Top Things to Do in Chiang Mai

by Elsa Thomasma

While Bangkok and Phuket are clearly the most frequented cities for study abroad in Thailand, the north has much to offer tourists, students, and long term visitors all the same. Chiang Mai provides students with a laid back, small town atmosphere, a bubbling and humorous nightlife, culturally-enriched chains of markets, and breathtaking countrysides, all under the blanket of Thailand’s ancient history. There is much to see, more to try, and lots of things to do while you are studying abroad in Chiang Mai!

A View in Doi Suthep National Park
A View in Doi Suthep National Park. Photo by Elsa Thomasma

1. Go to the Sunday Walking Market.

Likely the best market in Chiang Mai, this market is located near the Tha Pae Gate and runs every Sunday night. Start at the gate and walk west until your arms are full of local crafts and your belly is overflowing with spicy street food.

2. Wander the alleys.

You are sure to find a local treasure hidden down any alley in Chiang Mai. From massage parlors, to Thai Cooking Schools, to Indian restuarants or French cafes, the alleys are ridden with some of the city’s best kept secrets.

3. Attend a lesson.

Learn how to cook an authentic Thai dish from a local woman with fresh ingredients from the market. Take a Thai language class for a week. Spend a few hours learning the techniques of the infamous Thai massage. There is much to learn and everything to gain in taking any type of Thai lesson.

4. Spend a day at Duangtawan Hotel.

The pool is gorgeous and the floor is equipped with a gym, bar, and cafe, as well as a separate jacuzzi, sauna, and steam room for women and men. For only 300 baht a day, a day at Duangtawan will surely be relaxing and satisfying in multiple ways.

5. Utilize 7-11 any time of day.

The plethora of 7-11 locations may baffle you and please you at every turn, there is literally always one within arms reach. Stop in for an ice cold beer to enjoy as you walk to dinner, a snack to take on your day of sightseeing, or a toy for your child?

6. Witness a Thai Boxing Event.

Just south of the Tha Pae gate there is a Thai boxing arena on the west side of the road. Get a local to purchase your tickets and you’ll get in for 200 baht. Sit back with a reasonably priced drink and observe the art of Thai boxing, including a hilarious blind-folded “intermission” fight.

7. Rent-A-Motorbike.

For as little as 500 baht a day you can rent a motorbike and explore the city itself or venture outside the city (the latter is highly recommended). Just remember they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand, so ride at your own risk! Don’t forget your passport when renting, they will need collateral.

Sunset over Chiang Mai, Thailand

8. Take a drive through Doi Suthep National Park. 

The park is infused with touristy sites, wildlife reserves, and natural beauty that will keep you busy for hours, and it is less than an hour away from the walls of Chiang Mai. The road is mountainous throughout, so be prepared, with an expert motorbike driver or a dependable car.

9. Drink a Thai Iced Coffee.

Doesn’t really matter where, just find a place that looks authentic (See #1 if you want to know how to find a great place). It is not only delicious but entirely refreshing after a day of walking, speaking of….

10. WALK!

Take time to simply walk around. Get lost within the walls of the old city, where you’ll never actually be lost. Let your feet get sore, because you’ll easily find a foot massage and let your belly get hungry, because there is always something tasty to try. The best way to explore Chiang Mai is by walking.

Buddha statues in Chiang Mai, Thailand

11. Visit a Temple.

BUT, only if you’ve never visited a Thai temple. Ever heard the saying “once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all”? Well when it comes to temples in Thailand this saying is often quite accurate. If you have already explored the temples in Bangkok, skip a day of temple visits in Chiang Mai and try numbers one thru ten instead.