If you are planning your Thailand vacation and wondering where to visit, make sure Chiang Mai is on your list! Yes, the city center has parts that are touristy ( which you can avoid if you choose) but the Lanna ( Northern Thai) culture and history here are fascinating and impact everything from the cuisine to the architecture, making it a great city to spend some time in.
We frequently get asked by traveling families where they should stay in Chiang Mai, and what they should see ( plus what street food and restaurants we recommend), which prompted me to finally write a post detailing our thoughts on Chiang Mai for tourists.
At the end of the day, we all have different preferences with regards to where we stay and what types of hotels, houses, resorts, or hostels meet our requirements. My Mother tends to choose accommodation near our house in Hang Dong, outside the city center. She gets a good deal on staying at affordable hotels (like Taraburi Resort and Spa) in this area because she stays for 1-2 months and gets a discount.
While we love living outside of Chiang Mai’s city center, most of our friends who stay here for only a few weeks or months usually want to be located within the heart of where things are happening. If you don’t want to rent a car and prefer to rely on walking and public transportation, this is your best bet! Hang Dong, Mae Rim,and other are outside of the main tourist hubs ( such as the night market and nimmanhaemin) and you’ll probably need to rent a bike or taxi to commute to temples and center-located stuff.
If like us you don’t mind ( or prefer) being in a quieter place, I highly recommend finding a hotel in Hang Dong. I adore this area! In fact we rarely leave it. There are excellent restaurants and wet markets ( as well as supermarkets like Big C and Rimping) and there are lovely rice fields. It’s a very serene area to vacation in Chiang Mai, making it very family-friendly. Plus, most of the hotels here have pools and the Grand Canyon ( in this area) now has a waterpark!
What To See In Chiang Mai
This part of Thailand is known for lanna culture and its many temples. Tourist attractions geared to foreigners ( as opposed to Thai tourists) include visiting elephant parks and sanctuaries.
The temples ( wat ) in Chiang Mai are spectacular and range in age and architecture style. Wat doi pra that suthep ( not too far from us in Hang Dong) and wat chedi luang ( in the town center) are both beautiful temples with interesting histories. Then again, there are hundreds ( if not a thousand) temples here, and you can’t really go wrong with which you visit! Some are more ornate while others are in ruins.
If you’re looking for a good date night activity, consider taking a Ping river cruise. This will also give you a chance to take some beautiful evening photos of the city as you cruise down the Ping river. I haven’t personally done this but I went on a boat down the Mekong ( and also the Nile) and want to eventually add this activity to our list of must-do-before-we-leave-Thailand.
Thailand is known for its many markets, and Chiang Mai has loads. We don’t usually go to the busy ones in town ( we have almost 5 markets just in our area) but the walking market and Kad Luang ( warorot market) are worth going to on your trip. These are great places to go shopping for lanna crafts and items from other parts of Thailand, as well as Thai food and a huge variety of items to purchase.
If you and your family are interested in experiencing a traditional lanna-style meal, make sure to go to a khantoke dinner. Khantoke is a type of small wicker table that is used for meals. It’s similar to the small tables used in Korea. You can find a number of khantoke dinner-style programs for tourists online.
There are loads of activities for kids in Chiang Mai too, as well as family-friendly restaurants like Nic’s, Triplets, Viva Pizza, and The Village by Pat ( in Samoeng). I will soon be writing an article about family-friendly restaurants in Chiang Mai so stay tuned, but for now, I recommend visiting those previously mentioned.
Children will love to visit the Chiang Mai zoo and aquarium, the former of which is pretty cheap. You can choose to drive through the zoo in your own vehicle or park and walk, or take the shuttle. The aquarium is located inside the zoo, near a very beautiful garden. While our zoo in Chiang Mai is small, it’s still fun for young kids; our daughter loved our trip there!
Make sure to also include plenty of time in your vacation to Chiang Mai for Thai massage! But you probably knew that already since Thailand is famous for it. There are massage parlors for every budget and that feature different massage styles, from traditional Thai massage to hot herbal compresses. Price doesn’t usually indicated how good or bad the masseuse is, and usually the more expensive establishments are in spas or hotels.