Anyone who is planning a visit to Thailand, will notice that there are some amazing things to do in Chiang Mai.
Visitors, undoubtedly, will want to see the many unique and interesting temples including Wat Phra That Doi Suthep in town. And, of course, spending a day with elephants can be quite an adventurous and unique experience as well.
5 Fast and popular things to do in Chiang Mai
- Night Market – Chiang Mai is renowned for its night market where you can buy Thai crafts, knock of hand bags, watches and really anything under the sun. It is a 1km stretch of stalls lining the streets along the East Side of the walled city. It's open 7 nights a week.
- Thai Cooking Class – Chiang Mai is cooking class central in Thailand. Learn to cook yoru favourite dish so you can make it when you return to your country. Thai food is our favourite food and we now cook it all the time at home.
- Waterfall Expedition – Doi Ithanon National Park is a great day trip and this is where you can play in the Vachiratharn Waterfall.
- Wat Suan Dok and the other 500 wats in the city – Take a guided tour to see Chiang Mai's most popular temples.
- Excursion to Chiang Rai –
Going on a waterfall expedition, learning to cook Thai food, and spending the evening hours eating and shopping your way through the massive night markets are all on the top of the list of highly recommended activities for visitors of Chiang Mai.
For first timers, you must check out the popular activities, but if you are a return visitor or want to get off the beaten path a bit, these ideas will help you make the most of your stay.
Top 5 Underrated Things to do in Chiang Mai
For those who may have done some of these things already, or who are looking for something a bit different, this article should be an excellent guide to some of the more underrated things to do that are fun, unique, and fit for most budgets.
Here are some of the things you may not have even known you could do in Chiang Mai.
#1 Stay In A Tree House At Rabeang Pasak Resort
We had to start with our favorite first.
Yes, usually, you save the best for last but we are just bursting with excitement about this place, and it's hard to keep it to ourselves until the end.
So, you are probably asking what could be so great about staying in a tree house? Well, Hello! You get to spend the night in a real tree house. A house made on top of a tree! You can't tell us that's not tickling your inner child a bit.
Seeing kids in movies climbing a latter to get to their “secret” tree house and having to say the “secret” password to enter made me so envious.
This place made that fantasy come true. For those traveling families with small children, this is a MUST DO. Your kids will love it!
As a couple, a two-night stay at Rabeang Pasak Treehouse Resort was romantic, adventurous, and relaxing all in one package.
There are several different types of tree houses you can choose from when booking with them.
If you pick the Tamarind House, beware that it is the tallest, and you will definitely feel it sway in the wind (especially at night when you are in bed!).
You should take note that the Tamarind House is the most sought after treehouse, so booking in advance is a MUST!
Why Stay in a Treehouse?
The tree houses are fully equipped with some nice creature comforts, including a bed, electricity, toilet, sink and shower.
You get that camping feeling with a bit of extra comfort.
Internet connection isn't available in the tree houses so you'll have to just connect with each other (sounds cliche, but it's a good thing!).
Read a book, play some games, tell stories, or just listen to the sounds of nature and meditate.
For those attached to social media, you'll have to do your uploads and downloads at the lobby/breakfast area/lounge by the front desk.
During your time there you can enjoy some seriously delicious food prepared by the folks that run the place.
Make sure you definitely take advantage of this. The portions are pretty big and so is the taste.
If you get a little adventure itch, just grab one of their bicycles and go for a ride to catch some panoramic views of the valley, or explore trails that lead to some pretty cool and scary caves in the woods.
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#2 Samoeng Loop Motorbike Ride
This is a recommendation for those who feel comfortable riding a motorbike in Thailand.
It goes without saying that you should always wear your helmet, but also, it would be smart to make sure you have an international drivers' license if you plan on renting a motorbike in general.
Having said that, there are loads of female, solo travelers, as well as couples and even groups who take on this adventurous and scenic route around and through the hills of Chiang Mai.
It's truly a wonderful experience and a must do for those that love riding on an open road.
The loop starts at the northern part of the Old City and drops you off at the western side with a total distance of about 100 kilometers.
It can take you anywhere from a couple of hours to half a day to complete, depending on how often you stop and how long those stops last.
What to see on a motorcycle loop
There are lots of attractions along the way on this picturesque route around the famous Doi Suthep (the mountain that accommodates the popular Buddhist temple of Wat Phra That).
You can partake in activities such as ATV-ing, go-karting, and zip-lining.
There's even a shooting range as well as a snake farm along the way!
Whatever you choose to do, just make sure you leave plenty of time to make your way around and not have to rush your ride.
One of the best stops along the route is the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens.
You can spend about an hour here just walking through the different buildings housing some of the most beautiful flowers and plants from around the globe.
There is also a gorgeous viewpoint where you can enjoy the lush, green valley below.
There is a fee of 100 THB to get into the park, but riding the Samoeng Loop just costs you a bit of gas money for the motorbike/motorcycle.
#3 Nong Buad Haad Park – Get A Workout Or A Massage
Getting a massage while in Thailand is a no-brainer.
You can find a massage parlor practically on every corner, in every ally, and even on the streets (usually the night markets).
So, needless to say, it's pretty hard to avoid.
Not only are they available pretty much everywhere (makes it real convenient after a day of walking from temple to temple, trust me!), but they are also super cheap.
For a few dollars, you can relax and have the day melt away with a nice food rub, or, get a real “adjustment” with a traditional Thai massage.
Massage in Chiang Mai's City Park
Rather than getting a massage in crowded, touristy spot, why not in Chian Mai's only city public park?
This tiny little oasis known as Nong Buak Haad Park is located on the south-western corner of the Old City and is very easy to get to by motorbike, tuk-tuk, or even bicycle.
Though not very big in size, this park has lots to offer.
There are a couple of large, beautiful ponds with fountains that are connected by bridges, creating a peaceful atmosphere that can be enjoyed by laying on the grass or renting a straw mat.
Get a coconut or snack from one of the vendors in the park and just enjoy your time (make sure you don't go in your bathing suit). You can even buy bags of food for the birds and fish!
There's even a small track that runs around the ponds for those who prefer to get a jog in or go for a walk with some nice scenery.
If that's not enough of a workout for you, you can use one of the manual exercise machines on the outer edge of the park. There's even a kids play area!
You're sure to find locals as well as expats and tourists at this park. Depending on when you visit, you may even see an aerobics exercise class taking place here.
Whatever you end up doing, you will love going to this park.
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#4 Have Lunch At Huay Tung Tao Lake
A cold beverage in your hand. A platter of grilled fish and some sticky rice with papaya salad.
All served to you under the bungalow over the lake on a warm Chiang Mai day with views of green, lush mountains all around.
If that sounds like an amazing day, then you MUST make your way over to Huay Tung Tao Lake when looking for things to do in Chiang Mai.
It's no wonder the locals spend their free time here. It's about 25 minutes from the Old City and very easy to reach by motorbike or Songthaew, making it a perfect, quick getaway from the city and crowds.
Spend the day outdoors
Not only is it convenient for anyone to reach in a short amount of time, but it has lots to offer for a perfect day outdoors.
If you bring your own equipment, you can enjoy biking or skating on the paved road along the lake. You can go for a nice walk or take a dip in the lake to cool off on a hot day (there are lots of hot days in Chiang Mai).
Speaking of which, the great year-round weather makes going to the lake ideal for visitors anytime.
The entrance cost is 50 THB per person (less than $2 USD).
Enjoy water activities
As far as water activities go, there is a little shop located on the lake that rents out paddle boats.
These swan-shaped paddle boats could offer you some good exercise with fantastic views of the surrounding mountains from the middle of the lake.
Swimming is allowed in some areas, and if you didn't happen to take a bathing suit, you could always just stick your feet in the water from the hut as you sip on a cold beverage.
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You'll find these bamboo huts dotting the outline of the lake in some areas with restaurants behind them.
Choose the one you like and they will bring you the menu in Thai and English. The dishes are usually served family style and very reasonably priced considering the view that comes with it.
The grilled or fried whole fish is a popular menu item, so be sure to give it a try.
#5 Chill Out With Friends At North Gate Jazz Co-Op
A very chill and laid back spot for locals and travelers alike, the North Gate Jazz Club provides a great end to any fun-filled day in Chiang Mai.
Spend the evening hours at this well-loved hangout, located on the north side of the Old City moat. Directly on the other side of the moat, separated by Chang Phuak Gate, are the nightly food stalls of the North Gate.
Here, you'll find some of the best street food in Chiang Mai. Be sure to grab some dinner here before heading over to the jazz bar.
Whether you've spent the day riding your motorbike around the Samoeng Loop or you've been out sight-seeing the temples, you're likely going to want to find a nice place to sip on a cold beverage and relax with friends to some cool tunes.
This jazz bar may not look like a popular joint, but looks can be deceiving.
Depending on the night, you may see patrons spilling into the street as the music plays on into the night.
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They have open jam night on Tuesday nights and different events nightly so be sure to “Like” their Facebook page to get the updates on what they offer.
Even if you just pop in on a random night, you'll surely enjoy sipping on a beverage and listening to the jazz.
You might even meet some fellow travelers and make some new friends, making it a memorable Chiang Mai night.
Bonus suggestion by Dave and Deb:
Want to interact with elephants? Our recommendation is don't ride elephants in Chiang Mai, instead go to an elephant sanctuary to visit elephants that have been rescued and adopted from the cruel logging and tourist riding industry.
They are free from the backbreaking and heartbreaking work they have been subject to for decade and can now live out their days in peace.
Read more here: Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai
Together in Thailand Author bio:
Hi! We’re Rob and Taiss. A California couple on the search for adventure around the world.
We minimized our life and took off with our cat, Milton, for a life of extended stay travel, starting in Thailand.
For us, the world can't be experienced in a couple of weeks of vacation here and there. So, we set off to live a life in as many places as possible.
To actually live in locations around the world long enough to get to know the locals, the culture, and the food, not just a taste of it.