What to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand: A 3+ day itinerary

If you’re spending time in Thailand, adding a few days in the north is an absolute must. But not sure what to do in Chiang Mai? Look no further than our suggestions for how to spend three days in the Rose of the North. 

Chiang Mai is a must in any Thailand itinerary. It is a popular tourist destination in the north and an easy bus ride away from Bangkok. It’s also a fantastic destination because there are many things to do and see in this small city. 

Getting to Chiang Mai

Most people tend to come to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, so it’s a well-trodden tourist route. You can easily take a quick and cheap domestic flight, or you could opt for a relatively comfortable bus, train, or minivan ride. 

No matter how you choose to get there, you are going to wish you had more time to explore this fascinating city.

Once you arrive, you’ll want to hit the ground running. You could easily spend a month or two exploring the city. However, if you are tight on time or want to pack in as many sights as possible, you’ve got to make the most out of three days in Chiang Mai. 

Chiang Mai itinerary day one 

Landmarks and temples 

Wandering to some of the city’s famous landmarks is a great way to immerse yourself in some of the culture. Two iconic things to see in Chiang Mai include the Tha Pae Gate and the old city wall. Tha Pae Gate is the gate surrounding the old city walls and is in relatively good shape. 

But don’t miss out on Wat Chedi Luang, one of the most beautiful temples in the city. Standing at an impressive 80 meters tall, it tends to outshine some of its rivals, even in Bangkok. It’s a wondrous temple to explore on day one because it is located right in the city’s historical center. 

Buddha statue Chiang Mai

It also once housed the famous Emerald Buddha that is now resting in Bangkok’s Golden Palace.

Chat with monks

One of the best things to do in Chiang Mai is participating in a monk chat. You can do that here, at Wat Chedi Luang. During a monk chat, you have the opportunity to meditate or converse with local Monks.

Several temples around town offer monk chats, and they are all worth visiting. MonkChat.net provides the most up-to-date schedule information as well as info on other special events. 

Chiang Mai nightlife

If you have the energy, you may also want to experience some of the city’s nightlife. Visiting the Chiang Mai night market has to be at the top of your list and should be ticked off as soon as possible. 

Located on Chang Klan Road, this ordinary street transforms into countless stalls with vendors selling all kinds of goods. You’ll be able to find anything from knock-off designer goods to paper lanterns and hand-crafted goods.

Pro Tip–be ready to haggle. Many items don’t have prices, and negotiating is encouraged. However, you can usually cut the initial asking price in half and work from there as a starting point.

Other nightlife options include heading down to Nimmanhaemin Road, the hippest part of the city. Here you’ll find the best selection of trendy bars and restaurants with a great mix of expats, tourists, and locals.

What to do in Chiang Mai on day 2

Elephant Nature Park Chiang Mai

When considering what to do in Chiang Mai on day two, why not take the time to get outside the city center? There are so many great day trips close to the city.

Elephant Nature Park

elephant in CHiang Mai

One of the best day trips you can take from Chiang Mai is to the Elephant Nature Park. The animal sanctuary became the first of its kind for rescued elephants and is world-renowned for taking in older animals who were forced to work or perform. It’s one of the best family-friendly things to do in Chiang Mai.

Pro Tip–because it is so popular, book in advance. There are no elephant rides at this park, but you get to feed and bathe them which is way cooler.

Climb (or ride up) a mountain at Doi Suthep

Temple shrine in Thailand

Doi Suthep mountain stands at 5400 meters tall and houses Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, a 13th-century temple with a large white elephant shrine and a replica of the Emerald Buddha. 

It is a great place to take in stunning views of the city and only a mere 12 km from the city center.

Get wet

Looking for something a little different? Check out the Hang Dong Quarry or Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon. This beautiful swimming spot offers cliff jumping and gorgeous, natural swimming holes.

Another one of the coolest things to see in Chiang Mai is the Sticky Waterfalls. Forget all you think you know about physics as you walk up the wet rocks.

Chiang Mai itinerary day 3

Cooking class in Chiang mai

After a day trip takes you out of the city, there’s plenty to lure you back to Chiang Mai and keep you hooked.

Start the day by taking a Thai cooking class. They’ll take you to the local market first to learn about all the food you’ll be cooking with.

Next stop is Wat Phra Sing. This Buddhist temple and monastery was founded in the 14th century and is known as the Temple of the Lion Buddha. There are around 700 monks currently living in the temple and they regularly come to talk to tourists. 

If you are looking for something a bit more unusual to do, you could also have a massage by a prison inmate at the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute. This is a government-run rehabilitation program that is meant to help teach the inmate practical skills to take with them once they are finished with their sentences.  

Got more time in Chiang Mai?

Now you know what to do in Chiang Mai. 

But for many, three days are not enough. So, if you are lucky enough to stay longer, there are plenty of additional day trips or activities you can participate in. 

Woman practicing MuayThai

What about a Muay Thai boxing match or class? There are plenty of reputable ones around the city. 

Or you could explore the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs, which are nestled within a wooded area and surrounded by mountains. Supposedly, the waters have curative powers due to a high sulfur content. You can dip into mineral baths and a traditional mineral water swimming pool. 

Overall, how many days you spend in Chiang Mai is entirely up to you. You can tailor your trip for a short three-day stopover or expand it and fill activities up for a month. 

Either way, you are in for a fantastic time in this northern slice of paradise. 

FAQ

Do I have to pre-schedule a time to chat with the monks?

They do have things to do throughout the day. But if you show up and they aren’t busy, you might be able to chat. Otherwise, they will instruct you on when to come back.

How long is the bus ride from Bangkok to Chiang Mai?

It’s about 10 hours.

What’s the cheapest way to get to Chiang Mai?

A bus is definitely the cheapest, however, a flight isn’t all that much more and saves you loads of time. Like 9 hours. So, look into both.

Want to travel across the land and sea?

Get inspired with more stories by travelers, for travelers