Chiang Mai is essentially Thailand’s second city, a smaller, more relaxed alternative to Bangkok’s craziness. The city itself has a lot to offer in terms of cooking classes, temple visits, street food, and culture. Beyond its borders, however, you’ll find natural perfection, awe-inspiring animals, and unique mountain communities. Explore the sights with our list of places to visit and things to do in Chiang Mai.
1. Mingle with Rescued Elephants at Elephant Nature Park
A day spent here is eye-opening because you get to interact with the elephants up close and learn about their plight. Volunteering costs include transportation and lunch, and the money is used to maintain the grounds and care for the animals. Make a reservation in advance, as volunteer spots do fill up quickly.
2. Stop by the Highland People Discovery Museum
This museum, also known as Chiang Mai’s Tribal Museum, is an excellent place to begin learning about Thailand’s minority hill tribes before embarking on a hike or visiting a tribal village. Northern Thailand is home to several mountain tribes, including the largest, the Karen and Hmong, as well as smaller ethnic groups like the Akha, Lua, and Mien.
3. Walk around Doi Inthanon
This is Thailand’s highest peak, and the national park that surrounds it contains many of the natural wonders that make the country so appealing in the first place. You can trek up the mountain or take a more leisurely stroll around the park.
4. Discover Doi Pui Village
This small Hmong village is, admittedly, more touristy than authentic. However, there is a small exhibit of a traditional hill tribe home and information on the history of the many groups that have settled in the Thai mountains over the generations. If you’re feeling particularly touristy, you can dress up in ethnic garb for a photo shoot, and there are numerous small shops selling hand-woven textiles, handmade jewellery, tea, and other goods.
5. Relax at Huay Tung Tao
This is an ideal spot to spend a day relaxing in the Thai sun, surrounded by hills and with a lake to swim in at your leisure. This reservoir is well-liked by both locals and expats. For a few dollars, you can rent a hut on the lake, as well as a large tube to lounge on in the water.
6. Explore Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls
The surrounding wooded area is serene and peaceful, but the real draw is the ability to walk up the falls. Because the limestone remains “sticky” even when wet, you can climb up and down to your heart’s content. It’s a real treat that complements some of the more traditional tourist attractions. Going on a weekday is preferable because the place gets quite crowded on weekends.
7. Try Street Food at the Chiang Mai Gate Market
This is the place to go for the best Chiang Mai street food. Every night, vendors sell everything from pad kra pow (a spicy meat and basil dish) to the perfect dessert of fresh mango sticky rice topped with coconut milk at the Chiang Mai Gate.