48 Hours in Chiang Mai: The Perfect itinerary

  • 01 of 06

    Welcome to Chiang Mai

    Huai Nam Dang National Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand
    Alongkot Sumritjearapol / Getty Images

     

    Chiang Mai is a popular launching off point for trips into other parts of northern Thailand but offers plenty for visitors who choose this city as a destination in its own right. Founded in 1296, Chiang Mai is one of the oldest living cities in Thailand and was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom.

    The Old City, enclosed by a now crumbling wall, is filled with ancient temples, charming guest houses and plenty of cafes and restaurants but is small enough to walk through in just a few hours.

    Although there is enough to keep you occupied in Chiang Mai and the surrounding area for at least a week, most people will find a couple of days in the Old City enough to enjoy the best it has to offer.

    Chiang Mai has some of the best boutique hotels and charming guesthouses in all of Thailand. If you’re in the city for just a couple of days, pick a place in the Old City so you’ll be able to walk to most of the sights. Here are some excellent Chiang Mai hotels in all price ranges.

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  • 02 of 06

    Day 1: Morning and Afternoon

    Wat Chedi Luang
    Taylor McIntyre / © TripSavvy 2018

    Spend your first day in Chiang Mai visiting some of the temples in the Old City. There are four temples you shouldn’t miss (Wat Chiedi Luang, Wat Pan Tao, Wat Phra Singh, and Wat ​Chiedi Man) and all are within easy walking distance of each other.

    Make sure to try some khao soi for lunch and enjoy some of the region’s famed coffee at a local cafe.

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  • 03 of 06

    Day 1: Evening

    Strings of Lanterns at the night market
    David McKelvey/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

    After you’ve spent the day exploring the temples, rest up, refresh then hit the town at sundown to explore one of the night markets. The Chiang Mai Night Market is open 7 days a week but many think the Sunday Night Market is the best place to go for traditional handicrafts and relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

    For dinner, head to one of these great Chiang Mai restaurants for some traditional Northern Thai cuisine or to see what the city’s urban hipsters are eating.

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  • 04 of 06

    Day 2: Morning and Afternoon

    People showing respects at Doi Suthep
    Taylor McIntyre / © TripSavvy 2018

    Today you’ll head outside of the Old City to explore Doi Suthep, the 5,500-foot high mountain that’s home to one of the region’s most important temples, Wat Doi Suthep, and the Chiang Mai Zoo.

    After a day on the mountain, stop on Nimmanhaemin Road to check out some of the area’s fun boutiques and great restaurants.

    Tip: though you can easily get a taxi or tuk tuk to take you to Doi Suthep, go the local way by sharing a ride on one of the city’s many red pickup trucks, called songthaew.

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  • 05 of 06

    Day 2: Evening

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  • 06 of 06

    More Things to See and Do in Chiang Mai

    Wat Suan Dok, Chiang Mai.
    Ashit Desai / Getty Images

    The Chiang Mai region has plenty of other attractions, chief among them amazing hiking trips through the mountains of Northern Thailand. If you’re planning on being in the city for more than a couple of days, here are a few other things to see and do:

    • Temples outside the Old City. Wat Suan Dok, Wat Bupparam, Wat Umong, Wat Saen Fang, and Wat Ket Garam are just a few of the many notable temples in the greater Chiang Mai area. Hire a ​​tuk tuk or taxi and spend the day exploring these ​wats if you have the time.
    • The Chiang Mai National Museum. Though Chiang Mai feels like a living museum, you’ll get a better understanding of the Lanna Kingdom by visiting this large, well-curated collection of art and artifacts north of the Old City. Plan on spending a few hours here.
    • More markets. The Chiang Mai markets are some of the best in Thailand. If you’re in Chiang Mai for the weekend, spend a few hours wandering the weekend market or head to one of the many local markets surrounding the city.
    • Dine on the River Ping. The River Ping flanks the eastern side of the Old City and has plenty of charming little restaurants to dine at. There are also nightly river cruises that depart from the east side of the Nawarat Bridge.