When I visited Thailand previously on my first backpacking trip in 2014, I was only in the country for two weeks total. This meant I had to limit the amount of places I could visit as I was majorly on the clock!
Sadly, this meant that the north (including Chiang Mai and Pai) was out of reach.
And I’d always regretted this decision.
After all, there’s a reason why people say that this city in mountainous northern Thailand is a must-do.
Therefore, when I went backpacking around Thailand again in 2017, I wasn’t about to make the same mistake again.
Read on for 9 of the best things to do in Chiang Mai.
Things to do in Chiang Mai 101: walk the walls that surround the old part of the city. These walls have been in existence since 1296 so they are something to behold!
Plus, the area around Tha Phae Gate is famous and always bustling with backpackers and fellow tourists due to the abundance of cafes, shops and restaurants. (There’s even a McDonalds if you’re craving a piece of home!)
Another of the top things to do in Chiang Mai is to head down to the Ping River embankment.
It’s a 30-40 minute walk from Tha Phae Gate, which can be quite a pleasant stroll if the sun is shining! Plus there are cafes along the way if you want to stop off for a breather from the humidity.
Pro traveller tip: we found that we managed to get great photos from Thanon Charoen Mueang Bridge.
On the way back from Thanon Charoen Mueang Bridge, we accidentally stumbled across Chinatown.
We didn’t look around extensively, but what we did see certainly interested us. There were clothing, homeware, arts and crafts and gift items aplenty!
Furthermore, as it was Chinese New Year the weekend that we visited Chiang Mai, this part of the city was decorated with Chinese lanterns which was a treat for the eyes!
One of my favourite things to do in Chiang Mai happens on a Sunday night. Why? Well, the city comes alive down the Walking Street!
You’ll see sellers setting up their stalls from about 5pm onwards and there’s all sorts of goods on offer.
From clothing to candles to art to food, the list is endless! You’ll be able to grab yourself a few bargains as well as enjoy the free music and atmosphere.
This park is a bit of a trek from Tha Phae Gate and the main touristy area; however, it sure is worth the journey.
Unfortunately, there were a few renovations occurring when we were there, but it doesn’t stop the park from being insanely stunning! It honestly doesn’t feel you’re in Thailand whilst you’re there – you’ve died and gone to heaven!
Zoe in Yellow is the main bar in an area of bars on the corner of Th Ratchaphakhinai and Th Ratwithi. It is the only bar with a dancefloor and a large, outdoor seating area where it’s nice to just chill with a drink (or two).
As a result, it thrives at night and you’ll find plenty of backpackers in the vicinity wanting to dance, party and have a good time!
Anyone who’s anyone knows that Chiang Mai is famous for its awesome authentic animal experiences.
My sister and I visited the Mae Rim Elephant Camp as part of a two-day tour where we also got stay overnight in Pai (the cutest village in the mountains).
At the elephant camp, we had the most fun morning bathing, feeding and even mucking out (!) two elephants in their natural environment. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life and I loved every minute of it!
In America, there’s a Starbucks on every corner. On the island of Koh Phi Phi, there’s a tattoo shop on every corner. When it comes to Chiang Mai, however, there’s a temple on every corner.
Some of them are extremely pretty buildings with impressive shapes, colours and architecture, so keep your eyes peeled! Nic and I couldn’t help but be in awe of them – and stop and stare.
Finally, check out Loi Kroh Road at night.
Even though this is something we personally didn’t have the time to do as we were only in Chiang Mai for two nights, it’s apparently famous for its fun nightlife – so fill your boots!
All in all, we really enjoyed Chiang Mai and can certainly understand the hype around it.
My three favourite personal highlights were the Tha Phae Gate area, the Sunday Walking Street market and Mae Rim Elephant Camp.
That said, as Chiang Mai is a place that’s always lovely and sunny, rich in colour and diverse in people, landscapes and activities with a buzzing vibe – you’re bound to enjoy your time there whatever you do.