Chiang Mai, Thailand saw over 10.8 million tourists in 2019. This tourist hub city is popular for a reason, it’s a cultural hub of Thailand! But, many don’t take the time to explore the surrounding area of this amazing city.
After spending over a year living and working in Chiang Mai, I completed my fair share of day trips from Chiang Mai. Some of which, I learned through my local Thai friends. I got to know this city pretty well and today I’d love to share with you my favorite spots around Northern Thailand.
In this guide, I’ll cover the top 20 best day trips from Chiang Mai from small local villages to outdoor adventures. I’ll also include insider tips that you won’t have heard before.
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20 Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai
Mae Sa Waterfall
The first on the list of best day trips from Chiang Mai is Mae Sa Waterfall. This beautiful waterfall is a quick 35-minute drive from the center of the old town of Chiang Mai. The waterfall consists of several tiers, the first one being a good spot to swim and relax, if the weather is right. They have bathroom facilities and clean boardwalks to explore the falls.
The Mae Sa Waterfall is known for its natural beauty, featuring multiple cascades and pools set against a backdrop of tropical rainforests. The lush surroundings make it a great spot for photography, picnics, and nature enthusiasts.
The best time to visit here is during the rainy season because it’s when the waterfall will be at its fullest. The easiest way to get here is to rent a motorbike or songtaew for the day.
Mae Sa Waterfall is located inside of Doi Suthep-Pui National Park, which means there is an entrance fee. If you’re not from Thailand, you will pay more as well, as this is a standard practice in Thailand.
Pack your bathing suits because Sticky Waterfall is one of the most popular day trips from Chiang Mai. This unique waterfall works in reverse, you get to climb up the waterfall! Located in the Namtok Bua Tong-Nam Phu Chet Si National Park, it’s easy to spend a half-day here exploring the waterfall.
This waterfall isn’t actually “sticky”. It gets its name because of the rock’s grip. The rock is made with minerals that allow it to be non-slip. There are over 3 layers to this beautiful white rock to climb.
This day trip is so much fun, and also best done during the rainy season. Once you arrive, there’s so much to do! You can spend hours playing in the waterfall, enjoy a quiet nature trail, and explore caves!
To get here, it’s best to rent a songtaew for the day to drive you. It’s over a 1-hour drive on a main highway and then through a dense forest.
Doi Inthanon National Park Summit
When googling “things to do in Chiang Mai” pictures of the Doi Inthanon National Park Summit are the first to come up. Doi Inthanon National Park is home to the tallest peak in Thailand, and you can drive there!
This easily accessible mountain summit is one of the top day trips from Chiang Mai. Here, you can see vast views of mountains, explore beautiful gardens, hike, and walk along beautiful nature boardwalks.
This day trip is best done in a guided tour. I like the guided tours for this day trip because they will give you lots of interesting details about the land, and ensure a smooth travel day.
When visiting, make sure to see the King and Queen’s Pagoda and wear temple-appropriate attire. Additionally, since this is in a national park, there are lots of waterfalls and trekking around. A day trip here is a full day of fun!
Huay Tung Tao Lake
This interesting day trip from Chiang Mai is a local spot just outside the city, about 45 minutes on motorbike. At Huay Tung Tao Lake, you can find sculptures of interesting animals that you can climb in, relax and swim in lakes, and go on a great hike to see the beautiful Huay Tung Tao Waterfall.
This day trip can easily be completed on a motorbike.
When visiting here, I recommend starting early with a hike up to Huay Tung Tao. This hike is a moderate hike that takes about 2 hours to complete. Once you’re at the top, you are rewarded with a tall waterfall that is great for pictures!
After you’ve completed your hike, on your drive back to Chiang Mai you will notice lots of little huts along the lake. This is actually a restaurant! This restaurant is super Thai, and little English is spoken, but it’s lovely!
Have a seat in any of the small huts and enjoy your lunch along the water. However, you may need Google Translate to help you order your meal.
The obvious day trip from Chiang Mai is to summit Doi Suthep. Doi Suthep is a Thai temple on top of the closest mountain to the city. Although it feels like it’s close to the city, it’s actually about a 45-minute drive up to the top!
This is one of the top tourist attractions in Chiang Mai, with reason. I mean this place is stunning! I visited multiple times when I lived in Chiang Mai for a year. But, for the best experience, visit at sunrise.
Sunrise at Doi Suthep can be done alone or via a guided tour. Visiting at sunrise, you avoid all of the crowds and get to see the sun rise over a beautiful city in the morning. It is truly magical.
Once you’re at the top, you can explore the village, and souvenir shop and grab a bite to eat. It’s a relaxing atmosphere and easily a half-day activity.
Doi Inthanon Karen Hilltribe Tour
Northern Thailand is famous for its hill tribes. There are many of these tribes that live high up in the mountains and are cut off from the outside world, for the most part. In these hill tribes, they have their own tribal language and culture.
I had the amazing opportunity to do an overnight trip to the Karen Hilltribes, where I made a good friend, and visited him and his family frequently up there. I couldn’t recommend this experience more.
There are many tours that take you up to the top of the mountains to learn about the tribes. It’s best to go on a tour, and not alone. Going on a tour you are actively supporting the tribe and going alone is difficult to find.
I did my tour with this company and really enjoyed it.
Elephant Nature Park
A must-do on the list of day trips from Chiang Mai, seeing elephants is on most tourists’ bucket lists when visiting Chiang Mai!
Chiang Mai has lots of different companies and elephant parks to choose from. It’s important to choose an elephant park that practices good care for the elephants. Elephant Nature Park is a great example of a company that takes care of the elephants. This elephant sanctuary lets you touch the elephants, take photos, and teaches you the conservation of elephants.
Did you know there are as little as 3,500 elephants left in the wild in Thailand? Learning about them can help us protect them.
Many of the elephant Nature Parks are within a 1-2 hour drive from Chiang Mai, and take almost a full day’s adventure. For this day trip, the elephant sanctuary will pick you up from your accommodation and drop you back off in the evening.
Be sure to pack a bathing suit for this day trip from Chiang Mai!
Mae Sa Valley
Mae Sa Valley is an epic motorbike loop just north of Chiang Mai. Think the Ha Giang Loop of Vietnam, but on a smaller scale.
To do this day trip, you’ll want to be comfortable riding a motorbike. You’ll go north of Chiang Mai, towards Mae Rim, and follow the big Mae Sa Valley Loop.
During this motorbike route, you’ll see epic mountain views, small villages, loads of cafes, and places to stop and hike. I recommend doing more research on this loop if you plan on doing it. It will take you to some pretty remote parts of Northern Thailand, and you’ll want to know where you’re going. There’s also loads of hiking in the area, so plan these in advance!
This loop will be a full-day adventure including your stops along the way. This is one of my favorite day trips from Chiang Mai, as you really get a feel for Northern Thail culture here!
Chiang Rai Day Trip from Chiang Mai is possible, but it makes for a long day. This trip is best to do on a weekend, but if you only have a day, there are many tours that provide this.
To begin, you wake up early in the morning and drive to Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is home to the beautiful White Temple, Blue Temple, and Black Temple. These temples are so unique and worth a visit just to take a picture. Be aware, the white temple gets especially crowded in the middle of the day!
Also during your tour, they may take you to see a hill tribe and/or to the Golden Triangle. The Golden Triangle is where Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos meet. You can take a boat ride on the Mekong River. It’s pretty neat, but I don’t think it’s worth the extra driving.
A Chiang Rai Day Trip from Chiang Mai is one of the most popular day trips from Chiang Mai, but it will be an exhausting day!
The Grand Canyon
Looking for a fun and unique day trip from Chiang Mai?! The Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai is a water park based on the Grand Canyon in America! This silly day trip is a fun way to relax and just have fun! Here you can play on inflatables, go swimming, or just relax in the atmosphere.
The best way to get here is by a songtaew or drive your own motorbike. The Grand Canyon is a bit expensive, but it’s well worth it for the fun!
A Chiang Mai to Pai day trip is a massive undertaking, but it can be done. Pai is a popular hippie town in Northern Thailand. Many backpackers come here to unplug and have a good time. It’s a great spot to relax in the nature of Northern Thailand, but it’s a bit far.
If you plan to take a day trip from Chiang Mai to Pai, you’ll want to have an early start, the earlier the better! Pai is about a 3-4 hour bus ride away from Chiang Mai through curvy mountain roads.
The best way to get to Pai is on a bus, but you can drive your motorbike too if you’d like. Many say driving your motorbike to Pai is very dangerous though. The bus system works really well, and efficiently, and lots of people do it. They run very regularly!
Once you are in Pai, you’ll have enough time to explore the small town and maybe do one small activity.
Although Pai can be done in a day trip, it’s best done with at least 2 nights.
White Water Rafting on the Mae Tang River
Ready for adventure? Spend your time in Chiang Mai White Water Rafting on the Mae Tang River! This adventure takes place north of Chiang Mai and is easily paired with another activity in the area. White Water Rafting here is a fun and cheap activity to do in Northern Thailand!
To white water raft, you can book it online here or drive your motorbike to a spot along the river. (!!! LINK!!!)
Skyline Jungle Luge Ziplining
The best day trips from Chiang Mai can be the least expected ones. Ziplining in Northern Thailand is a fun experience for everyone while visiting Thailand! The northern Thailand mountains are beautiful, with lots of diverse insects, animals, and plants. Zip through these dense forests on your day at Skyline Jungle Luge.
Additionally, here you can luge, or go-kart, around the area! The best part of this tour is they will pick you up and drop you off at your accommodations! Visit their website to learn more. https://skylinejungleluge.com/
A local hidden gem, Chiang Dao is absolutely a must-do when visiting Chiang Mai.
I visited Chiang Dao twice during my year in Chiang Mai and loved each visit. This small rural town is known for its famous mountain, Chiang Dao, and nature trails. Here, you can get out of the city bustle and away from backpackers for a local experience.
Chiang Dao is referred to as the local Pai. Many tourists visit Pai, but the locals go to Chaing Dao. In Chiang Dao, you can go camping, hiking, and swimming in hot springs. But the main attraction is the impressive Chiang Dao Caves.
The Chiang Dao caves are a popular day trip from Chiang Mai. These caves are impressive and you can choose to tour it at your own pace or pay a guide to take you deeper into the caves.
To get to Chiang Dao, it’s about a 1.5-hour drive through the mountains. This can be done on a motorbike, but it’s best to take a public bus or tour. There are many police checkpoints along the route.
Lampang is a smaller town just south of Chiang Mai, that makes for a perfect day trip from Chiang Mai. This town is a very local, but it is decently sized. This city is known for its culture and beautiful temples. What I love about here is that it’s very walkable.
This charming and tourist-free town is known for its big Thai festivals! Lampang has many Thai parades throughout the year that are done really well! It also is very famous for the Lantern Festival. Here, they line the streets with colorful lanterns above your head. This impressive display is unlike anything in Chiang Mai, and definitely worth a visit.
Mae Ya Waterfall
Located in Doi Inthanon National Park, Mae Ya Waterfall is one of the best day trips from Chiang Mai. There are a lot of awesome waterfalls in Thailand, but this one is my favorite! This waterfall is stunning and it’s really easy to access.
Many tours will take you to this waterfall and allow you some time to visit it on your own. If you have a motorbike, it’s also an easy drive! This hour-and-a-half drive is along a main highway and then leads you through the mountains. Once you arrive there is a restaurant and facilities. It’s also inside a national park, so expect to pay a fee.
The grounds are well-maintained and the small walk to the waterfall is really fun and beautiful! Out of all the waterfalls I saw in Thailand (and I saw a lot), this one is my favorite!
Waing Kum Kam
This historic part of Chiang Mai is a quick 15-20 minute drive south of Chiang Mai. Nestled along the Ping River, this historic Buddhist temple is rich in history.
Wiang Kum Kam was the first capital of the Lanna Kingdom (Kingdom of Lan Na), which was a historical kingdom in Northern Thailand and parts of Myanmar, Laos, and China. The city,established in the 13th century, was abandoned due to flooding and other issues. It was then discovered again in the 1980s, and archeologists have discovered many ruins here.
Waing Kum Kam is restored and open to visitors today. If you plan to visit, double-check the hours. Here you can be transported into the rich history of northern Thailand.
While you’re nearby, it’s worth checking out some other temples in the area too!
North of Chiang Mai, about 30 minutes, is Mae Rim. Mae Rim is a tropical and relaxed town. It also is the gateway to many elephant sanctuaries and the Mae Sa Valley loop. Although there are many fun and exciting activities in the area, you may want to stop by the town. The town is slow-paced and relaxed.
Here you can visit the Queen’s Sirikit Botanical Garden, and the Siam Insect Zoo, or visit many temples. Each of these attractions is a nice way to get out of the crowds on Chiang Mai and enjoy a half-day or full-day adventure.
Wat Umong and Baan Kang Wat Artist’s Village
20 minutes south of Chiang Mai you will find Wat Umong and Baan Kang Wat. These day trips from Chiang Mai are some of my favorite, and one I did many times while living here!
Wat Umong is a famous temple in Chiang Mai because of its unique placement. This temple is underground, where you can explore caves, see bats, and walk through lush green forests. This is one of my favorite temples in the area because of its unique features.
Just down the street from Wat Umong you will find Baan Kang Wat Artist’s Village. This area is like one big arts and crafts fair. Here you will find stores to buy hand-made crafts, take art lessons, relax in cafes, and more. From pottery to watercolor, to keychain making, there is a lot to learn here.
Khun Tan Train Station
Last, but not least, a spot on our day trips from Chiang Mai list is Khun Tan Train Station!
Head to the Chiang Mai train station and catch the train towards Lamphun. You’ll want to book this in advance online or talk to the train operator upon arrival.
Exit the train at Khun Tan Train Station. Khun Tan Railway Station is particularly famous for its stunning viaduct, the Khun Tan Viaduct, which is one of the longest viaducts in Thailand and offers picturesque views of the surrounding mountainous terrain.
This spot is famous for its scenic train rides and photographers. The dramatic architecture of the train tunnel is worth visiting.
Additionally, when you arrive there is some hiking as well! Head into the Khun Tan National Park to walk around in nature and have a bit of a hike.
At this railway station, there are a few restaurants for you to eat at, but you’ll want to start walking along the roads to find your own fun!
Final Thoughts on the Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai
In conclusion, there are the top 20 best day trips from Chiang Mai, Thailand! After having spent over 1 year in Chiang Mai, I had lots of time to explore all these wonderful places.
Northern Thailand is a special region in Thailand, one rich in history, beautiful landscapes, and a slower-paced life. I hope this list inspires you to get out of the tourist-centered city, and out to some traditional Thai spots, some that only locals know about!
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