The best places to visit on your next trip to Chiang Mai.
My Roman Empire is a conversation I had with a friend about Chiang Mai — a place I’d never heard of. She told me about its chilly weather, picturesque mountain views, and the Loy Kratong Festival. For a solid 15 minutes, I thought we were discussing Shanghai… until she brought up “Thailand”.
“Wait, Shiangmai (sic)… do you mean Shanghai… there’s a Shanghai in Thailand?”
And that’s the story of how Chiang Mai became a must-visit for me.
But the beauty of Chiang Mai is that it’s the perfect gateway to exploring the rest of Northern Thailand! We rented a car and spent most of the time exploring highlands like Mon Jam just 1 hour from Chiang Mai, the highest point in Thailand (about 2 hours from Chiang Mai), and the real kicker was our 5.5hr drive to the border just before Myanmar!
There’s a lot of fun experiences in Northern Thailand so I hope this guide will help you maximise your next Chiang Mai trip.
Things to Do in Chiang Mai
1) Watch the sunrise from the skies
A hot air balloon ride in Thailand?? This might be one of the most epic ways to watch the sunrise. Even if you’re not a morning person, the panoramic views of the mountainous city are hard to resist.
Enjoy views of rice fields, mountain silhouettes, and the whole town slowly “waking up” at the break of dawn.
As tradition goes, the flight ends with a complimentary glass of champagne and a sumptuous breakfast buffet! The package we booked also included a 2-hour massage at a fancy spa location.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, soar through the skies of Chiang Mai in an exhilarating paramotor ride instead! They’ll even lend you GoPro’s for free so you can save memories from your exciting journey up above.
Cost: ~S$462/pax via Klook (incl. 2hr Spa)
Timing: 6AM – 12PM
Hotel pick up: Available for accommodations in Chiang Mai
2) Learn to Cook Your Favourite Thai Dish
This cooking class is a true farm-to-table experience! It starts with a mini-tour of the garden, where the herbs and spices you’ll use in cooking are sourced.
In a span of 3 hours, I felt like a certified fry cook as I dished out Thai favourites — pad thai, Khao soi (Northern Thailand curry-based dish), and chicken coconut soup — in the comfort of a homey Lanna-style hut.
Most Thai dishes only have four ingredients so in theory, it’s not that difficult. But as a fire-phobe, there were times our instructor had to turn off the stove when my food was close to getting burnt 😬
Cost: From ~S$43/pax via Klook; comes with customised apron
Timing: 6AM – 12PM
Hotel pick up: Available for accommodations in Chiang Mai
3) Treat yourself to a relaxing spa and massage
Photo credit: Thailandmassage.com
We arrived to quiet Lanna-aesthetic rooms, the therapists were incredibly skilled, and you’re given a form to state your preferences like strength and areas of focus so the massage is tailored for you.
The day spa has a suitable ambience if you really want to relax, a welcome change from the noisier massage places you’ll see along the walking streets. Good news if you’re staying in the Old Town or near Night Bazaar: Fah Lanna Spa has branches there too, so you don’t have to go far!
Things to Do in Chiang Rai
Chiang Rai is a 2.5 to 3-hour drive from Chiang Mai but there are noteworthy stops along the way to the White Temple (the most famous one in Northern Thailand) such as the lovely cafes you’ll get to know later.
4) Visit Thailand’s most famous temples
White Temple — If you’re not a “temple person” but feel like you should visit one in Northern Thailand, Wat Rong Khun (a.k.a the White Temple) is the grandest of all! More like a complex, with many buildings to explore including the Cave of Art. It’s meant to be a modern temple, hence unconventional details such as a haunting pit of hands and even a Spiderman artwork.
They’re constantly developing the White Temple, so it’s worth checking out again if you haven’t gone in a few years.
Blue Temple — The striking blue and gold building is a tough one to miss. The interior houses a giant Buddha statue lit with blue lights as well. The blue and gold colours aren’t just for show; they represent the journey to enlightenment.
Baan Dam (Black House Museum) — Some people mistake this place for Black Temple, but be warned: this isn’t a temple. It’s a fun museum featuring sombre, modern and eerie artworks like those that feature paraphernalia and dead animals. We had a blast with the AR exhibit when we visited.
I think it’s worth checking them off in a day tour from Chiang Mai since they all have their own unique charm. Certainly different from your usual temples!
5) Visit a Sheep café
I underestimated the joy that a mere herd of fluffy sheep could give.
Akha Farmville is a pleasant café that allows guests to pet, take pics, and feed sheep around their vast land.
All this, plus a stunning mountain view!
Don’t be surprised if the sheep sit beside you at the cafe!
Entrance fee: ฿100 (~S$4), includes free drink
Opening hours: 7:30AM – 5:30PM (closes at 6PM from Fri – Sun)
How to get there: 2.5hr drive from Chiang Mai (Google Maps)
6) Dine in a fairytale-inspired café
The man-made waterfall looked too extra, we had to see it with our own eyes.
This isn’t just another cafe. Walking into Lalitta Café may feel like you’re transported to a fairytale.
Enjoy the enormous man-made waterfall up close while having a meal. There’s an alfresco dining area right before the feature and the cafe serves Thai/Lanna food at mid-range prices.
Entrance fee: ฿60/pax
Opening hours: 8AM – 8PM
How to get there: ~20min drive from Baan Dam Museum (Google Maps)
Things to Do in Mon Jam
Mon Jam is a 45min drive from Chiang Mai, and mainly known for three things: mountain glamping, beautiful gardens, and cafe-hopping. It wasn’t as touristy as we thought which made for a delightfully peaceful experience and nice photos!
7) Experience a jungle adventure
Stop by Pongyang Jungle Coaster Zipline, a small family-friendly theme park that gave us more thrill and fun than we expected. Their signature ride is a “jungle coaster” where you can control how fast or slow you want to go.
There’s also a 12-station zipline, which comes with whacky obstacles like cycling on cables and a mini bungy jump.
8) Visit a flower garden or farm
Just one trip to a field of flowers in Mon Jam will ensure you a snazzy Insta photo. We went to the less-crowded Yingyong Flower Garden since they had three varieties of flowers (lavender, white, and red).
The natural light was still great when we arrived after lunch, but it’s best to visit during sunrise or sunset. If you want something more hands-on, try strawberry or orange-picking at a farm instead.
Yingyong Flower Garden
Opening hours: 6AM – 6PM
How to get there: ~1hr 15min drive from Chiang Mai (Google Maps)
9) Look for the most scenic panoramic viewpoint
Mon Jam is one of the best places in Northern Thailand for glamping thanks to its chilly weather and amazing views.
If you’re short on time, what you could do instead is visit 98 Cozy Cafe Camping Garden — a modern camping-themed cafe which has an overlooking view of the town. The layout of the place made it feel more inviting to watch the sunset: a wooden ledge, camping chairs, and picnic blankets.
And their waffles? To die for!
Opening hours: 8AM – 6PM
How to get there: 10mins from Pongyang Jungle Coaster (Google Maps)
Things to Do in Pai
10) Walk along Pai Canyon
One of the most unique natural formations in Northern Thailand is the Pai Canyon. It’s composed of deep valleys, ridges, and dark orange sand that’ll stick to your shoes, so it’s definitely not going to be an easy walk.
Standing on the edges for a photo was scarier than I imagined it to be!
As most of the walking paths are exposed, it will be blazing hot if you visit in the afternoon. The best times to visit are during sunrise and sunset.
Opening hours: 6AM – 8PM
How to get there: ~2hr 40min drive from Chiang Mai (Google Maps)
11) Go tipsy-tubing
Pai is a famous stop for backpackers so don’t be surprised to see more foreigners than locals here!
One of the most popular activities here is tipsy tubing — also perhaps the best way to experience the Pai River. You ride on a rubber tube, with drink in hand while enjoying the surrounding views.
Definitely a unique way to meet new people that isn’t through a hostel or a bar.
There are a few operators you can do this with and should cost around ฿200-350 (Nolo Hub is the most popular).
Cost: Depends on tour operator, usually ~฿300/pax
Timings: Every Tue and Fri afternoon, dependent on weather. Contact your hostel or tour operator for exact time
How to get there: Hotel pick-up
Things to Do in Mae Hong Son
12) Drive along Mae Hong Son Loop
The 1,864 curves and long 5.5-hour journey may turn off many people from driving to Mae Hong Son. But trust us: once you get used to the winding roads, it becomes fun because of all the stopovers along the way.
It’s advisable to split the Loop into multiple days, since there are many waterfalls, viewpoints, and lakes to hit. Moreover, you’ll be encountering many rice fields and tall trees during the drive, making for a scenic road trip.
We did the Mae Hong Son Loop via car rental, but a motorbike may be more ideal for solo travellers. It can be dangerous driving here, especially at night because of the lack of lights and fast-moving vehicles. Exercise caution!
13) Spend a day in a Yunnan village
The place that made us ask: “are we still in Thailand?”
Ban Rak Thai is a peaceful Chinatown-esque village in Mae Hang Son known for its tea plantations and picturesque lake. The best time to visit the place is during sunrise to catch the mist. Overnight glamping is also available in the area if you don’t want to miss it.
Strolling through tea plantations, and doing some tea and wine-tasting are must-do’s in this place. Many stalls offer free samples so you have no excuse to miss it.
Stop by for lunch at the Lee Wine Ruk Thai restaurant which serves yummy Yunnan-inspired food. Next thing you know, you’ll be asking the same question as us!
Things to Do in Lamphun and Lampang
14) Dine in an animal farm café
Don’t be fooled by Google reviews of The Lamp Lamphun Cafe & Farm that mostly describe the space as a “family-friendly café”. While it would be suitable for all ages, it’s far from boring!
While the turquoise water around it is probably artificial, it gave the whole space a whimsical vibe. Especially with the random geese and ducks walking around freely.
But we spent the most time playing with the baby goats.
There’s also SUP boards you can rent to paddle around the lake but don’t forget to try the food too!
Opening hours: 10AM – 10PM
How to get there: ~34min drive from Wat Chamthewi (Google Maps)
15) Explore a hidden cave
One of the most unexpected hidden gems on our Northern Thailand trip was a visit to the Tham Luang Pha Wiang Cave.
From the parking lot, walk up the slope until you see a flight of steps that goes up to the cave entrance.
While it seemed tiny at first, we were surprised with how deep the cave was! The monk inserted four ฿10 coins in a machine which turned on the lights in the cave for 10 minutes.
There’s a giant Buddha statue, cool stalagmite formations, and spots for a cool photo-op.
16) Visit old Lanna-style temples
While not as flashy, the gold-laden Wat Phra That Haripunchai is a gigantic architectural beaut boasting Lanna, Burmese, and Dvaravati influences.
It was quiet when we visited, a welcome change from the Chiang Rai temples.
Wat Chamthewi is another temple with an interesting feature: a chedi (Buddhist shrine) fashioned in the shape of a tiered tower.
Other day trips from Chiang Mai
17) Visit Thailand’s Highest Mountain
Doi Inthanon measures 2,565m above sea level and is the highest mountain in Thailand.
Located in a national park, it’s a 1.5-hour drive from Chiang Mai. One of the most impressive waterfalls within the Doi Inthanon National Park is Watchirathan Falls — an 80m cascading waterfall. On sunny days, you’ll likely spot a few rainbows here.
Another interesting stop on the way to the peak is the Ang Ka Nature Trail, which also leads to the country’s highest toilets. The cool weather and lush greens make it a very enjoyable walking trail.
Last but not least, end the day at the Royal Twin Pagodas.
The Queen Pagoda had an eclectic purple colour that reminded me of a Wes Anderson film! Chill out and admire the view from the garden (although it was shrouded in fog when we visited).
This is best done on a half-day tour with pick up from some hotels in Chiang Mai. It comes with a friendly and knowledgeable guide and you get to sleep on the 2-hour drive back to the city.
Doi Inthanon National Park Day Tour
Cost: From ~S$62/pax
Tour timings: 8AM – 5PM
Hotel pick up: Available for hotels in the Nimman area
18) Doi Suthep
Doi Suthep National Park is a popular day trip destination for one reason: the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple. Many people have commended its main feature: the golden chedi, and the serpent-clad staircase leading up to the temple.
The park itself has many similarities with Doi Inthanon: it’s on a mountain (doi means “mountain”) with a great view of the city. There are many waterfalls and walking trails to enjoy as well.
If you only have time for one, consider how much you like temples: the Royal Pagodas in Doi Inthanon aren’t that impressive, so you might want to see Wat Phra That Doi Suthep instead.
Doi Suthep Half and Full Day Tour
Cost: From ~S$28/pax
Tour timings: Varies
Hotel pick up: Available for accommodation in Chiang Mai
19) Chiang Dao Cave
Photo credit: Klook
Those looking for a unique day trip from Chiang Mai might enjoy Chiang Dao Cave. Explore its chambers and see intricate rock formations. While it’s not a particularly hard trek, you’ll need to squeeze yourself into some narrow passageways.
There are local guides in the vicinity to shine the light for you (literally and figuratively), but booking a tour may be more convenient.
There are many good spots to hit near the Cave, like temples, bodies of water, and even hot springs. Bats aren’t the only things you may encounter; check out the wildlife sanctuary to see diverse florals and fauna.
Chiang Dao Cave and Jungle Experience
Cost: From ~S$92/pax
Tour timing: 8:30AM – 5:30PM
Meet-up point: Hotel pick-up
Planning your day trips from Chiang Mai
You can hit up a lot of these places if you carefully plan out your itinerary! Here are some additional tips if you want to maximise your stay in Chiang Mai and surrounds:
1) Rent a car — this is the best way to explore the outskirts of Chiang Mai. It also gives you the flexibility to stop by hidden gems along the way! You can also choose to visit popular attractions at non-peak timings for the best experience.
You’ll need to have a valid driving licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP) to drive in Thailand. If you are stopped by a Thai officer, they may ask for your IDP and you’ll end up paying a fine (~THB400) if you don’t have it.
2) Book your accommodation in Chiang Mai — Chiang Mai is a great base for many of these day trips! On days where we had to drive out from Chiang Mai, staying at an accommodation that was near the highway was key. We stayed at Moose Hotel Chiang Mai and that saved time from getting stuck in the morning traffic within the city.
3) Book day tours — the best way to explore Northern Thailand if there are no drivers in your travel group or if you’re travelling solo. Most tours come with knowledgeable guides so it’s great to get some insight and stories about the place. But the best part is perhaps getting to sleep on the long drives which can stretch up to 3 hours.
4) Best time to visit — Wintertime in Chiang Mai (November to February) has the perfect weather because it’s chilly without getting too cold. Don’t get me wrong: it can get hot during daytime (especially in Pai) so it’s best to wear light clothes, and a windbreaker for when the sun sets.
5) Check out our guides and itineraries for ideas on your next trip to Thailand:
– 8D7N Northern Thailand Itinerary Starting in Chiang Mai — Sky adventures, mountain road trips, and quirky cafes
– Thailand Road Trip Guide: 5 Epic Ideas Under 3hrs from Bangkok
– 3D2N Pattaya Itinerary — An Unexpected Adventure 2hrs from Bangkok
Exploring all of these on day trips from Chiang Mai made me realise why my friend was so fond of the place. It was a nice change of pace to be surrounded by nature and scenic mountaintop views, especially from someone who lives in a hot and busy city. Take me back!
Which day trips from Chiang Mai excite you most? Let us know in the comments below! 😊
This post was brought to you by Klook.