Things to Do in Chiang Mai: 30 Must Do's from a Local

Chiang Mai is my favorite city in Thailand and maybe even the entire world. This post is written for friends who are coming to or living in Chiang Mai and want to know what to do, how to get around, where to eat, stay, and what there is that they shouldn't miss out on. I've had a ton of people come through asking what they should do, what my favorite restaurants are, as well as nomads who want to stay longer but want some insider local tips and tricks. Here's everything in one blog post for all of your travel needs, including all of the really cool local spots you should check out, the free and low cost things to do that travel guides, lonely planet books and other websites won't tell you about.

My first advice is if you're coming to Thailand for the first time, to skip Bangkok and save it for the end of your trip if you still want to see it. A ton of airlines now fly directly to Chiang Mai bypassing Bangkok all together, saving you the headache and hassles of being in a huge city. Then if you really want to shop for clothes or souvenirs, you can do it at the end of your trip so you don't have to carry it around, and so you'll know what prices should be and not get ripped off.

I promise that after spending some time in Chiang Mai, you'll get to know the real Thailand, real Thai food, and authentic culture. If you're planning on just staying a few days, I can tell you right now that you should extend your trip as there is a ton to see in Chiang Mai. Even though 2020 marks my 7th year in Chiang Mai, there's always something to do and if you think you can come for just a few days and say "you've seen Chiang Mai" you haven't and am doing a disservice to yourself. There's no excuses as it's ultra cheap to live and stay in Chiang Mai and even if your Thai visa is expiring soon, you can extend it for another 30 days at the immigration office here nearby the airport. So get ready to write down a mega list of what you should do while you're in Chiang Mai. 

Visit Doi Suthep

The first thing on the list, is something you'll probably end up doing anyways, but trust me when I tell you that hoping on a tuk-tuk or taxi, or paying for an overpriced tour isn't the best way to visit this legendary temple. Looking up from anywhere in Chiang Mai, it's the one you'll see on top of the mountain from anywhere in Chiang Mai. It's called Doi Suthep and it's beautiful. However, most tourists go there by overpaying for a "tour" or book a red-truck taxi or tuk-tuk that spews out black smoke from their exhaust pipes and generally have rude drivers which may ruin the experience.

Instead, I'd recomend one of three options, either ride a scooter/motorbike up yourself, do the hike from the bottom or if you have to take a car, take a Grab Taxi and ask the driver to wait for you while you visit the temple which can be done in less than 1 hour.

To Hike Doi Suthep, simply follow the Monk Trail's directions below, then follow the waterfall, cross the road, then follow the power lines above you to hike all the way up to Doi Suthep Temple. It takes an additional 1.5 to 2 hours from the middle temple Wat Pha Lat making the entire hike from the bottom around 2.5 hours up, and another 2 hours or so back down. Bring 1.5L of water with you and refill it at the top of the temple while you have lunch. There are plenty of restaurants across the street from the temple entrance on the street where the taxi's are.  

On the Doi Suthep Stairs after a Hike!

Hike the Monk's Trail

If you enjoy nature and want to see why expats and nomads love living in Chiang Mai, a big part of it is the easy access to nature and mountains nearby. It's also the way to get up to Doi Suthep the hard, yet beautiful way. The easiest and best marked paths is the Monk's trail which leads up to Wat Pha Lat then all the way up to Doi Suthep.

To get to the start, simply ride a motorbike, bicycle or take a taxi up to the start of the hike which is well marked on any map include Grab's as "Wat Pha Lat Hike (Monk's trail)" and start walking from the posted sign, staying to the right when it splits. If you're just doing this part of the hike, you can walk up to the middle temple, Wat Pha Lat in less than 45 minutes, hang out there on the waterfall, visit the temple, then hike back down. Just bring 1 liter of water with you. 

You can also hike all the way up to Doi Suthep then either hike back down (recommended) or take a taxi down if you must. (faster but not as nice of an experience). A good meeting spot which is a 10 minute uphill walk to the start of the hike is Base Camp Coffee which also happens to be one of my favorite coffee shops to read a book and hang out, just leave your laptop at home as it's not that kind of cafe. 

Hiking up the Monk's Trail and Getting into Nature


Sticky Waterfalls

If you like nature, the most unique and beautiful experience you can have in Chiang Mai is going to the Bua Tong, Sticky Waterfalls. It's the one thing that's never in most guidebooks or tour packages but is a not to miss, one of a kind type of experience.

It's 21 miles (34km) out of the city and an hour and a half drive but it's absolutely worth it, especially as a group. You can ride scooters out there or arrange a taxi to take you there, wait for you while you hang out there for around 1.5 hours then take you back for around 1,500 baht ($45usd) on average for the entire trip, which you can split with the group by hiring either a private driver or find a newer, less polluting, red-truck. 

What makes the sticky waterfalls so special? Besides being beautiful and out in nature, it's also one of the only waterfalls in the world naturally coated with a sort of non-slip material that gives you spider man like powers to walk up and down climbing it with ease. Here's a blog post I wrote with directions and info about the sticky waterfalls which is a must do and off the beaten path here in Chiang Mai. I went again in 2020 and it's still just as beautiful and fun to go to as it was in previous years. They've added some wooden hand rails for safety and changed it up a bit but it's still 100% worth going to for a day trip. 

 sticky waterfalls chiang mai
Walking up and down the sticky waterfalls.

Cliff Jumping at the Quarry

Another fun day trip is going out to the red mud quarry, also known as the grand canyon of Chiang Mai to go cliff diving. It used to be in the middle of nowhere and free to enter but as of a few years ago, has turned into a regulated attraction with lifeguards and an entrance fee after a few people drowned after being drunk and not actually being able to swim.

Still it's a fun day out and can be easily reached by scooter or taxi and is worth a trip, especially as a group. Just make sure you wear sunblock as there isn't much shade there. By the way, if you're taking Grab which is like the Uber of SE Asia for the first time, you can get your first ride free up to 100 baht with my Grab Referral Coupon or with code JohnnyFD.

The Grand Canyon now looks nothing like the video below, as there is a water park built into it and a ton of lifeguards and safety measures. But it's still fun to go to especially as a group.

Lunch by the Lake

A really nice local experience is to have lunch in one of the bamboo huts on the lake here in Chiang Mai. It's a short 20 minute drive from the city and is great for cycling as well as just lounging around. They serve Thai food there so no need to bring anything. 

The lake itself is called Huay Tung Tao and can be easily reached by scooter. It's a 20 baht per person charge and the huts itself can be used if you order food and drinks. It's not really a must do in Chiang Mai, but it's a great place to go and relax, read a book, and get out of the city. While I've seen some people swim there, it's not really recommended and I personally wouldn't do it again.

However, it really is a beautiful place to get away for the day. Make sure you drive all the way around the lake once as you'll never know what popup events or festivals are happening at the time. 

Food, drinks, and sometimes animals in the huts

The Bamboo Huts on the Water you can use for the day.

Overnight Hike

One of the best value's in Thailand are the 3 day, 2 night overnight hikes that you can do from Chiang Mai. For around 1,600 baht ($48usd) you get transportation, a guide, all meals, and accommodation included. The only strange thing about pricing is that it also includes things like bamboo rafting and a visit to the elephants even if you're not interested. If you choose to do the walking only hikes, the price often doubles. 

My advice is to book the above package and just sit out during the elephant riding, hopefully if enough people say no to the riding portion, there'll eventually stop doing it entirely. But either way, the 3 day, 2 night hike is only 1,600 baht and the shorter 2 day, 1 night hike is 1,400, both a great deal, especially since you don't have to pay for hotels during those nights. Just book the tour at any hostel in Chiang Mai, or if you want to book it online, Travel Hub Chiang Mai seems to be the only company that doesn't double the price for booking online. 

But don't worry about booking ahead of time, just do it a day or two before and don't be afraid to keep your luggage at a hostel or hotel, they're usually happy to hold it for you. 

The waterfall side huts during the hike!

Chiang Mai Night Markets

One of the must dos while in Chiang Mai is going to a weekend night market either on Saturday, Sunday or ideally both. There are night markets every day of the week here in Chiang Mai as it's a huge part of the Thai culture to walk around, eat street food, and buy things at street vendors.

Both Saturday Wualai Road Walking Street and Sunday's Walking street that starts near Thapae Gate and goes along Rachadamnoen Rd are the best mixtures of great food, locals, and mostly no hassle, price marked items that both tourists and locals often buy. The only catch is that the both get extremely crowded during high season from Nov-Feb so make sure you get there around 5:30pm to avoid the crowds. 

There are also weekday and everyday night markets but avoid the popular Night Bazaar at all costs as it's a tourist trap that locals would never go to. A weekday alternative the Warorot Market which is in Chiang Mai's Chinatown and is a decent food market that runs everyday.

Elephants in Chiang Mai

This is a tricky one as if you book last minute and choose a random elephant trekking company, you might be supporting animal cruelty, even if the company advertises being eco-friendly. However, walking with elephants, bathing them, or even riding them bareback, might be one of the most beautiful things you do while in Thailand. But whatever you do, make sure you research the company and book it far in advance as the good ones tend to get booked up, leaving you to go with a bad company last minute. 

Read my post on ethical elephant trekking for a history behind the good and bad, as well as company recommendations. But in short, go with Elephant Nature Park's "Saddle Off" projects as they are the only trustworthy companies in all of Thailand when it comes to taking care of elephants. Just make sure you choose one of the hiking projects and not just visiting the park itself which is a bit boring. 

Trip to Pai

While technically a different city, since you have to first go through Chiang Mai to get there, people usually don't think about going to the little hippie village of Pai until you get here. The best way to get there is to rent a motorcycle as it's beautiful, fun ride into the mountains. If you know how to ride one, I'd suggest getting a 300-650cc motorcycle from Tony's Big Bikes. You can also to the trip on a 125cc scooter or a smaller one if it has gears, but either way the motorcycle is even more fun. 

An easier option is to take a minibus but be warned that if you're sitting in the back, you will get car sick. There are also flights to Pai a few times a week. Either way, it's worth going to if you're in Chiang Mai for a week or more and want to go for 2-3 nights. You can stay at a luxury resort like Reverie Siam or you can stay at a place like the Pai Circus Hostel and learn Acroyoga and how to Juggle. Either way, Pai is a beautiful little village with a hippie vibe that most people fall in love with.

Here are videos from Pai during the Juggling Convention then a older one with the now former girlfriend at Reverie Siam, which is still one of the nicest hotels I've been to anywhere in the world.

Loy Krathong / Songkran

If you happen to be here for one of the festivals, the two best ones in Thailand are the lantern festival called Loy Krathong which happens every November, and the water festival Songkran which happens every April. Both are a ton of fun and worth staying for if you can squeeze it into your trip. 

Both are incredible events that you can't experience anywhere else in the world. So whatever you do, don't miss out on them while you're in Thailand, unless you plan on coming back for it again in the future. For Loy Krathong the best places the set off and view the lanterns are at Mae Jo University if you want the traditional 2 hours of Monk Chanting, and at the Ping River if you want to walk around. For Songkran, I suggest staying near Thapae Gate which is where the main action happens. 

Loy Krathong Lantern Festival

Get a Massage

It's crazy to me when I meet people who have been traveling in Thailand for weeks and they still haven't gotten a massage. It's one of the best value's in the world as a one hour massage here starts at 150 baht which is less than $5 while back home it'll usually cost you around ten times that amount! Most massages I end up getting here cost 200-250 baht which is closer to $7.50 for an hour, and as long as they do a good job I always end up tipping a bit as well, usually around 50 baht or so which is $2, but either way, it's a fantastic value and great for your body if you've been traveling.

My favorite places to go and recomend are the Blind Massage, there's a few of them in Chiang Mai, or the Ex-Women Prisoners Massage. Both not only support good causes but are also some of the best massages in Chiang Mai in general. The blind massage is usually done by blind men, and the women's prisoners massage isn't actually in the prison itself, but done as by ex-convicts who get trained in a skill while they're still locked up so they can have a job when they get out.

But there are tons of massage spas all around Chiang Mai, ranging from 150 to 1,000 thb an hour ($4.50 to $30). The difference isn't usually the quality of the massage itself but how luxurious and nice the actual spa itself is. When you Thailand you'll mostly get Thai massages which are a bit tough and often feel like someone doing yoga on you. If you want something more gentle you can also get an oil massage but it isn't the speciality of most places. My favorite past time is getting foot massages after a day of walking around and either listening to a podcast or chatting with a friend for an hour.

You can also take a Thai Massage Course. I've heard good things about Sunshine, TMC, and ITM which all have weekly courses starting at $265 for the entire week.

My secret side hustle at 200 baht an hour

Swimming Pools in Chiang Mai

Another must do while in Chiang Mai is to spend a day doing nothing and just relax by the pool. The biggest problem with most travelers is that they pack too much into their schedules and don't take the time to have a chill day to relax and enjoy some peace and quiet. A great way to do that is to have an off day in between tours and doing things to just spend by the pool to read a book, upload photos from the day before, or go for a swim. 

You can either relax by your hotel pool if you have a nice one, or go to one of the best swimming pools in Chiang Mai on a day pass. A lot of really nice pools or resorts will let you use their pool for the day for between 100 - 700 baht ($3-$21) even if the hotel itself normally costs $200+ a night to stay there. Some of my favorite pools that charge around 100 baht ($3usd) include the pools at Lotus, Green Hill, Eco Resort. 

A more expensive but really beautiful infinity pool is at the Veranda High Resort which now charges 700 baht ($21usd) to enter but includes a drink and is located in the middle of the mountains. If you're here on a Sunday and want a true 5-star experience, you can go to the Four Seasons Sunday Brunch for around 2,200 thb ($66usd) and use their pool while you're there. Both are great ways to enjoy a 5-Star experience even if you're staying somewhere much cheaper. 

At the Veranda Pool for the Day

Living high with a Coconut Frappuccino

Eat Amazing Food

There is a ton of amazing Thai food to try at both the street stalls at the night markets as well as in restaurants. It's almost hard for me to list as there are literally hundreds of good places to eat in Chiang Mai but just to name a few dishes and places you should try out, first you have all of the great street food at the night markets, followed by the food markets, then the restaurants. The best food markets would include the one that runs for 4 blocks up and down Suthep Road near the back gate of Chiang Mai University, followed by the Chang Phueak Gate (North Gate) food market where the famous Cowboy Hat Pork Lady from Anthony Bourdain's Travel Food Show was filmed. It's worth going to and it's definitely tasty, but to be honest, it's now overrated, as there are so many great places in Chiang Mai to eat and taste similar without the fame.

There are also sit down style food stall restaurants at Kad Na Mor, the Student Night Market on Haew Kaew Rd. and a ton of restaurants everywhere in the city. Dishes to try while you're here include Khao Man Gai which is the Thai version of Hainanese chicken rice, Khao Soi (Egg Noodle Curry), Sai Oua (Grilled Spicy Herb Sausage), Som Tam (Papaya Salad) which is usually served with grilled chicken and sticky rice, and all of the curry dishes. You also MUST experience a Thai Mookata BBQ for dinner once during your trip if you want an authentic experience that locals often have. There is also really good and affordable restaurants serving Burmese food, Japanese and Sushi,

For dessert the coconut ice cream, coconut pudding, and mango sticky rice are must tries.

Thai Mookata BBQ with Friends

Amazing Coffee Shops

One of my favorite things about Chiang Mai is how great the coffee is, and how nice the various coffee shops are. There are over one hundred unique coffee shops in the city and a lot of the beans are grown locally in the mountains in neighboring villages just hours away. Some cafe's such as Ristr8to are famous for winning world championships in latte art competitions years in a row and also for really strong coffee, while other coffee shops are famous for it's associations with the hill tribes such as Akha Ama or  Chaang Doi Coffee. There's also Free Bird Cafe that helps Burmese refugees.

As far as taste, the best Nitro Cold Brew I've had anywhere in the world was at Graph Cafe. The most instagram worthy coffee shops include The Baristro, Dom Cafe and The Barn. The most unique and furthest cafe might be the treehouse cafe at The Giant Chiang Mai. Into The Woods is a fairy tale themed coffee shop. Forrest Bake for beautiful cakes. And then there are the various board game cafes where you can pay by the hour to play games like Risk, Settlers of Catan, try out any of the hundreds of other games you may have never heard of.

If these aren't enough there are dozens of themed cafes as well that I'll talk about below.

Having an Americano and a Latte at Rustic n Blue.

Hedgehog and Cat Cafes

Where else in the world can you go to a coffee shop that also serves waffles with a side of extra cuddles? Starting at around 210 baht ($6.30) you can go to Harinezumi Cafe to have two drinks and play with a cute hedgehog, take selfies and play with guinea pigs there as well. It's a great way to spend a morning or afternoon, especially if you want to either get out of the sun or rain for a few hours.

Or if you prefer cute cats, you can go to the original Catmosphere Cat Café or the newer shops including Cats Station Café, Cat Brothers Cafe, Cats Station, Cats in Wonderland or any of the many that are opening and closing all around Chiang Mai.

There's also a dog cafe called Box Box, but it'll probably be shut down by the time you read this as the location is way too small for the number of dogs they have and is more of a cafe that happens to have dogs in it, and an ideal setup for dogs to play.

At the Chiang Mai Hedgehog Cafe

Cat Cafe's in Chiang Mai

Afternoon High Tea

Yes I know it's a British thing, but where else in the world can you go to a 5-star hotel resort that normally charges $400-$500usd a night to stay at and enjoy their facilities for the afternoon? Just like the resort swimming pools, many high class hotels are open to non-guests for meals and for afternoon tea. The thing is, people often forget that even though it won't be cheap, even guests staying at the hotel are paying the same price in addition, which means, essentially you're having the same experience for just the cost of the meal without the hefty room costs.

My favorite experience for afternoon in Chiang Mai has been at the 137 Pillars House in Chiang Mai. Each of their 3 tiers stacks are for a couple costing 1,200thb++ (plus tax and service) and there's more than enough to feast on. We actually shared 3 sets for 8 people total and had a bit left over. The scones were excellent, but my favorites had to have been the Mango and Coconut Panna Cotta as  well as the Apple Crumble Cake. That paired with both Rooibos Cream Orange as well as some Royal Darjeeling teas made it perfect.

Other great resorts to check out for afternoon tea include The Service 1921 at Anantara as well as the Cake Shop at Dhara Dhevi which also features an all you can cake (eat) version on weekends called the Kasalong Sweet Spree. Either way, which ever you go to, you'll have your sweet tooth filled, and enjoy the afternoon in a 5-star environment.

Afternoon Tea at 137 Pillars House

Thai Cooking Class

It was a blast visiting a local market then going out to a farm to learn how to cook Thai food. Even if I don't use what I learned in class at home, it made me appercaite how much effort and the variety of ingredients that go into Thai food and curries. I went with Thai Farm Cooking school as I wanted to visit a class that was outside of the city on an organic farm.

There are also a ton of classes inside the cityself, but trust me, it's much nicer to get out into nature a bit while doing so. Also make sure you come hungry and don't schedule anything afterwards as you'll be stuffed and won't have room for dinner when you get home.

Get a Tattoo

Obviously don't get a tattoo just as a thing to do, but if you've been planning to get one anyways, Chiang Mai is a great place to do it. At 1/5th of the price as it is back home for the same if not better quality, finding a great tattoo artist in Thailand is easy. Just read some reviews before you go to the shop, but in general, I've only seen good work done, unless of course you do it drunk in the middle of the night which sometimes happens.

Check out Celebrity Ink, Bloodline and Chiang Mai Skinart as places to start. You can get normal machine tattoos, or you can also get a traditional bamboo poke tattoo known as a Sak Yant while you're here. Aside from doing great work, they've also grown quickly in popularity as Celebrity Ink often gives out t-shirts and banners at local meetups and parties in Chiang Mai such as the Nomad Summit pool party.

Fishing in Thailand

This activity won't be for everyone, but if you've ever enjoyed fishing back home, you'll be surprised that Chiang Mai actually has some of the best or at least the easiest and most fun sport fishing in the world. There are lakes such as Bosang Fishing Park stocked with Giant Mekong Catfish weighing anywhere from 5-50kg (11-110lbs).

I've also tried fishing at the more famous places in Thailand such as the expensive Gillhams Fishing Resort in Krabi in the south but after two days of not catching a single fish and spending way too much money, I'm really glad to have found places like Bosang in Chiang Mai where it's much easier, yet just as much fun while literally being 1/5th of the price.

You can just show up, rent everything you need, or if you're not that experienced, you can also hire a guide who will guarantee you a catch. For around 1,100thb ($36) you can spend half a day reeling up giant fish until your arm falls off. It's catch and release only, so bring a camera to take a photo before throwing them back in the water.

Hot Springs

A fun thing to do especially during the colder winter months of Nov-Jan is to visit the various hot springs in Chiang Mai. The most popular one is San Kamphaeng Hot Springs which is an easy Grab Taxi ride from the center. There you can dip your feet in the hot water and relax, or pay extra to use the hot swimming pool or book a private room for yourself or a group of friends.

You can buy and boil eggs there as well as buy food for lunch making it a popular day trip for locals. Don't worry about finding your way back as there's a 50 baht yellow truck shuttle that leaves every 30 minutes and brings you back to the city center at Warorot Market. 

Mineral Swimming Pool

3D Art Museum

Not a must do, but a fun place to visit for a few hours especially if it's raining outside, or if you like taking fun, cheesy photos. The Art in Paradise museum in Chiang Mai is fun for all ages, and is a unique interactive art museum for people who normally hate art museums.

Another place to go if you like painting and art is the Elephant Parade Land where you can paint your own miniature elephant sculptures and see some world class unique art.

Check out the video tour below and for some ideas on types of photos to take while you're there.

Visit the Aquarium

I've been coming to Chiang Mai for seven years and am shocked that I am still finding cool things to do for the first time. I had been to the zoo a few times which isn't great, but still worth going to as they have a wide range of animals. However inside the zoo you can also pay an additional 250 baht on top of the 150 thb you've already paid to enter the aquarium. It turns out that it's absolutely worth the price and is an excellent thing to do if you have 2 hours to look around.

I've been to aquariums around the world and the Chiang Mai one is surprisingly one of the best. It has two giant tunnels, one fresh water and one salt water, and has fish species that I've never seen anywhere else in the world even as a scuba diver with 1,000 trips under my weight belt. Before coming to this aquarium I've always skipped the fresh water exhibits as they are usually bland and boring, but the one in Chiang Mai really showcased some amazing fish life that I had never seen elsewhere! Also come stay for lunch in the zoo afterwards as prices are super low at 50 thb a plate for delicious Thai food.

Watch a Movie

Another random thing to do while in Chiang Mai is go to the movie theater. It's not something I'd do if you're just here for a few days, but it's a great break from a long trip, and it's both an experience and really affordable. Movies tickets at the cinemas start at around $4 which is usually 1/3 of the price you're used to paying back home.

Food and drinks are super cheap as well or go for a VIP Ticket and get a couple's couch, blanket, sodas, and popcorn included. Most movies are in the original language with Thai subtitles unless otherwise stated.

It's also interesting the first time you go as just before the movie starts everyone in the theater stands up for the King's anthem. It's something that locals over to do, especially on Wednesdays when movie tickets start around 100 baht ($3).

At the First Class VIP Theater at Maya Mall

ATVs, Motorcycles and Dirt Biking

If you're looking for something more adventurous, going dirt biking or ATV riding in the jungle is a fun way to spend a day. We went with 8 Adventures and also checked out ATV Chiang Mai Tours, both offer routes for beginners and experienced riders. Just remember that ATVs are super dangerous and much easier to flip than even a motorcycle or dirt bike, so make sure you're ready for potential injuries if you go adventure sporting.

If mountain roads are more your thing, you can also rent anything from a 100cc scooter all the way up to a 300cc or even a 1000cc proper motorcycle. Companies such as Tony's Big Bikes also give you a full face helmet, and riding jacket for between 1,000 - 2,000 baht a day depending on the size of the motorcycle. The only downside of Tony's is their lack of inventory. Whatever company you go with, make sure you read some reviews of them as some of the bigger shops like C&P, Bikky, or Pop Rider are sometimes known to do poor maintenance of their motorcycles and have bad brakes, loose  chains and other potentially dangerous lack of care.

However, once you get a good bike, day trips such as going up to have lunch with a view on Mon Chaem, driving up to the highest point in Thailand on Doi Inthanon or going for a longer trip on the Mae Hong Son loop, up to the Golden Triangle or just to Pai or Chiang Dao can all be a ton of fun and a million times more fun than booking a tour and sitting in a minivan. I used to rent big bikes every other weekend do so side trips from Chiang Mai and it's always been a ton of fun.

On a Honda CB300F with the Scooter Crew 

On a Honda CRF250 Dirt Bike

Go to the Doctor

I know this sounds like a ridiculous thing to do while on vacation, but if you've been putting off going to the dentist or doctor back home, or if the costs back home are high, consider doing it here while you're in Chiang Mai. Cash prices for dental work are usually a quarter of what it costs back home and the dentists are really good. A teeth cleaning and checkup by a dentist and two assistants is only 1,320thb ($40usd)

Medical tourism is a huge thing as it's often so much cheaper to get things done in Thailand even at world class hospitals with excellent doctors and dentists than back home, especially in America. So whether you want to buy antibiotics or other prescription drugs over the counter, get laser eye surgery, a breast augmentation, hair transplant,  or simply a new pair of prescription glasses, you can get the same or better levels of care here in Thailand as you can back home.

At Chiang Mai Ram Dentist for a checkup and cleaning.

Try Muay Thai

Thailand's national sport is Muay Thai Kickboxing, and what better place to go do it or at least watch a fight than Chiang Mai. If you plan on training, the best thing to do would be to book a private class at any of the Muay Thai gyms near you as it'll be the best way to get some basic instruction without disturbing the flow of normal classes. Team Quest Thailand, Chiang Mai Fight Fit, Muay Thai Hong Thong, Lanna, Chiang Mai Muay Thai and The Camp are all worth checking out and offer beginner and private lessons if you contact them ahead of time. 

If you want to watch a match, the most popular venue for tourists is Thapae Stadium followed by Kalare Night Bazaar Stadium. If you want the most authentic stadium, go to Chiangmai Boxing Stadium which is just 15 minutes north of the old city. The only one to avoid is Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium (Kawila Boxing Stadium) as it's the one with fake WWE style fixed fights. 

If you're looking to train and compete in Muay Thai for 1 or more months, the most authentic Muay Thai gym in Chiang Mai now that KC is closed would be Santai Muay Thai. If you're interested, you can read my first book 12 Weeks in Thailand which is all about the 4 years I spent living cheaply in Thailand training and fighting Muay Thai and Scuba Diving. Below is a video from one of my fights held at Thapae Boxing stadium herein Chiang Mai.

Expat and Nomad Events

Something that you might not have considered during your vacation is going to one of the weekly meetups where expats, and location independent entrepreneurs get together to hang out, network, share skills, ideas, and learn from each other. If you're over 40 you might want to check out one of the Expat or Internations events, but for everyone else who is younger or currently working online, there's a huge community of location independent entrepreneurs and digital nomads in Chiang Mai. It might give you some ideas or inspiration to continue your holiday forever instead of having to go home back to work. We're lucky to live in an age now where we can do most jobs remotely with the help of a good wifi connection and technology.

The biggest event for digital nomads and entrepreneurs is every January at the Nomad Summit which attracts over 400 attendees from around the world. There's also smaller free weekly events such as the Nomad Coffee Club that meets every Friday year round.  Either way, if you're read the 4-hour workweek and can see yourself living in a place like Thailand year round while working out of cafes and coffee shops on a laptop, this lifestyle might just be for you. 

Festivals and Meetups

Another great way to see how much more there is on offer in a place like Chiang Mai is to go to local events that normally only long term travelers get to experience. Things like the Board Game nights every monday, Karaoke on Wednesdays, Language Exchanges, Yoga Retreats, Acroyoga Jams, Farmer's Markets every Sunday, and much more.

Every year there are also music festivals in or nearby Chiang Mai such as Jai Thep, Shambhala In Your Heart, Wonderfruit. For the non party types there are also a ton of other festivals such as the Bo Sang Umbrella Festival, Sankampang Handicrafts Festival, Chiang Mai Flower Festival, Citylife Garden Fair and even the Thailand Rocket Festival.

For weekly meetups you can find out what's happening through searching on Facebook Events, Couchsurfing, or Meetup. But a lot of it really has to do with taking your time to slow down, meet locals, expats, and digital nomads over dinner to really get to know what's happening.

With friends in Chiang Mai at the Lantern Festival

Things to Do Wrap Up

I hope you enjoyed this blog post with all of my favorite things to do in Chiang Mai! I've been coming to Chiang Mai since 2008 and have spent at least half the year here every year for the past 5 years now as there's nowhere else in the world like it! I think it's a shame when people come to Chiang Mai for just a few days and think they've done everything as I know how much more there is to explore, see, eat, and do and leave early.

I wanted to create and share this list and love for all of the amazing things there are to do in Chiang Mai as a way to give back and encourge others to spend more time here. If you can, try to extend your trip in Chiang Mai longer, you can get a 30 visa extension at immigration here in Chiang Mai. If you really can't this trip, think of this list as a reason to come back for longer next time. If there's anything I missed, leave a comment below and i'll either add it to the list, or respond in the comment section why it's either overrated and a miss, or why I didn't include it.

Also comment below on what your favorites are from the list, things you've done that you've loved so far, and what you're looking forward most to here in Chiang Mai! For those planning to stay in Chiang Mai for 1 month or longer as a digital nomad or potential expat, read my blog post about that here as a follow up or if you're just on vacation and traveling as a tourist read my Ultimate Vacation Guide to Thailand post here instead.

Read my post on Chiang Mai for Nomads & Expats

Read my guide on Traveling Thailand as a Tourist

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Warm Regards,

Johnny FD

Written in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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Post a Comment

  1. Comment here with anything you want to add, or if you have any questions!

  2. Nice list, Johnny. Your "Secret Side" income is the best one! :D :P

    1. Hahhaa thanks! But seriously, massages in Thailand are amazing and such a good value!

  3. Woowee Cant Wait! I literally land on New Years Day! Got my visa and bought my ticket to Chiang Mai and my Nommad Summit ticket too! :) So pumped to visit, gonna be my first time! Counting the days...

    1. Nice Al! I'm sure you're going to love Chiang Mai and the Nomad Summit itself!

  4. Great article Johnny! When will you be in Chang Mai in 2019?

    1. I'm in Chiang Mai now until the end of February 2019. Plans are to spend 6 months in Europe, then come back next October or November 2019 for another 4-5 months for high season.

  5. Super list Johnny! After spending 2 years in CM between 6 trips I adore the place. So much to do, so much range. City, then country, then mountains. We love finding farang-free veggie eats in Thai neighborhoods; unreal food in these spots. Plus we gained confidence speaking a few words of Thai in those places because English ain't spoken LOL.

    We also met so many awesome bloggers in Chiang Mai. Rob Cubbon, Barb from Hole in the Donut and Elizabeth Bradley. Fun people, fun times.

    1. I love walking around Thai neighborhoods and eating random street food as well, it's usually super good and always cheap. I love the fruit markets too to find things like Lychees or Mangosteens when they're in season.

  6. Good write up but I think it would have been worth including a couple of warnings:
    1. About renting motorbikes to be sure you have a motorbike licence from your home country and that your travel insurance will cover any injuries sustained.(Most don't or have an engine size limit).
    2. About the winding very dangerous road to Pai.

    5,500 motorcyclists die on Thailand's roads every year.

    1. Hey JB, good point. At the very least people should have some experience riding a scooter around town for a minimum of a few week, but more realistically a few months months before attempting the trip.

      But yes, there is a real danger of riding on highways in Thailand and on mountain roads, especially without helmets, proper training and experience. Good points.

  7. Hi Johnny. Nice write-up. I've been here nearly 4 years and haven't done a lot of things on this list.

    Although I haven't been to the "sticky falls", the "non-slip material" appears to be calcite deposits. It's the same thing you would find in a cave. I've never see it outside before.

    Although I've been meaning to, I've never made it to Pai. There are a lot of caves in that area to see. One of these days I'll go.

    I have to disagree with you a little about the Night Bazaar. Although it is a bit of a tourist trap, locals do go there. My Thai friend just bought some decorative lighting for her house there. The difference is, they know how to get Thai prices. I've managed to get some steep discounts myself.

    Although I live fairly close to the Bosang Fishing Park, I haven't done that yet either. It looks like a lot of fun. I'll have to add it to my list.

    Overall a lot of good information that visitors (as well as expats) can benefit from.

    1. Hey Terry, thanks for the comments and the insight! I'm glad to hear you found a few things to try or at least a reminder to do so! Enjoy them and let us know how they are!

  8. Good info. Really nice information shared. Thanks for sharing the important points with us. - dentist in district heights md

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  9. Not really local or unknown things here, it's all the same stuff you find on TripAdvisor tourists lists to be honest, but it is still a nice list for people visiting Chiang Mai for the first time, lots to choose from. You can never be bored in Chiang Mai.


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