If you are looking for the perfect itinerary for Chiang Mai, then look no further.
If you would like to experience Thailand from a different angle, then you need to come to Chiang Mai. Thailand is home to some of the most extraordinary places, beautiful beaches, and islands, chaotic cities, and ancient culture. Although Chiang Mai doesn’t have a coastline, you will be rewarded with beautiful temples, heavenly great Thai cuisine, and wonderful nature.
After spending some time in Krabi and exploring some of the most beautiful beaches in Krabi, we were looking forward to exploring Chiang Mai for the second time.
Our 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary will show you how you can see the best places in this magical town.
Ready to explore one of the most beautiful cities in Thailand?
ABOUT CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai lies approximately 680 km from Bangkok located in northern Thailand. And if you are thinking of skipping Chiang Mai, then you are making a huge mistake. Chiang Mai is a true cultural pearl of Thailand and needs to be in your itinerary.
The old town of Chiang Mai is absolutely breathtaking, filled with majestic temples, remnants of the medieval-style wall, and omnipresent monks. And after spending some time in hectic Bangkok, Chiang Mai is a place where you can relax.
Despite that Chiang Mia has a population of around 400.000 with busy traffic around the city center, inside of narrow streets and venues, you will find peaceful havens.
So if you are interested in getting to know authentic Thailand and digging into studying either the Thai language, cooking Thai food, meditation or massage, then you are at the right place.
READ MORE: ULTIMATE THAILAND ITINERARY
HOW MANY DAYS YOU NEED FOR CHIANG MAI?
There is not really the right answer to the question of how many days you need to visit Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai historic town as itself can keep you busy for days, but what makes Chiang Mai so interesting is the surroundings.
If you have only several weeks in Thailand, and you are stressing out that you might not have enough time to go to Chiang Mai, don’t worry. You can and we did it too. Have a look at our 10 days Thailand itinerary to see how you can visit Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and the best beaches in Thailand in just 10 days.
We are going to be honest with you, 3 days in Chiang Mai are for sure tightly measured, but you can see many places and do unique things as well.
WHY VISIT CHIANG MAI?
I guess every traveler who comes to Thailand, lands in Bangkok. Bangkok is a cool city and you should definitely visit it. But Bangkok is also busy, overcrowded, and just crazy hectic.
CHILL: And this is why we loved Chaing Mai, despite that the Chiang Mai is still a big city, we felt like the streets were less crowded and calmer.
CULTURE: We also felt that Chiang Mai is the place where you can experience authentic Thai culture better than in Bangkok. It is also home to iconic Buddhist temples, which will help you to get to know Thai culture even better.
NATURE & FOOD: The surroundings of Chaing Mai are absolutely stunning too. Chiang Mai is the perfect place where you can learn how to cook tasty Thai food. And if you are dying to see an elephant (or two), then, Chiang Mai is the ultimate gateway seeing these gorgeous creatures.
NOMAD CITY: Chiang Mai is a perfect city for digital nomads. So if you are looking for a city where you can settle, have fast internet, and live on a budget, then Chiang Mai is the place. We actually thought about it and Chiang Mai would be the only city we could imagine ourselves to be living in Southeast Asia. One problem: no beach, so we keep looking.
FESTIVALS: If you come to visit Chiang Mai in November, you will celebrate the famous lantern festival.
The list can go on and on, so we will stop here. I am sure we convinced you already. If so, then keeping reading, as this Chiang Mai itinerary will mention all the places you need to see.
HOW TO GET TO CHIANG MAI FROM BANGKOK?
The easiest way how to get to Chiang Mai is to fly from Bangkok, which takes about 1.5 hours. If you have more time to spare or hate flying, then you can get to Chiang Mai with the overnight train that takes between 12 and 15 hours.
If you would like to know more about how to get from Chiang Mai to Bangkok with the train, then check this blog for more information.
We would advise you to make sure to book your train tickets in advance (to get good seats). Although during low season, there shouldn’t be any problem with buying the tickets on the spot.
HOW TO GET FROM THE AIRPORT TO CHIANG MAI?
Chiang Mai airport is quite close to the city center and there are several ways how to get to your hotel. Thailand is very well organized regarding tourism, so there is always a way and there are always tuk tuks available.
If you already booked your hotel, then you can check with them if they offer free airport transport from Chiang Mai airport to the city. Some hotels do that so it’s worth checking.
Otherwise here are good options how you can get from the airport to the city. We traveled with tuk-tuk as its quick, cheap, and fun.
TUK TUK: If you do not have a lot of luggage, then the best way and the most authentic way is to take a tuk-tuk. It is convenient and very affordable. The only advice we would give you is to negotiate prices before you get in. Sometimes locals might take advantage of foreigners. The price for a tuk-tuk ride should be around 100-130 Baht.
TAXI: If you have more luggage and you would like to have aircon, then definitely take a taxi. There is a taxi booth at the airport where you can request either a meter taxi or an airport taxi. The cost of a taxi is not high and you should expect to pay around 150 Baht. An even better option is to have the ride-hailing app Grab installed and book a ride here.
SONGTHAEW OR SHARED RED VAN: If you feel a bit adventurous, then you can try to take red pick up trucks. One way from the airport costs around 40 Baht. Make sure to tell the driver the name of the hotel. You also need to wait until the van is full, but that usually doesn’t take so much time.
AIRPORT BUS: You can also take a bus that is organized by the airport. It costs around 20 Baht, but only stops at certain places, so you would need to organize the on-going transport yourself. Which is rather annoying.
CHIANG MAI 3 DAY ITINERARY
During our first visit in Chiang Mai we fell in love with this lovely town.
And we love Chiang Mai so much that we had to go back there and explore a bit more. That is why during our world travel tour around Southeast Asia we decided to visit Chaing Mai for the second time. And this time it was during Chiang Mai’s magic lantern festival.
HOW TO SPEND 3 DAYS IN CHIANG MAI?
DAY 1: TEMPLES AND THE MARKETS
BEST TEMPLES OF CHIANG MAI
Let’s kick off this Chiang Mai itinerary in the heart of Chiang Mai. The biggest attraction of Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the old city with many historic temples.
We are not sure if you are fan of temples or not, but we promise that you will love it.
Here you can admire some of the most beautiful wats (temples) and unique Northern Thai architecture.
Here are some of the most famous temples that you cannot miss out on.
WAT PHRA SINGH
You definitely cannot miss out on Wat Phra Singh. This beautiful complex is home to monastic buildings, beautifully designed temples, and several coffee stands. And on top of everything, there is a massage pavilion. So if you are tired of walking around, here is your chance to relax.
CULTURAL TIP: All the temples you going to visit are Buddhist temples. Make sure to obey the rules and follow the dress code. You need to remove your shoes and cover your shoulders and legs by wearing a sarong. Next to the temple, there is always someone standing to borrow you a sarong for a small fee (or sometimes for free).
Inside of the temple, there is a famous image of Buddha known as Phra Singh, which means Lion Buddha located in the temple Wihan Lai Kham. Many Thai Buddhists come here as part of their pilgrimage to see this statue and celebrate Buddha.
OPENING TIMES: 6.00 AM to 5.30 PM
WAT CHEDI LUANG
Wat Chedi Luang built in 1441 is not as glorious as Wat Phra Singh, but to me, it was one of the most extraordinary temples. I really liked the cute elephant statues around the chedi and stupa.
There is a jade replica of Emerald Buddha (the original was moved to temple Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok). This replica was gifted by the Thai king in 1995. Wat Chedi was partly damaged due to an earthquake in 1545 and then in the 1990s repaired by UNESCO.
CULTURAL TIP: If you would like to learn more about Buddhism and have a conversation with actual monks then you need to join monk chat sessions. There is a tree around Wat Chedi, where monks chat from 9 AM to 6 PM every day.
OPENING TIMES: 6.00 AM to 6.30 PM every day
WAT PHAN TAO
It can be overwhelming what temples are located WHERE, but if you would like to find Wat Phan Tao, you need to look for a compound full of flapping orange flags.
WAT CHIANG MAN
The last temple you will explore today (we promise) is Wat Chaing Mai. I am sure you are already overwhelmed by all Chiang Mai temples, but you need to see the oldest temple in Chiang Mai built in 1296 with the oldest Buddha image made in the ancient Lanna Kingdom in 1464.
If you would like to learn more about temples from the locals then have a look at this tour: Chiang Mai: Temples & Culture Tour
You wouldn’t expect that Chiang Mai is famous for its coffee. At least not as famous as for mango sticky rice and curry, but to our surprise, Chiang Mai has a spectacular coffee scene. Our favorite coffee spot was Impresso and Zmoy cafe.
CHIANG’S MAI NIGHT BAZAR MARKET
If you wonder why we put the night market on your first day in Chaing Mai, well, we have a plan. The reason is that here you will get some cool Thai pants. Yes, you need them!
Thai pants are some of the most popular souvenirs you can take home from Thailand. And even better, you will use them for your second day in Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai’s night bazaar is one of the most famous markets in Thailand and it is located on the Chang Khlan road. The best thing about it that it is open every single night. And here you can get almost everything.
As the name says, it opens after sundown around 6 PM and it usually closes around 11.30 PM.
Haggling is king here, so definitely don’t be shy to fight for the best prices, but also do not be cheap and disrespectful. For many locals, this is the only way to generate income.
DAY 2 IN CHIANG MAI
The second day on your Chiang Mai itinerary will take you to a jungle. We are leaving the city of Chiang Mai (for now) and heading to meet some of the most iconic creatures in Thailand.
Let’s have a little break from the city and let’s get some clean air out in the nature. Everyone who comes to Thailand would like to see elephants.
There is no doubt that you need to visit one of the elephant sanctuaries during your 3 days in Chiang Mai, and with this itinerary, you can learn more about which sanctuary to visit.
Your Chiang Mai itinerary wouldn’t be completed without getting close to these beautiful creatures, but, do not take the first tour you are being offered by some stranger. Unfortunately, there are still many places in Chiang Mai that offer elephant riding and so-called elephant circuses for tourists. These places are cruel, people who work there treat animals poorly, hitting and hurting them. By going to places like this, you are supporting organizations that are responsible for elephant mistreatment and reducing their population.
We don’t want to sound strict and negative, but elephant riding is a big problem and many people, do not realize that this is actually a bad thing.
So luckily, there are also many other parks that are treating elephants with love and providing them with what they need: safe environments, food, and love.
Which one is the best elephant sanctuary to visit in Chiang Mai?
We are not sure which one ranks as the best one, but again choose the one which is eco-friendly and does not offer any elephant riding.
Here are some of the sanctuary parks that you can choose from. They are more or less the same and your day trip would be filled with feeding elephants with sugar canes and bananas, walking next to them and admiring their cuteness, take some photos, and at the end of your day, you can bath with them and scratch their backs. And if you are doing a great job, an elephant will sprinkle some water on you. And that is true happiness (for both parties).
One of the most famous elephant parks is Elephant Nature Park. It was one of the first sanctuaries that started rescueing elephants in Chiang Mai and providing safe environments for elephants.
EXTRA TIP: Elephant Nature Park is often booked out, so you need to make your reservation far in advance. We didn’t get any spot and we were looking 1 month in advance. You can also become a volunteer and work there if you like. You only need to apply on their website.
Pooh Ecotrekking: This is a lovely trekking tour as the name says, offering hill tribe treks and of course other different tours.
Would you like to know how we plan our travels? It is not as difficult as you think. Check out these 20 steps on how to create a great itinerary.
EVENING COOKING COURSE
The next cool thing on your Chiang Mai itinerary is a culinary experience. Well, you must be starving by now so we prepared for you a great way how to finish your day. And what can be better than eating some authentic Thai food?
The best thing is that it will be cooked by you. Yes! You will be learning how to prepare delicious Thai food, so you can cook it at home once you are back.
Chiang Mai has many cooking classes, and it can be overwhelming to choose which one is the best one. Honestly speaking there are tons of great cooking classes so we won’t bore you with an endless list. But, we would like to share with you the awesome experience we had with Samy’s cooking class.
You can choose if you would like to do the morning or evening cooking class. You will be picked up at your hotel and your first stop will be at a typical Thai market. Yes, you will be learning what herbs, veggies and other ingredients you need to cook the most famous Thai dishes.
If you would like to know more about the cooking class, then have a look at our guide where we mention all the details and especially, what we cooked.
Most of the cooking classes include a tour around a local market, how to prepare 3 dishes and you will be also gifted with a small cooking book at the end at Samy’s cooking class.
DAY 3 IN CHIANG MAI
So you probably feel like a local by now, you have seen some of the most beautiful temples, you fed elephants, and you even learned how to cook authentic Thai food. The first 2 days in Chiang Mai were hectic, and now it’s time for you to slow down.
On your third day in Chiang Mai, you will enjoy some of the most fantastic views of the city and relax.
DUI SUTHEP TEMPLE
Wat Phra That Dui Suthep or simple Dui Suthep is one of the most sacred temples in Northern Thailand. If you would like to go to the top of Dui Suthep you need to walk up a staircase with 306 steps that is beautifully decorated.
Dui Suthep is indeed one of our favorite temples we visited in Chiang Mai. The whole compound is a pure beauty filled with blinky ornaments and many Buddha statues and paintings.
And the cherry on top is the view over Chiang Mai.
EXTRA TIP: The best way how to get to the Dui Suthep is to take a red van a so-called Songthaew. The round trip should cost you around 200 Baht and it will take around 40 minutes to reach the temple. Make sure to ask your hotel where is the nearest stop to catch a Songthaew (Dui Suthep is usually displayed somewhere on the Songthaew). Alternatively, I would get a Grab, a tuk-tuk or a taxi.
Once you arrive at the Dui Suthep, there is a large parking lot, so make sure to communicate with your driver where s/he should be waiting for you.
OPENING TIMES: EVERY DAY, from 5.00 AM to 9.00 PM
Monk Chat Hours: Daily 1-3 PM
After all day walking, it’s time for you to have some relaxation. You definitely deserve it.
There are many places where you can have all kind of massages in Chiang Mai.
If you happen to be in Chiang Mai on Sunday you can visit the Sunday walking market that starts at Tha Pae Gate. Here you can find a tented massage area and enjoy your time getting spoiled after all that walking and exploring. And you deserve it, running around Chiang Mai for 3 days, well done.
There is a very similar market going on Saturday night, and it is stretching through Wualai road from the South Gate and all the way to the Silver Temple.
SEE MORE: BEST BEACHES AND ISLAND TRIPS IN KRABI
CHIANG MAI 4-5 DAYS ITINERARY
MORE THAN 3 DAYS IN CHIANG MAI?
If you have more than 3 days in Chiang ( lucky you ) and you can add some coll spot to your itinerary, then here are some inspirational trips you can take.
DAY TRIP TO CHIANG RAI
Chiang Rai is about 3 hours driving from Chiang Mai and is perfectly doable to visit it on a day trip. It is a lot of driving and you will spend around 6 hours in the car, but it is definitely worth it. Otherwise, you can come to Chiang for 1 night. And trust us, there is nothing like Wat Rong Khun aka White Temple of Thailand.
From Chiang Mai: White Temple & Golden Triangle Day Trip
CHECK ALL THE HOTELS IN CHIANG RAI
CHIANG MAI LANTERN FESTIVAL
I think the most magical time to visit Chiang Mia is during certain days in November when the famous Yi Peng and Loi Krathong festival is on.
Yi Peng or also called Yee Peng is one of the most magical festivals of all time. Yi Peng festival takes place on the second full moon of the Lanna calendar and that is why every year there are different dates. We found it a bit challenging to find an exact date. We had luck with checking the Tourism Authority of Thailand revealing the program of the Yee Peng lantern festival.
Photos of lit lanterns in the air are very well known and definitely some of the most unique experiences you can have in Thailand.
We were so lucky to visit Chaing Mai during the Yee Peng and Loi Krathong. And honestly, we would go again.
Acknowledgment: We know that are some leftovers of the lanterns are getting dumped at the rice fields and polluting air and waters. However, Chiang Mai city understands the situation and after the festival, there is a huge cleanup team to collect the rest of the leftovers that fall down. Also, 94% of the lanterns are made from biodegradable rice paper bags, so it’s not plastic as many people think.
Every year the dates for the lantern festival differ, so please check the exact dates online.
If you are visiting Chiang Mai in February, then you are in luck and can admire some of the most beautiful flower shows. You can see many performances and enjoy a flower parade that is happening from Nawarat Bridge to Suan Buak Hat.
Another awesome and definitely unique things to do in Chiang Mai is to learn the advantages of meditation. Many travelers who come to Chiang Mai are interested in joining a meditation retreat. The days vary and you can choose from many different programs that will teach how to meditate and also combine it with yoga. So if you have extra time, then add meditation retreat into your next itinerary to Chiang Mai.
WHAT NOT TO DO IN CHIANG MAI
If you are visiting in general Thailand, there are certain things you should know. Do not skip this part of our Chiang Mai itinerary, especially if its your first time in Thailand.
DO NOT SUPPORT ANIMAL CIRCUSES!!!
Probably you have seen some photos of people riding elephants, elephants painting a picture or cute and friendly tigers. Please do not support these terrible places and do not add them to your Chiang Mai itinerary.
These elephants are being treated very poorly, chained most of the time, and beaten up during the “shows.” And these cute friendly tigers? They are being drugged every single day to make sure that tourists will take pictures with them.
DO NOT SKIP STREET FOOD
If you are coming to Thailand, you need to try the street food. Do not only stick to your hotels and restaurants. Go out there and explore what the streets of Thailand have to offer.
I know you might be scared a bit, especially if it’s your first time in Thailand, and wonder about hygiene and all other things, but trust us. Street food is the best food in Thailand. So do not skip on street food in Chiang Mai. You will see little tuk-tuks and food trucks everywhere, so go out there and enjoy it.
We hope that you got your Thai pants from the night market, so use them. Maybe you are not that religious, but since you are visiting another country, you should respect local customs. And under no circumstances walk into a Buddhist temple with shoes on and dressed unethically. Make sure to wear a sarong, or wear clothes that cover your shoulders and something long that covers your legs (at least below your knees).
WHERE TO STAY IN CHIANG MAI
Chiang Mai has so many accommodations suitable for every traveler with any budget. We can recommend to stay in the area of Ban Sathaphon. Most of the tourists are staying in the Old City which is pricier but also very central.
We loved staying in Sunshine House. We stayed there during each of our two visits and we totally love it. The location is perfect and there are many cute restaurants and you can get street food very easily. The rooms are clean, affordable and it has working wifi.
CHECK ALL HOTELS IN CHIANG MAI
MIDDLE RANGE: If you would like to stay in a place with a swimming pool and have more budget available, definitely check out Rainforest Chiang Mai Hotel. Alternatively, have a look at the Gordnuea Boutique House which is located very close to the Sunday walking market.
WHEN TO VISIT CHIANG MAI
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is during the dry season. During months from the end of October till the end of February, you will have sunny days with a minimum of rainfall per day. However, temperatures are high during the whole year.
If you are visiting during the Lantern festival be aware that the prices for hotels are much higher and booked out in advance.
IS CHIANG MAI SAFE?
We felt very safe in Chiang Mai as we did in all of Thailand. Thailand has some of the friendliest locals and there is no real danger for tourists. However, as everywhere in this world you should be careful with your belongings. Thieves are everywhere and you never know. Also as a tourist, you need to be careful and not always agree on the first offer you get.
Many locals who are in the tourist business are taking advantage of first-time travelers and overcharging them. For an average single man (we know one), you can also be taken advantage of if you go out, so be aware of how much you drink. Petty theft can happen especially at night and when you are drunk. The next day you wake up and your waller is empty. Blame it on pretty Thai ladies or ladyboys.
WHAT TO PACK?
MOSQUITO REPELLANT: Definitely something you need to bring with you to prevent mosquitoes attacking you during your elephant track.
BREATHABLE CLOTHES: The weather in Chiang Mai is hot and humid and especially when you are visiting temples it is nice to wear breathable clothes.
SCARF: If you do not want to borrow sarong all the time, then here is a trick. You can carry your scarf in the bag and use it to cover your shoulders (if you wear a long dress or pants).
SUNCREAM: One of the most important items is definitely suncream. Make sure to apply it before you wandering. If you are an ocean lover (hope you are) then try using Raw Elements sun creams, as they are chemical-free and perfect for the ocean and do not harm marine life (use Gigi10 for 10% off ).
CAMERA: If you would like to know what do we carry in our camera bag, then check our out article on our favorite photography must-haves.
That is all from us and we hope that you will enjoy our Chiang Mai itinerary. We really love Chiang Mai and we can’t wait to go back there. Please let us know if you have any questions in the comments or message us on Instagram. Enjoy your 3 days in Chiang Mai!!!
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