One thing I’ve learnt living in Chiang Mai, is that it is totally different to being a tourist here. You’d expect it to be different but the things you see make it an awesome place to live! Being a tourist myself when I first came to Chiang Mai, I didn’t venture far from the central area of town, Thapae gate, the night markets and central temples. Having now lived here for a year there’s so much I’ve seen that’s off the tourist route, I thought it would be perfect to write about. So here’s my list of 17 things to do in Chiang Mai:
Mae Ngat Dam and reservoir
One of my favourite places to visit in Chiang Mai! Mae Ngat dam has some spectacular scenery overlooking the mountains and a huge reservoir. When you arrive, you have the option to hire a longtail boat to take you to a floating restaurant, you’ll have to pay 40bht each to enter Sri Lanna national park too. The other option is to stay on land and admire the views from their reservoir side restaurant. You can also stay overnight on a floating bungalow, I know the prices were quite high but it would be great if there’s a few of you together. Relax, have some lunch, watch the fish jumping in the water and the boats gliding across to the other side. Perfect way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon. The on land restaurant does an amazing freshly cooked Tilapia for under 200bht, it’s delicious and huge too!
Another high favourite of mine is Wat Palat. This incredible temple hidden within the Doi Suthep mountain is well worth a visit. Set in stunning grounds, overlooking the whole of Chiang Mai, this temple is very unique as many of its features are both Thai and Burmese. You can take part in a nature trek through the jungle to reach the temple which is an amazing experience. A very knowledgeable Monk told me only a handful of people visit the temple each day, making it well hidden away from the busy tourism of Chiang Mai. Read more about it here.
If you have a motorbike, the Samoeng loop is an amazing day out, stopping off at many unique points along the way. You can check out the stunning scenery Chiang Mai has to offer, driving past rice fields and farms, with mountain views all around. Along the loop you’ll have spectacular viewpoints to stop and admire too! 100km in length, the Samoeng loop will keep you busy for the whole day! To read more, have a look at my detailed post all about it here.
Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
Formally a quarry, which has now been filled with water. It is a quiet destination for expats and locals to visit on a relaxing weekend and only 25 minutes’ drive from the city. The water is around 40meters deep and the cliffs range in size. Some decide to jump from the cliffs for fun although there are warning signs around. Relax and have a drink or some lunch in the restaurant, rent out a rubber dingy or rubber ring and have some fun swimming in the calm, warm waters! Great fun for kids too!
Muang On Cave
These caves are a must see in Chiang Mai, they are very grand! From the Chinese dragon steps leading to the front of the cave to the huge structures hidden inside, Muang On cave is spectacular! You’ll have to crawl under part of the cave to enter, looks daunting for any claustrophobic but after you’ve entered there’s nothing more to worry about. There are 2 floors in the caves; all very well lit so don’t be ripped off renting a flashlight from outside. The caves are very well respected with Buddhist shrines all around, including a large reclining Buddha too! I recently did a driving loop around Muang On caves– check it out if your in the area!
Known to locals as Bua Thong waterfalls, these hidden waterfalls are spectacular! Around 90 minutes drive from the city, these waterfalls are popular with expats and locals alike. Being a little far from the city, you won’t see many tourists there which adds to the amazing experience. They are made from limestone rocks which means you can actually climb up and stick to the rocks. With 3 levels of the falls, if you climb to the top you get a stunning view of the forest scenery below. Climb down to the bottom and you’ve got a cool waterfall shower to soak in! And the best bit, it’s absolutely free! Read more about the sticky waterfalls here.
Another of my favourite places to visit around Chiang Mai! Mon Cham is quite a way from the city, you can reach it on the Samoeng loop or you can go direct and camp there overnight. Driving very high through the mountains, Mon Cham overlooks a stunning sight! Have some fun on the wooden go-karts or relax overlooking their beautifully well-kept gardens. Stop for a bite to eat in a bamboo hut directly above those incredible views too!
San Khampaeng Hotsprings
If you like hotsprings the ones in San Khampaeng are great to visit. They are situated just outside the town of San Khampaeng, about an hour’s drive from the city. Don’t be put off with the time though, as the drive is stunning! You’ll head into the natural countryside of Chiang Mai, with mountain views and paddy fields in the distance. When you arrive, you’ll pay 100bht to get in. Stop off at the shops and browse through some traditional Lanna clothing at a very reasonable price, or buy yourself some eggs to boil in the springs for 20bht. Muang on cave is located very close to the springs so bear that in mind when you go, you could visit them both in one day!
Huay Tung Tao lake
If you visit Chiang Mai, you have to go to Huay Tung Tao Lake. Not too far from the city and only 50bht to get in, this lake is huge and full of idyllic scenery all around. Drive round the lake for the best views and pitch yourself up in one of the numerous bamboo huts. Have some great Thai food at great prices or share a few drinks with friends. This lake is popular with local Thai’s in the evenings but never too busy. If you have kids, you can even rent out a pedal boat too!
The hidden temple of Wat Umong! Situated very close to the city, Wat Umong is one of the most unique temples I have even seen in Thailand. From its gigantic Chedi, to its historical features, this temple is not to be missed! There are underground tunnels leading to large Buddhist shrines in every corner too! Don’t forget to check out the humorous artwork scattered around and the big lake at the bottom of the temple grounds. You can feed fish and birds in the lake, spot a tiny turtle swimming in the waters and buy some delicious coconut ice-cream too!
Queen Sirikit Botanic garden
Situated just past the town of Mae Rim, Queen Sirikit gardens are a must for nature lovers! Explore the well-kept gardens, various banana tree species, or several greenhouses containing Cacti, Orchids, Lotus flowers, everything you could think of! Pay 100bht to get in, you can also drive around on your motorbike for 20bht extra and stop off at as many places as you want! The grounds are stunning!
Doi Inthanon hosts the highest point in Thailand, so it’d be a hard decision not to go! Located 2 hour’s drive from the city, you arrive at Doi Inthanon national park. Pay your 300bht to enter the park, and you’re free to explore the natural wonders of the park for the day! There’s loads of waterfalls to check out, my favourite being the Wachirathan waterfall as it is just magnificent! There are nature trails and caves to explore and most importantly the King’s and Queen’s Chedi’s situated at the top of the mountain. Due to the long drive, it’s worth considering staying over for the night. You can rent huts or tents in the middle of the park, but bear in mind they get full very quickly so it’s worth booking in advance! Check out Thailand’s peak here!
Khamtieng flower market
A spectacular flower market very close to the city. Located just off the Super highway, behind Tesco Lotus. It’s well worth a visit, there are four parallel roads, each with numerous individual shops selling an array of different plants and flowers! From miniature cacti to gorgeous orchid’s and everything in between! They have shops selling pots, stones, soil, anything that is garden centre related! Stop for a lovely break at Panmai coffee too!
Chang Dao caves
Magnificent looking caves around 90minutes drive from the old city. These caves in Chang Dao are very unique. You enter walking up to a Buddhist temple, pay 40bht for electricity charges and enter the caves. Very grand inside, you’re offered the option to pay for a private guide in the non-lit areas or carry on yourselves in the well-lit zone. If you shine a flash light above, you may even see bats hanging from the caves, you’ll definitely see a fair few fly past you! Well worth checking out for the day, you can also stay overnight at Chang Dao Nest which is meant to be a lovely experience too!
Mae Sa waterfall
Ever been to a waterfall with 10 tiers? Visit Mae Sa waterfall in Mae Rim for a great experience! Having 10 levels, you can relax on the lower areas, taking in the amazing scenery and sharing lunch with friends. You’ll find this place is popular with Thai’s but not so much with tourists. The further up you go, the quieter it becomes. Bear in mind it’s quite a walk to the top, but your met with some wonderful views if you venture that far. You’ll find you’re probably alone on the 10th tier as not many venture past the 7th. You can swim up there too! Great fun for all the family!
Royal Park Rajapruek
Situated not far from the centre of Chiang Mai, the Royal gardens are stunning. Set in enormous grounds overlooking some amazing gardens of flowers from all around the world. 100bht to get in, the park is huge so you may want to use the shuttle bus to get around. Rows and rows of lovely exotic flowers, there’s a spectacular temple in the middle of the park too, well worth a stop. You could easily spend a few hours here on a nice, dry day.
Visit Chiang Mai’s busiest and oldest market. Situated just beside the Ping river, the market spans a huge indoor market and numerous soi’s around the market too! A very local market, where fresh fruit and veg is on offer, along with clothes, meat, spices, flowers, anything you could want that isn’t catering for the tourist population in Chiang Mai. In the day, check out the indoor market. At night the market outside comes to life! Well worth a stop on your trip to Chiang Mai!
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Photo credits: Lee Rawson-Gill