiang Rai. Just 3 hours and 30 minutes’ drive from Chiang Mai, this quieter cousin of a city still has heaps to offer the intrepid day-tripper.
Most notable is probably the trio of colorful temples that most travelers flock to: The aptly nicknamed White, Blue, and Black Temples.
Start off with the totally unconventional temple of Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple), more a huge art installation than a traditional temple. While you can marvel at the unique architecture and sometimes-eerie exterior of this Thai landmark, the real treat is inside: pop culture references in the artwork including superhero Spiderman and fast food character, Ronald McDonald.
After that, you can get snap-happy at Wat Rong Suea Ten (the Blue Temple), with its navy and cornflower-tinted dragons and bright blue façade, before the final stop: Baan Dam (the Black House). Again, less a temple and more an artist’s playground, the Black House is a wonderful (and slightly weird) collection of buildings and sculptures, dreamed up by the dynamic Thai artist, Thawan Duchanee.
Pack in a day trip to Pai
What Chiang Mai is to shoppers, Pai is to wanderers. Just three hours from Chiang Mai via bus, the misty magic of Pai awaits, with its relaxed village vibe.
Take a trip out to Pai to explore its incredible canyon, where you can leap across gigantic red cracks as you hug the narrow walking trails. Hike up the Wat Phra That Mae Yen, for epic views of the laidback town below or, if you’re in need of some relaxation, head to the hot springs to soak away any travel stress in the mineral baths and swimming pools.
Take a detour to Doi Inthanon
Really want to get back into nature? Then venture out on a day trip to the Doi Inthanon National Park, known as the ‘Roof of Thailand’. This expansive national park (it is over 480 square kilometers in fact!), is home to countless hiking trails, breathtaking viewpoints and gushing waterfalls.
Located just 37 miles from Chiang Mai, the park takes its name from its famous mountain, Doi Inthanon, the tallest peak in all of Thailand. You can make your way to the mountain summit, for panoramic views of the park, take a speedy circuit of the Ang Ka Luang boardwalk through the mossy forests or take your pick of waterfalls: The impressive 40 meter drop Wachitharan, the multi-tiered Pha Dok Siew or the easy to access Mae Klang to name just three.
Laze around in Lamphun
Just an hour via minivan from Chiang Mai is the little-known town of Lamphun. While it might not get as much press as, say, Chiang Rai or Pai, Lamphun has its own exploits to offer: a peaceful atmosphere and a very authentic vibe.
Avid Instagrammers might want to visit Lamphun just to see the extraordinary seven-tiered Koh Luang waterfall up close, and to capture countless shots of the bright blue water for their feed.
Those seeking a bit more culture should check out Wat Phra That Hariphunchai, an authentic Lanna temple with its opulent golden pagoda. And cave-hunters can marvel at the stalagmites and stalactites, plus the many religious sculptures dotted around the Luang Pa Wiang Cave.
Linger in Lampang
Not to be mistaken with languid Lamphun above, the bustling city of Lampang is another fantastic destination that has to make your list. With a bus only taking two hours from Chiang Mai to Lampang, you’ll be in the bowels of the city in no time, gulping down grub from the Mao-O Cultural Road market or marveling at the Emerald Buddha of Wat Phra That Lampang Luang.
But Lampang really has two highlights you can’t miss: The unique stairway to heaven and the city’s unusual ‘chicken bowls’.
The 300-step stairway is located in Wat Phra Bat Pupha Daeng, a temple amidst a lush green forest. What’s more is that the temple is punctuated by sky-high cliffs crowned by small white stupas; an entirely unusual and almost ethereal experience.
And the chicken bowls? You’d be forgiven for thinking this is an epicurean dish on the menu when, in fact, it refers to a unique piece of ceramic pottery, best viewed at Lampang’s Dhanabadee Ceramic Museum! A chicken bowl (or koey oua) is a specially shaped bowl for rice soup or noodles, brought to Thailand by Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century.
Bonus: Take a break at Huay Tung Tao
No list of activities just outside of Chiang Mai would be complete without this bonus entry: The bamboo huts of Huay Tuang Tao.
Just 14 kilometers away from Chiang Mai’s buzzing old city, this man-made lake makes for a tranquil day out, if you time it right. With charming bamboo shelters jutting out over the reservoir, and picture-perfect swings in the middle of the water, it’s a great little day trip. Make sure you go in the week for a peaceful retreat, else if you descend on a weekend you might be rubbing shoulders with thousands of locals in this popular spot.
From checking out chicken bowls in Lampang or wading through waterfalls in Lamphun; hiking the hills of Pai or ambling around the Ang Ka Luang boardwalk, there’s no doubt that there are many great day trips out of Chiang Mai. Plus, even if you don’t journey out of captivating Chiang Mai, there’s more than enough to do in the city itself; a veritable feast of activities for even the most adventurous traveler.