Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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Considered the most culturally significant city in Thailand’s northern region, Chiang Mai’s attractions range from bustling markets and modern malls to centuries-old landmarks. A perfect combination of picturesque mountain views and laid-back vibes, the “Rose of the North” is often a tranquil retreat from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. Check out our pick of the best things to do in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
A beautiful mountaintop temple overlooking the city, Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep glitters with its gold details. It is considered one of the most historically and spiritually significant places in Thailand and is designed to embody the Lanna culture with a history that dates back 700 years. Here you’ll find a 13th-century temple that is home to a large white elephant shrine in addition to a replica of the Emerald Buddha.
Visiting an elephant sanctuary is a must when visiting Thailand, as it is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is one of the best, as the owner “Lek”, an award-winning conservationist, is dedicated to rescuing injured and mistreated elephants. Instead of riding the elephants, visitors are given the opportunity to observe these gentle giants in an expansive prairie and feed them baskets of fruit.
Surely a memory you won’t soon forget, Wat Chedi Luang is not only a historic landmark but offers you the chance to chat with local monks. Known as the Temple of the Big Stupa, here you’ll find the ruins of an ancient temple sitting in the center of the city. It is the former home of the Emerald Buddha, the holiest religious object in all of Thailand and is a great spot to see massive elephant carvings and monks going about their daily work.
Thailand is known for their modern shopping malls, and Chiang Mai is no exception. Shopping enthusiasts will enjoy browsing the glitzy Maya Lifestyle Shopping Centre, which features a world-class shopping destination with five floors of international and Thai brand clothes and electronics, with a basement level full of local food stalls. To see the city’s flashiest shopping centre, visit Central Festival Chiang Mai, where you can roam through five floors of international brand name shops.
If you’re looking to sharpen your bargaining skills, head to the Night Bazaar. Open every night, this bustling market on Chang Klan Road is a great spot to pick up souvenirs. There are some great finds found in the hundreds of vendors that line the street, from clothes and scarves to housewares and accessories. Visit here even if you’re not on the hunt for shopping treasures, just so you can experience the electric atmosphere and indulge in local delicacies from food stalls.
Get acquainted with the local flavors in a cooking class, where you’ll learn all about the regional dishes, from stir-fry to desserts. It’s a more intimate experience than other attractions, where you’ll be in a small group and taught by a local chef. Thai Farm Cooking School is a real treat for food lovers, where they take you to a nearby farm to shop for fresh ingredients before learning how to cook an authentic Thai dish.
Local handicrafts can be found at the bustling 1-mile length Sunday Walking Street, but it’s also a great place to indulge in street grub. While the Saturday Walking Street is slightly less crowded, the Sunday market has vendors selling handcrafted lamps, dolls, soaps, jewelry and clothes. Dotted with temples along the route, step inside the courtyard to find food stalls serving up local cuisines such as pad Thai and fried bananas.
Nimmanhaemin Road, or “Nimman” for short, is a rapidly growing area in Chiang Mai known for being the most modern and trendy area of the city. Located on the west side of Chiang Mai, this lively neighborhood is busy throughout the day. Explore the area on foot and browse its collection of quirky cafes, boutique clothing shops, restaurants and bars, and make sure to stop at one of the trendy coffee shops so you can recharge for another day of adventure.
A beautiful Buddhist temple and monastery, Wat Phra Singh dates back to the 14th century. Known as the Temple of the Lion Buddha, it houses two Buddha statues, including a very large copper and a gold cast of the seated Buddha. Admire the elegantly decorated Lai Kam assembly hall and its restored murals that depict life hundreds of years ago, then step inside the Haw Trai library adorned with stucco figures and Buddhist scriptures.
Take a break from the city’s bustle at Doi Inthanon, the highest peak in Thailand. The peak is surrounded by a national park filled with an array of natural wonders, where you can easily spend an entire day trekking and hiking the mountain. There are also several waterfalls, flower gardens and caves, in addition to two pagodas built to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit. It is known as a sanctuary for a wide range of animals and is one of the best spots in Thailand for bird watching.
Take a day trip to Bua Thong Sticky Waterfalls for a day out in nature. The natural limestone deposit creates a non-slippery rock surface where you can climb against the multi-tiered cascading waters, a perfect excursion for when you want to beat the heat. The wooded area around the falls is serene and peaceful, offering a great activity for the entire family to enjoy. Nestled in the Sri Lanna National Forest, it’s also a lovely spot to pack a picnic, with drinks and snacks available on-site and picnic tables.