The beautifully ornate Buddhist temples will keep you busy for quite some time but there’s much more to see and do besides admiring the 14th and 15th century golden shrines and temples…. Walk around the ancient city gates, visit the palace and royal park, and take a tour of the ruins.
Here are the spots that made our list:
Tha Phae Gate – The main entrance to the walled old town and the heart of Chiang Mai, Tha Phae Gate is a historic landmark through which countless traders, monks, and diplomats have passed over time, this once being the main thoroughfare to the city. Surrounded by shops and restaurants today, the gate is a popular spot for festivals and other activities.
Address: Moon Mueang Rd. Mueang Chiang Mai Chiang Mai 50200
Warorot Market (Kad Luang) – A spacious and historical marketplace spread over 3 levels selling food, clothes, homewares, and handicrafts with a mix of Thai, Chinese, Indian, Muslim, and Western cultures to delight visitors senses. One of the oldest marketplaces in the city, it is a marketplace where local life still flows and has not been ruined by tourism.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar – From 6pm until 10.30pm the streets come alive with the hustle and bustle of the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Here you can purchase everything and anything from souvenirs and clothes to food, homeware items, furniture, art, and religious icons. Perfect your haggling skills as you allow yourself a couple of hours to browse row after row of stalls but beware of pickpockets.
Address: Chang Moi, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50100
Chiang Mai Night Safari – Visit the night zoo, a nocturnal theme park (that’s also open during the daytime) to see giraffes, elephants, rhino’s, tigers, lions, jaguars and more. Laid out in 3 animal zones, visitors move through ‘Savanna Safari’ and ‘Predator Prowl’ in an open-sided tram and on foot around ‘Jaguar Trail’. Once you’ve seen what the animals get up to at night you can enjoy a laser light show, animal shows, and watch the dancing fountain.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – Otherwise known as just ‘Doi Suthep’, this beautiful golden-domed Buddhist temple is one of the most sacred in the whole of Thailand and dates back to the 14th century. With a 306 step climb up the mountainside, it offers stunning views looking back down over Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Zoo – Around 400 different species can be seen at the Chiang Mai Zoo that covers 200 acres of land. Although most visitors gravitate towards watching the pandas, chimps, rhinos, tigers, and elephants, a visit to the walk-through aviary, gibbon island, and freshwater aquarium should not be missed.
Royal Park Rajapruek – Containing 21 themed gardens, this beautiful landscaped park is so large that you can ride a tram around it or hire a golf cart! The royal park is the location for many events in the city such as New Years Eve celebrations but is a must-visit for flower and nature lovers and also contains a striking commemorative pavilion.
Bhubing Palace – The Winter residence of the Thai Royal Family, Bhubing Palace is a sight to behold, especially in Spring/Summer when the roses and other flowers are in full bloom. Located in the mountains, visitors can explore the serene landscaped gardens and grounds during the times when the palace is not occupied.
Hmong Village – Home of the Homg tribe, this traditional hillside village is located within a lush national park close to Doi Suthep temple. Visitors can see how daily life is lived by the tribe, admire the garden area, see the locals wearing traditional clothes, and buy traditional handicrafts and food.
Wat Phra Singh – The second most revered and visited temple in Northern Thailand after Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Wat Phra Singh, otherwise known as The Monastery of the Lion Buddha, consists of 3 structures and is a prime example of classic Lanna style architecture from the 14th century.
Buak Hard Public Park – A shady spot for relaxing, or taking a stroll, this sizable public park has landscaped gardens with sculptures, a lake with picturesque bridges, a playground, and refreshment stalls. Popular with families, during the morning you will see many local people doing their yoga or Tai Chi practice and you can also catch a game of Takor, badminton, or even basketball later in the day.
Art in Paradise – This fun interactive art gallery with 3D murals and video installations is popular with all members of the family who appreciate art, color, creativity and who love taking selfies! Explore 6 zones ranging from ancient Egypt to the underwater world as you put yourself in the picture at this fun museum.
Maesa Elephant Camp – With elephant shows, elephant painting, elephant rides, elephant football, and bathing the elephants in the river, this camp is a dream come true for all elephant lovers looking to get up close to these 4 legged gentle giants whilst learning more about them.
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden – Formally known as the Mae Sa Botanic Garden, the botanical garden is so vast that to see all of the different areas you’ll need to drive from A-B whether making use of the shuttle bus or entering with your own vehicle. Explore the flower gardens and greenhouses, walk the banana path, and don’t miss out on the 400 meter canopy walkway suspended over the jungle canopy.
Elephant Nature Park – A rescue and rehabilitation center and sanctuary for elephants, visitors can see elephants enjoying their natural habitat and walk beside them through the dense mountain forest watching how they walk, bath, and interact as nature intended. But it’s not just elephants who benefit from this sanctuary, cats, dogs, and buffaloes are also rescued.
Wat Umong – Against a forest backdrop with monks chanting nearby, visitors can explore this 700 year old Buddhist ‘tunnel temple’ complex, unique for its underground tunnel system built into the side of Suthep mountain and containing many shrines to the Buddha.
Wat Suan Dorg – Also known as Wat Buppharam, this 14th century Royal Buddhist temple complex, which translates to mean ‘Flower Garden Temple’ contains the main pagoda that enshrines the Buddha’s relics as well as the ashes of the past Chiang Mai rulers in a series of whitewashed Lankan-style mausoleums.
Wat Lok Moli – One of Chiang Mai’s oldest temples, Wat Lok Moli has an impressively large spire (chedi) that contains the ashes of several Mengrai dynasty Kings. With its landscaped garden and beautiful wooden prayer hall, this temple does not get as many visitors as others in the area making it a truly tranquil place to explore.
Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center – Visitors can step back in time and enjoy a traditional Lanna Khantoke dinner and dance at the Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center. Evening entertainment of hill-tribe culture shows and Lanna cultural dancing shows can be watched cross-legged on the floor whilst feasting on crispy pumpkin, Burmese/Lanna style pork curry, sweet crispy noodles, and refreshing watermelon and pineapple.
Wiang Kum Kam – Built by King Mangrai the Great, Wiang Kum Kam is an 8th century historical riverside settlement and archaeological site. The capital of the Lanna Kingdom before it was replaced by Chiang Mai, Wiang Kum Kam is a large excavated ruined site containing Buddhist sculptures, stone tablets with Mon inscriptions, pottery, and more.
Lanna Folklife Museum – Housed in the former municipal courthouse, the folklore museum contains an impressive array of cultural artifacts, ceramics, and textiles showing the lives, history, and culture of the Lanna people.
Wat Pha Lat – This Buddhist temple and monastery is a hidden gem located deep within jungle that must be hiked to be accessed. Make your way along the Monk’s Trail and be rewarded with a tranquil temple complex full of intricately carved statues and magical stone buildings.
Tal Gur is a world traveler and personal development enthusiast. An adventurer at heart, after trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, Tal spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey continues as a location-independent blogger, lifestyle entrepreneur, and coach. Tal’s published two books: One Year to Freedom, a 1-Year Roadmap to Living Life on Your Own Terms; and, his most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living – 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World.