Located in the north of Thailand, Chiang Mai is a very popular tourist destination. Chiang Mai offers a huge variety of activities for every type of traveller.
From temples to elephant encounters, or from cooking classes to epic hikes, you can find it all in Chiang Mai! In this guide I’ve outlined everything you need to know to build your perfect Chiang Mai itinerary.
With so much to do, I recommend spending at least three days in Chiang Mai, preferably five.
This itinerary covers first the main attractions that everyone should see, and then explores some options for the extra days depending on your preferences.
So without further ado, let’s dive into the ultimate Chiang Mai itinerary!
- 1 How to get to Chiang Mai
- 2 How to get around Chiang Mai
- 3 Chiang Mai itinerary – Day 1
- 4 Chiang Mai itinerary – Day 2
- 5 Chiang Mai itinerary – Day 3
- 6 Chiang Mai itinerary – Days 4 & 5
- 7 Where to stay in Chiang Mai
- 8 What to pack for Chiang Mai
How to get to Chiang Mai
The easiest way to get to Chiang Mai is by flying from Bangkok. The flight is less than one hour and there are plenty of flights every day, meaning it’s also very affordable.
If you’re not sure how much time you should be spending in Chiang Mai compared to Bangkok, check out this Bangkok vs Chiang Mai guide to help you decide.
How to get around Chiang Mai
One of the easiest ways to get around Chiang Mai is to rent a scooter. You can a scooter for around 200-250 THB a day, and have full flexibility on where you go and when.
If you’re not comfortable driving a scooter (don’t worry, I’m not either!) you can also use Grab. This is like a Thai version of Uber. You can order a taxi directly from your phone and they’re usually fast, efficient and affordable.
You can also go on organised tours that usually include hotel pick up and drop off, as well as walking around the Old City.
A lot of the main attractions in the Old City are within walking distance, so if you’re centrally located you could just walk everywhere.
We did a combination of Grab, walking and tour transfers. You can also get the traditional tuk-tuks for short journeys!
Chiang Mai itinerary – Day 1
This Chiang Mai itinerary is based on my own time in Chiang Mai. I spent four nights in Chiang Mai as part of a longer 2-week Thailand trip.
Go temple hunting!
There are lots of beautiful temples dotted all over and around Chiang Mai. No Chiang Mai itinerary would be complete without a bit of temple hopping around the city.
I’ve listed below some of the most beautiful and famous that you should definitely visit, in the most efficient order.
Obviously you can mix and match as you see fit, but this route ticks off the main temples, and avoids you travelling too much back and forth around Chiang Mai.
Wat Chiang Man
Start your temple-hopping day at Wat Chiang Man! This beautiful temple is the oldest in Chiang Mai, established around 1296, and is a must-see for anyone visiting Chiang Mai.
Wat Phra Singh – Golden Temple
Also known as the Golden Temple, Wat Phra Singh is one of the most popular attractions in Chiang Mai. It’s a huge Buddhist temple built in the traditional Lanna style, decorated with beautiful golden chedi.
The interior is even more richly decorated than the outside, making it easy to see why it’s called the Golden Temple. Entrance costs 20 THB.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang is a Buddhist temple and is famous for its rocky and crumbling look. While it still has a beautiful and ornate architecture, here you won’t find golden pagodas and decorations like in other temples.
Entrance is 40 THB and includes all the little temples in the complex. It’s a very interesting place and you can easily spend a few hours exploring them all.
Wat Sri Suphan – Silver Temple
The Silver Temple isn’t actually made of silver, it’s only painted with a silver colour, which sparkles on sunny days. There is a 50 THB entrance fee to the temple grounds, however women aren’t allowed inside.
Even just from the outside it’s one of the most distinctive temples you will see. It’s not as big as some of the others you will see around Thailand, but it has a unique style you won’t forget.
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok is one of the oldest temples in Chiang Mai, built in the late 14th century.
It’s characterised by distinctive white and golden chedis and pagodas, which create a beautiful contrast.
I’ve included below a map of the temple route. The total walking time is just over 1 hour so you could do this itinerary on foot if you chose to, as well as on scooter or with Grab.
If you prefer you can also do an organised tour, which will take you to all the most important temples in and around Chiang Mai.
This might work out a bit pricier than renting a scooter or splitting Grabs with friends but it will be much more comfortable!
Explore the Chiang Mai nightlife!
After a full day exploring temples, you’re probably feeling a little templed-out. It’s a very real feeling, nothing wrong with it, I get it all the time too!
As well as tourists there are lots of expats and digital nomads living in Chiang Mai, meaning it has a very lively nightlife.
You can spend your first night in Chiang Mai watching a Muay Thai match, a drag queen show or singing away in a karaoke bar.
There are also lots of hostels that arrange bra crawls around the Old City centre. The possibilities are endless!
Chiang Mai itinerary – Day 2
Explore the Old City
If you partied too hard on your first night you might need a slow start today, which is why we begin with a simple tour of the Old City!
You saw the temples yesterday, but what about the other cool spots in the Old City of Chiang Mai?
Chiang Mai is an easy city to explore. If you look at it on a map you can distinctly see the Old City walls surrounding the city centre. This is the area you want to wander around and explore!
You can spend the morning wandering around and seeing the main sights in the Old City, amongst which Thapae Gate, museums, markets and even some temples.
Do a cooking class!
One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is to attend a Thai cooking class. I absolutely love Thai cuisine and was stoked to learn more about how to cook it myself.
We did a half-day cooking class with Grandma’s Cooking School. The half-day classes cost around 1,500 THB and last 4-5 hours (from around 3PM to 8PM), including pick-up and drop off.
During the cooking class we learnt how to make a four-course meal including coconut soup, curry, pad thai and mango sticky rice.
Before the class starts you will have the option to choose what type of food to make (vegetarian, fish, spicy, not spicy etc).
The food was delicious and I was pretty surprised I hadn’t messed it up somehow!
Most schools also offer full day tours that include a visit to the local market or around the farm to pick the fresh ingredients.
Personally I think half a day is enough to get the experience, especially if you only have a few days in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai itinerary – Day 3
All day visit to Elephant Nature Park
Even if you don’t have long in Chiang Mai, I highly recommend doing a full day experience with Elephant Nature Park. Elephant Nature Park is one of the most famous elephant sanctuary and rescue centres.
Here you can get up close to these beautiful animals, in an ethical way. They offer a variety of different tours, but it’s essentially always the same experience.
You can spend either half a day or do a full day with these beautiful animals.
You will usually start the day by feeding them, getting to know the elephants, you might walk with them in the surrounding forest, and you can even bathe them.
With the rise of ethical animal encounters in recent years many of the elephant riding centres in Chiang Mai have been converted to the ENP approach. On the Elephant Nature Park you can choose which program to visit.
ENP is the famous one with over 80 elephants, however it can get quite busy. We went to Elephant Green Hill (always part of the ENP project) and were the only three people there with three elephants.
The day visit costs 2,500 THB and includes hotel pick up and drop off, and lunch. The tours start around 7:30AM and finish around 5:30PM.
There are other elephant sanctuaries around Thailand that offer similar experiences, however ENP is one of the most famous.
If you visit a different elephant sanctuary make sure to do your research and ensure they don’t mistreat the elephants.
I’ve been to Thailand three times and my day at Elephant Nature Park was amongst the best I’ve had there. It’s a magical experience and one you will always remember fondly.
Visit the Night Market
After a full day playing with elephants you’re probably knackered, but happy! A great way to end your second day in Chiang Mai is to visit the night market.
The famous and most busy one is the Sunday Night Market. This one has the most stalls by far and will swipe you off your feet with its crazy mix of smells, colours and noises.
However if you’re not in Chiang Mai on a Sunday there are other night bazaars and markets in the area. They’re great spots for an evening walk, a tasty meal from a street food stall and maybe some shopping.
Chiang Mai itinerary – Days 4 & 5
You have now seen most of the main attractions that Chiang Mai has to offer! If you have an extra couple days to spend in the area I definitely recommend going beyond Chiang Mai.
The most popular spots in the area that people visit from Chiang Mai are Chiang Rai and Pai. I’ve outlined below the itinerary for two extra days beyond Chiang Mai, depending on what type of activities you prefer.
If you’re feeling very committed and want to see everything the surroundings of Chiang Mai have to offer you could visit both Chiang Rai and Pai as day trips.
This however would involve a lot of transfer time so I wouldn’t recommend it.
Option 1: Visit the temples of Chiang Rai
Many people visit Chiang Rai on a day trip from Chiang Mai. While that’s definitely possible, it means spending 8 hours in a minivan in one day (4 hours to get there and 4 hours back).
If you have the time, I would spend at least one night in Chiang Rai. That will give you the opportunity to break up the travelling and really enjoy the atmosphere of Chiang Rai.
The most famous attractions in Chiang Rai are the Blue White and the White Temple. Even after all the temples I had seen in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I still found these unique and breath taking.
Option 2: Visit the canyons and waterfalls of Pai
If you’ve had enough of temples, which is understandable, you could alternatively spend your final days in Chiang Mai visiting Pai. Pai is around a 3-hour drive from Chiang Mai.
You can visit Pai on a day trip from Chiang Mai, or spend a night there. There are some beautiful temples also in Pai, amongst which the White Buddha, the most famous and striking of them.
However Pai is also famous for its beautiful nature. Here you can go on hikes to beautiful viewpoints like Yun Lai, explore Pai Canyon or visit Pai Waterfalls. It’s the perfect place for a nature escape after lots of time in a city.
Another cool option is doing a day trip to Lampang emerald pool and waterfalls.
Where to stay in Chiang Mai
We stayed in two different places while in Chiang Mai, in different areas and budgets. Here are my recommendations for where to stay in Chiang Mai.
Budget: Leaf Hostel – We stayed at Leaf Hostel since it was close to where our friends were living. It wasn’t a very sociable hostel but the dorms were clean and spacious. There are lots of hostels in Chiang Mai, if you’re looking for a very sociable one I’ve heard fun things about Bodega Chiang Mai Party Hostel.
Mid-range: POR Thapae Gate – If you don’t fancy a hostel dorm a lovely mid-range option is POR Thapae Gate. Located in the heart of the Old City this hotel has spacious rooms and a pool where you can chill after a long day exploring Chiang Mai.
Luxury: Le Meridien Chiang Mai – We spent our last two nights in Chiang Mai at Le Meridien and loved it. It’s within easy walking distance of the night market and Old City, as well as having a rooftop pool with awesome city and mountain views.
What to pack for Chiang Mai
While you don’t need anything special for 3-5 days in Chiang Mai (I have a detailed Thailand packing list if you want more advice on exactly what to pack for a trip to Thailand) there are some essentials you shouldn’t forget.
– A camera – to capture all the beautiful temples and elephants you will see!
– Loose airy pants – You shouldn’t be visiting temples in shorts, so these are a great way to keep cool and respectful at the same time.
– A spare pair of socks – Some of the temples will ask you to remove your shoes to enter. However the little walk from where you leave your shoes to the inside of the temple can be quite long and burn your feet! If you’re like me and like exploring in sandals make sure to pack socks for when you’re asked to remove your sandals.
– A water bottle – You will find lots of restaurants have water tanks where you can refill your bottle. Perfect way to stay hydrated and reduce plastic consumption!
Final thoughts on the ultimate Chiang Mai itinerary
There you have it, the ultimate Chiang Mai itinerary!
You will want to spend at least three days in Chiang Mai, however if you have a bit more time in your Thailand itinerary and you can stretch it to five days you can go beyond Chiang Mai.
I never thought that I would have so much fun exploring temples, learning to cook Thai food and playing with elephants.
If you have any questions let me know in the comments below. I hope you find this Chiang Mai 3-5 day itinerary useful in planning your own time in Chiang Mai!
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