Chiang Mai has always been the heart of Northern Thailand, and it shows in the extensive list of ancient temples located within the well-preserved old city walls. In modern times it has also emerged as the foremost trekking hub in the whole country, but in this article we focus primarily on activities within the city and its immediate surroundings.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, Chiang Mai’s most important temple.
While a complete tour of the city’s temples are sure to leave even the most enthusiastic group with some serious temple-fatigue, a tour of the most impressive ones are sure to impress any traveller. First up is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, located a short drive out of the old city. The saying goes that those who haven’t visited this temple haven’t visited Chiang Mai, such is it’s prominence within the consciousness of the city. It should come as no surprise then that at peak times, the temple is incredibly busy, and so we recommend starting the day here, as early as your group can manage, in order to enjoy the spectacular views of the city and surrounding countryside in peace and quiet.
Next up is Chiang Mai’s most prestigious and biggest temple, Wat Phra Singh. This is the heart of the yearly Songkran celebrations, and the large temple features several worship halls as well as several other structures. The complex is a great place to spend some time to stroll the peaceful gardens.
Wat Phra Singh, the heart of Songkran in Chiang Mai.
Second among the inner city’s temples is Wat Chedi Luang. This ancient structure once housed the Emerald Buddha, and despite having been restored in recent years, maintains the scars it’s acquired through several earthquakes and conflicts.
For shoppers and bargain-hunters, there is plenty to appeal in Chiang Mai. Any day focused on shopping is sure to include the Chiang Mai Gate Market, best on weeknights, and The Sunday Walking Street, which explodes with vendors and stalls on, you guessed it, Sundays. While the Gate Market is only open in the evening, the Sunday Walking Street lasts all day, and is best visited in the morning.
If you’re looking for something more out of the ordinary and bizarre to include in your itinerary for Chiang Mai, look no further than Art in Paradise. In this absurd installation, guests can pretend they’re surfing giant waves, flying or standing in the midst of an erupting volcano, among hundreds of other scenarios and backs. This is sure to be a memorable experience for anyone, and is especially well suited for kids, sure to have their imaginations fired up by the visit.
Art in Paradise is a perfect way to spend a day for children and adults alike.
If environmentally and culturally sustainable practices are important when you organize your trips, or if catering to guests who wish to leave a lasting positive footprint in the communities they visit, then you must plan a day at the Thai Freedom House. The centre focuses on helping ethnic minorities, especially Shan Burmese, learn to read and write (in Burmese, Thai and English) as well as educating them on the legalities of Thailand, to prevent increasingly rampant abuse of their communities by authorities. A day or more can be spent here interacting with the people from various ethnicities, and helping out with their English education.
While this article focuses on the city itself and thus ignores one of the main reasons people come to Chiang Mai, the trekking (check out our article about trekking in Northern Thailand here (LINK TO NORTHERN THAILAND TREKKING BLOG POST)), there are some sights outside the city that aren’t exactly treks, but great experiences nonetheless.
Trekking is the primary activity that Chiang Mai is renowned for.
First up, located only 30 minutes from the old city walls, is Huay Tung Tao Lake. This is a popular spot to enjoy the sunset among locals and foreign visitors alike, and it makes for a great final activity for any day spent in Chiang Mai. Food and drinks can be had along the reservoir’s shores, making it an ideal combination of both dinner and amazing views.
While Elephant parks in Thailand can be a risky endeavour for those who care about the animals they get to meet, at Elephant Nature Park, both you and your guests can rest easy in the knowledge that here the welfare of the animals is the foremost priority. Enjoy a day (or more) observing the elephants interacting with eachother, feeding, walking and bathing with them.
Enjoy a sunset at the shores of Huay Tung Tao Lake.
For Adventure tours, the Gibbon Experience is a great option, Located about an hour outside of the city itself, it will allow your guests to play at being Tarzan, as they fly through the treetops. Visits here can be for a day-trip, or a multi-day stay with accomodation provided in treehouses located near the nesting grounds of the gibbons.
In short, while the city may be most famous for trekking, there are still plenty of activities to partake in here for groups more directed towards urban or leisure travel.