After reading countless travel blogs I was led to believe that Chiang Mai was one of the best places to visit in Thailand, but for me that was not the case. The truth about Chiang Mai is that you want to have planned activities to do when you’re there. Chiang Mai is a city and if you have been traveling in more rural places for months, and have a lot of time to travel, I can understand why you would want to spend a lot of time in Chiang Mai. Having only a month to spend in Asia, I felt like I wasted a lot of my valuable time being in Chiang Mai. I felt that my time would’ve been better spent exploring another island or another part of Thailand, not just doing the same things I could do at home. I will say though, Chiang Mai was the most livable place I visited in Thailand, and if I planned to move there for any reason, chances are I would move to Chiang Mai.
If you are going to be passing through Chiang Mai and want to take advantage of the time you have there, this is a good list of things to do. If I would have spent my time in Chiang Mai like this, I could’ve done everything I wanted and saved myself an extra three days to do something else.
Explore the local coffee scene
Chances are you just took an overnight train to Chiang Mai from Bangkok, or maybe you just flew in from the islands. Either way, you are exhausted. Chiang Mai is a city through and through, and you should take a day to relax and enjoy some of the comforts of home. By comforts of home, I mean coffee shops. Chiang Mai has craft coffee shops that you won’t find in other parts of Thailand. There are so many cute coffee shops in Chiang Mai, when you walk into one it will be like stepping into the coffee shop in your home town. I personally recommend Graph Cafe. It’s small, the front wall is floor to ceiling windows so the bright natural light is nice, and the coffee is great!
After you’ve had your fix of cold brew, your next step to feeling good as new is a Thai massage! Go spend 250 baht on an hour long Thai Massage! Relax as you get all those travel kinks out of your back and stretch out before your next trip in a bus, plane, or train!
Take a Cooking Class
Take an evening cooking class and learn about how to make all those amazing Thai foods you’ve been eating when you get back home. I took the Basil cooking class and we chose one dish from each of seven categories to make. In the class you get to cook and eat all seven of your dishes so this will be more than enough dinner for you for the night. At the end of the class they also give you a recipe book with the instructions on how to make everything you did in the class so you can recreate it when you get home!
Elephant Jungle Sanctuary
Go to an elephant sanctuary. If they let you ride an elephant or you find that the elephants are in chains that is not a sanctuary, and not a place you should support. I recommend Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Elephant Nature Park is also a good option, but very popular so you may have to book ahead of time which is difficult when you’re not totally sure what day you’ll be able to make it there. At Elephant Jungle Sanctuary you will be able to feed the elephants, make them vitamins to help with their digestion, take a mud bath with them, and rinse off in the river with them! You will be picked up from your hostel in the morning and drop you back off at the end of the day, and lunch is provided.
International Food Park
Have dinner at the International Food Park, it’s basically like food trucks with a bunch of tables, and live music. This was a place in Chiang Mai I wished I had at home. Go with a group of people and get different plates to share! I personally recommend the Khao Soi, you’re welcome.
Grab your friends and go for brunch at Chiang Mai Breakfast World! You can order any breakfast food imaginable with coffee and fresh fruit and juices. Go with your friends and each order something different and you’ll have a crazy spread of food to share together.
Chiang Mai Grand Canyon
If you don’t have a motorbike, grab a friend and hire a tuk tuk to take you to the Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai! Just go early enough you have time to swim as much as you want before they close at 6. You can jump off the side of the canyon into the water from a supervised spot and you can climb back up on a Hacksaw Ridge style net. It’s harder than it looks, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Bonus: If you can, try to be in Chiang Mai on a Sunday. They have a Sunday night market that is the most gigantic market I have ever seen in my entire life. It spans blocks and blocks through the city, there is food, clothes, soaps, teas, jewelry, art, bags, accessories, anything you could imagine is at this market.