• Lisa

Chiang Mai, Thailand: City Guide

Updated: Jul 1

This city in Northern Thailand is becoming a tourist favorite and it's easy to see why! Chiang Mai is not as busy as Bangkok, but still has all of the cultural charm and activities to keep you busy! Check out the must do items below!


Know Before You Go:

{Check out my full Know Before You Go - Thailand Guide here}

  • The native language of Thailand is Thai - however, most everyone speaks English (especially in the tourist industry).

  • Thai Baht (THB) is the only currency in Thailand. Cash is used far more than credit cards so I advise always having some on you.

  • Try to only take metered taxis. Otherwise, the cab driver will charge you way more than needed. If your taxi isn't metered, or you are taking a tuk tuk, be sure to determine the price of the ride before getting in the car.

  • Ladies, be sure not to bump into or touch Monks walking around the city. If a Monk touches a female, they have to go through an extensive cleansing.

  • Thailand Packing List - everything you'll need while in Thailand

  • Read more about my Thailand tips here!



Where to Stay:

  • The Marndadee Heritage ($$$): Relax & recharge in this quaint hideaway boutique! Enjoy the complimentary morning yoga before recharging poolside. Book one of their add on experiences while on property (muay thai training, thai cooking class, rice farming, and more).

(C) Marndadee Heritage
  • Empress Hotel ($): This hotel features all of the best amenities without the outrageous prices. It is located within walking distance of the Night Baazar and overlooks the River Ping. This hotel features one of the BEST breakfasts I've had in Asia - perfect mix of Western and Thai food.

  • Shangri-La Hotel ($$$): This beautiful luxury resort is located in the heart of the city, in walking distance to many of the sights!



What to Do:


1. Visit Doi Suthep for sunrise

Wat Phra That is located on top of Doi Suthep (Mountain). It is a beautiful temple that overlooks the entire city. It's about a 30 minute drive from the heart of the city, followed by 300 steps to the top of the temple. If you don't want to climb the steps, they have a lift for 20 baht that can take you to the top.  When you arrive to the top of the mountain, take some time to explore the temple and get blessed by a Monk! They'll chant and give you a white bracelet to wear for good luck.


Be sure to check the weather before heading up the mountain as the clouds can really obstruct your view. We were there on a foggy day so we unfortunately didn't get to see the city views.


Keep in mind, this is a temple - you will need to take your shoes off and wear appropriate clothing in order to go in.


2. Attend The Best Cookery School

This is a MUST while you are in Chiang Mai - The Best Thai Cookery School is an absolutely phenomenal experience. They offer morning (8:30AM-2PM) and evening (3:30PM to 8:30PM) classes every day. Each guest gets to make (1) Soup, (1) Stir Fry, (1) Curry Dish, and Pad Thai!  


They'll pick you up at your hotel and drive you to a local market to explain the various local ingredients you'll be using in class. They give you time to purchase any items you may want to take home with you. When you arrive at their farm, they'll walk you through how to mill rice and the techniques used centuries ago.


Then, it's time to cook! Get your apron on and get ready to become a master chef. You'll have an instructor who walks you through each step of the process. They make it so easy to follow and understand. What I love about this experience is that everyone has their own individual stove & cooking utensils - you don't have to share with anyone! Once you're finished, they give you time to relax and enjoy the food you have created. They'll serve Papaya Salad and Mango Sticky Rice with your dishes to compliment the food. Once you are finished, they give you a cook book to take home with you and drop you back off at your hotel!


3. Watch Muay Thai Boxing


4. Explore the Night Baazar

The Night Baazar is a tourist paradise for souvenirs and trinkets. It is open every day from 6PM to 12AM (midnight) and offers everything from fake designer purses to hand painted elephants and artwork. The items are priced very cheaply, but don't forget to bargain! you can almost always get each price down by about 20-30%! Along the sides of the market are various restaurants and bars.









5. Flight of The Gibbon

Get ready to soar above the forests of Chiang Mai in dozens of ziplines! Flight of The Gibbon is a great half day activity that is about 45 minutes away from the city. The company will pick you up at your hotel, transport you to the facilities and provide you with all of your ziplining gear. you can rent a GoPro to document the entire experience as well! For 3 hours, you will glide through the ziplines admiring mother nature and the many wild animals. Afterwards, they'll treat you to lunch! You can elect to go back to the hotel at this point, or you can stay for a Segway tour around the village (another 2 hours). This requires a separate ticket purchase but saves you money when you buy both as a combo.


6. Elephant Nature Park

Most important thing: DO YOUR RESEARCH. Elephant Tourism is quickly killing these precious animals due to overworking them to please tourists. Make sure you go to an Elephant Sanctuary rather than an Elephant Show or taking a ride on an elephant. I recommend utilizing the Chiang Mai Elephant Sanctuary.




7. Lady Boy Show

Thailand is a very accepting country, despite being very conservative. The country is home to many "lady boys" - some of which perform in cabaret drag shows at night! My favorite ladyboy show, called Chiang Mai Cabaret Show, is in the Night Bazaar. It is open nightly and costs about 300 baht, which pays for your first drink. Get there early if you want a good seat (the facility is small, so pretty much any seat is good). There is no bathroom in the building, so you'll need to step outside and pay 3 baht if you have to pee!


This ladyboy show is sure to make you laugh and smile! The performers, who are dressed in elaborate costumes, are so lively and can be fairly raunchy! They love audience participation (particularly from the men) so get ready to potentially get pulled on stage!




8. Enjoy an authentic Khantoke Dinner experience  

Spend an evening eating floorside while enjoying Traditional Khantoke Dancing. This Northern Thai style event features family style dinner with music and dance from hillside villagers. The food included many vegetarian options. There are options to sit at tables instead of the floor, if you prefer. Bonus - they will pick you up from your hotel and drop you off (either back at your hotel, or somewhere else in the city!).

You can opt to buy a $5 photo with the dancers in a nice frame, so smile big when they come around for photos!





Overall, you'll see that Chiang Mai is similar to Bangkok, but still has so much to offer. There are plenty of unique experiences here in Chiang Mai that you can't experience in Bangkok, or anywhere else for that matter! Definitely keep Chiang Mai on your travel itinerary for Thailand - you won't regret it.


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