Ultimate Chiang Mai Travel Guide for Solo Travelers

Whether you’re planning to hike through the jungle to a hidden temple, enjoy a bowl of delicious khao soi, visit an ethical elephant sanctuary, or take in the sunrise views at Doi Suthep, this Chiang Mai travel guide ensures you know exactly how to make the most of your time here!

You’ll discover the best night markets, when to visit to avoid the smoky season, my favorite day trips, and how to meet fellow travelers to make your trip even more memorable.

Having traveled solo full-time for over three years and now living here part-time as a digital nomad, I’m OBSESSED with Chiang Mai. I’ve gathered all the insider tips from my extensive stay to make your solo visit as fulfilling as possible. 

Ready to explore Chiang Mai with a plan that sidesteps the tourist traps and includes the best things to do in Chiang Mai? Let’s go!

🛵 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!

A person stands among a group of elephants grazing in a field at an ethical elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai.

21 Best Things to Do in Chiang Mai

Let’s kick off this Chiang Mai Travel Guide with the most important topic: what to do in Chiang Mai! 

I’ve been living in Chiang Mai for months and I still find new things to do. 

Chiang Mai is an ideal destination whether you’re looking to relax in a café with a good book or fill your days with outdoor activities. With its outstanding street food, rich culture, and beautiful landscapes, you won’t want to leave.

You’ll ideally spend at least three days here – or do what I do and keep coming back. 

A selfie of me eating khao soi noodles in Chiang Mai at University Night Market.
Any Travel Guide to Chiang Mai that doesn’t include khao soi is incomplete!

1. Explore the Old City

Most first-time travelers to Chiang Mai stay in the Old City.

Stroll through Chiang Mai’s historic center, where ancient temples blend with vibrant street life. Tha Pae Gate and the Sunday Walking Street are must-do things in Chiang Mai. Get lost on the narrow back streets – you never know what you’ll find!

Stop for a bowl of famous khao soi noodle soup at my favorite hole-in-the wall, drink a latte at Akha Ama Phrasingh, or a fresh fruit smoothie at Khun Kae’s Juice Bar.

🤩 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!

A close-up of one of the silver statues in front of the silver temple in Chiang Mai.
The Silver Temple is one of my favorites to visit in Chiang Mai.

2. Temple Hopping

If you aren’t templed-out from your other stops in Thailand, Chiang Mai has no shortage of them!

Look out for signs offering free “Monk Chats.” You can chat one-on-one with a monk, asking them questions about their lives and culture. 

Here are the top temples in Chiang Mai’s Old City.

  • Wat Phra Singh: Hosts a significant Buddha statue, busy during the Songkran festival.
  • Wat Chedi Luang: Features a large, partially destroyed chedi and monk chats.
  • Wat Sri Suphan: Adorned with intricate silver work; note that women are prohibited in the main hall, but the outside is beautiful. It’s lit up in the evenings.
  • Wat Suan Dok: Houses white chedis with the ashes of Chiang Mai’s royal family.

👉 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.

One of the best benefits of living in Chiang Mai is that there is so much to see and do. This is a picture of me sitting on the famous Naga staircase of Doi Suthep Temple in Chiang Mai, with a green sarong around my shoulders.
Climbing the famous Naga staircase to Doi Suthep is a workout!

3. Sunrise at Doi Suthep

A Chiang Mai city guide isn’t complete without Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

Climb the 306 steps up the famous staircase and catch the sunrise over Chiang Mai from this temple on the mountainside. The drive and early start are worth the serene morning views, costing just 30 baht for entry. 

I recommend this sunrise tour led by a former monk.

🤩 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!

A monk in robes and sandals enters the Monk's Trail to Doi Suthep.
This is one of my favorite hikes in Chiang Mai, and it’s not very difficult.

4. Hike the Monk’s Trail to Wat Pha Lat

This hike is easily one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai! As the name suggests, monks use this trail.

It’s a popular route leading you through the jungle to a hidden temple with so many great photo ops. 

It’s a pretty easy trail that is safe to hike solo since you’ll be around other hikers. It takes less than 1 hour each way.

Most people turn around from Wat Pha Lat and head back, but you can actually keep hiking a more difficult trail all the way to Doi Suthep or hail a red truck heading that way if you don’t want to make the trek.

👉 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.
One of the best things I’ve ever done in Chiang Mai is this food tour!

5. Join a Street Food Tour (My Favorite Thing to Do in Chiang Mai!)

I recently joined this fantastic food tour, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve done in Chiang Mai so far! 

We went way off the beaten path to spots only a local would know. You’ll eat 15-20 different dishes (none of them pad thai!) and learn so much about Chiang Mai in the process. This is absolutely one of the must-do things in Chiang Mai! 

I’ve taken food tours all around the world, and this is one of the best ones I’ve done. Plus, they’re very social tours, perfect for solo travelers! Skip this tour if you’re vegetarian.

A plate of colorful fresh ingredients that will be used in a Chiang Mai cooking class.
Some of the best food I’ve eaten in Thailand was at this cooking class.

6. Take a Thai Cooking Class

Travel to Chiang Mai means lots of delicious food, and a cooking class is a hands-on way to learn about Thai cuisine. 

Classes usually involve a local market visit and are a fantastic way to spend an afternoon

This was a fun activity for me as a solo traveler. I made some friends with other solo travelers while we cooked together. The Tom Yum Soup we made is still one of the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had my fair share!).

There are also several vegan and vegetarian cooking classes.

👩‍🍳 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!

Golden temple surrounded by a crowd at Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market under a blue sky.
The Sunday Night Market in Chiang Mai is one of the must-do things in Chiang Mai!

7. Eat Street Food at Chiang Mai’s Famous Night Markets

Speaking of delicious eats, you’ve got to explore some of Thailand’s most famous night markets!

Eating at night markets is one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai, for sure.

  • Sunday Walking Street: This is one of Thailand’s largest and best night markets., and a must-visit when you’re in Chiang Mai! I swear, the papaya salad cart in the main food court is one of the best in town, and you won’t find cheaper foot massages anywhere.
  • Saturday Night Market: Located on Wualai Road, it’s very similar to the Sunday Night Market, just smaller, although not by much. You can combine this with a visit to the Gate Market and the Silver Temple, both nearby.
  • Night Bazaar: A staple of Chiang Mai’s night scene, open every night on Chang Klan Road for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The Ladyboy Cabaret show is also located here, and there are shows every night!
  • Chang Phuak Night Market: A local favorite for cheap and delicious eats, located near the North Gate (Chang Phuak Gate). Famous for The Cowboy Hat Lady stall selling khao kha moo—tender stewed pork leg over rice—endorsed by Anthony Bourdain. I eat at the sukiyaki stall every week.
  • Gate Night Market: Situated near Tha Phae Gate, this market is a blend of local and tourist crowds, featuring a variety of food stalls and a lively atmosphere every evening.
  • White Night Market at Nimman One: Found in the trendy Nimmanhaemin area (where I live!), this weekend market at the One Nimman shopping center caters to a younger crowd with modern, hipster-friendly food stalls, live music, and a selection of unique, stylish goods. The night market runs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays and is a little pricier than the rest.
  • University Night Market: Located near Chiang Mai University, this market is popular with students and offers a fantastic array of budget-friendly eats, trendy clothing, and accessories, making it a lively spot for evening outings. You won’t find many tourists here.

🤩🚒 This Red Songthaew Truck 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!

Tourist navigating through a bustling Chiang Mai market, experiencing the vibrant food culture during a food tour in Chiang Mai.
You can’t fully explore Chiang Mai without wandering the local markets.

8. Explore Local Markets

Everyone talks about the night markets, but don’t sleep on the day markets!

One of my favorite things to do when exploring Chiang Mai is to browse local markets. 

One of my favorites in Chiang Mai is the Mueang Mai Market, where I buy my produce at wholesale prices. I never see tourists here, so spend 30 minutes wandering around, buying any fruit you’ve never tried before. 

Warorot is another great local market to visit, right in the heart of Chiang Mai’s Chinatown. 

👉 My pick for the best 5-star food tour that includes a tour of Warorot Market is this Half Day Small Group Tour with Local Foodies.

Three elephants enjoy a dip in the river surrounded by lush greenery at the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.
A truly ethical elephant sanctuary means it’s completely hands-off.
A volunteer smiles while holding a shovel with elephants grazing in the background at the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park.

9. Visit (Truly) Ethical Elephant Sanctuaries

Explore the ethical way to encounter elephants at sanctuaries like Elephant Nature Park, BEES, and Kindred Spirit. 

Elephant Nature Park offers half-day, full-day, and overnight programs, while BEES and Kindred Spirit only offer overnight programs.

These three sanctuaries are dedicated to the rehabilitation and care of elephants, offering a hands-off approach to interaction that respects the animals’ well-being. 

Sadly, most of the places that claim to be “sanctuaries” aren’t really, including anywhere that allows bathing, feeding, or riding of elephants. Ignore any Chiang Mai tourist guide who suggests these activities.

I spent a memorable week volunteering at Elephant Nature Park and even got to join a rescue of three elephants! 

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

10. Day Trip to Doi Inthanon National Park

This is one of the most popular day trips from Chiang Mai. Known as “the roof of Thailand,” the national park is ideal for hiking and nature photography. 

I went solo on a guided tour, which is the easiest way and includes additional stops. You can also drive yourself (it’s 1.5 hours from the city). 

If you’re in town for a while or want to escape the crowds, check out these other national parks!

👉 I took this 5-Star Doi Inthanon National Park, Waterfall & Royal Project day tour from Chiang Mai. See stunning views, visit the highest point in Thailand, and visit a local market. Sometimes, it’s nice to sit back in an air-conditioned vehicle and let a tour guide do all the work.

A woman relaxes in a circular hot spring pool near a stream, surrounded by lush greenery in Chiang Dao, Thailand.

11. Day Trip to Chiang Dao

One of my favorite things about Chiang Mai is how close it is to nature! Add a day trip to Chiang Dao to your itinerary for an easy escape from the city.

Just a 1.5-hour drive from Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao offers stunning mountain and jungle views, fewer tourists, and a peaceful atmosphere.

Here, you can explore the fascinating Chiang Dao Cave, soak in the relaxing hot springs, or climb 500 steps through the jungle to a hidden temple.

I spent a couple of nights here and highly recommend it for a relaxing break. It reminded me a little of Pai, just less visited and much easier to get to!

Me standingagainst the railing of the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls just outside of Chiang Mai in Thailand.
I am a terrible climber, but even I could climb Sticky Falls!

12. Visit Sticky Waterfalls (Bua Tong)

This is another great adventure outside the city and can be done as a half-day trip. 

These waterfalls get their name from the ‘stickiness’ of the rocks – you can easily climb them because your feet can grip them. It’s such a cool feeling, especially since I’m normally a terrible climber. 

You can drive yourself, hire a private driver, or take this highly-rated tour, which includes extra stops and lunch.

Intricately designed white temple in Chiang Rai with a small lake in the foreground and a blue sky with clouds in the background behind the temple.

13. Day Trip to Chiang Rai

Explore the stunning White Temple and Blue Temple, two of the most photogenic temples in the world.

It’s about 3 hours from Chiang Mai, making it a full-day adventure. 

Ideally, you’d spend the night in Chiang Rai, but most travelers visit it as a day trip from Chiang Mai.

👉 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.

Selfie of me and a friend kayaking in Chiang Mai at sunset during rainy season.
Catching sunset on the Ping River is one of my favorite things to do in Chiang Mai!

14. Kayaking on the Ping River

This is such a fun and easy activity to do on your own, no tour needed! It’s one of the most beautiful parts of the city.

Rentals are available near Wat Fah Ham for around 50 baht per hour, so you’ll have plenty of budget left over for delicious food.

I went with the Chiang Mai Kayaking Meetup group, which meets here most Thursdays at 5pm, then goes to dinner together afterward. It’s a great way for solo travelers to meet people!

👉 Check out this full-day Chiang Dao Kayaking, Caving, and Jungle Tour from Chiang Mai. You’ll get to kayak along the Mae Ping River, surrounded by a tranquil forest and a bamboo jungle, greeted by water buffalo and birds. After a local lunch, you’ll explore the Chiang Dao Cave System with headlamps and flashlights.

The Cabaret is a great way to spend the evening in Chiang Mai!

15. Ladyboy Cabaret Show

I can’t believe I never went to a drag show before moving to Chiang Mai (especially sad because I spent 13 years living in New York City, home to some great ones). 

It’s such a fun show! It runs every night at 9:30pm and costs 350 baht (about $10 USD). Don’t sit in the front row unless you’re comfortable being part of the show!

“Ladyboys,” aka “Kathoey,” are a traditional part of Thai culture, widely accepted and integrated into Thai society.

Massages in Thailand are affordable – I get a foot massage every week!

16. Treat Yourself to a Thai Massage

I’ve never experienced anything like a Thai massage, and I recommend that every traveler to Thailand try it at least once!

Unwind with a Thai massage at places like Lila Thai Massage, which supports the rehabilitation of former female inmates. 

Fah Lanna Spa is the most famous luxury spa in town. 

Thai massages are too intense for me (I’m such a wimp!), so I usually opt for a foot massage.

A young woman in yoga clothes meditates next to a sleeping dog.
My friend demonstrates meditation at the Wat Pha Lat temple.

17. Yoga and Meditation

There is no shortage of yoga and meditation classes and retreats in Chiang Mai! My apartment is actually above a studio.

There are free yoga classes at Nong Buak Hard Park most days at 8am. 

Many temples offer meditation courses. My friend loved this mountain meditation retreat, which is halfway between Chiang Mai and Pai.

I had so much fun watching a Muay Thai fight!

18. Muay Thai Match or Take a Class

Experience the excitement of a Muay Thai boxing match at Thaphae Boxing Stadium, with tickets starting from 600 baht and matches every night except Sundays. 

I honestly didn’t expect to enjoy watching a fight, but it was really exciting!

It’s also popular for tourists to take a Muay Thai class while in town if you’re trying to stay in shape during your travels. A lot of expats take Muay Thai Classes as a way to qualify for a 1-year education visa.

Standing with my hands on my hips in front of water and Chiang Mai views in the background.
Somewhere along the Monk’s Trail in Chiang Mai.

19. Whitewater Rafting and ATV Quad Bike Adventure

Combine adrenaline-pumping whitewater rafting with an ATV ride through Chiang Mai’s rugged terrains. Check out the tour.

If you love adventure and the outdoors, this will be the highlight of your trip!

Sitting next to a flowing stream along the Monk's Trail in Chiang Mai.
I love how easy it is to get to nature from the city.

20. Zipline Adventure at Skyline Jungle Luge

A full day of ziplining through the beautiful jungles of Chiang Mai? Yes, please!

One of the ziplines is over 900 meters long. 

I went ziplining through the forest of Costa Rica, and it was incredible. I can’t wait to do this one!

A saxophone player and base player at the Northgate Jazz Club in Chiang Mai.
Despite the name, Northgate Jazz has all different kinds of music.

21. Live Music at Northgate Jazz Co-Op

Catch live jazz performances and bands of all genres at the Northgate Jazz Co-Op. 

It’s a fun venue that comes alive at night with local and international musicians. The place is small, so people usually spill out onto the sidewalk. It’s a great time!

Shows kick off around 9 PM, and it’s a fantastic spot to mingle with both locals and travelers. 

Grab dinner across the street at the Chang Phuak Northgate Market before the show.

Landscape photo of Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center in Chiang Mai. It's sunset so the sky is darkening and the mall is lit up. Photo shot from across the busy intersection.
Maya Mall is the closest mall to the Old City, located in the Nimman neighborhood.

22. Cool Off in Shopping Malls

Chiang Mai’s shopping malls, such as Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center and Central Festival, offer a modern shopping experience with a mix of local and international brands. 

These malls also feature fantastic food courts where you can sample a variety of Thai and international dishes. The movie theaters are also great.

Ideal for a rainy day or when you need a break from the heat.

A friend and I enjoying Art Mai? Gallery Hotel's rooftop pool in Chiang Mai at sunset with cocktails in our hands.
I definitely recommend choosing a hotel with a pool when you’re in Chiang Mai!

Best Hotels and Hostels in Chiang Mai

Most first-time travelers to Chiang Mai prefer to stay in the Old City. 

If you’re staying longer than a few days or a digital nomad, you may prefer Nimman (where I live)—it’s quieter, walkable, and has many great cafes and restaurants. 

Riverside is also pretty, with some great higher-end options.

Chiang Mai isn’t THAT big of a city, so you can get between these neighborhoods in about 15 minutes.

Hostel Lullaby is my favorite hostel in Chiang Mai. It’s where I stayed several times as backpacker!

Where to Stay in the Old City

  • Hostel Lullaby ($): Offers a quiet, sociable environment ideal for those seeking a relaxed atmosphere. I loved my stay here!
  • Khunluang Hostel ($): A boutique hostel right in the center, perfect for exploring the historic sites.
  • The Inside House ($$$): Luxurious suites with private pools and exemplary service, including complimentary afternoon tea.

Where to Stay in Nimman

  • Box Hostel n Cafe ($): Located in the vibrant Nimman area, this hostel is steps away from nightlife and dining, with easy public transport access.
  • U Nimman ($$): Features a rooftop pool and excellent value in the heart of Nimman’s bustling scene.
  • Akyra Manor ($$$): This luxury hotel offers a rooftop infinity pool and a top-rated Italian restaurant, providing privacy and convenience in Nimman.

Where to Stay near the Night Bazaar

  • The Park Society ($): A budget-friendly option in the Night Bazaar area, known for its intimate community vibe and Asian breakfast.
  • Iron 32 ($$): Near the Night Bazaar, it offers cozy rooms and stunning rooftop views, ideal for budget-conscious travelers.
  • Le Meridien ($$$): A luxurious hotel with spa services and multiple dining options, located a short walk from Tha Pae Gate and Warorot Market.

Where to Stay in Riverside

Sitting on my bed on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai train.
Sitting on my bed on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai Night Train. Surprisingly, I got a good amount of sleep!

How to Get to Chiang Mai, Thailand

Most travelers to Chiang Mai come from Bangkok, but it’s also possible to fly directly to Chiang Mai International Airport or even drive over the land border with Laos. 

The overnight sleeper train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is a classic backpacker experience – and a great way to meet other travelers!

Here’s a straightforward guide on the best ways to get to Chiang Mai.

From Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Bangkok serves as a major gateway for reaching Chiang Mai, with several convenient options available:

  • By Plane: Flying from Bangkok is the quickest way to Chiang Mai. Flights depart daily from both Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK) airports, landing you in Chiang Mai within approximately 1 hour. It’s budget-friendly, with airlines like Thai AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, and Thai Airways offering competitive rates.
  • By Train: The journey takes 12 to 15 hours, but the sleeper trains make it comfortable. Book in advance, especially between November and February. I recommend both first- and second-class cars. 
  • By Bus: Buses are another economical option. The trip takes about 10 hours, and you can choose from several bus companies that operate from Mo Chit Station in Bangkok. Opt for a VIP bus for more comfort, especially if traveling overnight.

Crossing from Laos

For a more adventurous route, entering Thailand from Laos via the border and heading to Chiang Mai is entirely feasible. Bus services are available from major Laotian cities like Vientiane or Luang Prabang.

Back of a Grab driver on his motorcycle with the green Grab cooler bag on the back of his bike.
Download and set up the Grab app before you leave home!

Getting from Chiang Mai Airport to the City

Once you land in Chiang Mai, getting to the city center takes about 15 minutes by car:

  • Schedule a Private Transfer: The last time I flew to Chiang Mai, I scheduled a private pick-up from the airport for less than $5 USD, and it couldn’t have gone more smoothly! The driver was waiting by the exit, holding a sign with my name.
  • Taxi: You can take a taxi from the official stand at the airport. Expect to pay around 150-200 baht (about $5 USD). There are ATMs in the airport.
  • Red Truck (Rod Daeng): These shared taxi trucks are a cheaper alternative if you are willing to wait a little longer. They typically cost about 60 baht (less than $2 USD) per person.
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.
These red trucks are called “rod daeng” in Chiang Mai – a classic way to get around!

Getting Around Chiang Mai

Navigating Chiang Mai is easy and safe, even for solo travelers. It’s a lot smaller than Bangkok, although traffic has been on the uptick since my first visit.

Here’s a rundown of how to get around Chiang Mai:

  • Walking: The Old City’s square layout is perfect for walking, and most first-time visitors stay here. You’ll stumble upon cute cafes, busy night markets, and artisan shops. The downside is that it gets hot, and the sidewalks aren’t well-maintained (or sometimes non-existent). 
  • Songthaews (Red Trucks): Called “rod daengs” by locals, these are the shared taxi trucks that are incredibly cost-effective. You can hop on and off anywhere along their route. Just tell the driver your destination, and if it’s on their way, they’ll nod you in. The fare is 40 baht per trip within the Old City, a little more to get outside of the Old City. It’s a fun way to meet locals and other travelers. 
  • Tuk-tuks: You can’t come to Thailand without riding a tuk-tuk at least once! These iconic three-wheelers are faster than Songthaews but cost more. They’re best for shorter distances or if you’re in a hurry. Always agree on the fare before starting the trip to avoid any confusion later.
  • Grab: Much like Uber, Grab operates in Chiang Mai and can be a convenient way to get around, especially if you prefer a private ride or are carrying lots of shopping bags. It’s straightforward to use through their app, and you can choose between a car or a bike pick-up. Rides around town usually cost just a couple of bucks.
  • Bicycles: Many guesthouses and hotels offer bicycle rentals. It’s a pleasant way to explore, especially in the cooler months or for cruising along the Ping River. There are also bike-share stations set up all around town. Be careful riding in traffic.
  • Car Rental: If you plan to explore beyond Chiang Mai or prefer not to ride a scooter, renting a car is a good option. It offers the flexibility to visit sights like Doi Inthanon or Chiang Rai at your own pace. Remember, they drive on the left side of the road here!
I'm standing in front of a fruit vendor at the Chiang Mai fruit market, under a blue umbrella, holding plastic bags of the fruits I bought.
Chiang Mai has the best fruit!

Best Time to Visit Chiang Mai

Choosing when to visit Chiang Mai can dramatically affect your experience, depending on what you’re looking for and how much you want to be outdoors. 

If you’re planning outdoor activities or want to enjoy clearer skies, avoid the burning season, particularly from late February through April. It’s a challenging time with smog and smoke that detracts from the beauty of Northern Thailand and impacts your health.

Cool Season / Peak Tourist Season (November to February)

This is the peak tourist season in Thailand due to the comfortable weather. Temperatures range from 15°C to 30°C (59°F to 86°F), which is perfect for exploring the city and its surroundings. The cool weather is ideal for hiking and outdoor activities. 

You can also witness beautiful festivals, such as Loy Krathong (Yi Peng) in November, when thousands of lanterns light up the night sky.

Expect tours to be full and accommodation prices to increase a bit. 

Smoky and Hot Season / Low Tourist Season (March to June)

From March, temperatures start to climb, reaching up to 40°C (104°F) in April. It’s the least crowded in terms of tourism, except during Songkran (the Thai New Year in mid-April), when the city bursts into a massive water fight – expect to get soaked for three days straight!

This was my first time experiencing the burning season in Chiang Mai, and it wasn’t great. The air quality was extremely poor, everything appeared grey and smoky, and it was uncomfortable to spend time outdoors. Views were obscured, and it’s a tough time for those sensitive to air quality. 

The smoky season ended around the first week of May this year. As soon as the rain started, the air quality returned to normal.

Rainy Season / Low Tourist Season (July to October)

The rains bring relief from the heat, and Chiang Mai becomes lush and green. 

It generally rains once or twice a day rather than continuously, but this year has seen slightly more rainfall than last year.

While it doesn’t majorly disrupt my daily life, it can affect more adventurous activities like hiking or riding a scooter. The upside is the waterfalls are at their most beautiful and the landscape is vibrant.

I personally love this time of year when there are fewer tourists, and you can get great deals on flights and accommodations.

Local Chiang Mai street food vendor by earthen jars of marinated pork with a cat lounging nearby, illustrating the casual and authentic atmosphere of Chiang Mai food tours.
One of the best restaurants in Chiang Mai is Neng Earthen Jar Roast Pork.

Best Restaurants in Chiang Mai

  • Khao Soi Lung Prakit Kad Kom: My #1 khao soi in Chiang Mai, just a 12-minute walk outside the South Gate of the Old City. They serve a khao soi that’s rich in flavor and authentic to Northern Thai cuisine.
  • Khao Soi Mueang Klaeng: Hidden down a quiet alleyway, this spot offers some of the most flavorful khao soi you’ll ever taste. It’s a perfect escape from the more touristy areas.
  • Changphuak Suki (Suki Koka): Located in the bustling Chang Phueak Night Market, this food stall is a go-to for delicious sukiyaki. I find myself here multiple times a week — it’s that good!
  • Neng Earthen Jar Roast Pork: Neng is known for its unique preparation of roast pork in earthen jars, which offers a succulent flavor that’s hard to find elsewhere. Pair each bite of pork with fresh herbs and wash it down with a coconut shake, yum!
  • Chang Phueak Khao Kha Moo Pork Leg Rice (Cowboy Hat Lady): Don’t miss this famous food stall, where you can savor tender pork leg rice prepared by the iconic Cowboy Hat Lady herself.
  • Pad Thai Por Kong: This unassuming family-run stall serves delicious pad Thai with locally caught shrimp. It is located in a simple parking lot just outside their home.
  • Roast Chicken Wichienbury: Located in Nimman, this spot is famous for its lunch-only service. It offers perfectly roasted chicken that often sells out early.
  • Baan Landai: For a fine dining experience in the Old Town, Baan Landai’s innovative menu features dishes like succulent pork ribs in rich red wine sauce and a refreshing lotus flower salad. Reservations are a must.
  • Ristr8to: Famous for serving some of the best coffee in the Nimman neighborhood, perfect for coffee lovers looking for a serious brew.
  • Klong Khum Chiang Mai: A gem off the tourist trail, this Burmese restaurant offers fantastic tea leaf salads and noodles.
  • Good Souls Kitchen: A delightful vegan spot serving both Thai and international dishes that cater to all tastes.
  • Why Not: When the craving for Italian hits, head to Why Not in Nimman for a taste of Italy right in Chiang Mai.
  • Sushi Umai: This is my go-to for sushi in town. It’s located in the Nimman neighborhood and is known for its fresh flavors and creative rolls.
  • Anchan Vegetarian Restaurant: Offers great, affordable Thai vegetarian food in a cozy setting.
  • SP Chicken: This is a very popular spot in the Old City known for its roasted chicken. Be sure to get there early, as they often run out by midday.
  • Lady and the Fox: A popular brunch spot with delicious food, good vibes, and tasty desserts.
  • B Samcook Home16: An incredible place for a local chef’s tasting menu that showcases the depth of Thai flavors.
  • Ozark by Food4Thought: Located in the countryside, this sister restaurant to the city location offers a stunning setting and delicious brunch options.

👉 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.🧑‍🍳🥘🍜🍡🌶️

So many craft beer bars are opening up in town!

Best Bars in Chiang Mai

  • The Continental Bar: Who doesn’t love a chic speakeasy bar? This intimate bar, hidden away in a nondescript building in the Nimman neighborhood, is worth a visit for a unique, perfectly balanced cocktail.
  • Bacco Gastro Wine Bar: I love a good wine bar, but sadly, these are few and far between in Thailand. I finally found one I love in Bacco, which offers high-quality Italian meats, cheese, and wine! Perfect for catching up with friends.
  • The Score Sportsbar: A British/Aussie-style pub that’s perfect for watching sports. It has a welcoming atmosphere and a solid selection of brews, popular among expats and tourists.
  • Puravida Latin Bar & Cigar Lounge: Situated in One Nimman, this bar is ideal for those looking to dance the night away. I had a fun night here with friends, enjoying the vibrant Latin music.
  • 1892 Bar: Known as one of the finest cocktail bars in Chiang Mai, 1892 Bar offers creative drinks in a stylish setting.
  • Northgate Jazz: This venue is a central part of Chiang Mai’s music scene. It’s perfect for enjoying a lively evening out, whether you’re into jazz or other music genres.
  • Chill Out Bar: This small local bar offers affordable drinks and is a great place to meet other travelers and friendly locals.
  • Zoe in Yellow: A favorite among the younger backpacker crowd, this bar transforms into a lively party venue at night, filled with energy and music.
  • The Grumpy Old Men: A great spot for craft beer lovers, offering a selection of local and imported brews in a relaxed environment.
  • Renegade Craft Beer: More than just a bar, it’s also known for its satisfying meals like pizzas and burgers, all enjoyed alongside its craft beers.
Do you need a motorcycle license in Thailand? I found out the hard way. Selfie of me and a friend with a police officer in Chiang Mai. I'm holding up my paper fine. We're still smiling despite the fine!
If you ride a scooter in Chiang Mai without the proper license, you’ll probably get fined.

Chiang Mai Travel Tips

  • SIM Cards: I recommend eSIMs as the easiest way to have a working cell phone in Chiang Mai. If you prefer a physical SIM card, purchase one from the airport or shopping mall. Providers like AIS, DTAC, and True offer affordable packages with good coverage.
  • Riding a Scooter: You don’t need a scooter if you’re just staying in the city. If you decide to ride one, make sure you have your International Drivers Permit with a motorcycle designation, or you’re likely to get fined 500 baht by the police (I was stopped three times before I got my motorcycle license). 
  • Visa Extensions: If you love Thailand as much as I do, consider extending your tourist visa and staying an extra 30 days. It’s pretty easy to do, so long as you bring all the necessary documents.
  • Safety Tips: Chiang Mai is generally safe for solo travelers. However, it’s wise to avoid poorly lit areas late at night and always keep your belongings secure. Consider using apps like Grab for safe transportation instead of hailing cabs on the street. Avoid getting intoxicated solo, and keep an eye on your drinks.
  • Coworking Spaces: Chiang Mai offers excellent coworking spaces for digital nomads. Yellow is the biggest coworking space in town, located in Nimman, while Punspace is a popular choice in the Old City. Most cafes offer free internet, too.
  • Transportation: Get around easily by using the local songthaews (red trucks) or rent a scooter if you’re comfortable with driving. Be sure to have an international driving permit with a motorcycle designation if you choose the latter, or risk a 500 baht fine (I’ve paid three!).
  • Managing Money: Cash is king in Chiang Mai. ATMs are widely available. If you prefer to use your credit card, be aware that many places will accept it but might impose a 3% transaction fee. 
  • Cultural Etiquette: When visiting temples, dress modestly and remove your shoes before entering. Always show respect by not pointing your feet toward Buddha images, and if you are a woman, avoid touching monks.
  • Stay Hydrated: Chiang Mai can get very hot, especially during the dry season. Carry a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated and reduce plastic usage. Many cafes and restaurants will happily refill your bottle for free or a small fee.
  • Healthcare: Always have travel insurance while abroad. In case of medical needs, Chiang Mai has several reputable clinics and hospitals like Chiang Mai Ram Hospital, known for its quality care and services. I’ve had great experiences there!

⛑️ My number one safety tip for travelers, no matter where you’re going or how long your trip is, is to buy SafetyWing insurance to protect your trip.

A solo female traveler wearing a pink helmet riding a scooter in Thailand with beautiful green rice fields in the background.
Scooter adventures around Pai are so much fun!

Where to Go After Chiang Mai

After exploring Chiang Mai, the rest of Northern Thailand still offers plenty to see and do. Here are some fantastic follow-up destinations:

  • Pai: Just a few hours’ drive from Chiang Mai, Pai is a laid-back, picturesque town in the mountains that has become a haven for those looking to unwind and explore nature. Known for its relaxed vibe and stunning landscapes, Pai offers hot springs, waterfalls, and winding roads perfect for motorbike adventures. The journey to Pai, with its famous 762 curves, is an adventure in itself and highly popular among more daring travelers.
  • The Mae Hong Son Loop: This epic road trip route is for the adventurous spirit wanting to dive deeper into Northern Thailand’s rural landscapes. The loop takes you through Mae Hong Son with stops at various small towns, each offering unique experiences from exploring caves to visiting remote hill tribe villages.
  • Chiang Rai: A bit further afield, Chiang Rai is known for its stunning temples like the White Temple (Wat Rong Khun) and the Blue Temple (Wat Rong Suea Ten). The city has a more laid-back atmosphere compared to Chiang Mai and is less touristy, providing a more authentic glimpse into Thai culture.

For those looking to venture out of Thailand, Chiang Mai can be a launching point for trips into nearby Laos, with the border just a bus ride away. 

Alternatively, travelers often head back south to Bangkok to catch flights to other parts of Southeast Asia or explore the southern beaches and islands like Phuket and Koh Samui. 

Sitting at a cafe in Chiang Mai looking over the railing at a water-filled rice paddy.
This is the view from English Café (Baanfarang Bakery & Café) in Chiang Mai.

FAQs Travel to Chiang Mai

How many days in Chiang Mai is enough?

Ideally, spend at least three days in Chiang Mai to fully explore its temples, markets, and nearby nature sites. Allow extra time for day trips such as visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary, Doi Inthanon, and ziplining.

What are must-dos in Chiang Mai?

Must-do things in Chiang Mai include watching a sunrise at Doi Suthep, exploring the vibrant Sunday Walking Street, eating a delicious bowl of khao soi noodle soup, visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary, and taking a Northern Thai food tour.

How much money do I need in Chiang Mai?

Budget around $50-$100 USD per day in Chiang Mai to comfortably cover modest accommodations, local meals, transportation, and tours. Backpackers can typically get by on less than $40 per day.

Is 3 days enough for Chiang Mai?

Yes, three days is enough time to experience the top things to do in Chiang Mai, such as exploring the night markets, visiting the Doi Suthep temple, taking a cooking class, and visiting an elephant sanctuary. Adding an extra day or two gives you more time for day trips to Doi Inthanon, Sticky Waterfalls, or Chiang Rai.

Close-up of a solo female traveler (me) holding a skewer of Sai Oua, a Northern Thai sausage, a staple on food tours in Chiang Mai
Be sure to try Sai Oua, Northern Thailand’s famous sausage.

Wrap Up: What to Do in Chiang Mai

Thank you for letting me be your guide to Chiang Mai!

Hopefully, this Chiang Mai Travel Guide has made it clear why I’m so crazy about this city and given you lots of inspiration for your upcoming travels to Chiang Mai.

Chiang Mai has it all: mountaintop temples, hiking, beautiful countryside, and some of the best food in the world! There’s a reason why so many travelers to Thailand say this is their favorite city.

I know how difficult it is to sift through so much information to plan an epic itinerary, so feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

Make sure you take this incredible food tour while you’re here, ideally early on in your visit – I learned SO MUCH about Chiang Mai’s history and discovered local food that I never would have found on my own.

If you need more inspiration about where to stay, consider staying in one of these amazing hotels with rooftop pools.

📝 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.