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 two 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.
1. Doi Suthep
Gleaming like a northern star from the heights of Doi Suthep (the regal mountain overlooking the city from the northwest) is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It 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.
2. Old City Temples
Doi Suthep is a constant part of life in Chiang Mai. A Thai saying goes, "If you haven't tasted Khao Soi or seen the view from Doi Suthep, you haven't been to Chiang Mai." This regal mountain overlooks the city from the northwest, providing commanding views from its summit. Aside from its dominating presence on the horizon, Doi Suthep is the home of some of the most deeply loved symbols in the Kingdom. In 1981 Doi Suthep, Doi Pui and Doi Buakha, along with the 161 square kilometres (62 square miles) of forest in which they are located, became Thailand's 24th national park. A year later a 100 square kilometre (38 square mile) annex was added, bringing the park's total area up to 261 square kilometres (100 square miles). Dense forests hang from the mountain's shoulders like a cloak; deciduous at lower elevations and evergreen near the peaks of the mountains.
3. Chiang Mai Night Safari
Modeled after a similar attraction in Singapore, Chiang Mai Night Safari features three animal zones – Savanna Safari, Predator Prowl, Jaguar Trail – which you can tour via an open-sided tram or on foot. Enjoy a range of activities designed to keep you entertained throughout your visit, from hand-feeding wild animals and petting tiger cubs to a laser light show and ‘dancing’ fountain.
4. Wiang Kum Kam, the Underground Ancient City
Located in attractive countryside about 5 km south of Chiang Mai along the Ping River, Wiang Kum Kam is an ancient city dating back to the eighth-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. Taking a horse-led carriage is a popular way to enjoy the ruins.
5. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai was among the first of the new breed of elephant attractions in Thailand which prioritise the welfare of the animals. Often acting as retirement and care homes for elephants previously employed in the logging or tourism industries, they provide as natural an environment for them as possible. While you can still interact with the elephants (bathing them being an especially popular activity), riding on them is strictly out of the question.
6. Doi Inthanon National Park
Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand, rises 2,565 metres above sea level. Known as a sanctuary for a wide range of animal species and perhaps the best place in Thailand for bird-watching, the park has 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.
7. Karen Long Neck Tribe & Chiang Dao Cave
At Chiang Dao cave, the caverns stretch many kilometres into the mountain yet 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 requires a local lantern-carrying guides to lead the way. There are some spectacular limestone formations and Buddhist shrines in these caves.
8. Doi Pui Tribal Village and National Park
Doi Pui, at 1,685 metres 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. But one of the hottest attractions for Doi Pui must be Hmong Tribal Village situated less than five kilometres from the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. A visit to this village is an eye-opener into the tribal villagers’ private life.
9. Bo Sang Handicraft Village
The handcrafting of umbrellas and parasols in Bo Sang Village is known throughout the country and even abroad – so much so that the umbrella has become one of the symbols 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.
10. Lanna Folklife Museum
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 Centre) 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, and despite the exterior the museum offers a lot of information about the city’s history in English, Thai and Chinese.
Information and photo from www.chiangmail.bangkok.com