top of page

top five guide: chiang mai, thailand

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Chiang Mai Old Town Wat Phra Singh Woramahawihan Sunset

As Northern Thailand’s most prominent city, Chiang Mai has a decidedly more laid back energy compared to bustling Bangkok in the South. Chiang Mai (literally "New City") was previously the longstanding capital of the Lanna Kingdom, and today it is known as a cultural hub, university town, foodie destination, and friendly locale for digital nomads and expats.

There is an undeniably cool vibe about this city, from its expertly-designed coffee shops (seriously, no city in the world has more beautiful coffee shops) to its surprisingly deep live music scene. Don't even get me started on the abundant and affordable street food, because that deserves a post all its own. Simply put, you cannot visit Thailand without adding a stop in Chiang Mai.

Our first visit was on our honeymoon in 2018, and we have been hooked on this city ever since. Exactly five years after our first visit, we were thrilled to return in 2023 as part of our adult gap year. We had the extremely fortunate opportunity to spend a full month living in Chiang Mai's hip Nimman neighborhood, where we got a sense of what it means to be a local. That experience only deepened our appreciation for this special place and solidified my list of what I feel visitors shouldn't miss.

here are my top five tips for a trip to CHIANG MAI:

U Chiang Mai Hotel Room Old Town Chiang Mai Thailand

1: when and where to stay

Like much of Southeast Asia, Chiang Mai is at the mercy of its seasons. While I believe you can have a great trip any time of year, it’s ideal to visit during the cooler and drier months of November-February. That said, both our visits have been in hot, dry, and smoky April. It's not an ideal time for weather, yet it is a great time to experience Songkran, Thailand's famously wet New Year festival. When choosing where to stay, I would prioritize hotels within the Old City walls; we loved the setting and location of U Chiang Mai. (pictured). Another great option is the trendier Nimman neighborhood.

Elephants Drinking Water Elephant Sanctuary Chiang Mai Thailand

2: elephant sanctuary

Elephants can be found across Thailand, though the largest populations live in the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai. While there is an unfortunate history of elephants being mistreated for the benefit of tourists, that has changed in recent years and now there are many well-vetted elephant sanctuaries to visit. Half-day or full-day tours provide a unique opportunity to experience these magnificent creatures up close. It’s a bucket list experience, and I would suggest booking a tour like this that not only includes a trip to a sanctuary, but also the beautiful Doi Inthanon National Park, the highest point in Thailand.

Bowls of Khao Soi Soup Kao Soy Nimman Chiang Mai Thailand

3: must-try eats and drinks

Truly the food deserves its own post. You'll find many casual kitchens and thriving markets in town, and you can't leave without signature regional dishes like northern Thai sausage and khao soi (pictured). Of course, you'll also find more familiar favorites like pad thai, pad see ew, papaya salad, curries, etc. Coffee is another must, but also be sure to try an iced tea drink (butterfly pea is a favorite) and end your night with mango sticky rice. It's all cheap, so go wild! My favorite sit-down spots were Kao Soy Nimman, It's Good Kitchen, Pakorn's Kitchen, Baan Mae Cafe, Mama Thai Food, and The House By Ginger.

Chiang Mai Tha Phae Sunday Walking Street Night Market

4: day and night markets

Speaking of street food and markets, there is perhaps no better night market in the world than Chiang Mai's Sunday Walking Market (or Tha Phae Sunday Walking Street). This sprawling production takes over the Old Town every Sunday evening and is worth planning your trip around. After shopping and eating around, you can get a $5 foot massage right on the street before ending your night with live music at MaHoRee or North Gate Jazz Co-op. Other market favorites are Wua Lai Road on Saturdays, the daytime Siri-wattana Market (more local), and the more casual Chiang Mai Gate night market.

Golden Buddhist Temple Wat Phra Doi Suthep Chiang Mai Thailand

5: chill out

Despite a population of nearly 2 million, Chiang Mai has quite a relaxed energy. Soak up some serenity by visiting some of the nearly 200 beautiful, ornate Buddhist temples around town. Most famous is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (pictured), which is perched atop a mountain and offers sweeping views of the city on clear days. The silver exterior at Wat Sri Suphan is marvelous, as are the whitewashed mausoleums around Wat Suan Dok. You can't leave without visiting at least one spa to indulge in a Thai massage, and we loved the atmosphere at Makkha Health Spa and Fah Lanna Spa the most.

Have a great trip! Feel free to leave a comment with your own favorites. You can also find these recommendations (and more!) in map format by following me on the Out of Office app.

Pinterest Cover Top 5 Guide Chiang Mai Thailand Tripping Millennial


bottom of page