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Why you should visit Chiang Mai, Thailand

Things to do in Chiang Mai, thailand: Temple

Last year I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Chiang Mai, Thailand for the first time. I now know why Thailand is nicknamed the 'land of smiles'! I thought I'd experienced good service elsewhere but when it comes to hospitality, Thai people simply come into their own. There were so many things to do in Chiang Mai that it was hard to narrow it down to fit our three 3 day stay, but I am so happy with what we did.
We visited Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Rai as part of this trip, but by far the standout for me was the largest city in Northern Thailand, Chiang Mai. Think winding streets with a new beautiful temple to gaze at round every corner, the cutest cafes and independent shops and you get an idea of how gorgeous the town of Chiang Mai truly is.

Why should you visit Chiang Mai?

Put simply, the varied things to do in Chiang Mai within easy reach of the city itself make it an unmissable place to spend a few days whilst in Thailand. Whether you want to get up close and personal with rescued elephants, explore on foot until you are all temple-d out, try your hand at cooking delicious Thai food, or simply relax and enjoy beautiful food in a variety of restaurants there is something for everyone!

Things to do in Chiang Mai, train platform


On our first day we arrived in Chiang Mai on the overnight train from Bangkok, tired but excited and without any particular plan of things to do. After checking into our beautiful hotel, the Golden Bell Chiang Mai, we simply wanted to get out and explore.
We found a myriad of temples, shops and cafes in the city and this day was the highlight of the trip for me. Round every corner there seemed to be yet another beautiful temple to explore.

Things to do in Chiang Mai, thailand: temple

Elephant Experience

We knew if we were going to make the trip to visit Chiang Mai, Thailand from the UK, high on our list of things to do would be to see some beautiful elephants. I spent a long time researching this as it was very important to us that any animal encounter would be as ethical as possible, this meant elephant riding was definitely not something we wanted to partake in or witness at all. 

Thankfully I eventually found Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai and we had a wonderful day on their Karen elephant experience programme. The elephants have been rescued from an unhappy life where they were forced to give elephant rides to tourists. There are not many ethical elephant sanctuaries in South East Asia so please be extremely vigilant when doing your research.

Things to do in Chiang Mai, thailand: elephant

It was so nice to see them freely able to wander around their huge open surroundings. We fed them fruit, watched them walk through the forest and then helped with their mud bath (naturally, we got covered). 

This was a once in a lifetime experience and my number one out of all the things to do in Chiang Mai. There are a number of Elephant Nature Park programmes to choose from and I am sure they will all offer you a fantastic day out. 

As part of our trip we got transport to and from our hotel, a beautiful freshly prepared lunch and traditional Karen clothing to avoid ours being ruined by mud. Nice shower facilities were appreciated before our ride home!

Things to do in Chiang Mai, elephant group

Cooking Class

I absolutely love cooking so was really excited for this part of the trip. We had a full day class at Thai Farm Cooking, with our brilliant teacher 'Yummy' really making it a day to remember with her jokes and cooking tips! 

It was amazing value for money (1,500 THB or around £34 at time of writing), which included transport to and from our hotel via a market where we learnt about the different food we would be cooking with and bought any extra drinks we wanted to have with our meal. Then we were taken on to the cooking school where protective clothing was provided. It was so clean, with staff doing your washing up! 

Things to do in Chiang Mai: Thai Farm Cooking school
Beautiful surroundings at Thai Farm cooking school
We each had our own cooking station and generally had a choice of food to make for each course which was a nice touch. If you're in a pair it's good to try making different dishes and then share when it comes to the eating part. 

We made two types of spring rolls, various curries, chicken with cashew nuts (now a favourite meal!) and the ultimate dessert, mango sticky rice. We were absolutely stuffed by the end of it .Just look how beautiful it was!

Things to do in Chiang Mai: cooking

Things to do in Chiang Mai, thailand: cooking school

Other things to know about Chiang Mai

We booked our trips in advance using the websites linked above. After experiencing how friendly and helpful the Thai people are I do not think this is essential; our hotel was happy to help us to organise things to do in Chiang Mai and even day trips further afield. They even called the companies each day to confirm that our transfer was en route.  Getting around was really easy, we generally took tuk tuks into the centre. Try to agree a price upfront to avoid getting ripped off. 

We had so many nice meals, both inexpensive and more luxury. A highlight was Dash Teakhouse where we had the most amazing chicken tamarind! It was a hidden garden restaurant which we stumbled across but I would highly recommend visiting as it is still one of the main highlights of all the travels I've been done in my lifetime.

There are plenty of hidden cafes in Chiang Mai which are best found by just wandering the beautiful city. Thanks to the Wandering Blonde we found this moody and enchanting Terracotta Garden which was hidden in the city, an absolute gem to rest in after a busy day of exploring temples!

Things to do in Chiang Mai, thailand

I hope you enjoyed reading my first blog post about the amazing things there are to do in Chiang Mai! If I was going to advise you on one place to visit in South East Asia, this would have to be my number one suggestion. Just book it and thank me later!

Things to do in Chiang Mai, thailand


  1. Wow it looks like there is so much to do in Chang Mai! The buildings look beautiful. Definitely one to add to my (rather long) list of places I need to visit.

    1. It’s really up there out of all the places we saw in Asia - it’s the first destination we visited and arguably the best! You so need to go :) Melis

  2. What beautiful pictures you have here! It looks like you had an amazing time. Thailand is on the top of my list for travel destinations. I would like to take the cooking class. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks Leslie, it really is the most beautiful country. I'd find it hard to choose between Thailand and Japan as the two most interesting and diverse countries I have been to. There is something for everyone in Chiang Mai!


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