Chiang Mai is a must-do spot for many travelers to Thailand, with good reason. Known for its rich history, an abundance of temples, and incredible nature, this city has it all. This culture hub is to be noticed, and this Chiang Mai Itinerary will let you experience it all.
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I may be slightly biased because I spent 1 year living in Chiang Mai, but it’s the best city in Thailand! I had so much time to explore this city I call home and found the BEST spots, from popular tourist attractions worth the hype to hidden gems only Thai locals know about.
How Many Days Do You Need in Chiang Mai, Thailand for your Chiang Mai Itinerary?
3 or 4 Days is the perfect amount of time to visit Chiang Mai for most visitors. With a 3 or 4-day Chiang Mai Itinerary, you have enough time to see the major sights, play with elephants, and get a feel of this unique northern city. You may also be able to have a day trip to the mountains!
If you’re short on time, a 2 day Chiang Mai Itinerary will suffice. Anything less than 2 days, you probably won’t be able to do much. With 2 days in Chiang Mai itinerary, you will have just enough time to see the temples and experience northern Thai culture.
And let me tell you, Northern Thailand is very different from Bangkok and Southern Thailand.
A 5 day Chiang Mai Itinerary or more, allows you plenty of time to see the best sights in the city, play with elephants, head up to the mountains, and more!
Although, as a local, I truly believe no amount of time is enough in this magical city.
After all, Chiang Mai has a massive expat culture. Meaning, many English speakers choose to spend weeks, months, or years in Chiang Mai working from their computers or enjoying retirement.
But, as a casual visitor in Chiang Mai, 3-5 days in this city is the perfect amount to taste all it has to offer.
Overview of Chiang Mai, Thailand
As the fourth largest city in Thailand, you may be surprised to hear that Chiang Mai is actually quite small. Everything is accessible by walking or a quick 10-minute drive away.
The city is divided into the Old Town and New Town.
The Old Town is the historic part of the city, where you will find many temples, tourist shops, markets, and quaint curvy streets. The Old Town is separated from the rest of Chiang Mai by a moat and city walls.
The Old Town is in the shape of a perfect square, and is easily accessible, which makes it a great place to stay.
The New Town is a bit more complicated as it’s divided into sub-sections. The new town is where you will find modern malls and luxury conveniences, a few temples, and local housing.
Chaing Mai is famous for its high density of temples. Many years ago, Chiang Mai was the capital of Thailand for 500 years, which is the reason for this. There are over 300 temples in this city!
Most of the temples are found inside of old town, but there are many throughout the city.
How To Get To Chiang Mai, Thailand
The beauty of Chiang Mai is its accessibility. Although located in the mountainous Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is well connected to every city in Thailand and very English-speaker friendly.
Getting to Chiang Mai is very easy because there is an abundance of planes, trains, and buses.
How to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai
There are 3 ways to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, airplane, train, and bus. These three modes of transit are easy to use and offer multiple times a day to travel.
Fly from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Chiang Mai Itinerary)
Flying from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is the easiest and most time-efficient way to travel between these two tourist hubs. Although, this is the most expensive option, booking the flight in advance could actually make it cheaper than the train or bus.
There are two major airports in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi Airport and Don Mueang Airport. Both of these airports have plenty of flights every day to take you to Chiang Mai.
Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) To Chiang Mai Airport (CNX)
The Suvarnabhumi Airport is farther from the city center of Bangkok but is easily accessible on the BTS or by taxi.
If you are traveling alone, riding the BTS to BKK airport will be the cheapest option. If you are with a group consider downloading the app “grab” to call a taxi. (Taxi app in Thailand similar to Uber or Lyft)
The BKK airport is the bigger and nicer airport of the two. I generally prefer this airport because the terminal is newer.
Don Mueang (DMK) To Chiang Mai Airport (CNX)
The Don Mueang airport is closer to the city center of Bangkok but can be harder to reach. To get here, it’s easier to get a taxi or use the Grab mobile app.
This airport is known as a budget-friendly airport and has fewer international flights than the bigger BKK airport. But, I find the airports to provide similar prices on airfares.
Train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Chiang Mai Itinerary)
Taking the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai offers a convenient way to travel without the hassle of going all the way to the airport. There are two train stations in Bangkok and both are conveniently located.
Admittedly, this mode of transportation can be trickier to figure out than the airport, which is pretty straightforward.
Nonetheless, the train can provide a luxurious or budget-friendly way to travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The train ride is about 14 hours but is frequently delayed.
The overnight train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a popular way to get between the two cities because you save on a night’s accommodation!
Book online, or download the travel app “12goasia” to book your train. This website will provide you with train schedules and bus schedules.
When booking the train, there are several classes and types of seats. The cheapest ones usually don’t have air conditioning. Be aware!
There are a few train stops within Bangkok, be sure to research what stop is closest to you.
Bus from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (Chiang Mai Itinerary)
I highly recommend flying or taking a train between these two cities, but sometimes a bus is all that’s left! During the busy season, this route is very popular, and many times you’ll be left with a bus as your only option.
Do not fear! I did plenty of overnight buses during my time in Thailand, and they are just fine. Although you cannot lay flat, the seats recline a lot and there are blankets and snacks provided.
The bus journey is around 10 hours, making it less than the train. The overnight bus is the way to go as you can sleep during most of the travel day.
How to get from The South of Thailand to Chiang Mai
If you are traveling from outside of Bangkok to Chiang Mai, you will usually have to use Bangkok as your connector.
Fly from Southern Thailand to Chiang Mai
If you are traveling from the south of Thailand to Chiang Mai, there are nonstop flights from select airports such as Krabi, Phuket, and Surat Thani. Depending on the season, these vary.
Train and Bus from Southern Thailand to Chiang Mai
Southern Thailand is quite far from Northern Thailand. Although it is a quick 2-hour flight, traveling by train or bus can take nearly 24 hours.
The train and bus will first need to connect you to Bangkok, from there you can follow the Bangkok to Chiang Mai instructions. There are very few buses from the South that are nonstop to Chiang Mai. Of course, always check 12go.asia (LINK!!!) for the best route.
How To Get Around Chiang Mai, Thailand – Chiang Mai Itinerary
Yay, you did it! You made it to Chiang Mai! As previously mentioned, Chiang Mai is a very small and compact city. If you stay in the Old Town, you will have everything you need near you. But, sometimes you want to get out and explore.
There are many options for getting around Chiang Mai Thailand.
These red trucks are the best way to get around Chiang Mai if you are not comfortable renting a motorbike. They also accommodate large groups and can travel far. These are great for any distance, but especially the ones a bit farther.
Songtaews charge per person. Usually, there is a sign on the truck, but sometimes you need to negotiate with the driver.
These are perfect to book for a day trip or to get up in the mountains, like Doi Sutep.
These little motorbikes with a seat in the back usually accommodate between 1-4 people. Tuk Tuk’s charges a price per distance, not per person.
These are the most expensive ways to get around, but they are convenient. I would never recommend a tuk-tuk unless you want it for the experience.
Rent a Motorbike in Chiang Mai
If you are feeling adventurous and brave, consider renting a motorbike.
I say this with caution, as they are very dangerous.
Many travelers who are inexperienced riding motorcycles or motorbikes rent these backs without understanding how to drive them and the rules of the road in Thailand. This leads to many crashes.
If you have experience riding motorbikes, then this is by far the best way to get around Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is a relatively easier city to drive in than Bangkok or the south, in my experience.
When renting a motorbike, they usually take a copy of your passport and ask for a security deposit, which you get back upon returning the bike.
Depending on the amount of driving you are doing, this could save you money. But, I think it’s worth it for the freedom.
Last, but definitely not least, is walking. Chiang Mai is a very walkable city with sidewalks connecting everywhere in town. Many places you can walk to without needing a songtaew, tuk-tuk, or motorbike.
Plus, walking allows you to take in the magic of Chiang Mai. This city is so special because of all the detail in every building and corner. There are so many hidden spots and cafes (especially in the old town) that you might miss if you are driving everywhere!
3-5 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary
This itinerary is based on my 1 year spent living in Chiang Mai. This itinerary will take you to the tourist spots worth the hype and hidden gems only locals know about.
Chiang Mai Itinerary Day 1: Explore the Old City, Monk’s Trail Hike, Night Market
On your first day of your Chiang Mai Itinerary, you will settle into Chiang Mai, head out to one of their beautiful cafes, head up on a hike to a temple, and experience a northern Thailand night market. Let’s get started!
Morning: Arrive in Chiang Mai
Arrive in Chiang Mai and immediately head out to breakfast/brunch.
The lure of Chiang Mai is in its relaxed atmosphere, it’s the exact opposite of Bangkok. So, in typical Chiang Mai style, begin your trip by slowing down and enjoying the atmosphere.
You will find SO many cafes in the north. The cafe culture here is unmatched in Thailand.
Here are a few of my favorite cafes for breakfast and brunch in Chiang Mai’s old town.
- Breakfast World – The ultimate breakfast cafe with a large menu. It caters to tourists, so you’ll find plenty of comfort food from your home. Plus the atmosphere is awesome!
- Khun Kae’s Smoothie – The BEST smoothie place in Chiang Mai. Affordable smoothies, smoothie bowls, and juices. It’s one of my favorite places for a refreshing breakfast.
- Fern Forest – Also accommodating many of your favorite foods from home, this cafe has a beautiful outdoor patio that’s worth visiting.
Afternoon: Hike the Monk’s Trail
Next on the list is a gorgeous hike up to a temple. With a 3-5 day Chiang Mai itinerary, you have time to do lesser-known activities. The Monk’s Trail is my favorite hidden gem in the city!
This trail is located next to the Chiang Mai Zoo, and it’s best to rent a scooter or a songtaew to get you there. You’ll be in good company at the start of the trail, as it is heavily trafficked with tourists.
The Monk’s Trail, or Wat Pha Lat Hike, is about a 45-minute hike to the temple. Once you reach the temple enjoy the beautiful grounds. At the temple, you can also enjoy a beautiful view of the city at the top.
Be sure to wear or pack temple-appropriate clothes and water for this adventure.
Evening: Night Bazaar or Sat/Sun market
In the evening, you have a few options depending on the day of the week.
Saturday Night Market Chiang Mai: If it’s a Saturday, head to the Saturday night market! This Chiang Mai night market happens every Saturday at the south end of the old town, just outside of the city moat.
Sunday Night Market Chiang Mai: The biggest night market in Chiang Mai, the Sunday night market is a must-do! Every Sunday, the Old Town of Chiang Mai is closed off to drivers and the night market happens! This market is huge and you can find everything here. There are loads of performers and it is a great atmosphere.
The Sunday Night Market begins at Tha Phae Gate and continues along the road for many miles.
Night Bazaar: If you are visiting on a weekday, the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is the place to be. The Night Bazaar happens every night (although on weekends many of the vendors head to the other night markets) and if full of food, drinks, and shopping.
The Night Bazaar is located outside of the old town. To get here, it’s best to take a Songtaew or Tuk Tuk. Or, if your accommodation is near Tha Phae Gate, it’s only a 10-15 minute walk.
Chiang Mai Itinerary Day 2 – Temple Day/ Cooking Class
Day two of your Chiang Mai itinerary is filled with the northern Thailand culture. From temples, to food, you will have a day of discovery. Let’s begin.
Morning: Sunrise at Doi Suthep
You’ll start your (very) early morning heading to Doi Suthep for sunrise. Doi Sutep is a very famous temple on top of the mountain in Chiang Mai. This adventure is on every tourists Chiang Mai bucket list, making it one of the most popular tourist spots in the city.
So, as a local, I recommend you visit for sunrise.
After living in Chiang Mai for over a year, I was able to experience this temple at all times of day, and I can tell you it is pure magic in the morning.
You’ll want to reach the top, about 45 minutes before the scheduled sunrise. This is because the sun will rise earlier on top of the mountain and also taking in the city views at dusk is incredible.
After 9am, the temple becomes insanely crowded. Don’t get me wrong, its a wonderful temple at all times of day, but if you can visit in the morning you should. After all, yesterday hopefully was a bit of a more relaxing day to settle into the city.
To get to Doi Suthep, you will want to schedule a Songtaew in advance to take you to the top, book a sunrise tour, or drive a motorbike up.
You can book a Doi Suthep sunrise tour here. The tours are an added convenience for transportation and learning about Chiang Mai.
Afternoon: Khao Soi Lunch and Temples
Next, you’ll probably be hungry for lunch. Head to Khao Soi Mae Sai to try the famous Khao Soi!
Khao Soi is the popular thai dish of the north, and with good reason. Many travelers actually consider this to be their favorite food in all of southeast asia!
Khao Soi is coconut yellow curry with egg noodles and crispy fried egg noodles on top. Additionally, it comes with your choice of meat, but vegetarian options are usually available.
Khao Soi can be a little spicy, but most people should be able to handle the spice level.
Khao Soi Mae Sai is located near the north gate outside of old town. To get there it is best to walk. It also becomes very busy, so going early is a must! This shouldn’t be an issue considering the early morning!
Next, head out on an adventure to see some of the famous temples in Chiang Mai. Here are my favorites in Old Town or within walking distance.
- Wat Chedi Luang – These famous ruins are located in the center of old town and is unlike any others. This buddhist temple was built in 1441 and has so much character. Although you can see it from the street, to get good pictures its best to pay the entrance fee to go inside.
- Wat Lok Moli – A beautiful temple located just outside of the city walls. This temple is unique because of its coloring. With it’s silver and black facade it is a beautiful temple worth visiting.
- Wat Phra Singh – A tradition buddhist temple, this temple is nearby Wat Chedi Luang and is also a popular spot for tourists. This is probably the most popular temple in Chiang Mai
Evening: Cooking Class
A cooking class in Chiang Mai is a must do! The northern cuisine differs so much from the south and other parts of asia. The cooking classes here are incredible and an awesome way to meet locals and learn about the culture here.
Some of the cooking classes even take you to the market to get your ingredients.
If you are looking to book a cooking class, I highly recommend this one.
Day 3 – Elephants!
No trip to Chiang Mai is complete without seeing elephants. On day 3 of your Chiang Mai itinerary you’ll get up close to elephants and head out to the trendy side of town to experience the nightlife.
Morning and Afternoon: Elephants
Many tourists head to Chiang Mai to see the elephants. While this is a great experience, it’s important to be educated on your company before booking.
This means, understanding the care practices for the elephants. Although many company’s have changed their elephant care for the better, there are still many companies that have unethical practices.
Look for elephant companies that do not ride the elephants, that allow the elephants to play, and don’t use scare tactics to make them post for a photo.
I recommend Elephant Nature Park.
During your time with the elephants, you’ll get to see them up close, take photos with them, and learn more about these incredible animals! The tour has provided transportation and food included, which is always a bonus.
After your big elephant adventure, if you still have energy, it’s time to explore the hip and trendy area of Nimman. Nimman is where you’ll find more Thai locals, an upscale shopping mall, and many unique dining options.
This area will provided the modern day comoforts from home that you may be missing.
To get to Nimman, take a songtaew or Tuk Tuk. If you are staying in Old Town, this will be too far for you to walk.
Once you’re in Nimman, the world is your oyster to explore! Head to Maya Mall for a movie and shopping or One Nimman for a nice sit down restaurant. You’ll also find plenty of night life in this area.
Day 4 – Local Hidden Gems
Day 4 of your Chiang Mai itinerary will be full of hidden gems. Afterall, everything past day 3 is an added bonus! Chiang Mai is full of hidden gems. Days like this one are the reason I recommend spending more than 3 days in Chiang Mai.
The essence of Chiang Mai lives in its quirks, and today you’ll get to experience some of my favorite hidden gems in Chiang Mai, that only locals visit.
Today you can sleep in a bit and grab a sit down breakfast. By now, you’ve probably explored the area around your accommodation and you may be eyeballing a nearby spot to eat.
Grab a bite to eat before we head out on your big adventure for today.
Afternoon: Artist’s Village and Wat Umong
Around 11:00 am, head to the Artist’s Village (also known as Baan Kang Wat). Here you can immerse in Thai art, take cute pictures, and relax in the atmosphere.
To get to the artist’s village, you’ll want to arrange a songtaew in advance or drive your motorbike. It’s about a 20 minute drive south of the city.
I used to love taking my book here to read in a cafe. Additionally, here you can sign up for a class. They have all sorts of classes from pottery, to painting, to tye-dye classes. It really is a unique area that showcases the creativity of the Thai people.
Everywhere you turn here is a green urban oasis that is photo-worthly and all the hand made art here is supporting local.
Once you finish here, just a quick 5 minute drive away you’ll find Wat Umong. Wat Umong is one of the most unique and interest temples in a city filled with over 300 of them!
Wat Umong is an underground temple, with a cave-like system that feels otherworldly. Here you’ll find bats, shrines, and more. Also, the grounds here are gorgeous (as seen in the photos).
Buddhist temples are all beautiful, but this one is so unique and a hidden gem in Chiang Mai.
Evening: Dinner and a Massage
Once you arrive back in the city, head to dinner. I recommend Airniversary Camp and Cafe. It has a lovely patio on the upstairs. But, there are so many awesome places the eat, the choice is yours.
Once you’re done with dinner, consider getting a well-needed massage! A Thai massage should be on your bucket list during your time in this country and is a perfect way to round out day 4 of your Chiang Mai itinerary.
Day 5 – Day Trip
After exploring the city for 4 days on your Chiang Mai itinerary, you may be itching to get out into the mountains.
Lucky for you, today’s the day!
There are so many amazing day trips in Chiang Mai and nearby cities for a stop. Although some spots (like Chiang Rai and Pai) require more than a day-trip, there are still plenty of worthy day-trips from Chiang Mai nearby.
For these day trips, it’s best to book a Songtaew in advance.
These are my day-trip recommendations from Chiang Mai.
Option 1: Sticky Waterfall
Sticky Waterfall is a popular waterfall about a 2 hour drive from the city. This waterfall get’s its name because of the limestone rocks that are easy to climb. Here, you really can climb up a waterfall!
When visiting Sticky Waterfall it’s back to dress accordingly, meaning swim suits, water shoes, and mosquito spray!
Please note, it is okay to wear a bikini, although you will find many Thai’s are very modest while swimming.
Option 2: Mae Sa Valley
Okay, this day trip is epic, but only worth it if you are comfortable driving a motorbike.
Mae Sae Valley is a day trip motorbike loop north of the city. During this adventure you’ll catch spectacular views of the mountains and pass local spots. This activity isn’t for the faint of heart though, as the mountains and windy and steep in many parts.
Think Vietnams Ha Gang Loop, but on a smaller scale.
Option 3: Doi Inthanon
Did you know the tallest point in Thailand is near Chiang Mai?
Doi Inthanon is the tallest point in Thailand and an extremely popular way to spend a day here. When you google “Chiang Mai” the images results will probably show you Doi Inthanon.
Doi Inthanon is actually a large national park that covers a ton of land, but is also a point of interest. So, you’ll want to head to the Doi Inthanon gardens. Around this area, there is spectacular mountain views, many well-maintainted nature trails, and lots of wildlife.
Booking a tour is best, as it is a long adventure and takes the full day.
Where to Stay in Chaing Mai, Thailand
The best places to stay in Chiang Mai are inside the Old Town, Nimman, or the Night Bazaar. Although, I highly recommend staying inside of Old Town because of its walkability and abundance of things to do.
Let’s break down these three neighborhoods more.
I’ve harped on it alot here, but the old town has it all! This is the central hub and tourist area of Chiang Mai. It’s very walkable and home to many attractions and places to eat. If possible, book here.
The downside of old town is the space. Often, accommodation inside of old town are smaller and less luxurious, but there are some hidden gems inside of it. Because old town is compact into a small space, you won’t find any tall hotels here.
Nimman is a perfect place to stay if you want luxury. Here, you’ll find many luxurious accommodations with plenty to do. Nimman is home to shopping, upscale restaurants, and is the hip and trendy spot of Nimman. It’s also a popular spot amongst the expat community here!
The con’s to Nimman is the location. Although it is closer to the mountain, it’s not walkable towards the Old Town, which many people choose to spend a lot of time in. You’ll need some sort of transportation to talk you between the two.
This area has tons of hotels and affordable accommodations. You’ll find all price ranges of accommodations here, from luxurious hotels to budget hostels. In my opinion, this is not the area to stay in.
I feel this isn’t the best spot to stay because of the lack of things to do. This area is home to the Night Bazaar market and Chinatown, but you probably won’t be spending too much time there.
I would recommend staying in the old town or Nimman.
When to Visit Chiang Mai, Thailand
Northern Thailand weather can vary greatly from the other parts of Thailand. Here you’ll find less rain, cooler temperature, and burning season.
The best time to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand is from November – February. During these months you’ll have little to no rain, cooler temperatures, and you’re visiting just before the infamous “burning season”.
November – February is also the high season for tourists, so prices are at their highest. I personally think it’s worth the splurge to enjoy great weather.
On the opposite end, you should NOT visit Chiang Mai from March-May. This is the infamous burning season, where the air becomes very smokey and visibility is lowered.
Each year the burning season is different. Some years, it’s really bad, and others it’s okay. It’s best to avoid this time of year here all together though. The burning season causes low air quality which makes it impossible at times to see the mountain.
The rest of the year, from May – October is rainy season. During this season, temperatures are at their highest, but the rain cools it down. The rainy season is a nice time to visit Chiang Mai because the prices are lower. I also don’t think the rain slows down too many of the activities.
During the rainy season, you can expect rain everyday, but usually the showers only last a few minutes or a few hours. It’s not all day.
Holidays in Chiang Mai, Thailand
When planning your trip to Chiang Mai, there are many holidays to be aware of! I will go through a few of the biggest ones, but note that there are SO many holidays in Thailand.
All of the following holidays in Thailand are absolutely worth a visit, but will be more expensive!
Loy Krathong (Lantern Festival)
This famous lantern festival is a bucket list activity worth doing, and Chiang Mai is the best spot in the world to experience it.
Each year, during the first week of November, the latner festival begins and lasts a few days. The lanterns are let go outside of the city at night. Each lantern has a wish that is written on it, a wish for the upcoming year.
Simultaneously, during this time the festival crowds gather at the Yi Ping river to release floating baskets to let go of negative emotions and paying respect to the water spirits.
Songkran Festival (Water Festival)
Songkran Festival happens each year in mid-april and celebrates the Thai New Year! During this 3-day country-wide festival, everyone takes on the streets for a massive water fight! The water symbolizes a clean beginning to the new year.
This festival is absolutely insane, and SO much fun! Some of the best days of my life were during this festival.
Although Songkran can be celebrated anywhere in Thailand, Chiang Mai is one of the best spots to do it. Because of its walkability and higher popular, it makes for one massive party.
Although this festival is lesser-known to the Lantern Festival, this one is a much biggest festival for the thai people.
During the first week of Feburary, Chiang Mai celebrates the flower festival! This festival is not nearly as big as the other two, but is is beautiful. If you are visiting Chiang Mai during this time of year, consider checking it out.
What to Pack For Chiang Mai, Thailand
When packing for a trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, its important to consider the time of year you are visiting. Is it rainy season, burning season, or dry season?
Nonetheless, here are essentials to pack for a trip any time of year.
- Raincoat gear: The rain here is real, and you’ll wish you had a raincoat and water proof shoes. When it rains here, the streets often flood, so having water proof shoes is very useful.
- A Scarf: During your trip, you’ll be visiting loads of temples, and these temples have a dress code. At the temples you’ll need to cover up your shoulders to your knees. The scarf works as a cover for when you visit.
- Water Bottle: It’s HOT here, and you’ll be walking alot. Pack a water bottle
- Long Pants: The temples have a strict dress code, and you’ll need something to cover your knees. These can be loose and airy elephant pants!
- Sweater/ Long Sleeve: I know, Thailand is hot, but the early mornings in the mountains can become quite cold. Especially if you plan to visit Doi Suthep in the morning.
In conclusion, Chiang Mai is a magical city in Northern Thailand with so much to do! This 3-5 day Chiang Mai itinerary takes you to the best spots and hidden gems in the city from a local’s point of view.
This city is magical, and I hope you feel it too when you visit.
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