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Chiang Mai, Thailand is one of the best digital nomad destinations in the world. Part of what makes it such a great place to live is that there’s always something going on – from night markets to muay thai shows and cooking classes. That’s why we’ve narrowed it down for you in this list of the top 13 things to do in Chiang Mai!
Keep reading to find out all this bustling Asian city has to offer.
Curious about living in Chiang Mai? Check out our full Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Guide for all the details on cost of living, where to stay, best restaurants and more!
One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is taking a day trip to visit the elephants. Unfortunately, the animal tourism industry in Thailand is less than ethical, and many of these don’t treat the elephants well. There are literally hundreds of tour companies offering elephant rides and trips, and only one of these parks is truly ethical from our knowledge.
The Elephant Nature Park is an amazing organization that rescues and rehabilitates mistreated elephants. They offer half day, full day and overnight trips where you can enjoy all the elephant interaction you want, without the guilt!
You’ll be able to pet, feed and wash the elephants, all while they roam freely in their natural habitat. What makes this organization so special is you will also learn about each of the elephant’s stories and how they came to be at the park.
Make sure and book your reservation online at least 1-2 weeks ahead of time if possible. If you’re interested in an even more intimate experience and have more time available, you can also volunteer at the park!
Wat Doi Suthep is one the largest and most important temples in Chiang Mai. Perched on a mountain overlooking the city, it’s easy to lose track of time and spend hours exploring the temple, terrace, and surrounding gardens.
To reach the temple, you’ll need to take a red truck (songthaew), which should cost no more than 200 Thai Baht. The trip takes about 30 minutes from the city center. Make sure to bring comfortable shoes, because the climb to the top is over 300 steps!
The best time to visit is early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. Also remember to dress respectfully, with your shoulders and knees covered (that goes for men and women).
Whether you are looking for a local hike or a more adventurous way to get up the mountain to Doi Suthep, the Monk’s Trail is one of the lesser known things to do in Chiang Mai. To reach the trail, take a songthaew to the rear entrance of the Chiang Mai Zoo and look for the big red and white antenna which is the unofficial marker.
Halfway up the trail, you’ll find a hidden temple, Wat Phra Lat. Situated deep in the forest, the temple is a peaceful place to relax and explore. This portion of the hike should take between 1-1.5 hours. Make sure to wear good hiking shoes and bring bug spray – there are lots of mosquitos on this hike!
Learn Thailand’s famous martial art from the professionals and join a Muay Thai class! There are several gyms around the city, but I recommend Chiangmai Muay Thai Gym. They offer multiple 90 minutes classes every day, which are all open to visitors. No need to make a reservation, you can just show up for class!
The gym provides wraps and gloves and will cater the class to your level of experience. Activities range from learning punches and kicks, to bag work, to 1-on-1 training in the ring. Don’t be intimidated if you have never done boxing of any kind before – these classes are meant for all levels. Though you may need a Thai massage afterwards!
Although it may not be classic Thai style coffee, Ristr8to is one of the coolest coffee shops around. Their specialty coffee has become world famous after winning the world latte art championship multiple times!
Not into lattes? No problem. Ristr8o has coffee from all over the world and their menu is full of unique options, from coffee martinis to cold coffee concoctions in test tubes! They have two locations but I personally think the “lab” is a much better vibe with a gorgeous porch full of picnic tables and vines.
Night markets in Thailand are a way of life. The Night Bazaar is one of the most well known things to do in Chiang Mai, selling everything from clothes and handmade crafts to edible insects. If you want to avoid the crowds, check out the Saturday and Sunday Night Markets.
You may have to plan your trip accordingly, but these one-night-a-week markets are worth the wait! The street food alone is worth going for – try local pad thai, mango sticky rice and fresh squeezed fruit juice.
The Saturday Market starts near the south gate (which is where you can be dropped off) and goes down Wua Lai Road. The Sunday Market starts at Tha Pae Gate and goes down Rachadamnoen Road through the Old City.
Although most people are familiar with pad thai and spicy Thai curries, few people realize the incredible diversity of Thai food from north to south.
The most popular dish in northern Thailand is called Khao Soi. You’ll find it everywhere in Chiang Mai, but if you ask a local (or a Chiang Mai digital nomad), they’ll tell you that you have to try this dish at Khao Soi Mae Sai. I recommend going towards the beginning of your trip in case you want to go back for seconds!
After you’ve sampled the local cuisine, you’ll no doubt want to recreate it at home. Taking a local cooking class is one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai and there’s no shortage of options. One place we’ve tried and can recommend is Baan Thai Cookery School!
The class will teach you step by step how to make multiple dishes and staples in Thai cuisine. Most tours start with a trip to the local wet market or a garden, so you can learn about the herbs and vegetables that will be used in each dish. By the end, you’ll walk away with a full stomach and a cookbook full of recipes to take home!
Thai massages are truly a unique experience. There are spas on every corner in Chiang Mai, but I recommend checking out the Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute, which helps female inmates learn marketable skills and gain employment.
It is absolutely safe and a truly delightful spa experience. They offer a full menu of services, including a full body massage Thai massage, and they even have an onsite cafe! Just make sure to go early or make a reservation as they tend to fill up fast.
These unique “sticky” waterfalls have become one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai. Due to mineral deposits in the rocks and a lack of algae, the waterfalls are extremely easy to climb up. Located about an hour outside the city, the waterfalls make for a refreshing and easy half day adventure.
As incredible as Chiang Mai is, the city can be a little overwhelming. The noise, the lights, the traffic…It’s good to get out of the city for a few days and explore rural Thailand.
The Ban Pa Pong Piang Rice Fields are said to be the most beautiful in all of Thailand, but most people have never even heard of them! If you’re willing to go on a bit of an adventure to get there, this is an absolute must-do while you’re in Chiang Mai, and a great way to escape the crowds of tourists.
If you have time to spend a night there, it is absolutely amazing to walk through the rice paddies, hike through the forest, and sleep under the stars. The rice fields are also on the edge of Doi Inthanon National Park, which is the highest mountain in Thailand. You’re definitely in for some breathtaking views!
About 1-1.5 hours outside Chiang Mai is a lesser known day trip to a lake in the mountains where you can stay in floating houses. This was one of our favorite getaways, and somehow, very few people have heard of it!
At Eakachai Floating Houses they provide all the food and facilities as there is nothing else around. It is so peaceful and they have many options of activities to do from kayaking, swimming, sipping coffee and even a giant inflatable obstacle course.
Note: In order to book a reservation you will need to message them on Facebook and most likely send them a bank wire by bringing cash to a local Thai bank and asking them to transfer it to the address they give you via Facebook message.
Check out our video below to see all the details and epic views at Eakachai Floating Houses.
PS: For directions to the floating houses we found this blog post helpful!
Check out the Chiang Mai Digital Nomad Guide for more day trip ideas and detailed information on where to eat, stay and play. For more travel content, including a guide to apartment hunting in Chiang Mai, make sure you subscribe to my Youtube channel and follow along on Instagram!
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