Things to do in Chiang Mai

Table of Contents

Chiang Mai, the Rose of the North

Chiang Mai is the most popular and interesting city in northern Thailand. It is the political and economic center of the North. The province has many cultural attractions, too many to put on our Things to do page. I made a separate page of Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai because there are so many temples of interest. I also made separate pages for historical buildings and heritage houses on Thapae road and Charoenprathet road.

Naga Stairway with dragons Buddhist temples
The Naga staircase to Wat Doi Suthep in the early morning

Trekking in Chiang Mai

Trekking is still one of the great activities. For many years tourists came especially to the north of Thailand to go trekking. When tourism started taking off in the 70s trekking was also one of the few that was being offered to tourists. The hill tribes that inhabit the mountains of North Thailand are by now used to visiting tourists. Although there are now so many more things to do,  trekking still remains our favorite activity. Multiple-day trekking is still one of the best Chiang Mai trips you can make. Certainly one of the things to do in Chiang Mai. Doi Inthanon is a great place to go trekking.

guide and children
Family trekking

Great cycling in Chiang Mai

Cycling is another great and healthy activity. There are now several companies offering bicycle tours in and around Chiang Mai. There are city tours available, and there are also great tours in the countryside. You can have it flat, but there are also real mountain bike trips on Doi Suthep. It’s a fantastic experience and the best way to get around. The McKean Senior Center is a fantastic place to ride bicycles.

Bicycle with two chedis in the background Wiang Tha Kan
Wat Klang Wiang with bicycle

Samlor (bicycle taxi) Tours

The samlor is the traditional bicycle taxi. It is threatened with “extinction”. There are only about 70 samlors left from the hundreds that were plying the streets in the early 70s. A project now tries to preserve the samlor as a Chiang Mai heritage by organizing tours. It’s a great way to explore Chiang Mai’s backstreets, and you support the mostly elderly drivers as well. Our handicrafts day tour includes a great samlor ride to some almost forgotten handicraft places. Highly recommended! Chiang Mai a la Carte offers a wide range of samlor tours. A samlor ride is included in this tour as well.

Samlor driver Daeng Chiang Mai
Samlor driver Daeng

Meeting elephants in Chiang Mai.

In the vicinity of Chiang Mai, there are numerous places where they keep elephants. We only work with the best and most responsible elephant sanctuaries. If you are not sure about your preferred elephant sanctuary. please ask us for advice.

Elephant and tourists
Elephant Care Center

Doi Inthanon National Park

Doi Inthanon is the highest mountain in Thailand. It is Doi Inthanon National Park. The park is about 1,5 to 2 hours drive from Chiang Mai. The national park has many spectacular waterfalls, great trekking trails, and lovely villages, mostly of the Karen hill tribe. Visiting Doi Inthanon can easily be done on a day tour out of Chiang Mai. If you have some time, we recommend staying overnight in the Karen village Ban Mae Klang Luang. Cloud Forests and Waterfalls of Doi Inthanon is a great tour.

Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail Doi Inthanon Hmong guide
Doi Inthanon Hmong guide

Thai Food Cooking Course

Thai food is world-famous. The Thai kitchen is one of the best in the world. Cooking classes and courses have mushroomed in Chiang Mai, and it has become quite difficult to find the right one. We can help you make the right choice. Most of the more affordable cooking courses are small group activities but there are also private courses at exclusive locations. Of course, these are more expensive. Please contact us so we can customize your tour. Try out our samlor food tour of Chiang Mai’s markets.

Man preparing sweets San Pakoy Market
Man making Khanom Khrok

Kad Luang (Warorot and Ton Lamyai Markets)

The Warorot and Ton Lamyai Markets are located on the Ping River. Together with the Wat Ket neighbourhood across the Ping River, this used to be the commercial centre of Chiang Mai until the railroad arrived in 1922. Until that time, all transportation was river-based. The markets are locally known as Kad Luang, which translates as “big market”. A devastating fire destroyed the markets in February 1968. The markets were rebuilt and are still the most interesting and colourful markets. Kad Luang is one of the “must-see” places in Chiang Mai.

Two female Warorot Market sellers Chiang Mai Tours
Warorot Market sellers

The Iron Bridge

The Iron Bridge is an iconic bridge across the Ping River. It is a one-way bridge for vehicles and pedestrians that looks like a railway bridge. The Iron Bridge was constructed after 1990 and looks similar to the steel Nawarat Bridge that was demolished in 1966. Many people think the Iron Bridge was constructed to commemorate the old Nawarat Bridge. The Iron Bridge is nicely illuminated after dark and is the object of many photoshoots. During our Chiang Mai Highlights Tour, you will pass the Iron Bridge.

Two samlors on the Iron Bridge Chiang Mai Heritage Tour
Samlors on the Iron Bridge

Old Chiang Mai City Walls and Gates

A moat circumvents the Old City of Chiang Mai. In the past, it was lined by a city wall. Parts of the city wall are still visible. There are five gates in the wall: Thapae, Suan Dok, Chang Phuak, Chiang Mai, and Suan Prung Gate. The last two are on the south side of the city wall. On the four corners are bastions or fortifications. The gates and the bastions have undergone restorations in the 20th century.

Thapae Gate is the most popular gate. It attracts many tourists. Restoration of the Thapae Gate took place as recently as the 1990s. It used to be a real gate. Thapae road ran through it all the way to Wat Phra Singh.

Chiang Mai Thapae Gate
Thapae Gate

Wat Ket Museum

The Wat Ket Museum is a small museum on the Wat Ket’s terrain (also spelt Wat Gate sometimes) Karaam Temple. It’s located close to the Ping River in the Wat Ket neighbourhood. Jack Bain founded the museum. Jack was the son of William Bain, the last manager of the Borneo Company. The compound of this company was in the Wat Ket neighbourhood.

The museum is worth a visit. It contains lots of exhibits and old pictures of Chiang Mai. Most of it is under a thick layer of dust which gives the museum a special attraction.

Inside a museum
The dusty but fascinating interior of the Wat Ket Museum

Chansom Memorial Bridge

The Chansom Memorial Bridge is a footbridge across the Ping River, that connects the Kad Luang Market with the Wat Ket neighborhood. At this location, the first bridge across the Ping River was constructed in the late 19th century. This bridge collapsed in 1932. A Sikh businessman from the Kad Luang Market financed the construction of a footbridge here in 1966. He did this to commemorate his late wife, called Chansom. That bridge was demolished in 2012 after being damaged by floods in 2011. A new bridge was constructed and opened in 2016.

Monks on a foot bridge
Monks on the Chansom Memorial Bridge. Picture by Roy Cavanagh.

Ban Jang Nak

Ban Jang Nak is located in the village Ban Buak Khang in San Kamphaeng District. The house belongs to local artist Petch Viriya. Ban Jang Nak literally means “house of many elephants”, and many elephants there are. Ban Buak Khang is a Tai Yong village. Petch himself is Tai Yong.

The Tai Yong were forcibly resettled in Chiang Mai province at the beginning of the 19th century to repopulate areas depopulated after decades of warfare in the aftermath of more than two centuries of Burmese occupation.

Many wooden elephants
Baan Jang Nak elephants on display

Elephant Parade

Elephant Parade is a social enterprise, founded by father and son Mark and Mike Spits from the Netherlands. They sold the company a couple of years ago.

Elephant Parade produces statues of elephants as well as events around the world in which these statues feature. Elephant Parade wants to raise awareness of the plight of the Asian Elephant. The Asian Elephant is an endangered species. Elephant Parade donates a percentage of its profit to elephant conservation.

At Elephant Parade Land you can visit the museum, movie room, and library, enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of our production studio and see the garden filled with colorful life-size baby elephant statues. Elephant Parade Land is one of the great things to do. The entrance is free.

Shop with colorful elephants
Elephant Parade

Wiang Kum Kam

Although it probably was known already for a long time, the excavations of Wiang Kum Kam started in the 1980s. It is possible that the extent of the ruins of this ancient city became only clear after research. For decades the Fine Arts Department worked on the excavation of ruins and other remains of the settlement that preceded the foundation of Chiang Mai. There is now an excellent visitor center from where you can tour some of the most interesting ruins by horse cart.

old Buddha statue Wiang Kum Kam
Buddha statue Wiang Kum Kam

McKean Senior Center

James McKean (1860-1949) was an American doctor of the Presbyterian Mission who founded the Chiangmai Leper Asylum in 1908. It was the first leprosy center in Thailand. It was a time when leprosy sufferers were usually rejected from their homes and community. The ruler of Chiang Mai donated the land to establish the asylum.

When I arrived in Chiang Mai in 1998 the center was known as McKean Rehabilitation Center. It treats and houses physically handicapped people. Currently, it is called McKean Senior Center. It is a very large compound with historical buildings and centuries-old trees. There is very little traffic, so ideal for bicycle tours. McKean should be included in the UNESCO World Heritage. The physical therapy at McKean is excellent. I speak from personal experience.

Roman style building
McCLanahan Memorial at McKean

The Gymkhana Club

The word Gymkhana means a place where athletic contests or games are held. In 1898 fourteen men founded the Gymkhana Club because they want a place to socialize and play sports. Most of them were employees of British companies that were involved in the teak industry. For the ex-pat community of Chiang Mai, the club became a social meeting place. In the restaurant of the club, you can find group pictures that were taken before World War Two.

Nowadays the people who frequent the Gymkhana are not only ex-pats but also lots of Thai people. The club has a nine-hole golf course and tennis courts. It is the venue of the annual Cricket Sixes tournament. The compound of the Club has centuries-old trees and is a beautiful oasis.

Group of people at monument
Tour of Gymkhana Club

Map of Chiang Mai province

Our Chiang Mai tours