Chiang Mai – a city of contradictions. ‘A new city’ by name (Chiang Mai – ‘new city’), it is soaked in history. A slow city by fame, its streets are always alive and bustling (think delectable food and shopping options). A sleepy town, Chiang Mai is fairly alive after sundown. And while it sits in the lap of nature, it isn’t just for the nature lovers. Of course, the verdant hills dotted with pristine waterfalls make for insta worthy pictures, but there’s so much more to this hill town.

Introduction Photo by Panupong Roopyai

Chiang Mai is perfect for the wanderers, the adventure seekers, the history buffs, and of course the seasoned travellers – and the digital nomads – who loved to call this city home. Nestled in a valley, sitting on the banks of the Ping river, it was the former seat of the Lanna Kingdom during the late 13th century. Fortunately, the passage of time hasn’t blemished this old town, which blends the bygone era with modern life seamlessly – making it a perfect destination for one and all.

There’s plenty to do in Chiang Mai and to ensure you don’t miss out on any, here’s a list of the top things to do here.

1. Visit The Old City And Its Temples (Popular)

Temple ChiangMaiTemple in ChiangMai











Get a feel of what it is to walk through a large open air museum. That’s what a visit to the old city of Chiang Mai is like. Did you know a part of Chiang Mai continues to live within the 700 year old fortress wall? The city also sits pretty, surrounded by a beautiful moat. Stroll through the lanes and explore the temples, museums, and structures around the old city that whisper tales of the life that was (Chiang Mai’s old city is best explored on foot). Chiang Mai has a huge offering of temples – roughly 300 but the must visit ones include – Wat Chedi Luang (the temple where the emerald Buddha was originally placed), Wat Phra Singh (the temple that’s all gold), Wat Phan Tao (picturesque – temple made of wood).

2. Soak In The Beauty Of Doi Suthep(Recommended)











A popular saying in Chiang Mai goes, ‘if you haven’t visited Doi Sethup, you haven’t visited Chiang Mai’. Well, that’s how significant this mountain is. Embellished with plenty of ‘must-see’, this 5400 feet tall mountain is also home to the famous temple – Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – a temple hugely revered by the locals. Catch its beautiful pagoda or chedi come alive when the sun’s rays illuminate it, giving the impression of it being set ablaze. A 300 step climb or a bike ride will take you to the temple. The view of the city below from here is simply breathtaking.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Do not forget to carry your camera here. This place offers breathtaking views.

Thomas Cook Tip: Do wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off. When visiting places of worship or cafes, you might be asked to remove the same.

3. Hike To San Kamphaeng Hot Springs (Offbeat)

If you fancy a mineral bath or want to give your feet some rest, this is your place to head to. Sitting 40kms outside Chiang Mai, in a perfectly manicured park with pretty fragrant flowers are the San Kamphaeng hot springs. Believed to have healing powers (ask any local and they’ll swear by it), we think this one’ a perfect place for a slow day. Head here with a book and with a mat (or sheet). Sit with your feet dipped in hot water and when you’re hungry, eat some eggs! Why eggs? Well, the water that spurts from the springs is hot enough to boil them. There are a few vendors selling eggs in a basket. So get a few and enjoy them like the locals do.

Ithaka Pro Tip: There are designated areas where eggs can be boiled. Your vendor will fill you in on this.

4. Cliff Jumping At Chiang Mai Grand Canyon (Offbeat)

Chiang Mai has its very own canyon, which is great for cliff jumping. A waterpark, Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon offers a range of activities. A natural limestone quarry, water has accumulated over the years owing to the monsoon rain, making it a great place for a dip and swim. The view around adds to its beauty – go here to experience a natural swimming pool.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Take the jump only if you are a good swimmer as the dive is deep.

Thomas Cook Tip: Make sure to travel with a health insurance. This more so if you’re looking to indulge in adventure activities.

5. Take A Hot Air Balloon Ride (Recommended)











Soak in the beauty of this majestic city and its pristine landscape by taking a ride on a hot air balloon. Enjoy the tranquility of nature, as you float over trees and witness the most beautiful sun rise. This is definitely to tick off your must do activity list.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Pre book the ride.

6. Zipline In The Jungle (Recommended)

Zip through the rainforest jungles on one of the longest zipline. This one’s a must do for the adventure junkies – it’s sure to give a thrill like no other. Jungle Flight could be a good bet.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Pre book the ride.

7. Go Rafting On Bamboo

This one’s more of ‘floating on a river experience’ but on a rustic float that is made of bamboo. Usually clubbed with a visit to an elephant sanctuary, it is more of a relaxed experience where you are accompanied by a guide. The experience can be enjoyed at Mae Wang or Wang river, which is approximately an hour’s drive from the old city.

Ithaka Pro Tip: It can get pretty warm on a sunny day, so do carry your hat and some water for this trip.

8. Trek Up The Bua Thong Waterfall Or The Sticky Waterfall (Recommended)

If you’ve always loved the idea of trekking up a waterfall but haven’t had the courage to do so, then this one’s a must for you. Years and years of grit accumulation have made the stones at Bua Thong coarse – keeping any build-up on bay and thereby ensuring your feet stay put, and you don’t slip. The view around, much like the rest of Chiang Mai, is breaktaking.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Do try to schedule your visit for a weekday. Weekends tend to get crowded.

9. Chiang Mai Saturday Night Market On Wua Lai Road (Popular)

Chiang Mai is a shopper’s paradise. From great souvenirs to cheap bargains, the city is a haven for those who wish to buy. When there, definitely look at visiting these: Chiang Mai Night Bazaar on Chang Klan Road, the Saturday Night Market on Wua Lai Road and the Sunday Night Market on Rachadamnoen Road.

Ithaka Pro Tip: The markets can get a tad crowded, so get here early evening.

Thomas Cook Tip: Cash is king, so be sure to have enough Thai Baht on you.

10. A Gastronomic Treat – A Visit To Warorot Market (Offbeat)

If you’re in the mood to get a taste of the local flavours, then head here. Soak in the different fragrances and observe the madness behind the method, as vendors get their stalls ready. Mostly visited by the locals, this is the place to pick some of the local flavours like the Thai like it (think dips, curries etc). The upper floors here also sell clothes and other essentials – but you definitely won’t find anything offbeat here.

Ithaka Pro Tip: This one’s for the locals. No handicrafts and souvenirs are sold here.

Thomas Cook Tip: There are ATMs in Thailand but the exchange rate can be steep. Carry your exchange before travel.

11. Experience The Underground Live Music Scene In Chiang Mai (Recommended)

Once you’ve experienced the city by the day, it’s time to do so by night too. Chiang Mai offers plenty of options for those looking to unwind to nice happy music that’s played live. Pick from a wide range of options or visit a new one every night but make sure to do this.

12. Try Eating Some Khao Soi (Recommended)

The noodle dish of the northern region of Chiang Mai is highly famous and a must try for all. Much like most Thai dishes, it has a burst of flavours. This best kept secret dish of Chiang Mai is known to have its roots in the southern part of China.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Ask the locals for their advice on the best place for this – for the most authentic taste.

13. Visit An Elephant Sanctuary

If seeing and interacting with gentle giants (read elephants) is something you’d fancy, then head to one of the sanctuaries. Be warned though, not all are authentic and follow fair practices. Of the many, Elephant Nature Park is one that can be visited. The elephants here roam freely and you are offered a chance to interact with them, feed them, and bathe them.

Ithaka Pro Tip: This is another activity we recommend booking in advance.

14. Doi Inthanon (Popular)

The highest mountain around, head here if you’re looking to beat the heat. The promising vista offer stunning view of hills flirting with waterfalls. Doi Inthanon is home to some pretty sites, temples, caves, a national park, as well as a tribal village. All of which are great to visit.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Keep a day aside for this activity.

15. Visit A Center For Sak Yant Tattoos (Offbeat)

Get up close and personal with the age old tradition of tattooing observed in this part of the world. Be a part of the ceremony wherein you get the see the Master pick a tattoo and place of tattoo for the patron with the help of a long metal spike.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Pre book this tour. You will be required to buy a gift for the master with whom you will get to interact as a part of your tour.

16. Visit The Long Neck Karen Tribe (Popular)

Long Neck Karen TribeLong Neck Karen Tribe

The Long Neck Karen tribe visit entails visiting a village wherein the hill-tribe women live. Get a glimpse into their culture, wherein women can be seen here wearing brass rings around their necks, wrists, and ankles as part of their culture.

Ithaka Pro Tip: Pre book this tour. You have the option of buying some handicrafts, so do carry some currency, just in case.

17. Participate In The Loi Krathong Festival

Loi Krathong FestivalLoi Krathong Festival

Every year, the people of Thailand come out in large numbers to celebrate the Yee Peng festival. The three-day long fest that has earned the name of the Lantern Fest, sees members of the Thai households come out in large numbers and release these glowing lanterns into the sky. It’s definitely a sight to behold

Ithaka Pro Tip: The date for this fest isn’t fixed. If you plan to go experience this, please look up the dates beforehand.

18. Visit During The Songkran Festival

If you happen to be in Thailand in April, then definitely attend the Songkran festival that’s hosted in Chiang Mai. Songkran or the Thai New Year is celebrated here in great spirit. Much like the Indian festival of Holi, this one involves throwing of water and celebration with great gusto. Even the shy Thai folks come out with buckets of water and their water pistols, so be sure that you definitely can’t escape this, unless you are an infant or a senior citizen.

Ithaka Pro Tip: If this is your first visit, observe the rituals and customs and then participate in it.

Whatever your reason to visit Chiang Mai, we assure you this – you’ll come back with a camera full of pictures that are definitely insta worthy and memories that will keep you craving more.

Have you been to Chiang Mai? Is there something you’ve done that’s not on the list and you think must be on it? Please leave us a message.