3 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary: Solo Traveler’s Guide

Looking to squeeze the very best out of a 3 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary during your Thailand adventure?

You’ve probably heard travelers raving about Chiang Mai with its stunning jungle treks, ethical elephant experiences, and lively street food scenes that arguably offer some of the world’s best food.

I’ve spent about 8 months falling deeper in love with Chiang Mai, living here part-time and returning multiple times over the last three years of my travels.

You’ll love hiking through the jungle to hidden temples, savoring bowls of khao soi noodles, and visiting ethical elephant sanctuaries—there’s a reason I keep coming back!

I’ll help you perfectly balance your three days here between must-dos and lesser-known spots, avoiding any overhyped tourist traps.

Whether you’re watching the sunrise at Doi Suthep, exploring vibrant night markets, or kayaking on the Ping River, this guide ensures you experience the best of Chiang Mai.

I got overly excited when I wrote this post, and it was WAY too long, so I’ve moved tips like where to stay, best day trips, how to get to Chiang Mai, and more to my Ultimate Chiang Mai Ultimate Guide.

Sitting on the famous Naga staircase of Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai, wrapped in a green sarong, during a 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary
My favorite time to visit Doi Suthep is at sunrise when the monks are completing their morning chants.

Quick Overview: 3 Days in Chiang Mai Itinerary

Day 1Morning: Explore the Old City, Temple Hopping, Khao Soi Noodles
Afternoon: Thai Massage
Evening: Northern Thai Food Tour
Day 2Morning: Sunrise at Doi Suthep
Afternoon: Thai Cooking Class
Evening: Sunset Hike to Wat Pha Lat, Night Market
Night: Live Music at Northgate Jazz
Day 3Morning: Half-Day Tour at Elephant Nature Park
Afternoon: Kayaking on the Ping River
Evening: Dinner at the Night Bazaar
Night: Cabaret or Muay Thai Fight
Bonus Things to Do in Chiang MaiAdd any of these to your Chiang Mai 3 day itinerary:

Doi Inthanon National Park
Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls
Chiang Dao Village
Mueang Mai Wet Market
Yoga Class
Learn to Meditate
Monk Chat
Songkran Festival
Flower Festival or Yi Peng Lantern Festival
Shopping Malls
Scooter Adventure
Ziplining
Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Zoe in Yellow
Cannabis Cafe
Enjoying a bowl of khao soi, a must-try dish during a weekend in Chiang Mai, as part of the Chiang Mai 3 day itinerary.
I’m a khao soi addict – don’t leave Chiang Mai without eating khao soi noodles!

Day 1 Chiang Mai Itinerary: Old City, Thai Massage, Street Food

Morning: Wander the Old City + Eat Khao Soi

Begin your 3 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary by stepping back in time in the Old City.  

Tha Pae Gate

Start your day by exploring the Tha Pae Gate, a historical landmark surrounded by a lively marketplace full of street food vendors, artisan stalls, and buzzing cafes. 

Eat Khao Soi

Kick off your first day with a breakfast of champions: khao soi, served up in one of the many local markets. This is the most well-known and classic food item in Chiang Mai, and you won’t find a better version anywhere else.

Khao Soi is a rich and fragrant curry soup made with a blend of spices, coconut milk, and tender egg noodles. It is topped with your choice of meat and garnished with crispy noodles, fresh herbs, and lime. 

I have a Khao Soi addiction and have eaten nearly every bowl in the city. While my favorite Khao Soi joint is slightly outside the Old City, you can’t go wrong with Khao Soy Khun Yai or Mr. Kai. 

Note: Most Khao Soi restaurants close after lunch. 

The main ordination hall of the silver temple in Chiang Mai, a key stop on any 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary.
The Silver Temple is worth a quick visit during your 3 days in Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai Temples

I shouldn’t admit this, but after years of traveling around Southeast Asia, I’m a tad templed-out. 

But if it’s your first time in Chiang Mai, it’s hard to escape the allure of the ancient temples scattered throughout the Old City. 

Take in the serene atmosphere at Wat Phra Singh, one of the most important temples in Chiang Mai.

Wat Chedi Luang, with its impressive chedi ruins, is another must-see. 

Wat Sri Suphan—also known as the Silver Temple—is covered with intricate patterns carved into the panels depicting scenes from Buddhist lore. Women aren’t allowed inside, which is annoying, but the outside is worth a peek. On Saturday nights, it’s lit up in lights—stop by while you’re at the Saturday Night Market. The entrance costs 50 baht ($1.40 USD) and includes a bottle of water.

👉 My pick for the best Chiang Mai temple tour is this City Tour of Viewpoints, Wat Doi Suthep, Wat Chedi Luang, and Wat Pha Lat with a near-perfect 5-Star Rating.

Sipping a drink at a Chiang Mai cafe with a view of green mountains, perfect for a weekend in Chiang Mai.
I love scooter adventures to cafes in the Chiang Mai countryside. This one is The First Valley Coffee Academy, just over an hour from town.

Experience Chiang Mai’s Cafe Culture

My Secret Café In Town is the perfect place to sip a delicious cup of coffee, taste their signature passionfruit cake, and chat with a fellow traveler.

Another noteworthy stop is Akha Ama Phrasingh. These people are serious about coffee, and it shows. 

One of my go-to places outside the Old City, in the Nimman neighborhood, is the award-winning Ristr8to Lab

And for those who aren’t caffeine fans, grab a mouth-watering fresh fruit smoothie at Khun Kae’s Juice Bar.

Feet being cleaned for a massage in Chiang Mai, a relaxing activity for a 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary.
Foot massages and full body massages are extremely affordable in Chiang Mai!

Afternoon: Relax with a Thai Massage

After a busy morning exploring the Old City, it’s time to unwind with a classic Thai massage. 

A traditional Thai massage involves the therapist using his or her hands, knees, legs, and feet to move you into a series of yoga-like stretches. It involves a lot of pressure and bending—not what you’d expect when you think of a ‘massage.’ 

I have a love-hate relationship with Thai massages. They are intense, and I’ve spent several sessions gritting my teeth and praying for the end. 

But don’t let my experience deter you. The experience is authentic – try it at least once! 

Foot or oil massages are a fabulous alternative if you’re like me and prefer something less intense. I treat myself to one several times a week for about $10 USD. 

For an authentic Thai massage experience in the Old City, head to Lila Thai Massage. Set up by former female inmates as part of a local rehabilitation program, this place offers high-quality massages in a serene and comfortable environment. The staff is well-trained, and the service is exceptional.

Alternatively, you could visit The Giving Tree. Known for its tranquil setting, excellent service, and friendly staff, this place offers a variety of massages ranging from traditional Thai to herbal ball massages. 

Finally, for those looking for a bit of luxury, Fah Lanna Spa is a must-visit. Located in a beautiful traditional Thai house, this spa offers a wide range of treatments, including their famous Thai massage, amidst a lush tropical garden. 

👉 This 5-star tour of Doi Suthep National Park in Chiang Mai is great for adrenalin junkies and nature lovers. You’ll trek to the summit at a Hmong Village then cruise down towards Lake Huay Tueng Thao on your bike.

A diverse group of food enthusiasts gathered around a table filled with local Thai dishes on a guided food tour in Chiang Mai.
I never would have found this restaurant (or known what to order) if it weren’t for this amazing food tour!
Solo female traveler (me) hanging off the rod daeng (red truck) that transports guests on the A Chef's Tour food tour in Chiang Mai.
Try to ride a local “red truck” while you’re here for a true local experience!

Evening: Take a Street Food Tour

You’ve probably noticed by now that food plays an important role in this itinerary – any Chiang Mai itinerary that doesn’t feature mouth-watering Northern Thai cuisine should be ignored!

I highly recommend adding a food tour to your 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary, preferably towards the beginning, so that you feel comfortable with local cuisine right from the get-go.

This tour is a fantastic way to get to know Chiang Mai’s street food. It will take you to tucked-away Burmese restaurants and stalls that few travelers discover. The tour is limited to 8 guests and includes transport around the city in an iconic rod daeng truck.

With 15+ tastings included, you’ll have a chance to try northern Thai dishes such as pork curry, spicy beef soup, Burmese noodles, earthen jar roast pork, water buffalo Laab, and sai oua sausages. 

If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I’ve joined food tours all around the world, and I’m obsessed. It’s one of the first things I do when visiting a new place. Food tours are especially great for solo travelers since they tend to be more social than other tours, especially when you start ordering Chang beers.

Try not to stay out too late after the food tour – you have an early morning tomorrow!

🤩 My favorite way to get to know a new city is by taking a food tour. This Northern Thai Food Tour will change your life. You’ll try hidden restaurants, street stalls, and local markets that most tourists never find and be transported in an iconic red rod daeng truck with a small group of hungry travelers. Come hungry because you’ll be trying more than 15 different dishes!

Standing in front of the famous golden pagoda of Doi Suthep temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand, with my arms up and a green sarong wrapped over my shoulders out of respect.
This is Doi Suthep. Add at least one temple to your 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary!

Day 2 in Chiang Mai: Doi Suthep, Thai Cooking Class, Wat Pha Lat

Morning: Sunrise at Doi Suthep

I know I mentioned above that I’ve had my fill of temples after spending a significant amount of time in Asia. However, there’s an exception to every rule! For me, that’s Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

A trip to Chiang Mai simply isn’t complete without a visit to this golden temple in the mountains, with a gorgeous view of the whole valley (when the weather cooperates). 

My favorite time to visit is at sunrise—it’s truly a magical experience to witness the temple bathed in the soft, rosy hues of the morning sun while the monks perform their morning chants. Not to mention, it’s a great way to beat both the crowds and the heat of the day. 

The easiest way to visit is with a guided tour, which eliminates the need for transportation and allows you to learn more about the fascinating history and significance of Doi Suthep and Buddhism. 

If you’re in better shape than I am, you can hike there, stopping at a hidden temple in the jungle on your way!

Doi Suthep Entrance Fee: 30 baht (less than $1 USD) per person to be paid at the top of the long Naga staircase.

Doi Suthep Dress Code: Shoulders and knees must be covered. Bring a light jacket or shawl for a sunrise visit, as the early morning air at that elevation is cold.

Getting to Wat Phra Doi Suthep: The easiest way is with this Amazing Sunrise Tour of Doi Suthep, led by a former monk who teaches you how to give alms to the monks. The drive takes about 30-40 minutes from Chiang Mai city center.  If you’re self-driving to the temple, input Wat Phra That Doi Suthep into Google Maps, NOT Doi Suthep (I’ve made this mistake before). 

Consider booking a taxi in advance or arranging for a ride-sharing service, as transportation can be limited before sunrise. You can also schedule a pick-up with Grab.

The Songthaew to Doi Suthep usually leaves from Huay Kaew Road by the Chiang Mai Zoo and will leave once it is full (40 baht per person). 

You can also take a songthaew from the city center to the base of the mountain, then switch to another songthaew or a shared taxi to take you up the winding road to Doi Suthep. Songthaews do not usually start running until around 6 am or so, which may be too late to catch the sunrise.

It’s a steep climb of 306 steps to reach the temple, but there’s also a tram for those who prefer it. 

After Doi Suthep, catch the songthaew back to town and get a delicious Lavender latte and breakfast sandwich at Bella Goose Cafe at the Hill, or have breakfast at Butter is Better diner down the street. 

🤩 My pick for the best tour of Doi Suthep is this Sunrise Tour led by a former monk. With a near-perfect 5-star review, it’s one of the only tours that lets you participate in the sacred alms-giving ceremony with the monks at Doi Suthep. Plus, it includes a stop at a hidden jungle temple and a delicious Thai breakfast!

Wearing a big straw hat while tasting fresh vegetables in a cooking class, part of a 3 days in Chiang Mai itinerary.
Taking cooking classes in Thailand is a great way to learn about the food and culture. Maybe they’ll give you a hat to wear like this one!

Afternoon: Take a Cooking Class

Spending an afternoon immersed in a cooking class is a must for your 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary. 

I can vouch for this from personal experience – the cooking class I attended was so much fun, and I still dream about the heavenly Tom Yum soup I managed to whip up there. 

Not only do you get to learn the art of cooking from local experts, but you also get to shop for fresh ingredients in a local market (if you choose a morning class). 

👩‍🍳 My pick for the best cooking class in Chiang Mai is Benny’s Home Cooking course with a small class size, robust menu, and a near-perfect 5-star rating!

Me standing on the hiking trail pointing to the sign that directs hikers to the Wat Pha Lat temple.
The Monk’s Trail is an easy hike through the jungle, not too far from the Old City.

Evening: Sunset Hike to Hidden Jungle Temple + Night Market

As the sun starts to go down, offering a break from the day’s heat, why not hike to Wat Pha Lat on the Monk’s Trail? I love how easy it is to get into nature from Chiang Mai!

Surrounded by serene jungle vibes, the Monk’s Trail eventually leads to Doi Suthep, but most people turn around at Wat Pha Lat.

This part of the Monk’s Trail hike is gentle to moderate. It takes less than an hour to reach Wat Pha Lat, and you will pass through lush surroundings. 

You’re in for a treat during the golden hour! As the sun sets, the temple gets draped in a warm, inviting glow, perfect for capturing stunning photos

While this used to be a lesser-known trail, it’s getting pretty popular, so you won’t have it all to yourself (which is better for solo female travelers anyway!). 

Bring bug spray and water, and remember to wear clothes covering your knees and shoulders when entering the temple!

Note: If you want to do the entire 7.2 km trail to Doi Suthep, here’s everything you need to know.

Saxophone player and bass player at the Northgate Jazz Club in Chiang Mai, a great evening activity for a weekend in Chiang Mai.
I love the live music at Northgate Jazz!

Night: Live Music at Northgate Jazz

Before you head to the Northgate Jazz Bar, make sure to fill up on some delicious food from my favorite sukiyaki noodle stall located across the street in the Chang Phuak Gate Night Market. 

Order the noodles dry with pork, and add extra noodles if you’re hungry. That little dish of sauce they give you is where the magic lies, so dump it on and enjoy! 

After satiating your taste buds, walk across the moat to the Northgate Jazz Bar, a local favorite also gaining popularity among music-loving tourists. 

Every night from 8 PM to midnight, locals and travelers crowd the multiple floors inside and stand on the sidewalk outside to enjoy the music, which includes all genres, not just jazz.

There’s no entrance fee; you can support the music by buying drinks at the bar.

Every night is something different. Tuesday nights are open mic nights, a chance to witness raw, local talent, while Sundays usually mellow down with slow jazz. Don’t miss out on Fridays when local musicians sing their favorite hip-hop or rock songs, contributing to an eclectic, lively ambiance that truly encapsulates the spirit of this 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary.

🛵 Want to explore Northern Thailand on your motorbike but don’t want to do it alone? My pick is this Seven Day Mae Hong Son & Golden Triangle Guided motorbike Tour, with a near-perfect 5-star rating. It’s more fun (and safe!) to ride the windy roads with friends!

Walking with an elephant, holding plants to feed it at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, a recommended stop on a 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary.
Spending a week with the elephants at Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai was a highlight. I got to participate in a rescue, leading the elephants to their new home.

Day 3 in Chiang Mai: Elephants, Kayaking, Night Bazaar

Morning: Half-Day Tour of Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai stands out as one of Thailand’s few genuinely ethical elephant sanctuaries – a claim I can personally back up, having had the privilege of volunteering there for a week. I don’t get anything for referring you, I just believe in them!

What sets this sanctuary apart is its steadfast commitment to the well-being of the elephants. It’s a hands-off experience, meaning touching the elephants is rightly prohibited. 

Everything done at the park is with the elephants’ welfare in mind. Most of the elephants have been rescued from terrible situations and now get to spend the rest of their lives here.

As part of my volunteering, I had the opportunity to join a rescue mission to escort three rescued elephants on their journey to their new home. We walked alongside these majestic creatures, gently guiding them (and bribing them with food) to their sanctuary.

You’ll also find dogs, cats, and other animals living at the park, and unlike the elephants, some of these you can cuddle! 

The park is in high demand and tends to book up well in advance, so be sure to secure your spot early if you’re passionate about making this a part of your 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary. 

The half-day morning and afternoon tours provide an intimate encounter with the herds, allowing you to observe these magnificent creatures at close range. Elephant Nature Park should be your top pick if visiting an elephant sanctuary is on your wishlist.

If you’re looking to prolong your time at the Elephant Nature Park, consider the full-day visit or the overnight stay options. If you opt for the overnight stay, you’ll have the unique opportunity to spend the evening in the park, waking up to the sound of the elephants beginning their day. 

If you have additional time on your Chiang Mai itinerary, I’d recommend two other truly ethical elephant sanctuaries that offer overnight programs: BEES and Kindred Spirit.

Selfie of me and a friend kayaking in Chiang Mai at sunset during rainy season.
Kayaking on the Ping River only costs 50 baht per person at Wat Fah Ham!

Afternoon: Kayaking on the Ping River 

You’ll want to unwind after an amazing morning at Elephant Nature Park and the drive back to town. Vacation is supposed to be relaxing, after all!

If you’re still deciding where to stay or if you’re up for a luxurious rooftop swim, be sure to check out the best rooftop pools in Chiang Mai

If you still have energy left to explore, catch a Grab taxi to Wat Fah Ham and rent some kayaks from the friendly monks at just 50 baht per person

Paddling along the scenic Ping River at dusk is one of my favorite things in Chiang Mai. Don’t forget to wear lots of bug spray! Most travelers don’t know about this, but I learned it while living in Chiang Mai.

If you want to connect with fellow explorers in Chiang Mai, check out the Chiang Mai Kayaking Meetup Group. They organize group kayaking sessions every other Thursday in the late afternoon or early evening. 

👉 Check out this highly-rated Chiang Mai Tubing and Trekking Tour, crafted for the most adventurous of travelers. Trek through the jungle to Trad Mok waterfall, before tubing down the river.

'Chill Square' lights at the Night Bazaar in Chiang Mai, a must-visit spot for a weekend in Chiang Mai.
The Night Bazaar is a classic! Yes, it’s mainly for tourists, but it’s still a great place to try street food.

Evening: Dinner at the Night Bazaar

The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar, open 7 nights a week, is a cheap and accessible place to eat street food during your 3 days in Chiang Mai. 

Located conveniently next to the Chiang Mai Cabaret, it’s a bustling market where you can taste a wide array of local Thai dishes, purchase souvenirs, and soak up the vibrant nighttime atmosphere of Chiang Mai. 

While the Night Bazaar is primarily geared towards tourists, there are some corners of the market where you’ll find expats and locals, too. Start your dinner here (where I usually meet my friends) and work your way here (a tourist favorite).

If your 3 Day Chiang Mai itinerary lands you in the city on a Saturday or Sunday, I suggest you head to the Saturday Night Market or the Sunday Night Market instead. 

These weekend markets are larger and even more lively. They offer various local handicrafts, music performances, and delicious street food. Don’t forget to haggle! And don’t be surprised if your cheap elephant pants rip after a single wear like mine (what do you expect for $2?). 

Just a side note: While the Night Bazaar and the weekend markets are indeed charming, for a truly local experience, I’d recommend the University Night Market. It’s less known to travelers, and you’ll mostly find locals (many university students) shopping and dining here.

My other favorite night markets in Chiang Mai are the Phuak Gate Market (small but home to two famous stalls) and the Gate Night Market.

👉 One of my favorite ways to learn about local food and fruit when I’m traveling is to take a food tour or cooking class. Tours are a really fun way to meet other travelers, and I find food tours to be more social than other types of tours.🧑‍🍳🥘🍜🍡🌶️

My friends and I had a blast at the Cabaret! We sat in the front row and my friend got pulled on stage.

Night: Ladyboy Cabaret or Muay Thai Fight

I’m embarrassed to say that I lived in NYC for 13 years and never went to a drag show or cabaret! That’s why I planned a night out with my friends to the Chiang Mai Cabaret

It was one of the most fun nights I had in Chiang Mai! 

The show starts nightly at 9:30 pm and costs 350 baht ($10), which includes a drink. 

I messaged them on Facebook to reserve a table for my group, but you can also buy tickets at the door. 

They run a happy hour midway through the show. The men in the audience tend to get the most attention from the performers, and it’s a blast! 

The performers are incredibly talented, and the energy in the room is infectious. You can take pictures with them for tips at the end of the show.

What is a Ladyboy?

In Thailand, the term ‘Ladyboy’ is commonly used to describe transgender women or effeminate gay men. Known locally as ‘Kathoey,’ these individuals are a prominent part of Thai culture, often seen in the entertainment and fashion industries. 

Although the Western world might find it a unique concept, ladyboys are widely accepted and integrated into society in Thailand, adding to the country’s vibrant and diverse culture. 

I didn’t think I’d enjoy watching a Muay Thai fight but it was actually really fun, and I’d do it again!

Or, See a Muay Thai Fight

Now, for sports enthusiasts, I highly recommend watching a Muay Thai Fight. The exhilarating atmosphere, the crowd cheering, and the thud of gloves meeting their mark had even me, initially skeptical, on the edge of my seat. 

Muay Thai, often called the “Art of Eight Limbs,” is Thailand’s national sport and a treasured piece of its cultural heritage. 

Unlike traditional boxing, which solely utilizes fists, Muay Thai allows for fists, elbows, knees, and shins, hence the name “Eight Limbs.” Over centuries, it has evolved from a battlefield skill to a highly respected competitive sport deeply interwoven with Thai culture. 

I went to Thaphae Boxing Stadium, which has fights every night except for Sundays, starting around 9 pm and going until midnight.  

Tickets at the door cost 600 baht ($17.50 USD) – you don’t need to book in advance, but seats are first-come, first-served. Bring some cash to place bets on who you think will win!

Ssssh – If you’re on a tight budget and not interested in spending money on Muay Thai, they usually take down the stadium barrier part-way into the fight, so you can stand outside the roped-off area and see some of the last fights. 

Note: To get to the stadium, you’ll walk past some sketchy bars with scantily-clad women beckoning you to join them, but ignore them and head on in. Or not, you do you.

Another well-known place to watch Muay Thai matches is Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium, showing fights on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 9 pm

👉 My pick for the best bike tour of Chiang Mai is this Bike Historic Old City Chiang Mai, with a near-perfect 5-star rating! 

Me standingagainst the railing of the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls just outside of Chiang Mai in Thailand.
I love scooter adventures to places like Sticky Falls, a great half-day trip for your Chiang Mai itinerary!

What to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days: Build Your Own Chiang Mai Itinerary

This 3-day Chiang Mai itinerary is intended as a guideline to inspire your own personal adventure. So, feel free to mix, match, and modify this plan to suit your interests and pace. 

We’ve already talked about Doi Suthep, cooking classes, food tours, hiking the Monk’s Trail, kayaking on the Ping River, visiting Elephant Nature Park, seeing a cabaret or boxing match, and eating at the night markets. 

Here are more fun things to include on your Chiang Mai itinerary:

1. Take a Day Trip:  Chiang Mai is surrounded by beautiful nature and fascinating cultural sites, perfect for a day trip. Consider visiting the Doi Inthanon National Park to visit the highest peak in Thailand. Or if you want to go somewhere few international tourists go, head to the small town of Chiang Dao – it’s just 1.5 hours from Chiang Mai and surrounded by jungle.

2. Visit the Sticky Waterfall: A unique natural marvel where you can literally walk up the waterfall without slipping, thanks to the mineral deposits. I organized a fun scooter adventure with other expats, and we made a couple of stops along the way. It was one of my top adventures in Chiang Mai!

3. Visit Mueang Mai Market: Thailand’s flavorful tropical fruits can be best savored in Chiang Mai at the vibrant Mueang Mai Market. This wet market is an authentic local experience—I hardly ever see any tourists here. Try exotic fruits like mangosteen, durian, and dragonfruit. The Mueang Mai Market is open daily from 6 AM to 7 PM, with early mornings offering the freshest picks. 

4. Take a Yoga Class: Chiang Mai is a yoga haven with tons of studios. Many tourists don’t know that there’s free yoga at Nong Buak Hard Park most days (not every day) at 8 am. You can rent a mat for 15 baht if you don’t have your own. Check their Facebook page for more info.

5. Learn to Meditate:   Another popular activity in Chiang Mai is to learn how to meditate or deepen your practice. Many temples and meditation centers, such as the famous Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, offer courses or retreats. My friend spent 3 days at this meditation retreat in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai and loved it so much that she decided to stay longer as a volunteer!

6. Chat With a Monk: Want to learn more about Buddhism and Thai culture? Many temples offer free “Monk Chats” where you can sit down with a monk and ask them questions. It’s a great way to gain insight into the local way of life.

7. Celebrate Songkran Festival: I am excited to celebrate my first Songthan this year in Chiang Mai! Songkran is the Thai New Year, usually falling in April, and is celebrated by a huge water fight throughout the city. Be ready to get wet and join in on the fun! 

8. Other Festivals: It’s not just Songkran; Chiang Mai is famous for its vibrant festivals, which are as diverse as they are colorful. One that particularly stands out is the Chiang Mai Flower Festival. Held in February, the city transforms into a vibrant burst of colors when the temperate flowers fully bloom. Another must-visit is the Yi Peng Lantern Festival, an annual event in November. Thousands of lanterns float up into the night sky, creating a spectacle of light and color. 

9. Cool Off in Shopping Malls: If you need a break from the heat, head to one of Chiang Mai’s shopping malls for some air-conditioned relief. Some popular options include Central Festival (huge) and Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center (near Nimman). Catch a movie or find amazing food courts where you can try Thai dishes at affordable prices.

10. Go On a Scooter Adventure:  There’s no better way to explore the surrounding areas of Chiang Mai than on a scooter (if you’re qualified)! You can rent one for as low as $5 USD per day and venture out to nearby temples, waterfalls, and hidden gems off the beaten path. Make sure to have an international driver’s permit with a motorcycle designation and always wear a helmet.

11. Go Ziplining: For adrenaline junkies, ziplining through Chiang Mai’s jungle is a must. I’ve gone ziplining in Costa Rica, and going ziplining in Chiang Mai is on my list!

12. Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden: This beautiful garden is located about an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai and is perfect for a quiet escape from the city. You can explore various botanical gardens, greenhouses, and hiking trails while taking in the stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

13. Hot Air Balloon Ride:  For a unique and unforgettable experience, take a hot air balloon ride over the beautiful landscapes of Chiang Mai. You’ll get breathtaking views of temples, rice fields, and mountains while floating high in the sky.

14. Zoe in Yellow: Known as the ultimate Chiang Mai party destination for the younger backpacker crowd, with pulsating music that gets you on your feet and entertainment like a mechanical bull, ping pong, and pool. It gets busy and is not a spot for the faint-hearted. While it’s not particularly my scene, I have many friends who love going. The party really gets going around 11 pm and goes until around 1 am. The legal drinking age in Thailand is 20.

15. Cannabis Cafes: Thailand is the only country in Asia where cannabis is legalized. Chiang Mai is known for its relaxed atmosphere and hippie vibes, and you can experience that first-hand at one of the many cannabis cafes in the city. These cafes offer a variety of drinks and snacks infused with CBD or THC.

👉 If you’re short on time and don’t want to spend hours in crowded public transport, check out this Chiang Rai Temples Private Tour from Chiang Mai. It has over 200 5-Star reviews and includes the most famous White Temple plus lesser-known ones without so many tourists.

Me standing in front of two elephants who are busy eating.
I snapped a quick photo while the elephants at Elephant Nature Park were distracted by treats.

Things NOT To Do in Chiang Mai:

Travelers should reconsider a few activities for ethical and sustainable tourism. 

Visiting the Tiger Kingdom might seem attractive, but it’s important to remember that wild animals are not meant for human amusement, and their well-being might not be the priority in such places. 

Similarly, Elephant trekking or riding might seem like a unique and exciting experience to add to your 3 Day Chiang Mai Itinerary. However, many elephants used for rides are taken from their mothers as babies and endure a brutal ‘breaking-in’ process designed to crush their spirit and make them submissive to humans. 

Despite their size and strength, elephants are not physically built to carry heavy loads on their backs all day. This practice can lead to severe injuries and long-term health issues for these gentle giants. 

Ethical tourism means recognizing these facts and making choices that prioritize the well-being of animals. Opt instead for an ethical elephant sanctuary where you can observe and learn without causing harm. 

The question of visiting the “Long Neck” Karen Hill Tribes is a bit more complex. While some argue it’s exploitative, others point out that these communities rely heavily on tourism for their livelihood. If you decide to visit, ensure your visit respects and supports the community rather than treating them as a tourist spectacle.

Another point to consider while navigating the streets of Chiang Mai is the issue of child begging. While it might be instinctive to give money to the children who approach you on the streets, it’s crucial to remember that this often exacerbates the problem. It’s heartbreaking to see such young ones in need, but providing money can perpetuate a cycle of poverty, encouraging them to stay on the streets instead of attending school. 

Instead, consider supporting local charities or organizations that aim to combat this issue and provide better opportunities for these children.

Selfie overlooking a viewpoint on a hiking trail in Doi Inthanon National Park a couple hours from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Viewpoint along the Doi Inthanon National Park trail, a couple hours away from Chiang Mai.

Book a Chiang Mai car rental today!

Close-up of my favorite stir fry dish in Chiang Mai, made with pork, cabbage, and noodles.
One of my favorite street food stalls is this sukiyaki place at the North Gate night market.
Tour participants enjoying local dishes at a street food stall in Chiang Mai, highlighting the friendly, communal eating culture during the best food tours in Chiang Mai.
Make sure you book a food tour while you’re in Chiang Mai – easily one of the best things to do in Chiang Mai!

👉 My favorite way to get to know a new city is via a Food Tour! This small group Northern Food Tour by Songthaew Truck has a near-perfect 5-star rating. Thai food is more than just pad Thai or sticky rice – you won’t find any of that on this tour. Trying unfamiliar foods can feel intimidating – where do you even start? But this tour is a fun way to try at least 15 different Thai foods. Come hungry because you’ll learn all about Chiang Mai via your taste buds!

A friend and I enjoying Art Mai? Gallery Hotel's rooftop pool in Chiang Mai at sunset with cocktails in our hands.
Is there anything better than relaxing at your hotel’s pool at the end of a busy day?
Elephants walk with their handlers as the sun sets behind the mountains at an ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.
Watching newly rescued elephants arrive at their new home to live out their days in freedom.

I got overly excited when I wrote this post, and it was WAY too long, so I’ve moved tips like where to stay, best day trips, how to get to Chiang Mai, and more to my Ultimate Chiang Mai Ultimate Guide.

Final Thoughts: Chiang Mai Itinerary 3 Days

Now you have the ultimate 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary!

Start your adventure by exploring the historic Old City, eating your way around town on a food tour, experiencing a Thai massage, kayaking down the Ping River, and indulging in Khao Soi. 

Don’t miss the thrilling Muay Thai match or a visit to an ethical elephant sanctuary, and consider adding a day trip to Doi Inthanon for an added dose of nature. 

You’ll probably be head over heels by the end of your three days in Chiang Mai like I am. It’s the highlight of many travelers’ time in Thailand!

Now that you know how you want to spend your three days in Chiang Mai, it’s time to decide which neighborhood to stay in while you’re here.

These are my favorite hotels with rooftop pools in Chiang Mai that will make your stay extra special.

📝 Thailand Travel Planning Guide 🇹🇭🌟

Before you embark on your unforgettable journey to Thailand here are the essential tips every traveler should know:

🚑 Should I buy travel insurance for Thailand?

✅ 100% YES! — My #1 Safety Tip for all travelers is to buy travel insurance for every trip in case anything happens on their visit. I recommend and use SafetyWing – it’s cheap and comprehensive.

💧Can you drink the water in Thailand?

🚱 No — It’s recommended to drink filtered or bottled water in Thailand (but using tap water to brush your teeth is usually fine). I recommend this reusable water bottle! It works great, turning tap water into safe-to-drink water that tastes good.

🚙💨 Is it safe to rent a car in Thailand?

Yes — Renting a car in Thailand is one of the best ways to see the countryside! I recommend Discover Cars, which checks both international companies and local companies, so you get the best rates.

🏩 What’s the best way to book my Thailand accommodations?

My go-to for Thailand hotels is Booking.com. For hostels, I use HostelWorld. Or get free accommodations with Trusted Housesitters!

✈️ What’s the best site to book Thailand flights?

For finding cheap Thailand flights, I recommend CheapOAir.

🎫 Do I need a visa for Thailand?

🙅🏻‍♀️ Likely Not — US, UK, and EU passport holders don’t need visas for stays of up to 30 days in Thailand.

💰 𝗖𝘂𝗿𝗿𝗲𝗻𝗰𝘆: The currency here is the Thai baht, and there are plenty of ATMs if you need cash. I always withdraw from ATMs to get the best rates (select “no” when it asks you if you accept the conversion rate).

🚕 𝗧𝗿𝗮𝗻𝘀𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻: Getting around Thailand is a breeze! Grab is safe and cheap in major cities like Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Bangkok has a modern metro. It’s easy to use local transport such as songthaews, too.

📶 𝗖𝗼𝗻𝗻𝗲𝗰𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗶𝘁𝘆: Thailand has reliable internet connectivity. SIM cards are easy to find and cheap.