Things to do in Chiang Mai
Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep
Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is the most famous temple of Chiang Mai. It is located on Doi Suthep, the mountain overlooking Chiang Mai. Rising 1676 metres above the city of Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep is one of the most revered religious destinations in Thailand. The temple dates back from the 14th century. Allegedly the famous naga staircase was constructed in 1557. Until about 80 years ago a trail through the forest was the only way to get to the temple. In 1934-1935 followers of Kruba Srivichai, the “engineer monk”, constructed a road leading up to the staircase. The best times to visit the temple are early morning and late afternoon. Visiting Wat Doi Suthep is one of THE things to do in Chiang Mai. It features in our Chiang Mai Highlights tour, amongst others.
Wat Chedi Luang
Wat Chedi Luang (Thai: วัดเจดีย์หลวง, lit. temple of the big stupa) is one of the most visited Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai. Its massive stupa is easily visible. The current temple grounds were originally made up of three temples — Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Ho Tham and Wat Sukmin. The seventh monarch of the Mangrai Dynasty, King Saen Muang Ma, constructed the great pagoda of Chedi Luang in the centre of the city of Chiang Mai in 1391. In 1545 however the upper 30 meters of the structure collapsed after an earthquake. In the early 1990s the Fine Arts Department reconstructed Wat Chedi Luang, at least partially financed by UNESCO and the Japanese government. A good time to visit Wat Chedi Luang is after dark when the crowds are gone and the Chedi is beautifully illuminated. The temple is featured in our Chiang Mai Temple day tour, amongst others.
Wat Chiang Man
The founder of Chiang Mai, King Mengrai, founded Wat Chiang Man in 1296 at the location of Wiang Nopburi, a fortified town of the Lawa people. From Wat Chiang Man Mengrai oversaw the construction of his new capital city. Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple of Chiang Mai and is a must-see attraction of Chiang Mai City tours or Chiang Mai Temple Tours. It features in our Buddhist temples of Chiang Mai tour. The temple houses several very old and revered Buddha statues. Its oldest structure is its “Elephant Chedi”, Chedi Chang Lom.
Wat Phra Singh
Wat Phra Singh dates back from the 14th century and is one of Chiang Mai’s most important temples. It is located within the old city walls. Wat Phra Singh is arguably one of the best examples of classic Lanna style temple architecture in Northern Thailand. One of the oldest structures is the chedi. It is decorated with elephant figures emerging from the chedi. Another impressive structure is the library, located on the right side if one enters the temple grounds. Built in the 15th century it was renovated in the 1920s by followers of the monk engineer Kruba Srivichai. Wat Phra Singh features in our Chiang Mai Highlights Tour.
Wat Suan Dok
Wat Suan Dok is one the most important and interesting temples of Chiang Mai. It houses the chedis in which the ashes of the Royal Family of Chiang Mai are interned. On the temple grounds an important Buddhist University is located. Wat Suan Dok is located west of the old city of Chiang Mai. It dates back to the 15th century. Wat Suan Dok literally means “Flower Garden Temple” because the temple area was once used as a flower garden by the ruler of Chiang Mai. Wat Suan Dok was built on a location of a fortified city of the Lawa people. The walls of this city are still visible.
Wat Srisuphan is located south of the old City of Chiang Mai. It is the main temple of the silversmith area, called Wualai. The temple is completely covered in silver. Even the statues of Buddha are covered in silver. Around the temple there are many silver manufacturing shops. On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evenings the temple organises a monk chat. Visitors can ask questions about Buddhism and meet with the monks. On the grounds of Wat Srisuphan there are nowadays many activities. You can try your hand as a silversmith and there are regular performances. It’s one of lesser-known temples but should be on Things to do in Chiang Mai list.
Wat Jed Yod
Wat Jed Yot is located northwest of the old City along the Super Highway Chiang Mai – Lampang (Highway 11), north of the intersection of Huay Kaew and Nimmanhaemin roads. King Tilokarat sent monks to Bagan in Burma to study the design of the Mahabodhi temple which is a copy of the Mahabodhi Temple of Bodh Gaya. This is the location in North India where Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, attained enlightenment.
Wat Phuak Hong
Wat Phuak Hong means “The Monastery of the Flight of Swans”. The temple is located in the southwest corner of the old city, not far from Jaeng Ku Ruang bastion of the old city walls and the Buak Had Park. It is a remarkable temple because of the shape of its chedi. This chedi is designed as a series of circular layers piled atop one another. Each layer contains niches in which are enshrined images of the Buddha, 52 in total. Wat Phuak Hong is overlooked by most tourists but has a special place in our hearts as one of the things to do in Chiang Mai.
Wat Muen San
Wat Muen San is a temple located in the Wualai area, south of the Old City. Wualai Road (or Wua Lai Village) is known for its skilled silversmiths. The temple is close to Wat Sri Suphan, which is also known as the “Silver Temple”. Wat Muen San is the lesser-known silver temple. It is less spectacular than Wat Sri Suphan but interesting in its own right and worth a visit. Wat Muen San aka Wat Mun San is also covered with ornate silver alloy relief work depicting religious figures, floral patterns and scenes from the life of Buddha. During World War Two the compound of the temple was used as a Japanese field hospital. There is a Japanese Memorial and a small museum about the Japanese presence and about the Wua Lai area.
Wat Mahawan is located just outside the Old City on Thapae Road. It is an attractive temple with both Lanna and Burmese style buildings and many sculptures of mythical creatures. Wat Mahawan comprises of a Lanna style viharn and ubosot, a large Burmese style chedi, a Ho Trai (library) and a large Burmese style brick viharn. The main viharn with its imposing multi tiered roof was built in 1865.
Wat Phrathat Hariphunchai
Wat Phrathat Hariphunchai is located in the town Lamphun, close to the Mae Kuang River. Lamphun is about 30kms south of Chiang Mai. Lamphun, one of was founded in the 9th century. It was the capital of the Mon Kingdom Hariphunchai. Wat Phrathat Hariphunchai’s earliest origins were in 897 when the then king of Hariphunchai is said to have built a stupa (now the central stupa) to house a hair of the Buddha. Hariphunchai King Athitayarai founded the present temple in 1044. The temple features in our Explore Authentic Lamphun and Wiang Kum Kam tour.
Wat Phan Tao
Wat Phan Tao is one of our favorite temples in Chiang Mai. It is one of the few remaining all teak wooden structures of its sort in the city. The oldest structures that were built at this location probably date back to the 14th century. The teak wooden viharn was constructed in the late 1870s from the wood from a dismantled throne hall of one of the rulers of Chiang Mai. Wat Phantao is a great place to visit during the Songkran and Loy Krathong festivals.
Great Activities in Chiang Mai
Trekking in Chiang Mai
Trekking is still one of the great activities in Chiang Mai. 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 hilltribes that inhabit the mountains of North Thailand are by now used to visiting tourists. Although there are now so many more things to do in Chiang Mai trekking still remains of our favoriet activities. A 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.
Cycling in Chiang Mai
Cycling is another great and healthy activity in Chiang Mai. There are now a number of companies offering bicycle tours in and around Chiang Mai. There are city tours available and there are also great tours in the countryside around Chiang Mai. You can have it flat but there are also real mountainbike trips on Doi Suthep. It’s a fantastic experience and the best way to get around. Our Active Chiang Mai package includes a great cycling tour.
Samlor (bicycle taxi) Tours in Chiang Mai
The samlor is the traditional bicycle taxi of Chiang Mai. It is threatened with “extinction”. There are now only about 70 samlors left in Chiang Mai 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!
Meeting elephants in Chiang Mai
The elephant has been an iconic animal for Thailand for centuries. Before World War Two a white elephant on a red background adorned the national flag. There are many opportunities to meet and observe elephants and even bathe with them. Around Chiang Mai there are numerous elephant camps, venues and sanctuaries. We only work with a couple of trusted places. Meeting elephants should be on your bucket list of things to do in Chiang Mai. The Chiang Dao Tribal Life and Elephant Experience is a great program.
Trekking in 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 hilltribe. 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 or camping on Doi Hua Sua, one of the mountain tops in the park. Definitely one of the things to do in Chiang Mai. Cloud Forests and Waterfalls of Doi Inthanon is a great tour.
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 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.
Great things to see in Chiang Mai
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 center 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 totally destroyed the markets in February, 1968. The markets were rebuilt and are still the most interesting and colorful markets in Chiang Mai. Kad Luang is one of the “must” things to see in Chiang Mai.
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 memorate the old Nawarat Bridge. The Iron Bridge is nicely illuminated after dark and is the object of many photoshoots.
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. Restoration of Thapae Gate took place as recent as the 1990s. It used to be a real gate. Thapae road ran through it all the way to Wat Phra Singh.
Wat Ket Museum
The Wat Ket Museum is a small museum on the terrain of the Wat Ket (also spelled 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 really 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.
Chansom Memorial Bridge
The Chansom Memorial Bridge is a footbridge across the Ping River, that connects the Kad Luang Market with the Wat Ket neighbourhood. 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.
Ban Jang Nak
Ban Jang Nak (บ้านจ๊างนัก) is located in the village Ban Buak Khang in San Kamphaeng District, Chiang Mai. The house belongs to local artist Petch Viriya. Ban Jang Nak literarilly 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 in the beginning of the 19th century to repopulate areas that were depopulated after decades of warfare in the aftermath of more than two centuries of Burmese occupation.
Elephant Parade is a social enterprise, founded by father and son Mark and Mike Spits from the Netherlands. 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 in Chiang Mai. Entrance is free.
Dara Academy Museum
In around 1875 missionaries from the US started a small class for Christian girls which was the starting point for the founding of the first Chiang Mai Girls’ School in 1879. The school was located on the Ping River, at the corner of Charoenrat and Charoen Muang Roads. Later it moved to its current location. It is the school with the highest enrollment in Thailand. The museum is well maintained and contains many unique pictures and exhibits. If you into history of Chiang Mai this is the place to go. Make sure you make an appointment before visiting.
Prince Royal’s College Museum
In 1887 American missionaries founded the “Chiang Mai Boys School” which was the first of its kind in Northern Thailand. Under the leadership of Rev.Dr.William Harris the school moved to its current location on Nawarat Road. It is a huge complex, one of the biggest schools in Thailand. The small museum is well maintained and has many great old pictures and exhibits. Again a must for those who are interested in the history of Chiang Mai. Opening times are not set so just make sure you go on a weekday. Highly recommended.