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With an ancient history, lush landscapes and captivating culture, it’s clear why Chiang Mai is one of the best cities to visit in Thailand. Much more laid back and manageable than Bangkok, the compact Old City is teeming with historic temples, family-run restaurants and fun local markets. We designed a perfect 3 Days in Chiang Mai Itinerary that explores the city highlights – and more!
The Best Chiang Mai Itinerary
Trips to Chiang Mai can be relaxing and full of contemplation – or full throttle and filled with adventure. Visitors can see the city on a bare-bones budget – or splurge for a luxury vacation. Because travel styles are vastly different, we created a Chiang Mai travel itinerary that can be tailored to each individual traveler. We outline essential Chiang Mai activities, but offer ample alternative suggestions so that fellow travelers can easily adapt our itinerary for Chiang Mai into their perfect plan for visiting the city.
3 Days in Chiang Mai, Thailand
We detail what to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days – which we think the perfect amount of time to see the city sights and get a glimpse at the surrounding region. But what if you have more (or less!) time? We’ve got you covered! At the end of this blog post, we feature alternate Chiang Mai itineraries for 1 day to 1 week in the city.
Chiang Mai Itinerary 3 Days
Our itinerary includes the absolute best things to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days! Save, Pin or Bookmark our blog post so that you can easily access it while planning your trip!
DAY 1: CHIANG MAI OLD TOWN
On the first day of your Chiang Mai 3-Day Itinerary, explore the best Old Town sights. Get a taste of traditional cuisine, experience a key part of the Thai culture and navigate your way through a Chiang Mai night market.
Begin your exploration of the city on a Temple Tour. There are at least 30 temples within the Old City walls – and dozens more just steps from the city gates. The most visited are the lavishly decorated temples that sit within sprawling complexes, but some of the most unique temples see few visitors.
For travelers who are unfamiliar with Buddhism, it can be helpful to hire a Chiang Mai tour guide that can explain the history and significance of the temples. Read the reviews of this tour on Viator.
Visitors who would rather see the temples on their own can use our detailed Chiang Mai Temples guide, which includes specific information about our top-recommended temples and a walking route to see the best temples in Chiang Mai Old City.
Khao Soi Lunch
Khao Soi is the iconic dish of Northern Thailand – and it’s absolutely delicious. The spicy soup is a combination of noodles, meat and herbs that simmer in a coconut milk broth. Each stemming bowl is topped with crispy noodles – then diners add a squeeze of lime, pickled cabbage and shallots to create their own version of perfection.
While Khao Soi is offered at numerous restaurants in Chiang Mai, the best place for the signature meal is at Khao Soi Khun Yai – map. The makeshift restaurant is located on the north side of the Old Town (conveniently near Wat Lok Moli – one of the best temples in the city). Only open limited hours – 10:00am until 2:00pm Monday through Saturday (closed Sundays), make sure to keep an eye on the clock if you want a bowl of their famous Khao Soi!
Getting a Thai massage in a Chiang Mai is must! The art of Thai massage has been used for thousands of years as a method of healing and rejuvenation. Rather than soothing or tranquil, Thai massages use a technique of pressure, stretching and pulling. It can feel somewhat like visiting a chiropractor…and I think they are fabulous.
There are hundreds of places to get a massage in Chiang Mai. Every massage parlor and spa in the city offers a 1-hour Thai Massage, but other services – like foot massages, oil massages and other spa treatments – are also available. Prices for a traditional Thai massage start at around 200 baht ($6 USD), but can cost significantly more at upscale establishments.
Use our Complete Guide to Chiang Mai Massages to find the perfect place for your massage!
Chiang Mai Night Market
Chiang Mai has 3 night markets: The Saturday Night Market, The Sunday Night Market and the daily Night Bazaar. Even though all three of the Chiang Mai markets are geared toward tourists, we find them highly entertaining. Most of the items for sale are souvenirs (some handmade) and local eats. Vendors begin setting up around 4:00pm – and the markets are in full swing by 7:00pm.
Saturday Night Market
Of the three, the Saturday Walking Street Market is, by far, our favorite. The market takes place along Wualai Street, just outside the south city gate. After perusing the goods, we recommend dining on local fare from a market vendor near the Pratu Gate.
Sunday Night Market
The Sunday Market – also called the Tha Pae Walking Street Market – is located inside the Old City, occupying Rachadamnoen Road from the Tha Phae Gate west to the city center. Although more congested than the Saturday Market, having a meal on the grounds of Wat Pan On is one of the market highlights.
The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is east of the Old Town along Changklan Road. Offering similar goods as the Saturday and Sunday markets, the Bazaar has a large area for food vendors and sometimes live music.
DAY 2: CHIANG MAI DAY TRIPS
On the second day of your Chiang Mai 3-Days Itinerary, discover a region beyond the Old City walls on one of the day trips from Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Tours
One of the great things about Chiang Mai is its proximity to nearby nature, sights and cities. Tours from Chiang Mai take visitors into the mountains and to play with elephants, to famous temples and tea plantations, and to northern cities and hill tribe villages.
Choosing the Best Day Trips from Chiang Mai
Deciding which tour – or tours – to take can be overwhelming; there are just so many options! There are half-day, full-day and multi-day tours; big bus tours, small group tours and personalized tours; cheap, mid-range and expensive tours. We think the best way to wade through all the options is to read reviews from fellow travelers. Websites like Viator and Get Your Guide allow visitors to sort through the massive number of tours, clearly see inclusions, exclusions and read through the reviews.
We have only taken one Chiang Mai tour, an all-day trekking trip that included numerous activities, like playing with elephants, bamboo rafting, visiting a hill tribe, hiking through the forest and swimming at a waterfall. In the end, the tour fell short of our expectations – and, in hindsight, we would have chosen a different tour.
To avoid the same mistake we made, read about the details of our hiking day trip – and find out which tour we would have taken instead – in our Chiang Mai Trekking Trip blog post.
Popular Day Trips from Chiang Mai
These popular Chiang Mai day trips come highly rated by fellow travelers!
Ethical Elephant Camp
While elephant camps have long been a Thailand attraction, the poor treatment of the animals has come to light in recent years. Finding an ethical elephant sanctuary can be difficult – but not impossible! The Lanna Kingdom Elephant Sanctuary allows visitors to get up-close and personal with the gentle giants, but does not allow participants to ride the elephants. Find out more and book it!
Chiang Rai and Golden Triangle
One of the most popular tours is from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai and the Golden Triangle. The day trip from Chiang Mai includes visiting the famous White Temple, seeing the ancient city of Chiang Saen, riding a boat on the Khong River and exploring the Golden Triangle, the point where Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Thailand converge. Get the details and book it!
Top Tip: Rather than seeing the city on a day trip, we stayed in Chiang Rai for a week. We have suggestions for a Chiang Rai-Chiang Mai Itinerary below!
Chiang Mai Mountain Doi Suthep
Sitting west of the Chiang Mai Old City is Doi Suthep Mountain. Numerous day trips from Chiang Mai explore the mountain that is known for its lush nature, dazzling temples and incredible adventures. Some of the top activities include visiting the iconic Doi Suthep Temple, going to a hill tribe village and hiking to hidden waterfalls and stellar viewpoints. Search for the best Doi Suthep tours on Get Your Guide!
Dinner: Pork Leg Rice
After you return to the city from your day trip, indulge in a scrumptious meal of stewed Pork Leg Rice from a famous food vendor, the Cowboy Hat Lady. Located outside the north gate at the Chang Phueak Night Food Market, Khao Kha Moo Chang Phueak – map – is the best place in the city for Thai-style braised pork leg.
The pork is simmered to perfection. Served over steamed rice and covered in a sauce, it’s best with a sprinkle of pickled vegetables and an egg on the side. Some say the Cowboy Hat Lady makes the absolute best stewed pork in all of Thailand; the stall is so well-known that even the late Anthony Bourdain dined at the stall. Watch the clip here.
DAY 3: THAI CULTURE
Use the last day of your three days in Chiang Mai, to learn more about the local culture…and eat more delicious food.
Local Market (or Cooking Class)
One of the best ways to get a glimpse of local life in any city is to visit the markets where residents do their daily shopping. In Chiang Mai, the most popular day market is Warorot Market in Chinatown, which is just a short walk (or Grab Taxi ride) northeast of the walled city.
The massive shopping complex offers everything under the sun. Freshly ground spices overflow from barrels. Flies buzz around the piles of exotic produce and raw meat. Clothing, jewelry, electronics and luggage are crammed into small shops that are navigated by narrow lanes. The heat is oppressive and the scents are potent…and we love it!
Top Tip: Prepared market food is a great opportunity to try several different local dishes. Look for food vendors that have the longest lines and order what the locals are ordering!
Cooking Class Alternative
Participating in a cooking class is another way to understand the market, food and eating culture of Thailand. The school’s chef leads the attendees to a local market to gather produce, meat and spices for the day’s meal, explaining different fruits, vegetables and herbs during the visit. Back at the school, guests are guided through the process of making an incredible array of local eats. Lunch is guaranteed to be a feast! Read the reviews and book it now!
Monk Chat, Meditation, Museums (or a Swim!)
In the afternoon, spend time chatting with a monk, taking a class on meditation or visiting one of the Chiang Mai museums. Or, if you just need time to relax, go for a refreshing swim at your hotel pool!
Monk Chat is a fabulous way to learn more about the temples, monks, Buddhism and Thailand. Many of the temples offer the opportunity for tourists to converse with monks. We had an amazing monk chat with fellow travelers at Wat Chedi Luang, where they offer daily chats from 9:00am until 6:00pm.
Meditation or Yoga Class
There are numerous places around town that offer classes on meditation and yoga. Courses last from a couple of hours to month-long retreats.
We didn’t visit any museums on our trip, but they would make an excellent escape from the afternoon heat! Top Chiang Mai museums are the 3D Art Museum (buy your ticket in advance!), the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders and the National Museum.
Rather than Chiang Mai sightseeing, grab a good book and cool off with a refreshing swim at your hotel pool! Find our tips below for where to stay in Chiang Mai with a pool!
Staying at a hotel without a pool? Take a short trip out of the city to the Chiang Mai Grand Canyon Water Park! Find out more!
Dinner: Classic Thai Food
For your final meal in Chiang Mai, enjoy a traditional Thai dish – such as Pad Thai, Papaya Salad or Phanaeng Curry. There is no shortage of places to eat Thai food in Chiang Mai. That said, we highly recommend eating at Aroy Dee, Kanjana, Lucky Too or Teng Nueng. Use this link to Google Maps for all of our favorite Chiang Mai restaurants.
Want more tips of where to eat and what to do in Chiang Mai? Use our guide for tips on the Best Things To Do in Chiang Mai!
How Long To Stay in Chiang Mai
When deciding how long to spend in Chiang Mai, there are several factors to consider – like budget, interest and time allotted for your entire trip. We think 3 days in Chiang Mai is just enough time to get a feel for the city. That said, our trips to the city have always been longer – and we have never had a problem filling our stays with fun things to do.
Top Tip: When planning how many days in Chiang Mai to include on your itinerary, make sure to figure in travel day details. We discuss how to get to Chiang Mai at the end of the post.
Chiang Mai Itinerary Alternatives
Our outlined 3-Day Chiang Mai Tour Itinerary is a great way to get acquainted with the city – but what if you are planning to stay shorter or longer than 3 days? We are here to help! Use our tips to plan your Chiang Mai itinerary and to help you decide how long to stay in Chiang Mai.
ONE DAY IN CHIANG MAI
With just a day in Chiang Mai travelers will be limited to only seeing the highlights.
Chiang Mai 1-Day Itinerary
We think the best way to spend 1 day in Chiang Mai is to follow Day 1 of our above 3-Day Chiang Mai Itinerary – Temple Tour, Khao Soi Lunch, Thai Massage, Night Market.
CHIANG MAI ITIENRARY 2 DAYS
With 2 days in Chiang Mai, visitors have the opportunity to either delve deeper into the Chiang Mai culture or explore more the of the region.
Chiang Mai 2-Day Itinerary
When determining what to do in Chiang Mai in 2 days, we recommend deciding between spending both days in the heart of the city or spending one day in the city and one day on a full-day tour.
Day One: Follow our outlined Day 1 in our 3-Day Itinerary – Temple Tour, Khao Soi Lunch, Thai Massage, Night Market.
Day Two: Choose between Day 2 or Day 3 in our 3 Days in Chiang Mai Itinerary.
CHIANG MAI ITINERARY 4 DAYS
With 4 days in Chiang Mai, travelers can get acquainted with the Old City, learn about the culture and explore more of the region.
Chiang Mai 4-Day Itinerary
For Days 1, 2 and 3, use our above outlined 3-Day Chiang Mai Itinerary.
Day Four: Take a second day trip. For example, if you went to an Elephant Camp on Day 2, then spend Day 4 at Doi Suthep Mountain.
CHIANG MAI ITINERARY 5 DAYS
Travelers who have 5 days in Chiang Mai will be able to see more of the best of the city!
Chiang Mai 5-Day Itinerary
For Days 1, 2, 3 and 4, use our Chiang Mai 4-Days Itinerary (directly above).
Day Five: Do any of the activities you didn’t do on Day 3. In the morning, either take a Cooking Class or visit the Warorot Chinatown Market. Then, in the afternoon, go to a Monk Chat, a museum or take a yoga or meditation class – whichever you skipped on Day 3.
CHIANG MAI ITINERARY 7 DAYS
One week in Chiang Mai is ample time to see the city sights and surroundings.
Chiang Mai 7-Day Itinerary
For Days 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, use our 5 Days in Chiang Mai Itinerary (directly above).
Day Six: Explore the neighborhoods beyond the Old City walls. Go to the east and wander through the very local San Pa Khoi Market. To the west, discover the Nimman district (which is popular with expats), go to the Suan Dok temple and visit the Chiang Mai University campus.
Day Seven: Spend the day wandering the Old City sois (alleys). Pop into random temples, have an iced coffee at a hip cafe and scout out street art. In the afternoon, relax at your hotel pool or splurge on a spa treatment.
Northern Thailand Itinerary: Chiang Mai-Chiang Rai
Creating a dedicated Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Itinerary is a fabulous way to plan to see Northern Thailand. A 5-Day North Thailand Itinerary is an ideal time to see the two cities.
Days 1, 2 and 3: Use our detailed Chiang Mai Itinerary for 3 days.
Day 4: Private transfer to Chiang Rai that includes stops at sights along the way, such as tea plantations and the Golden Triangle. Book a driver that will take you to your desired destinations, like this private transfer.
Day 5: See the sights of Chiang Rai, like the famous White Temple, the Black House, waterfalls and temples. Use our list of the Top Things To Do in Chiang Rai for our best tips!
Bangkok-Chiang Mai Itinerary
Best Time To Visit Chiang Mai
The weather in Chiang Mai can severely affect a trip to the city. Year round, the city sees hot and humid temperatures; visitors can expect temps to be in the high 80s to low 90s Fahrenheit. The rainy season lasts from May to October – and, historically, August in the wettest month. The dry season is from late October through April; January is typically the coolest month.
Our visits have always coincided with the rainy season – and it certainly does rain! Any adverse weather – be it rain or extreme heat – can put a damper on outdoor activities, like hiking and temple touring. However, it rarely rains for long periods of time and the rain usually lowers the temperature slightly, so don’t let rainy season weather completely deter you from visiting (just remember your umbrella)!
How To Get To Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai can be reached by plane, train, bus or car. On our visits, we have arrived via airplane (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!). Flying and taking the train are the two most popular options for traveling to Chiang Mai.
Chiang Mai Airport
The Chiang Mai International Airport (code: CNX) is located southwest of the Old City. It’s about a 10-minute taxi ride from the airport to the city center. Flat-rate taxis into the city are available for about 150 baht.
Start your search for the lowest airfare to Chiang Mai on SkyScanner!
Chiang Mai Train Station
The Chiang Mai Railway Station (code: CGM) is located east of the Old City, across the Ping River. The station has limited service and is mostly used to connect Chiang Mai to Bangkok.
Bangkok to Chiang Mai
Many visitors travel from Bangkok to Chiang Mai as part of their greater Thailand Itinerary – and there are a few options for covering the large distance between the two cities.
Bangkok-Chiang Mai Flight
The most efficient way to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai is via airplane. The flight takes about 1.5 hours and typically cost less than $100 USD. Search for the best times and lowest fares!
Bangkok to Chiang Mai Train
The journey between the two cities takes – at minimum – 11 hours. The long ride costs as little as $30 USD, but sleeper compartments cost almost double. Find the schedule and information here.
Via Bus or Car
Travelers can also get between the two cities using buses and/or cars, but we don’t recommend it unless you have a specific plan to make strategic stops along the way.
Where To Stay in Chiang Mai
With just 3 days in Chiang Mai, it’s important to stay somewhere centrally located. We highly recommend staying in the Old Town. Our favored location is in the northeastern quadrant of the Old Town. We spent hours – maybe days – researching the best place to stay in Chiang Mai. The factors we considered were location, amenities and cost.
Chada Mantra Boutique Hotel Chiang Mai
During our most recent trip to Chiang Mai, we stayed in the Chada Mantra Hotel. The boutique hotel is ideally located in the northeast corner of the Old Town. In addition to the included made-to-order breakfast, the hotel features a pool – which was an amenity we knew we wanted for our trip (and were so thankful for on hot afternoons!). Best of all, the cost was less than $50 USD per night.
The rooms are spacious, clean and bright with ice-cold air con. Our top-floor, corner room had two balconies that overlooked the street, which was busy during the day but quiet at night. As it is a small hotel, we recommend booking in advance. Check now for availability and rates!
Top Tip: Looking for a hostel in Chiang Mai? Chada Mantra doubles as one of the best Chiang Mai hostels with both Male and Female dorm rooms, offering bunk beds that cost less than $15 USD per night. Guests traveling as a family or group of friends can book entire 4- or 6-bunk rooms at extremely low rates, too! Get current rates!
Anoma Bed and Breakfast
On our first Chiang Mai visit, we stayed in a budget hotel, Anoma Bed and Breakfast. Located near the south city gate, the room was clean and sufficient for our stay. The staff was incredibly kind, the rooms were air conditioned with private bathrooms. Additionally, they supplied a very simple continental breakfast. The nightly rate is less than $20 USD; so for a couple, it can be cheaper than staying in a dorm bed. See availability and cost!
Things To Pack
When packing for your trip, don’t forget these must-have items!
Chiang Mai Map
Chiang Mai Old Town is pretty easy to get around – it’s basically a grid. However, the foreign alphabet and a few curving alleys can present a challenge. In order to navigate the city like a pro, we recommend buying a map in advance of your trip (and spend a little time studying it before you arrive!). Buy it now!
Bug Spray and Sun Protection
Don’t let pesky mosquitoes or a dreadful sunburn hinder your trip! Remember to pack good insect repellent and protective sunscreen! Tip: A wide-brimmed travel hat or travel umbrella are also useful for combating the intense sun rays of Southeast Asia!
Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the images of your trip, we recommend upgrading to a real camera that will take higher quality photos. We use a Canon Rebel with an everyday 18-135mm lens (which I love!), but also carry a lighter weight Canon Powershot to use when hiking or at the beach.
We think travel insurance is essential! It can be used to cover expenses incurred for a wide range of things – such as injuries, illnesses and even flight delays or cancellations. Find rates and a full list of coverages at World Nomads.
Heading to other Thailand destinations? Get our top tips for your Thailand Itinerary on our Thailand Travel Guides Page!
We Want To Know: What would you add to our Chiang Mai Itinerary? Do you have any Chiang Mai travel tips? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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