Things to do in Chiang Mai

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There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai, but the first thing to do in Chiang Mai is just to oak the place up. It really is quite laid back and has a huge historical and cultural factor that takes a few days just to absorb and understand. If you’re the sort of person who just likes to watch people and drink beer, there are heaps of places to do that along the main road either side of the Tha Pae Gate – bars, cafes, restaurants or just seats by the moat.

Get yourself an elephant!

Ride elephants in the jungle at Mae Ping elephant camp
Mae Ping Elephant Camp is one of the most genuine experiences with elephants in Thailand

If you want to get out and about and do touristy stuff, there are plenty of places to go too. The Mae Ping Elephant Camp is one of the most popular attractions in the area and offers a taste of a real elephant training school with elephant rides and entertainment for all ages. It’s a full day out and quite expensive (5800B per person), but well worth it as you effectively get to “own an elephant” for the day and do everything that elephant would normally do in one day. An alternative is the Elephant Nature Park, which is an elephant rescue project and elephant sanctuary. We did this recently and it was a good day out.

Experience even more exotic animals

See the night safari on a trolly bus at Chiang Mai Night Safari
The Chiang Mai Night Safari is a great place to take the kids

A great activity to please the kids in the evenings is the Chiang Mai Night Safari which only opens after dark (around 7.30 PM) and includes talks, animal feeding and a trolley bus ride around the relatively open safari park. You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the range of animals you’ll see here and also the conditions they are kept in.

Tantalise your taste buds

Siam Rice Cookery School is fun and very tasty too!
Siam Rice Cookery School is fun and very tasty too!

If you like the food and want to know how to cook it when you get home, the Siam Rice Thai Cookery School offers a combination of education and gourmet consumption that will satisfy your taste buds, even if you don’t remember anything when you get home! An alternative is A Lot of Thai, which is more home style cooking with small class sizes.

Get on your bike

Riding mountain bikes in the hills of Chiang Mai is great fun
Riding mountain bikes in the hills of Chiang Mai is great fun

If adventure is more your style, you might try Chiang Mai Mountain Biking, where you and the family can tootle up and down winding mountain trails on bicycles, visiting hill tribe villages and national parks along the way. An alternative is Chiang Mai Biking which is more road bike touring in groups.

Meet the local hilltribe people

See places you'd never find with Untouched Thailand Day Tours
See places you’d never find with Untouched Thailand Day Tours

If you want to see “the real Northern Thailand”, you might need to go on a tour. Untouched Thailand Day Tours is one of the more popular companies in the area, organising small group tours to popular local sights including Doi Inthanon national park, the Tiger Kingdom and Siphon. There are lots of others including Sabai Tour. Book through your hotel if you trust them.

Fly through the jungle

Fly with the birds at Flight of the Gibbon Chiang Mai
Fly with the birds at Flight of the Gibbon Chiang Mai

If you’re of the more adventurous variety, there’s plenty of action to be had around Chiang Mai including the Flight of the Gibbon treetop adventure, where you fly through the treetops on a zip line through a 1500 year old rainforest, and the Chiang Mai Rock Climbing Adventure, where you spend two nights out in the mountain villages clambering around rockfaces and cliffs.

Or just shop till you drop

Check out our guide to markets and shopping in Chiang Mai.

What’s around Chiang Mai?

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Tony and Tracy Gilbert are veteran Asian travellers with experience living and travelling in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other Asian countries. Tony is a former journalist and editor who writes for many travel websites.