Located in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai attracts millions of international tourists every year and once you visit you will understand why. This city is much less busy and hectic compared to Bangkok, and there are so many cultural and tourism attractions.

Here are our top picks for places to visit and things to add to your Chiang Mai travel itinerary.


See Historic Temples

Chiang Mai has some of the most impressive temples in Asia, here are some you shouldn't miss.


Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai

Perched atop Doi Suthep Mountain, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of Chiang Mai's most sacred and visited temples. 

Legend has it that the temple was founded to house a piece of bone from the Buddha's shoulder. The temple offers not only a spiritual retreat but also panoramic views of Chiang Mai below. 

The temple's architecture is a fine example of northern Thai design, with its most notable feature being the golden chedi that houses the holy relic. The intricate carvings and Lanna-style motifs throughout the temple's structures add to its majesty and allure. 

Visitors can reach the temple via a challenging 306-step staircase flanked by naga (serpent) figures or by a tram. Once at the top, you can participate in a monk chat, offering a unique opportunity to engage in conversations about Buddhism and gain insights into monastic life.


Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang, located in the historic center of Chiang Mai, is a temple of great historical importance. It once housed the Emerald Buddha, Thailand's most sacred religious icon, and its massive chedi (stupa) was the tallest structure in ancient Chiang Mai. 

The temple's central chedi was partially destroyed in an earthquake in the 16th century, but its remaining base still impresses with its size and the elephants that adorn it. The temple complex also includes an elegant viharn (assembly hall) with a magnificent wood-carved facade.

Wat Chedi Luang is a serene place where visitors can admire Lanna architecture, learn about the temple's history, and observe monks in prayer. It's also a popular site for those interested in participating in daily monk chats and meditation sessions.


Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh

Wat Phra Singh, situated within the old city walls, is one of Chiang Mai's most important temples. It serves as the repository for the Phra Singh Buddha image, an important Buddha figure highly revered in Northern Thailand.

The temple complex boasts classic Lanna architecture, with its main viharn housing the Phra Singh Buddha image. The intricate wood carvings and gold inlay work on the doors and windows are particularly noteworthy, as are the murals inside the viharn that depict everyday life in Chiang Mai. 

Visitors to Wat Phra Singh can explore the temple grounds, admire the Lanna artistry, and participate in meditation and prayer sessions. The temple's peaceful atmosphere offers a respite from the bustle of the city.


Wat Umong

Wat Umong, Chiang Mai

Wat Umong is known for its unique setting in a wooded area of Chiang Mai. This 700-year-old temple is famous for its ancient tunnels and large stupa. 

The temple's network of tunnels was originally built to provide a quiet place for meditation. The walls were once covered with murals (now mostly faded) that depicted Buddhist teachings.

Visitors can wander through the tranquil forested grounds, explore the meditation tunnels, and see the on-site "talking tree" that offers words of wisdom. Wat Umong is an ideal spot for those seeking quiet reflection away from the city. 

Each of these temples offers a unique window into the spiritual heart of Chiang Mai, blending historical significance with architectural beauty and providing visitors with a deeper understanding of Northern Thai culture and Buddhism.


Visit an Elephant Sanctuary

Asian elephants Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai is at the forefront of ethical elephant tourism in Thailand, championing sanctuaries that prioritize the well-being and rehabilitation of elephants. These sanctuaries offer a refuge for elephants that have been rescued from exploitative conditions, providing them with the care and respect they deserve.

Visitors of chiang mai elephant sanctuary have the opportunity to learn about the elephants' stories, understand the impact of ethical tourism, and see firsthand the positive environments that have been created for these animals.


Elephant Nature Park: A Model of Compassionate Conservation

Elephant Nature Park is one of the most celebrated ethical elephant sanctuaries in Chiang Mai and has become a model for compassionate conservation worldwide. 

Founded by Sangduen "Lek" Chailert, the park provides a sanctuary for distressed elephants from all over Thailand. 

The park's mission extends beyond rescue and rehabilitation; it also focuses on educating visitors about the plight of elephants in Asia and the importance of ethical treatment.

What to Expect During Your Visit

A visit to Elephant Nature Park is not your typical animal encounter. Here, the emphasis is on observation rather than entertainment. 

Guests can spend the day feeding, bathing, and walking with the elephants in their natural habitats, under the guidance of knowledgeable staff who share insights into each elephant's history and personality. 

The park prohibits riding, which aligns with its commitment to treating elephants with dignity and respect.

Educational Impact

Elephants bathing in Chiang Mai

The educational experience at Elephant Nature Park is profound, offering lessons in conservation, animal welfare, and the harmful effects of traditional elephant tourism practices. 

Visitors leave with a deeper understanding of the complex needs of elephants and the critical role that ethical sanctuaries play in protecting these magnificent creatures.

Supporting Ethical Practices

When visiting Chiang Mai, tourists have a powerful role in promoting animal welfare by choosing to support ethical sanctuaries. By selecting experiences that respect the animals' well-being, visitors contribute to a shift in the industry towards more humane and sustainable practices. 

The influence of ethical elephant sanctuaries extends beyond the immediate care of the elephants; they also contribute to local communities and environmental conservation efforts. 

Many sanctuaries, including Elephant Nature Park, work closely with local villagers, providing employment opportunities and supporting community development projects. 

These initiatives help to foster a harmonious relationship between humans and wildlife, ensuring the long-term protection of elephants and their habitats.


Relax with a Traditional Thai Massage

Women getting a massage, Thailand

The History and Benefits of Traditional Thai Massage

Traditional Thai massage, known in Thailand as Nuad Bo-Rarn, is a deep, full-body treatment that starts at the feet and progresses up to the head, using a sequence of gentle, flowing exercise movements. 

 This ancient healing practice is believed to have originated in India before spreading to Thailand. It combines techniques observed in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic practices, along with Buddhist teaching. 

The massage is known for its ability to relieve physical and emotional tension, improve circulation, boost the immune system, and balance the body energetically, resulting in a dynamic and harmonious balance.

Where to Experience Authentic Thai Massage in Chiang Mai? Women's Correctional Institution Massage Center is a unique venue that offers massages by trained inmates as part of their rehabilitation program, providing them with a skill they can use upon their release. It's a socially responsible way to enjoy a genuine Thai massage.


Fun Experiences

Chiang Mai offers an exhilarating mix of fun activities, and for a more off-the-beaten-path experience, consider a homestay in a traditional Thai village to immerse yourself in local customs and daily life.


Experience the Night Markets

Chiang Mai night market food stalls

Chiang Mai's night markets are a vibrant spectacle, blending the aromas of delicious street food with the visual feast of local crafts and goods. 

Among them, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar and the Sunday Walking Street Market are standout experiences that capture the essence of Northern Thai culture. 

These markets offer an array of goods, from handmade crafts and clothing to an impressive variety of street food, including local specialties and international cuisines. 

The bustling atmosphere, filled with the chatter of locals and tourists alike, makes for an unforgettable evening out in Chiang Mai.


Take a Cooking Class

Thai food

Immersing yourself in Northern Thai cuisine through a cooking class is an enriching way to spend a day in Chiang Mai.   

The city boasts several esteemed cooking schools, such as the Zabb E Lee Cooking School, which guides participants from market to meal. These classes often start with a visit to a local market to select fresh ingredients, followed by hands-on instruction in preparing traditional Thai dishes. 

It's not only a chance to learn about the flavors and techniques of Thai cooking but also an opportunity to bring a piece of Thai culture back home with you.


Adventure Activities

Chiang Mai waterfall

For the more adventurous souls, Chiang Mai offers a plethora of outdoor activities set against its lush landscapes and rugged terrain.  

From zip-lining through the treetops to white-water rafting down the rapids of the Mae Taeng River, there's no shortage of adrenaline-pumping experiences. Hiking enthusiasts will find numerous trails in the surrounding mountains, offering breathtaking views and encounters with diverse flora and fauna. 

Notably, the Doi Inthanon National Park, known as the "Roof of Thailand," provides challenging treks, stunning waterfalls, and the chance to visit traditional hill tribe villages.  

Chiang Mai's rich tapestry of experiences, from its night markets brimming with life to the serene moments in cooking classes, and the thrill of adventure activities, offers something for every traveler. Engaging with these aspects of Chiang Mai not only enriches your travel experience but also brings you closer to understanding the heart and soul of Northern Thailand.


Plan a City Break to Northern Thailand

Exploring Chiang Mai presents a unique tapestry of experiences, from the serene beauty of its historic temples to the impactful visits to ethical elephant sanctuaries, and the adrenaline rush of adventure activities.

Each visit offers deep insights into the rich culture, history, and natural beauty of Northern Thailand, leaving travelers with memories to cherish and stories to share.  

Chiang Mai truly embodies a destination where ancient traditions and modern adventures harmonize, inviting every traveler to discover its hidden gems and contribute positively to its preservation and ethical tourism practices.