The best things to do in Chiang Mai include visiting some of the city’s beautiful temples and unique sites. The historical capital of the old Lanna Kingdom, Chiang Mai is rich in culture. The Old City – an attraction in itself – hosts most of the best temples, museums and other interesting sites, with many more just outside the ancient city walls and moat.

    If you’re willing to travel a little further afield, you’ll find that Chiang Mai is ringed with outstanding, unique places to see and things to do. There’s Thailand’s tallest mountain nearby, as well as 2 different tribal villages and various national parks. Check out our pick of the best attractions in Chiang Mai to make sure that you don’t miss the most important sites and experiences in this outstanding part of Thailand.

    What are the best things to do in Chiang Mai?

    1

    Doi Suthep

    A regal mountain with a significant temple

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    Doi Suthep is the regal mountain overlooking the city of Chiang Mai from the northwest. It is home to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, an awe-inspiring temple that is crowned by an elaborate chedi, 24 meters tall and gold plated from top to bottom. It gleams like a northern star from the heights of the mountain.

    The temple is one of the most historically and spiritually significant places in Thailand and is an impressive embodiment of the Lanna culture, with its origins dating back almost 700 years. As such, large numbers of Thais and foreigners come to experience the special magic of this holy place. Scattered around the temple are various statues depicting everything from the legendary white elephant upon whose grave the temple was erected to the assorted gods and Buddhas of the Thai religion.

    Location: Suthep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 6 am to 6 pm

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    2

    Chiang Mai Old City temples

    Spiritual landmarks in Chiang Mai Old City

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    The sheer number of Chiang Mai Old City temples practically make it a living museum. Its narrow streets are lined with beautiful temples, old shophouses and historical buildings, all surrounded by the crumbling ancient walls and the moat.

    The Old City is quite a small, compact place, so you can easily get around on foot without tiring yourself out, allowing you to enjoy the city’s relaxed atmosphere and interesting scenery. Naturally, the temples are the star attractions of the Old City. You should definitely check out Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Phra Singh and Wat Phan Tao, but there are several more within easy reach.

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    3

    Wiang Kum Kam

    The underground ancient city in southern Chiang Mai

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    Wiang Kum Kam is the ruins of an ancient city and temple set in attractive countryside about 5 km south of Chiang Mai Old City along the Ping River. The city dates back to the 18th-century Haripunchai Kingdom.

    Expect to see many interesting items and structures such as stone tablets with Mon inscriptions, Buddhist sculptures and architecture, earthenware and pottery. You can take in the marvelous structures on a cycling tour or take your time to appreciate the large site on foot.

    Location: 149 Moo 2 Somphot Chiang Mai 700 Pi Rd, Tha Wang Tan, Saraphi, Chiang Mai, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)53 140 322

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    4

    Doi Inthanon National Park

    Natural beauty and vibrant history and culture

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    Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand, rises 2,565 meters above sea level. Known as a sanctuary for a wide range of animal species and perhaps the best place in Thailand for birdwatching, the park on the peak is home to approximately 362 different species, many of which are not found anywhere else in Thailand.

    Doi Inthanon is a popular destination, not only for its natural beauty but also for its historical significance. There are chedis (monuments) dedicated to Their Royal Majesties, The King and Queen atop the peak of the mountain. You can visit the Hmong village, Khun Ya Noi, for a visit to the market and admire the people's colorfully embroidered clothing. There are also several Karen villages, such as Ban Mae Ab Nai, where you can purchase fine examples of traditional Karen weaving and textiles and observe the quaint Karen way of life firsthand.

    Location: Moo 7, 119 Ban Luang, Chom Thong District, Chiang Mai, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 5 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)53 286 729

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    5

    Chiang Dao Cave

    A unique natural cave temple

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    Chiang Dao Cave, in the namesake district about 72 km north of Chiang Mai, has caverns stretching many kilometers into the mountain. Even so, only a small part of the complex is possible to explore. Two of the caves, Tham Phra Nawn and Tham Seua Dao, are illuminated by electric lights, but the upper caves are pitch-black and require local lantern-carrying guides to lead the way.

    There are some spectacular limestone formations and Buddhist shrines to be found in these caves. Check out the stalactites and stalagmites, as well as the magnificent frozen water walls (speleothems) formed by centuries of dripping water. Progress from one chamber to the next, following an oval loop and occasionally passing through narrow passages with very low ceilings and, sometimes, steep ascends, then exit the same way you enter. The 5 chambers can often be explored within an hour.

    Location: 273 Moo 5, Chiang Dao, Chiang Dao District, Chiang Mai, Thailand

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    6

    Doi Pui

    A tribal village and national park

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    Doi Pui, at 1,685 meters above sea level, is the highest peak in the Doi Suthep-Pui National Park. It is famous for its beautiful waterfalls, which are easily reached from the main road. One of the hottest attractions for Doi Pui must be the Hmong Tribal Village, situated less than 5 km from the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

    Many travelers to Doi Suthep-Pui National Park stop their journey at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, although just a few kilometers ahead is where Doi Pui’s Hmong ethnic hill-tribe lives. A visit to this village is an eye-opener into the tribal villagers’ private life. It's one of the few places close to town where you can meet and chat with the Hmong as well as learn about their way of life from the living museum.

    Location: Suthep, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 5 pm

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    7

    Bo Sang Handicrafts Center

    Paper umbrella workshop in San Kamphaeng

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    Bo Sang Handicrafts Center is a handicrafts village about 9 km east of the Chiang Mai Old City. The village specializes in paper umbrellas. Bor Sang has made its name throughout the country and abroad – so much so that the name Bor Sang has become synonymous with the paper-umbrella craft and the umbrella itself, a cultural symbol of Chiang Mai.

    Here, you'll find plenty of hand-painted umbrellas, tiny cocktail umbrellas, large parasols for gardens or patios and other handmade products – all made from sa paper in various designs and at reasonable prices.

    Location: Route 1014, Ton Pao, San Kamphaeng District, Chiang Mai 50130, Thailand

    Open: Daily from 8 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +66 (0)53 248 604

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    8

    Lanna Folklife Museum

    A heritage museum in Chiang Mai Old City

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    The Lanna Folklife Museum is an interesting museum full of exhibitions about the lives, history and culture of the Lanna people of northern Thailand. The museum (also called the Lanna Heritage Center) is located opposite the Three Kings Monument in the middle of the old city and sits inside the old municipal court of Chiang Mai.

    The building has been renovated and now looks like a white colonial-style building. Despite the exterior, the museum offers a lot of information about the city’s history in English, Thai and Chinese.

    Location: Prapokkloa Rd, Tambon Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

    Phone: +66 (0)53 217 793

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    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveler

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