The 10 Best Day Trips From Chiang Mai, Thailand

Tourist walking in Doi Mae Salong, Chiang Rai, Thailand.
© Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images

There’s more to Chiang Mai than just the city. Much of the surrounding countryside remains unspoiled, including down-home villages and mountain trails where you can hike or ATV through some of northern Thailand’s most gorgeous scenery. All you have to do is make your way there, and it’s a whole new adventure. If you're ready to go, these are the day trip destinations you shouldn't miss.

01 of 10

Explore a Ruined Capital at Wiang Kum Kam

Wiang Kum Kam stupa

Surawong Wongprat/Getty Images

149 หมู่ที่ 2 Somphot Chiang Mai 700 Pi Rd, Tambon Tha Wang Tan, Amphoe Saraphi, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand
Phone +66 53 140 322

This Lanna metropolis south of Chiang Mai once served as the Kingdom’s capital for all of ten years in 1286; regular floods from the nearby Ping River led to its final abandonment in the 16th century. Much of the site was only dug up from the mud in the 1980s, revealing over 40 temple ruins within a city measuring some 120 acres.

Getting there: Hire a private ride to get to Wiang Kum Kam. Start your trip at the visitor center at Route 3029 to learn about the foundation of Wiang Kum Kam, and hire a horse-cart nearby to take you around the local sights.

Travel tip: Two temples have been fully restored and remain active for worshipers. Wat Chedi Liam was founded in 1288, and Wat Chang Kam was first built in 1290; both were re-sanctified in the 20th century. The other temples in the area have been ravaged by centuries of floods and neglect, but are still in the process of restoration by the authorities.

02 of 10

Take on Thailand’s Longest Canopy Walk at Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens

Canopy walk at Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens

Thanaphong Araveeporn/Getty Images

100 หมู่ 9 Tambon Mae Raem, Amphoe Mae Rim, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand
Phone +66 53 841 234

Named after the Thai Queen Mother, the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens were established in 1992 as a haven for Thai plant life and a research area for botanical specialists. The Gardens are intended as a showcase for biodiversity and ecological conservation — a cause close to the Queen Mother’s heart.

Key stops include the Glass House Complex, with eight themed conservatories (including orchids and cacti); a Museum of Natural Sciences for kids; and the Flying Draco Trail, the longest canopy walkway in Thailand. The Trail features a see-through mesh floor and glass barriers, so you can see the gorgeous natural view unimpeded.

Getting there: If you can’t get a private car and driver, take the yellow songthaew (minibus) from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1 to Mae Rim; you can disembark at the gate. To get back, just look for a yellow songthaew heading in the opposite direction.

Travel tip: If you don’t come with a ride handy, prepare to do a lot of walking between the Gardens’ widely-spaced attractions.

03 of 10

Shop for Thai Treasures at Handicraft Highway

Ban Tawai wood carver

John Elk/Getty Images

Highway 1006 has long been known as Chiang Mai’s “Handicraft Highway” thanks to the artisanal villages found down its length. The villages of Bo Sang and Ban Tawai, among others, are excellent showcases for northern Thai handicrafts. Bo Sang specializes in umbrellas and fans. Their artisans use traditional methods and materials like mulberry paper, but are also increasingly using modern designs and influences. Ban Tawai, on the other hand, has turned into a friendly home décor market driven by local woodcarvers.

Getting there: Riding a yellow songthaew from Chiang Mai gate will take you down Route 108 to a stop a mile shy from Ban Tawai. For a more direct trip, hire a tuktuk or songthaew to take you, though expect to pay about THB 500 ($16).

Travel tip: More handicrafts are to be seen down the length of the highway, including silverware, silk, ceramics, and lacquerware. Visit the local workshops not just to buy at a low price, but to see the artisans hard at work creating the valuable handicrafts you’re planning to take home.

04 of 10

Go Underground in the Chiang Dao Caves

Chiang Dao Cave

Komsitt Vikittikornkul/Getty Images

273 หมู่ 5 Tambon Chiang Dao, Amphoe Chiang Dao, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50170, Thailand

A visit to Chiang Dao National Park simply isn’t complete without venturing into the depths of the Chiang Dao Caves. This cave complex consists of some 100 caves in total, but only five caves are open to the public. Two of the caves can be explored freely: Tham Seua Dao and Tham Phra Nawn have both been electrically illuminated and set up for visitors, with a proliferation of Buddha images and shrines. You’ll need a lantern (hired at the caves) and an optional guide to explore the other three caves: Tham Maa, Tham Naam and Tham Kaew.

Getting there: You can choose from either orange buses and VIP buses that both leave from Chiang Mai Bus Terminal 1.

Travel tip: Passageways in these caves can get pretty low, and the floors can get slippery. Hiring a guide can help you see the caves more efficiently while avoiding the dangerous parts.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10

See Chiang Rai’s Modern Temples

Chiang Rai White Temple

Supoj Buranaprapapong/Getty Images

60 หมู่ที่ 1 Phahonyothin Rd, Tambon Pa O Don Chai, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Rai, Chang Wat Chiang Rai 57000, Thailand
Phone +66 53 673 967

This northernmost metropolis in Thailand, like Chiang Mai, was a former Lanna capital. Today it’s a laid-back city that features a surprisingly vital art scene and a collection of modern temples that reveal Chiang Rai’s unique spirit. The White Temple, Wat Rong Khun, is perhaps Chiang Rai’s most famous tourist destination — only opened in 1997, it combines Buddhist imagery with a modern artist’s eye. The Blue Temple is a riot of blue and gold — and unlike the White Temple, permits picture-taking on the premises.

Getting there: Chiang Rai is set some 110 miles northeast of Chiang Mai and is easily accessible by bus or hired car.

Travel tip: If the outdoors are more your thing, Chiang Rai obliges with Long Neck Karen villages, where you can meet the local tribes and shop for handicrafts, and rafting and elephant encounters at Mae Kok River.

06 of 10

Ride an ATV at X-Centre, Mae Rim

ATV in Chiang Mai

Wr Wrrn Kheluxn Phechr / EyeEm / Getty Images

816 หมู่ 1 ถนนแม่ริม-สะเมิง ริมใต้ แม่ริม Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand
Phone +66 53 297 700

The countryside surrounding Chiang Mai is the perfect backdrop for extreme activities, and Mae Sa Valley obliges with the X-Centre: a rural adventure trail with activities like ziplines, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), paintball, and bungee jumping. The ATV experience is X-Centre’s key attraction. You can choose from two off-road tours, with the tougher one taking two hours and passing through some challenging (but not extremely difficult) terrain like water crossings, jungle paths and moderate inclines. For ATV riders, a refundable deposit of THB 5,000 ($160) will be charged, which is added incentive to take care of your ride!

Getting there: X-Centre is about a 30 minute drive from Chiang Mai Old Town; free shuttle service to/from Chiang Mai is available for bookings straight from their website.

Travel tip: The park opens at 9 a.m.; try to visit as early as possible to avoid the noontime sun.

07 of 10

Escape the Heat at Mon Cham, Thailand

Mon Cham camp grounds

Oat_Phawat/Getty Images

Mae Raem, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand

The Nong Hoi Royal Project was created to curb the drug trade. Hmong hill tribes, formerly engaged in the cultivation of opium poppies used in heroin, were encouraged to join this agro-tourism project in the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai. The farming community of Mon Cham is Nong Hoi’s key tourist showpiece, with hills abloom with thyme, mint, camomile, strawberries, seedless grapes and tomatoes. Grown using sustainable farming principles, Mon Cham’s produce (what it doesn’t export in any case) makes its way to the many farm-to-table restaurants in the area. Located some 4,200 feet above sea level, Mon Cham offers a cooler climate that can be a relief compared to Chiang Mai.

Getting there: Mon Cham is an hour’s drive from Chiang Mai up highways 1096 and 4051; red taxis and Grab ride shares alike are ready to take you there.

Travel tip: Visit Mon Cham between October and February, when the cool air feels particularly crisp and no rains will interrupt your experience.

08 of 10

Dine Al Fresco at Huay Tung Tao Lake

Lakeside at Chiang Mai

Chalermpon Poungpeth/Getty Images

VW9V+MV7, Don Kaeo, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand
Phone +66 85 283 5850

This man-made reservoir has found its true purpose as an R&R area for Thai locals. Huay Tung Tao Lake is best known for its rustic restaurants, where diners can tuck into freshly-caught fish at the kiosks overlooking the water. Enjoy grilled fish, papaya salad, and sticky rice, and wash it down with a frosty local beer. Beyond the food, you can also go paddle boarding, ATV riding, or swimming in one of the designated areas in the lake. An entrance fee of THB 50 ($1.60) will be charged at the gate.

Getting there: Huay Tung Tao is an easy nine mile drive from Chiang Mai. Hire your own ride (a Grab car or songthaew).

Travel tip: Despite the 20-plus restaurants on site, the menus are quite similar in items and price.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10

Relax at the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

San Kamphaeng Hot Springs

Ol' Pete/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

9, Moo 2, Tambon Ban Sahakon, Amphoe Mae On, Chiang Mai, 50130, ตำบล บ้านสหกรณ์ อำเภอ แม่ออน เชียงใหม่ 50130, Thailand

This popular destination for Thai locals gives all visitors a chance to relax their muscles in hot spring water. Located some 20-odd miles east of Chiang Mai, the San Kamphaeng Hot Springs provide a multitude of ways for visitors to enjoy the sulfur-rich hot springs that bubble up from the depths. You can go swimming in the mineral swimming pool, where the enriched warm water feels like a liquid hug. You can book a private room with your own hot-spring tub. You can even cook chicken eggs at the hot springs at the entrance! An entrance fee of THB 100 ($3.20) will be charged at the gate.

Getting there: Take a white songthaew from Warorot Market to San Kamphaeng. 

Travel tip: As San Kamphaeng is a popular haunt for the locals, avoid visiting during the weekends when most of the visitors make their way here.

10 of 10

Jump Off a Cliff at Hang Dong Quarry

Hang Dong Quarry, Chiang Mai

Keith Burgie / Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

Due to the water-filled depressions surrounded by stark red rock cliff faces, visitors have given this abandoned quarry in Chiang Mai a new name: the “Grand Canyon”. While nowhere near as Grand as its U.S.-based namesake, Chiang Mai’s Grand Canyon is good for an afternoon of fun. Most adventurous visitors come here to go “cliff-jumping” into the waters. You can choose from a few different heights from which to jump, from a measly six feet to a terrifying 40-plus-foot drop. Don’t worry about hitting rock bottom: the water is really deep.

Getting there: There are no public transport options nearby, so you'll need to hire your own songthaew or private ride. The 11 mile trip will take about 30 to 45 minutes by car.

Travel tip: For a more sedate adventure in the area, try the more family-friendly Grand Canyon Waterpark and its slides, inflatable obstacle course and zipline. You can float serenely on an inner tube or bamboo raft, admiring the view, or you can chill out with a beer or fruit smoothie at the Tuang Thong Canyon View Restaurant.

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The 10 Best Day Trips From Chiang Mai, Thailand