To me Chiang Mai is the heart of this country.
Flying- Chiang Mai International Airport (CNX) is located within the city and very easily accessible. Take a songtheaw into the center. This is Chiang Mai’s version of a taxi. They’re big red trucks with benches in back that can fit at least 10 people inside.
Bussing- from Laos or Bangkok. A night bus is about 8 hours from Bangkok and the VIP buses are extremely comfortable with roomy seats, TVs, blankets and snacks. Get information about the land crossing from your hostel in Laos.
It’s also possible to take the train in from Bangkok. Not as nice as in Europe but an experience!
Once there, if you don’t have a motorbike take a songtheaw. Live on the edge and hang off the back if you’re feeling daring- just be careful! They’re easy to flag down as they’re everywhere and price is based on your destination. Haggle them down as far as you can. For most places within the city ฿20 TBH per person is average.
Sleeping: I stayed at a long term residence type place called Noppakao. It was a fantastic area but for shorter stays I wouldn’t recommend it. Check out Chiang Mai hostels HERE.
Eating: Khao Soi- Classic Chiang Mai noodle soup. A must try. Check out Lonely Planet’s guide to where to find the best in Chiang Mai!
Doing: Sticky Waterfall, Chiang Mai Grand Canyon, Elephant Nature Park, Doi Su Thep Temple, shop the night bazaar, go to a muay thai fight, go to a lady boy show, get a massage, take a cooking class, party at Zoey in Yellow, come for Songkran
Bua Thong Waterfalls or The Sticky Waterfall- A unique waterfall located about an hour and a half outside of Chiang Mai. Hire a songtheaw for the day or if you have motorbikes then head out there on your own. Due to the limestone there is no algae and the rocks have really good grip allowing you to climb the waterfall! Start from the bottom and make your way through three stages up to the top. You can leave your belongings at the bottom and walk down the stairs to get them when you’re done or leave them at the top to have when you arrive. There are no lockers, so as always, use your best judgement when it comes to leaving valuables. Bring your swimsuit and sense of adventure. It’s blast! This is a half day trip and since you have your driver for the day, I suggest heading back in the opposite direction to the Grand Canyon next.
Price- free, excluding transportation and opening hours 8am-6pm
Grand Canyon- The Chiang Mai Grand Canyon is a large quarry located around 40 minutes outside the city in the opposite direction of Bua Thong Waterfalls. Jump from the cliffs (there are two heights, both pretty high) or if you’re not about cliff jumping, there is also an option at water level. Float on the bamboo rafts and spend the afternoon lounging and swimming. The later you go the less crowded it should be.
Price- ฿50 THB ( USD) entrance fee and it’s open from 8:30am – 6:00pm.
Elephant Nature Park– This is a must. Elephant riding is a huge problem in Thailand and Southeast Asia. Elephant Nature Park (ENP) rescues elephants from the logging, entertainment and tourism industry in addition to those injured in the wild from unfound landmines in Laos. It’s going to cost you, but it’s worth it! Go for the day or volunteer for a longer amount of time. You’ll hear about the different elephants and their stories as well as learn a little bit more about the industry and why it’s so terrible for the elephants and you’ll get to get up close and personal with them as well. You can wash them and feed them and just watch them be the majestic magical amazing creatures they are. It’s a seriously incredible day. Check out my post on it HERE. There are also various different ways to interact with the animals and to help out. Check out the different options HERE.
Price- Single day visit ฿2,500 THB ($76.40 USD)
(Again, WORTH IT)
Wat Phra Doi Suthep- Take a songtheaw to this stunning temple. Climb the stairs and enter the complex. there is lots to do inside and a great view of the city. It is a temple, so make sure to dress appropriately!
Price-฿ 20 THB ($.61 USD) entrance + songthaew
Shop the night bazaar- Find everything you could ever want! Make sure to barter with a smile! Learning your numbers and bartering in Thai is also helpful when negotiating. This place is bustling and has a ton of great Thai stuff.
Go to the Cabaret– Ladyboy shows are a blast! You won’t miss the Cabaret if you walk through the night market as there are many ladies in extravagant costumes marketing it out front. They’re hilarious and talented and beautiful!! The show lasts about an hour and is an absolute blast, especially if you go with some male friends.
Price- ฿350 THB ($10.70 USD) ticket + one drink. If you take pics with the ladies afterwards then you’ll be expected to pay a little something
Go to a Muay Thai fight- or better yet- give it a try! Watch at Thapae Stadium or head to a muay thai gym for an awesome workout and a good ass kicking.
Price- I got in free from my Muay Thai instructor, but I don’t think tickets are too outrageous.
Zoey in Yellow- Have a night out dancing with a bunch of sweaty drunk tourists. It’s both as wonderful and as terrible as it sounds. Need drunk food? Look no further than Tacos Bell.
Get a massage, Thai or otherwise- They’re so dang cheap here it’s silly not to. Go every day! Twice a day.
Hike- There are some nice hikes to do around the area as well! I have no information because I just followed people….. But it was nice!
Staying: At least 1 week. There is a ton to do here!
Going: If you’re staying in Thailand, Pai and Chiang Rai are nearby and worth visiting. If you’re thinking international, head over to Laos with an easy land border crossing. Myanmar is geographically close but land crossings are difficult and out of the way. If you’re going to Myanmar it’ll be easier to fly and flights will be cheaper from Bangkok than Chiang Mai.