Thailand is probably included in everyone’s bucket list. But over the past 2 decades since it gained global recognition, Thailand has seen its fair share of rapid development and increasing number of tourists. If you are on the lookout for new destinations and new experiences in Thailand, than Chiang Mai might be for you. This 3-day suggested itinerary will lead you to Chiang Mai’s famous tourist attractions and will help you make the most of your trip. Depending on your traveling priorities, you can certainly fine tune this itinerary to suit your needs.
Things to consider before traveling to Thailand:
Language – Thai is the official language of Thailand. In Bangkok and other main tourist destinations, some Thai can speak English, especially the young people. Although English is taught in schools, it is not widely used by the locals. It is recommended to learn some Thai if you are heading towards rural areas where you can expect that a lot of people cannot speak any English.
Currency exchange – The official currency used in Thailand is the Thai baht (TBH). ATMs can be found in Airport, most tourist centers and shopping malls across the country. Exchanging money in Chiang Mai is easy and follows the same standard to elsewhere in Southeast Asia. It’s also good to know that some establishments accept US dollars but do not count on it as your only payment method. International credit cards are widely accepted, though small businesses, especially stores and restaurants may not accept them.
Getting to Chiang Mai – Chiang Mai International Airport is located 3 kilometers from the city center. The airport serves many domestic and international routes, the busiest of which is to and from Bangkok. Domestic airfares start at 29 USD one-way. Chiang Mai Airport is also served by a number of low-cost airlines that make Chiang Mai a good choice to visit as a an addition to any trip in the region.
The airport is about 3 km southwest of the city center so it takes only 10-15 minutes away by car. Legal airport taxis charge a flat rate of 160 baht (up to 5 passengers) anywhere in the city, except the Arcade Bus Terminal, which costs 200 baht (5.60 USD). If you decide take a metered taxi, the fee starts from 40 baht + a 50 baht service fee from the Meter Taxi counter. The taxis operate from the exit at the north end of the terminal, after baggage claim area (turn left after you get in the arrival hall).
Where to stay – Thailand has a wide range of accommodation options, with something for every level of comfort and budget. If you are going to follow our suggested itinerary, we recommend hotel option in Thapae Gate (Old Town District) and Night Bazaar (downtown Chiang Mai) to get easy access to most attractions. If you’ve been to Chiang Mai once before, and would like to venture away from the historic center, then we suggest the Riverside (Ping River or Mae Ping).
Hotels to consider in Chiang Mai:
Getting Around – Getting around Chiang Mai and taking public transportation might be a shocking experience to foreign visitors. Transportation options include small minivans (tuk-tuks), local buses (songthaew), motorbike sidecar taxis (Săhm·lór), rental cars and Rót daang (red trucks). Although renting a motorbike is one of the most popular ways to get around, we do not recommend it to non-experienced drivers.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Thailand. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Avoid non-essential travel to Thailand-Myanmar border, especially the provinces of Tak and Mae Hong Son, and the Muslim-majority southernmost provinces of Thailand.
Day by day itinerary: Spend 3 days in Chiang Mai, Thailand
On your first day, take in a few of Chiang Mai’s most famous attractions and get an introduction to its rich history. Start your tour at the historic old city. This area is packed with many historic sites and attractions so make sure to wear comfy shoes. Do not miss to visit Wat Chedi Luang Varavihara, located in the northern part of the old city. This massive brick chedi is one of the most popular attractions in Chiang Mai and is especially beautiful at night when it’s lit up.
Head to Wat Phra That Doi Kham (Temple of the Golden Mountain). It is one the most important temples in Northern Thailand situated on top of Mount Doi Suthep overlooking Chiang Mai. To get here, take a Rót daang (red trucks) from Chiang Mai. Travel time is approximately 40 to 45 minutes each way and will cost around 200 Baht (5.60 USD). To appreciate the historical relevance of this temple, we recommend taking a guided tour. In the late afternoon, make sure to do the old city sunset tour, Visit Wat Phra Singh (Temple of the Lion Buddha) and Wat Phan Tao. Then, go for some shopping at the Night Bazaar.
Chiang Mai is known as the center of culture and tourism of Northern Thailand thus it is a bit overrun by tourists. Despite being a bit touristy, it is certainly a good place to stay in which will give you access to off the beaten destinations out of the Old City. Please note, getting to off the beaten sites in Chiang Mai require wheels of some sort. So if you know how to ride a motorbike then it is a perfect way to explore Chiang Mai!
On the morning of Day 2, get set to experience some of the off the beaten destinations in Chiang Mai. Start by grabbing some breakfast. Then, ride a motorbike or charter a tuk-tuk to get to Ob Khan National Park, a great place for hiking. Although it is not very far from Chiang Mai, Ob Khan is not known to many so you won’t encounter hordes of tourists here. To get there from downtown Chiang Mai, head up to Suthep Road and travel south along the Canal Road for about 20 kilometers. From the Canal Road, simply follow the signs for Ob Khan National Park.
Head back to downtown Chiang Mai in the afternoon. Then, join a Thai cooking class. On this tour, you will learn how to cook Thailand’s national dish and know its history and origin. You will also be introduced to traditional Thai flavors and learn the best way to cook authentic Thai food. There are plenty of tours offered online, so make sure to read reviews first before you make your reservation. Thai Farm Cooking School is currently the number one cooking class in Chiang Mai based on TripAdvisor reviews. For more information, you may visit their official website.
On your final day in Chiang Mai, you can visit the temples, museums, and markets that you might have missed or you can just wander the streets aimlessly. You may also start early and join a full day tour to the Elephant Nature Park, an elephant rescue and rehabilitation center. The park offers daily or multi-day tours to visitors, which allows close encounters with elephants. You will get a chance to feed, bathe and play with rescued elephants. In the early evening, it’s time to say good-bye to the elephants. To celebrate a successful trip in Chiang Mai, treat yourself to dinner at one of the top-rated restaurants like David’s Kitchen Restaurant (113 Bumrungrad Road | Wat Kate Subdistrict), The Service 1921 Restaurant & Bar (123- 123/1 Charoen Prathet Rd, Changklan Muang Chang Wat ) and Eat Is Life (Nimmanahaeminda Rd., Soi 12 | Kantary Hills Terrace).
This ends our getting off the beaten in Chiang Mai, Thailand post! Surely, Thailand is one of the most popular tourist destination in the World and finding a place away from the crowds can be challenging. But there are still places that are secret and you won’t even meet other tourists. Just do a bit of research and you will find a place where you’ll definitely get more of a real feel for Thai culture and the laid back life of Thailand.
Featured image: Landmark pagoda in Doi Inthanon National Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand (Guitar photographer / Shutterstock.com)