Chiang Mai is located in northern Thailand about 700 km north of Bangkok. It is nestled in some of the highest mountains in the country and provides quite the cultural and adventurous playground for thousands of visitors each year. You can’t run out of things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Though I managed to fit in a number of activities in just four days there, I would recommend staying at least a week, to be able to soak everything up and enjoy Chiang Mai, Thailand at a comfortable pace. Whether you’re looking for relaxation, culture, adventure, history, Chiang Mai, Thailand has it all. If you are looking for things to do, here are some that I recommend.
Thing to Do in Chiang Mai #1: Visit Doi Suthep temple.
Chiang Mai, Thailand is home to over 300 temples, but Doi Suthep is the most revered. It has an enchanting, legendary story behind it of a white elephant carrying a sacred relic placed on its back by a king. The elephant then roamed the jungle until it climbed to the top of one hill in particular, trumpted its horn 3 times, and laid down for its final rest. This is the place where you will find the Doi Suthep temple.
Doi Suthep is about 15 km from Chiang Mai city center. You can arrive there by tuk tuk, songthaew, or taxi. When you get to the site, there are about 300 steps to climb up to get to the temple. There are a number of souvenir shops, and relics that can be bought here. Upon entering the temple, you must take off your shoes. When you walk into the courtyard and see the golden chedi it is absolutely stunning. The chedi is the main central attraction and surrounding it are different rooms, where you will see people paying their respects with flowers, lit candles, or donations.
If there are Buddhist monks in the rooms then they will offer individual blessings to you and tie a white string around your wrist. The whole experience is quite surreal and most people say that if you haven’t visited Doi Suthep, then you haven’t visited Chiang Mai.
Thing to Do in Chiang Mai #2: Watch a Muay Thai Boxing Match
Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport and is often referred to as the “The Science of Eight Limbs” as it often uses the hands, shins, elbows, and knees to execute strikes. There are then 8 points of contact, as opposed to 2 points of contact (hands in Western boxing) and 4 points of contact (hands and feet in other martial arts.)
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, Muay Thai boxing matches are usually held a couple of nights a week at various boxing areans. The 3 hour event will feature a number of matches with the participants ranging from ages 12-25. Boys will fight boys, men will fight men, and even women fight women. It is quite interesting to watch as many locals attend these matches as well and it is fun to see their reactions. When I went, for some reason, all the tourists ended up on one side of the ring and were seated at tables and on the other side of the ring, all the locals stood together in a tight crowd. Whenever a fighter would strike another, the whole crowd in unison would yell a loud “Ooohhh!” almost like they were singing.
Throughout the matches, traditional music is played to help give the fighters a sense of rhythm. Before each match, each fighter has a ritual of paying some sort of respects to each corner of the ring. They then meet in the middle until they are cued to begin the match.
I personally was a little hesitant to watch a 3 hour long boxing match in Chiang Mai. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect and am not big on blood on gore or anything like that. However, the event was very entertaining and not so ridiculously violent that there was blood flying everywhere. If you’re ever in Chiang Mai, I do highly recommend watching a match.
Thing to Do in Chiang Mai #3: Go on a jungle trek.
Being that Chiang Mai, Thailand is nestled in the mountainous jungles, it provides the best opportunities for jungle trekking, visiting hilltribe villages, hanging out with elephants, and bamboo or white water rafting.
A jungle trek is great way to explore the different things that Chiang Mai offers. In visiting different hill tribe villages, you will witness the way of life for these amazing people. They live in bamboo huts tucked away in the jungle and operate in self-sustaining environments. Most of them will offer hand-crafted goods for sale. In spending time with the elephants, you will get up close and personal to Thailand’s most revered animal. Then you get to have some adventurous fun in beautiful surroundings by going bamboo rafting or white water rafting.
You will find dozens of tour operators on practically ever street in Chiang Mai city center offering to give you a 1, 2, or 3 day jungle trek tour. Shop around as they all offer competitive pricing. If you are staying at a hotel, going with their recommended tour operator is a pretty safe bet. I will not recommend the one that I went one because I wasn’t happy with how the elephants were treated where we went. You can read more here about elephant safaris that I do recommend here.
Thing to Do in Chiang Mai #4: Take a Thai Cooking Class.
A great way to spend a rainy day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Just cook and eat all day long! You can do half or full day courses where you will get to see the menu in advance so you can pick which courses you want to do. Many cooking schools will also take you to the market and educate you in the different types of Asian vegetables and what is good to use for your cooking.
The Thai Cooking class I went to was fabulous and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to cook and eat! Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School was well organized, has a lovely, cozy outdoor kitchen surrounded by beautiful gardens, and we couldn’t have asked for a better teacher. She was funny, friendly, and was able to communicate clearly in English. With 6 of us in the group, it wasn’t so big that it felt like we were lost in a crowd. We were each able to make a couple of dishes and that left us with one big hearty meal when we were all done. A great way to spend the day: cooking and making new friends over some good food.