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The 20 Best Things to do in Chiang Mai for First Timers

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

First time visitors to Chiang Mai will find they've entered another world upon arrival. A world where the people are welcoming, cultural and entertainment attractions are many, and the food is delicious. Historically speaking, Chiang Mai was the ancient capital of the Lanna Kingdom. Today, it's host to a wide variety of well-loved institutions ranging from Muay Thai fighting, night bazaars, hiking and much more. From its mist laden mountains, lush rainforests, serene villages and trendy food and retail establishments, Chiang Mai has much to offer the first time tourist. So much in fact, that we've put together a list of some of the best places for newbies to visit. Whether your taste runs from adrenaline pumping activities like bungee jumping, or the more laid back, Chiang Mai is sure to have just what you need to rejuvenate, rest and reclaim yourself.

Castle Ghost House

20. The Castle Ghost House

Chiang Mai offers you so much in the way of nightlife, from the Night Bazaar, Muay Thai fights, to the trendy night club seen in Nimman. But, did you know that Chiang Mai also has a more "spooky" scene? That's correct, and it involves ghosts! It seems that Chiang Mai has many haunted areas which offer visitors entertaining tours of it's ghostly haunts. One such place is the Castle Ghost House, which combines ghost hunting with an escape room!


19. Catmosphere

Do you love cats, or perhaps you are missing your own kitty while on vacation in Chiang Mai? Whatever the case, if cats are your thing, then a visit to Chaing Mai's very own cat cafe, Catomosphere should definitely be on your itinerary. Open from 10 am to 7 pm, guests who enter Catosphere, enter a world surrounded by cats. Here, you'll be able to grab a quick snack, while cuddling some sweet and gentle felines. While there is no cover charge, be prepared to bring enough money to purchase some food items, as the purchase of one food item is required for entry, which gives you 1-1/2 hours playtime with the cats.

Fun and Games in Chiang Mai

18. Fun and Games in Chiang Mai

While visiting museums, cultural centers, bazaars is both educational and fun, sometimes you just have to let loose, and Chiang Mai has plenty of attractions just for that. For instance, X Center Chiang Mai has a 25 year history of entertaining adrenaline junkies who visit the province. They've got everything from paintball to bungee jumping here, all supervised by trained experts. Other fun and games establishments you should consider are the 50Fly! Trampoline Club, the VR Cafe, Chiang Mai Speedkart, M Sports Complex and Chiang Mai Adventureland.

Food Tasting Tours

17. Food Tasting Tours

Foodies unite, as Chiang Mai is packed with fabulous food tasting tours, such as the Chiang Mai Lunchtime Food Tasting Tour. This walking tour takes you through the rich Thanin Market and restaurant region of Northern Thailand. Lasting around 4 hours with over 20 tasting opportunities, you're guaranteed not to walk away hungry. Tours are kept to 8 tourists and below, in order to give you the best, individual attention possible.

Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls Chiang Mai

16. Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls Chiang Mai

The Sticky Waterfalls of Chiang Mai are quite unique, in that you can actually climb upwards, against the current, and quite easily as well.  This is due to limestone mineral deposit which gives the rocks traction, so you can easily grip as you climb. If you're concerned about slipping downwards due to algae, don't be, as algae cannot adhere to these rocks. If you're going, don't forget your camera. The land surrounding the Sticky Falls comes across as an elaborate painting in a book of fairy tales. The mosses providing the ground cover, which is then dotted with colorful wildflowers, all amid the lush greens of the forest.

Hot Springs

15. Hot Springs

There are so many things to do in Chiang Mai, such as temple tours, hiking, ziplining, cycling, and a host of others, that sometimes you need to treat your body to a well earned rest. This is just what you get when you slip into one of Chaing Mai's fabulous hot springs. Each hot spring comes with their own benefits. Some offer overnight camping spots, others offer private hot tubs, so it's a good idea to check with your travel agent, or do some online exploring to find the best hot spring establishments for you. Some of the best hot springs to consider are, Sankampaeng Hot Sprints, Pong Kwao Hot Springs, Theppanom Springs, Pong Dueat Hot Springs, Fant Hot Springs, Doi Saket and Onsen.

Monk Chat

14. Go to a Monk Chat

When looking for things to do in Chiang Mai, make sure you don't pass up their monk chats, especially if you're into spirituality and meditation. Here, both locals and tourists get time to sit and chat with a monk without any formalities whatsoever, so don't worry if you're not familiar with the monk culture. The length of the chats vary from location to location, so inquire first, as some chats are for a few hours and others all day. Some common locations for monk chats are the Temple of the Great Stupa, Doi Suthep Temple, Flower Garden Temple, Wat Umong, and the MCU Buddhist University, Chiang Mai Campus.

Hiking in Chiang Mai

13. Hiking in Chiang Mai

Chaing Mai is a most magical land, teeming with fascinating creatures of the earth and air, as well as filled with colorful and lush plant life, topping it all off with dizzying waterfalls. So naturally it is the perfect destination for first time visitors to enjoy a good trek. Chiang Mai is not short of hiking tours, so if you'd like a guide, there are plenty to go around. However, you and your friends can also go it alone, if you so choose. The most popular hike is the Wat Pha Lat to Wat Doi Suthep. Other favored hikes to look into are the Doi Pui to Doi Suthep Hike, Huay Tung Tao Circular Hike, and the Doi Inthanon Nature Trail.

Zipline Adventure

12. Go on a Zipline Adventure

If flying through the air with the greatest of ease, all while viewing the grand and lush wilds of Chiang Mai, is something that excites you, then don't go anywhere. Because Chiang Mai offers ziplining tours for those of you game enough to tackle it. As there are quite a few zipline tours, be sure to check each one to see if there are any requirements, such as clothing. Look for ziplining tours that offer hotel pickup and return, provide all necessary equipment, and are hosted by trained zipliners. Our pick for one of the best ziplining tours is Flight of the Gibbon, as their zipline track actually takes you through an actual gibbon colony!


11. Visit the Museums

Spending a day or two exploring the fabulous museums and cultural centers in Chiang Mai will definitely bring you closer to the culture and history of this amazing province and its people. For instance, the National Museum of Chiang Mai holds the key when it comes to the history and culture of the Lanna kingdom, as does the Lanna Folk Art Museum. One of the most popular museums is the Art in Paradise museum. Here, you get to experience 3D optical illusions and a variety of other trippy displays. There's also the Chiang Mai History Center, and finally the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders, where you can view exhibits centering on nature and insect life.

Muay Thai fight

10. Watch a Muay Thai fight

What was once a form of military hand-to-hand, is now one of Thailand's most beloved traditions. Muay Thai fighting is agile, quick and brutal.Thailand even offers special tourist Muay Thai bootcamps which teach you the basics of this sport. So, if this is on your itinerary, then here are some of the best venues for Muay Thai fighting in Chiang Mai: Thapae Boxing Stadium, Loi Kroh Boxing Stadium, and Chiang Mai Boxing Stadium.

LadyBoy Cabaret

9. LadyBoy Cabaret

Visit any well-respected travel site, such as Trip Advisor or Viator, and you're sure to see the LadyBoy Cabaret on the list of top, "must see" attractions. In fact, the LadyBoy show in Chiang Mai is one of the city's hottest attractions. Planning your visit ahead of time will give you enough time to spend the Night Bazaar as well, while you catch their show. Here, the best and most talented LadyBoy's entertain tourists, while clothed in some fabulous dresses, as they sing and perform their act. Beware, if you're a shy person, it's best to avoid the front rows, as there's a good chance you'll be urged to join them on stage! Family friendly, the Cabaret puts on 2 shows every night.

Nimmanhaemin Road

8. Nimmanhaemin Road

Ninmanhaemin Road, or Nimman for short, is a must see for anyone who wants to get a good, solid grasp on modern Thai culture first hand. Nimman Road runs straight from Chiang Mai airport to the Maya Lifestyle Shopping Mall. Nimman gives you an good look at the trendy part of Chiang mai, so you'll find little cultural recommendations here, but you will find hip, affordable clothing, a brilliant nighlife scene, and fabulous eateries. Places you may find interesting includ the Warm Up Cafe, the Kad Na Mor student night market, and the Chaya Resort and Spa.

Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

7. Chiang Mai Night Bazaar

When the sun goes down, the market stalls in Chiang Mai light up, and becomes the world famous, Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. Be prepared, at almost one mile long, visiting the Night Bazaar will take up a good deal of your time, but it's totally worth it. The food is delicious, and the souvenirs are well-crafted and affordable. Also, as you trek down the mile long stretch of vendors and their goods, don't forget to take a peek down the side streets, as many vendors set up shop there to take advantage of the passers by.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai

6. Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai

The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiang Mai is a most magical place, where people have the chance to get up close to these magnificent pachyderms. However, if you think this is just another zoo, then guess again. All of the elephants you'll meet have had a tough, stressful, and tiring life. This is their reward, their rest, their retirement. When at the sanctuary elephant rides are forbidden, but bathing, feeding and swimming with them is not, and that's where the charm of this lush sanctuary lies.

Karen Long Neck Tribe

5. Karen Long Neck Tribe

When in Chiang Mai, please consider paying a visit to the Padung Village and introduce yourself to the "Long Neck Karen" ladies. These are the celebrated women who elongate their necks via continual placement of brass rings. Each woman makes wearing the rings her own personal choice, and is given until the age of 20 to decide. These ladies will welcome you with open arms, but don't let their kindness fool you, as many have had a very difficult life, so please be sure to support them by purchasing some of their handmade crafts while visiting.

Wiang Kum Kam, the Underground Ancient City

4. Wiang Kum Kam, the Underground Ancient City

A treat for archeology buffs or simply those who are fascinated with the ancient culture of Thailand, Wiang Kum Kam is a most fascinating site. 13th century king, Mangrai originally founded the city along the Mae Ping River. However, the entire city was evacuated due to a 16th century flood. It lay dormant until it was discovered and renovated in 1984. Tours are equipped with knowledgeable guides that not only explain the history of Wiang Kum Kam, but also answer your questions to the best of their ability. The site contains a few temples, as well as the Chiang Mai City Arts and Cultural Center.

Doi Suthep National Park

3. Doi Suthep National Park

Spending a day at Doi Suthep National Park is not only relaxing, but also informative, as a great deal of Chiang Mai's most favored attractions and activities reside here. For instance, if you're into hiking or cycling, you'll find some of the best trails in Chiang Mai here, just waiting for you. Two of the most famous attractions are Wat Phra That Doi Suthep Temple, Bhubing Palace, and the Doi Pui Mountain. Waterfalls are also plentiful and attract a good deal of tourists.

Temple Sight Seeing

2. Temple Sight Seeing

Temple sight seeing is usually on the list of things to do in Chiang Mai for a high percentage of tourists, and travel agencies and tourist companies know this. With well over 300 temples in Chiang Mai, know that there exists a temple tour out there that suits your budget, time allotment, and time of day. Some of the more well known temples are the Wat Phra Sing, Wat Chedi Luang, Wat Inthakhin Saduemang, Wat Chiang Mai, Wat Saen Fang, and Wat Bupparam. When going on a temple tour, always inquire about the dress code, as most temples ask that you wear pants, or a long skirt and keep your shoulders covered.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

1. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

This is often considered the first thing to do when people travel to Thailand. Even local cab drivers will ask if you want to visit, it's that popular. Doi Suthep is Thailand's most famous mountain. Standing at over 5400 feet, it's the perfect place to grab A birds eye view of the lush, fragrant and gorgeous land of Thailand. But that's ot all. Doi Suthep is the site where the famed temple, Wat Phra That Doi Suthep reins supreme. This 13th century temple includes a white elephant shrine that tourists flock to. Know that reaching the temple is not for the couch potato, as you'll have to climb quite a few steps. But, no worries, they supply a tram to help tourists reach the temple in comfort and style.

Liz Flynn

Written by Liz Flynn

Liz Flynn has worked as a full-time writer since 2010 after leaving a career in education. She finds almost all topics she writes about interesting, but her favorite subjects are travel and food. Liz loves the process of researching information, learning new things, and putting into words what others who share her interests might like to read. Although she spends most of her time writing, she also enjoys spending time with her husband and four children, watching films, cooking, dining out, reading, motorsports, gaming, and walking along the beach next to her house with her dog.

Read more posts by Liz Flynn

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