Our Top Tips For Things-To-Do-In-Chiang-Mai
Chiang Mai in the North West of Thailand is a wonderful destination that we really enjoyed.
We enjoyed it so much we stayed for nearly five months over the Winter of 2016.
Whether you’re looking for a long or short term place to visit, independently or as a family, Chiang Mai has so much to offer.
So as they say, without further ado and in no particular order, here’s our top things-to-do-in-Chiang-Mai.
Image Of Buddha Inside A Temple
Stroll Through The Street Markets
Chiang Mai has two main street markets where you’ll find all sorts of products, from handmade Thai crafts to food stalls.
The Saturday Market is situated just outside of the Old City to the South by the Chiang Mai Gate and runs along Soi Wua Lai and runs from 4 pm to 11 pm.
Stalls are crammed into the road on either side and sell many different items.
You’ll find clothes, woven items such as bags and purses, handmade journals and notebooks, t-shirts, wooden handy crafts, jewellery and all sorts of other products on sale.
You won’t need to look far if you’re feeling peckish either as there are plenty of food stalls to choose from.
We made a point of always visiting our favourite Pad Thai stall here and it was amazing.
There are some areas to sit down and eat but they usually pretty busy.
The market gets very crowded especially in tourist high season so be prepared to join the jostling crowds.
While you’re visiting the market make sure you go and see the Silver Temple, just off of the main road.
It’s such a beautiful temple and very different from anything else in Chiang Mai.
The Sunday Market is situated on Soi Ratchadamnoen and stretches from Tha Phae Gate on the East of the Old City through the centre of the Old City and is open from 4 pm to 11 pm.
Like the Saturday market, it can get very busy.
It’s quite nice to sit in one of the roadside restaurants and watch the market life go on while having a meal or drink away from the crowds.
Both markets are a great experience, if a little crowded.
Saturday Street Market
Sunday Street Market
Explore The Old City
The old walled city lies at the very centre of Chiang Mai.
Take a look at a map and you’ll see that the city walls form a perfect square around the Old City.
Each side has openings ( gates ) for traffic to enter and exit the centre.
There’s also a moat that runs all the way around the city wall.
Inside the Old City walls, you’ll find the pace of life seems slower with less traffic and smaller roads.
It’s very walkable and you can spend a couple of hours just getting lost and exploring.
The Old City is also where you’ll find the most number of Wat’s (temples ).
You’ll find lots of cafes and restaurants lining the streets as well as the main park Buak Hat, in the South Western corner of the Old City.
If you find yourself there on a Sunday then be sure to check out the night market on Soi Ratchadamnoen.
Old City Moat
Temple In The Old City
Learn About Northern Thai Culture At The Lanna Folklife Museum
Almost slap bang in the middle of the Old City you’ll find the Lanna Folklife Museum.
Situated in a former courthouse, the museum showcases cultural artefacts and textiles as well as giving in-depth information about the lives and culture of the Lanna people of Northern Thailand.
Lan Na was the name given to the former kingdom made up of eight Northern provinces before their integration into Thailand.
The museum gives you a great insight into the area and way of life.
Cultural Display At The Lanna Folklife Museum
Explore The Amazing Temples
Did you know that Chiang Mai has over three hundred Buddhist temples or Wats as they are known?
We’re not suggesting you visit all of them but there are some beautiful temples in Chiang Mai.
The Wats were a big highlight for us as we love the Buddhist culture in Thailand.
Getting to spend some time in these tranquil places was a real pleasure.
Some of the Wats are a lot more popular with tourists than others so it’s worth wandering the Old City and discovering some quieter locations for yourself.
You may get to meet some monks to chat to or be able to sit and listen to them at prayer.
Sometimes it’s nice to just go and sit quietly in contemplation in a temples peaceful interior.
The main Wats are definitely worth checking out, but try to do it first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the tourist buses have left.
Chiang Mai Wat
Interior Of A Chiang Mai Temple
Visit The Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park
Yes, you did read that correctly.
About fifteen minutes drive North of Chiang Mai is the Elephant Poo Poo Paper Park located in Mae Rim.
Mae Rim can be reached by Songthaew ( red truck ) from Chiang Mai quite easily.
In a lovely lush garden, setting you’ll find the Poo Poo Paper park, who give guided tours of their process of turning Elephant poo into paper.
It was actually intriguing and took us from the raw product ( lovely ) to the finished article (paper).
We went with a group of other families and their children, and we all had a great time.
It’s also experiential, so you can have a go at making and dying the paper and crafting your own product out of the paper.
The Raw Material
Dying The Finished Sheets Of Paper
Get A Rejuvenating Massage
If there was a must do while in Chiang Mai, it would defiantly be getting a massage but with so many places offering them who would you go to?
Well, look no further than the Dignity Network
They run several massage centres in Chiang Mai all staffed by women prisoners from Chiang Mai prison who are on vocational training.
Both Sue and I had massages on different occasions and loved it.
We went to the Mayflower branch on 35/1 Jahban Road.
Each centre is quite small so you may need to book an appointment as they get very busy.
You’ll be given a set of pyjama like garments to put on, and then you enter a large room where everyone has their massage.
I was a bit worried about having a massage along with 10 other people in the room but actually, it’s fine as you relax and go with it.
Some of the positions they get you to go into may be a bit challenging for some people but the masseuse knows exactly what they are doing.
It’s well worth using the Dignity network, as not only are you helping women that want to get back on their feet after being in prison.
You also know that the women have been trained to a high standard, compared to some other massage centres, where they’ve had little or no training.
Massage Center, Chiang Mai
In My Very Fetching Massage Pyjamas
Learn All About Buddhism And The Monks Way Of Life At A Monk Chat
Monk chats give you a chance to sit down with a group of monks and basically chat with them about their way of life and Buddhism.
We went along to Wat Jetlin in the centre of Chiang Mai and joined a group of about five other people to chat with three novice monks.
It was such an interesting and eye-opening experience to learn all about their way of life and the Buddhism faith.
The monks are really enthusiastic to chat as they get to practise their English and share their stories and beliefs.
There are many monk chats around Chiang Mai but some of them charge quite a high fee to attend which, to us seemed a little less genuine.
The monk chats at Wat Jetlin are free to take part in and last a couple of hours.
It’s a great way to immerse yourself in the Buddhist way of life and get some insight into the monk lives.
Learning From The Monks At Wat Jetlin
Get Onto The Ice At Sub Zero Ice Skating
We love ice skating so when we found that there was an ice rink we just had to go.
You’ll find the Sub Zero at the Central Festival shopping mall just North East of the Old City.
You can walk from the Old City but it’s quite a long way, so if you prefer not to walk then a Songthaew will take you out there.
We went several times, and once with a whole lot of other families, which was great fun for kids and adults alike.
Skate hire is included in the cost for one hours skate.
It’s a pretty cool rink (get it ) and a good size with nice quality ice.
Sub Zero Ice Skating Rink
Have Fun At 3D Art In Paradise
This is a great one for the family, although it’s not cheap, it is a lot of fun.
Annabel had visited here with another family and liked it, so when it came to my birthday she wanted to take me.
It was actually much more fun than I thought it would be, plus we were there for quite a while, so the value for money went up, in my estimation.
There are more than 180 3D paintings spread over six zones.
The Classic art zone
Surreal art and creatures from a million years ago
Make sure you have plenty of camera battery life, as you’ll take tons of photos.
Some of the displays are really big and others much smaller.
It’s really well done and we really enjoyed our time there.
Braving The Volcanic Landscape Of Art In Paradise
Our Magic Carpet Flight At Art In Paradise
Watch A Thai Boxing Match
This won’t be for everyone’s taste but it’s quite a traditional thing to go and see.
There are a few boxing venues around town but we went along to the Tha Phae Boxing Stadium near Tha Phae Gate in the Old City.
It was a bit of a boys night out as I went with a few other Dad’s from the families we’d met in Chiang Mai.
The atmosphere was electric with the anticipation of the bouts but what I didn’t expect, was that quite young looking kids would be fighting, which didn’t sit right with me at all.
Women also fought each other but to be honest they looked more professional than most of the men fighting.
The main event of the evening was a bout between a Thai and an Australian guy.
This felt like it was just rigged for the foreigners in the audience, and of course, the Australian guy won.
The traditions and ceremony around Thai boxing are really interesting but after going to see it once I probably wouldn’t go again.
Tha Phae Thai Boxing Stadium
Take A Cooking Class
It’s very common for people to take Thai cooking classes in Chiang Mai.
Annabel went to one with another family and had a great time.
She went to the Thai Kitchen Cooking Centre just outside the Old City.
When we went to collect her, she was very excited to have received a certificate and told us all about her day cooking.
They had gone to the market to buy all the fresh ingredients they needed to cook their dishes.
She had a choice of what she wanted to cook and loved being taught the Thai Cooking techniques.
There are lots of cooking classes and schools all over Chiang Mai, so do your research and have fun.
Cooking Satay Skewers
Receiving Cooking Class Certificates
Watch A Movie
We’re movie addicts so wherever we travel to, we like to go to the cinema if there are English films being shown.
Maya shopping mall has an SFX Cinema which was pretty awesome.
Usually going to the movies abroad is much cheaper than either the UK or the USA and Chiang Mai was no exception.
It always baffles me how countries can charge so little for watching a movie in a really modern and comfortable theatre like the SFX cinema in Maya, but we’re glad they do.
The national anthem is played before the movie, which requires the audience to stand, which is good to know.
Hit The Shopping Malls
There are four main shopping malls in Chiang Mai with smaller shopping centres dotted around.
The four main ones are roughly positioned away from the four corners of the Old City wall although they are further out.
Maya mall is one of our favourites in the North West area and has a great co-working area called CAMP, SFX Cinema, a lovely food court, a kids amusement arcade, banks, modern shops and a great rooftop area to grab a drink or just look at the view.
Central Festival is in the Northeast area and has lots of nice shops, Sub Zero Ice Skating Rink, another good food court.
This was probably our pick for having the best selection of shops.
Central Plaza which is in the South West area and quite close to the airport.
This has quite a few good shops that aren’t too expensive but feels a little less modern than both Maya and Central Festival.
The food court is great with lots of traditional Thai food on offer.
The fourth mall is The Promanada Mall which is in the South East area but a little further away from the city centre.
When we were there, it didn’t seem like there was an awful lot there with it mostly being food outlets.
The only reason we used to go there was for the immigration office where we could extend our visas ( the immigration office has since moved location ).
Central Festival Mall
Central Plaza Mall
Try The Wonderful Food
Eating out in Thailand can be very cheap so basically, everyone eats out.
It’s actually more expensive to buy groceries and cook for yourself if you have a kitchen that is.
Obviously, you can spend a lot of money eating at nice restaurants but we would recommend trying the wonderful street food of Chiang Mai.
There’s everything and anything on offer, especially in the night markets.
As long as there are other people eating from the stalls, then there’s not much worry about eating something dodgy.
In fact, we’ve never had bad tummies from eating street food.
Chiang Mai Street Food
Chiang Mai Street Food
Attend A Festival
Chiang Mai has lots of festivals and special events going on.
February see’s Chiang Mai park turned into a beautiful spectacle for the flower festival.
The whole park is transformed into one big flower show, and there’s a big parade with floats made entirely out of flowers.
There are also stage performances over several days/nights.
Songkran is usually some time in April and marks the Thai New Year with water-based celebrations.
We haven’t attended this festival but it’s supposed to be great but you’ll get very wet.
Yi Peng Lantern Festival and the Loi Krathong festival both take place in November and involve huge lantern launches and floating Krathong ( lit flower baskets ) down the river.
Chiang Mai Flower Festival
Chiang Mai Lantern Festival