Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting In 2024?

My answer to “Is Chiang Mai worth visiting?” is yes. During my two months backpacking Thailand, I spent one week in Chiang Mai and it turned out to be one of my favourite places.

It’s important to know whether somewhere is worth visiting or not before you make your way there, especially for somewhere like Chiang Mai which is so far out of the way from Bangkok.

And I’ll tell you exactly why I think that journey is worth making. So let’s jump into my reasons to visit Chiang Mai.

Want a quick idea? It’s cheap, has a nice atmosphere and vibe, and there are so many things to do.

Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting? YES!

Yes, Chiang Mai is 100% worth visiting.

In fact, it’s one of my favourite places in all of Thailand – and I have been to a lot of places in Thailand.

Chiang Mai is often skipped over by travellers as they prefer to spend their time in Southern Thailand in the islands rather than in Northern Thailand in the mountains, and in my opinion, this is a huge mistake.

I wouldn’t consider Chiang Mai a “hidden gem” because it is still popular, but at the same time, the city is slept on by so many travellers.

A traveler named Josh standing in front of a golden stupa in Chiang Mai, Thailand, demonstrating the cultural experiences that make Chiang Mai worth visiting

It’s such a cliche and I hate using it on my blog but Chiang Mai really does “have something for everyone”.

If you’re interested in nature, guess what? You can take jungle treks from Chiang Mai. I did an overnight stay during mine and had the best time ever!

If you like experiencing new cultures, guess what? Chiang Mai has the most temples out of all the cities in Thailand. There are over 300 temples in Chiang Mai.

If you’re an animal lover, guess what? Chiang Mai is the best place to see elephants in Thailand and is home to the most ethical elephant sanctuary in the country.

If you love food, then you will adore Chiang Mai. The street food in the city is incredible, and it’s a well-known fact that Chiang Mai has some of the best food in Thailand.

See what I mean? There is so much to offer in Chiang Mai. It’s everything I wanted Bangkok to be but wasn’t.

The iconic Three Kings Monument in Chiang Mai, a historical landmark that underscores the city's rich heritage and its allure for travelers.

I spent a week in Chiang Mai which is longer than most people stay, and longer than most people say you need, but I still found myself leaving without doing some things I wanted to.

Honestly, I can see myself living in Chiang Mai at some point. I really really love it there and if there is one place I can encourage you to visit in Thailand, it would be Chiang Mai.

I know it’s a bit out of the way if you aren’t planning on going up north, but there are other places worth visiting up there too, such as Chiang Rai and Pai. Plus, you can easily get a flight, or if you’re on a budget, there are lots of sleeper trains – which is an experience in itself!

So, is Chiang Mai worth visiting? Absolutely.

The majestic Wat Chedi Luang in Chiang Mai with visitors, a testament to the city's historical treasures

Reasons To Visit Chiang Mai

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I know that it’s one thing to tell you that I think Chiang Mai is worth visiting, but it’s another thing to tell you why. Honestly, I could go on for hours talking about Chiang Mai, but I’ve narrowed it down to nine reasons why Chiang Mai is worth visiting. Here they are:

  • It’s cheap: All of Thailand isn’t expensive compared to the Western world, but Chiang Mai is even cheaper than most places. The islands in the south are very expensive compared to Chiang Mai, and prices are often as much as 3x cheaper up north. It’s so easy to visit on a budget.
  • History and culture: Chiang Mai was the old capital of the Lanna Kingdom, what Thailand used to be called. When you get to Chiang Mai, you will notice it is a walled city with canals around the outskirts of the Old City, and this is why.
  • It’s not too big: Honestly, I didn’t love my time in Bangkok. The city is way too big and crazy. Chiang Mai is much smaller and nicer. Don’t get me wrong, the roads are still hectic, but just not as hectic. I think the city is just the perfect size.
  • A city amongst nature: Continuing on from the last point, even though it’s a city, it’s surrounded by nature. Just outside the Old City, you have Doi Suthep, which is a temple on a beautiful mountain.
  • Food: Chiang Mai is a foodie’s paradise. The famous Khao Soi dish which is regional to the north of Thailand is delicious and it’s hard to find elsewhere in the country. There are lots of food markets throughout the Old City selling delicious food for really cheap.
  • It’s safe: Chiang Mai is safe to visit and is regarded as one of the safest places in Thailand and Southeast Asia. You won’t have any safety concerns during your stay.
  • Day trips: There are a ton of day trip options from Chiang Mai such as to Doi Inthanon National Park, which is home to the tallest mountain in Thailand. The city is the perfect base camp for exploring the north of Thailand.
  • Nomads: For those who are staying in Thailand long-term, Chiang Mai is a really popular place to stay for longer periods of time, especially for digital nomads. Chiang Mai is known as the SEO Capital of the World.
  • Further Travel: If you want to take it one step further than day trips, Chiang Mai is the best place to be for moving on the likes of Pai and Chiang Rai. It’s so convenient to get between them using 12Go.

For the sake of fairness and so I am not biased, there is one big downside of visiting Chiang Mai at certain times of the year. In the burning season, Chiang Mai has some of the worst air pollution in the world. It’s a sad fact, and many people will avoid the city at this time of year, myself included. But if you visit any other time, you won’t have any problems.

A screenshot showing the air quality index in Chiang Mai as 'Very Unhealthy', posing a question for travelers if Chiang Mai is worth visiting during periods of high pollution.
Screenshot of 16th March 2024 air quality.

15 Best Things To Do In Chiang Mai

While I love Chiang Mai and I would encourage anyone and everyone to visit, I can appreciate that it might not be for everyone. So to help you decide if Chiang Mai is worth visiting for you, I’ve put together a list of the best things to do in the city so you can see the kinds of things on offer.

A serene elephant wandering in Chiang Mai's Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary that contributes to ethical tourism

1) Visit Elephant Nature Park: When you’re planning a trip to Thailand, you’ll probably want to see elephants at some point in your trip. Chiang Mai is the perfect place to do so as it is home to the Elephant Nature Park, which is widely considered the most ethical elephant sanctuary in Thailand. The elephants are free to roam and you simply observe them from a distance.

Important Note: If you choose to visit another elephant sanctuary, you should never visit one which includes riding the elephants. It is extremely unethical. At the most, walking, bathing and feeding is “fine”, but definitely do not ride them.

2) See the Old City’s temples: As I mentioned earlier, there are hundreds of temples in the Old City of Chiang Mai. You’ll see many of them naturally as you walk around the city, but my personal recommendations to check out are Wat Phra Singh, which is the “postcard” shot of Chiang Mai, and Wat Sri Suphan, which is a really unique silver metallic temple.

A young man stands on a forest trail in front of a cascading waterfall, surrounded by lush greenery, capturing the natural beauty one can experience.

3) Go jungle trekking: My favourite thing I did in Chiang Mai, and one of my favourites in all of Thailand was to take an overnight jungle trekking tour. Not only did I trek 20 kilometres over 2 days through the jungles of Chiang Mai, I made some amazing friends in such a short period of time with campfire singalongs and hours of storytelling.

πŸ₯Ύ Book your Chiang Mai trekking tour here 🌳

4) Take a cooking class: Chiang Mai is the best place to take a cooking class in Thailand for two reasons. One, it’s much cheaper than other parts of the country. And two, the food is simply better. You learn from the best of the best, and you get the recipes to take home with you so you can replicate the deliciousness to show off to your friends and family.

πŸ‘¨β€πŸ³ Book your Chiang Mai cooking class here 🍚

Visitors exploring the historic Doi Suthep Temple under renovation in Chiang Mai.

5) Visit Doi Suthep: Just outside of Chiang Mai Old City is a mountain, and at the top of that mountain is Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, another incredibly picturesque temple. For me, it was hard to choose which was more beautiful between the temple and the views over the city. Both are breathtaking and well-worth the journey up the hill.

Top Tip: You can get a shared songthaew for only 100 baht per person to take you to the temple. If you take a taxi or a Grab (Uber in Thailand), it’s going to be at least 500 baht.

6) Take a day trip to Doi Inthanon: Doi Inthanon National Park is a must-visit when in Chiang Mai. At the top of the tallest mountain in Thailand is a stunning temple, similar to how there is a temple at Doi Suthep. At Doi Inthanon, the gardens of the temple are stunning and combine this with the view of the landscapes and you have a view straight out of a dream.

β›° Book your Doi Inthanon day trip here πŸ›•

Twilight settles over a bustling Chiang Mai street with local tuk-tuks and street vendors, showcasing the vibrant street life and local transport

7) Explore the markets: Chiang Mai is full of markets. My personal favourite is the Gate Market on the south wall. It has lots of street food options and it’s so cheap too. You also have the Night Bazaar and on Sundays, the main street through the heart of Chiang Mai turns into a walking street market which is so busy – it’s mayhem!

8) Chase some waterfalls: The opportunities to get into the outdoors from Chiang Mai are endless, and there are a load of waterfalls which you can check out too. The most famous is the Sticky Waterfall but there are lots of others you can chase too such as the Mae Sa Waterfall and Mork Fa Waterfall.

Tourists walk through a traditional hill tribe village market in Chiang Mai, exploring local crafts and culture in an open-air setting

9) Visit a local Hmong Village: Northern Thailand is filled with lots of local hill tribes and villages. From Chiang Mai, you have the opportunity to visit some of these tribes. The most easily accessible is the Hmong Doi Pui Village. It’s on the same mountain as Doi Suthep, and many people combine them into one trip as the songthaews can take you between the attractions. You can support the village by purchasing some cheap handmade crafts and souvenirs.

β›° Book your Doi Suthep and Hmong Village tour here πŸ›–

10) Get a Thai massage: Of course, you can get a Thai massage anywhere in Thailand, but since Chiang Mai is so cheap, it’s a great place to tick off some Thailand must-dos if you’re on a budget in Thailand. There are massage shops everywhere in the Old City and if you’re walking down the street, you’ll likely hear a lot of women shouting “massage massage”.

Important: Always make sure it is a legit massage shop – you can usually assume it is if they are dressed in professional uniforms.

A person in a straw hat stands on a bamboo raft, guiding it with a long pole on a serene river surrounded by lush greenery.

11) Take a bamboo raft: One of the most relaxing things I did in Chiang Mai was to take a bamboo raft ride down a river. It felt really traditional and something unique/unusual to do, rather than the typical touristy things. The ride was really peaceful and allowed me to switch off and just take in my surroundings. We saw a lot of elephants bathing in the river!

12) Visit some museums: While Asia usually has nowhere near the number of museums as Europe or North America, there are actually quite a few in Chiang Mai. As a history lover, my personal favourite is the Chiang Mai National Museum which gives a lot of information about when the city was the capital of the Lanna Kingdom as I mentioned earlier.

An intense Muay Thai fight in Chiang Mai, a thrilling event adding to the list of exciting activities that showcase why Chiang Mai is worth visiting

13) Watch a Muay Thai fight: Just like with the Thai massage, you can watch a Muay Thai fight anywhere in Thailand. Again, in this case, Chiang Mai offers one of the cheapest places to do so as you can get tickets for as little as 600 baht. In Krabi, for example, it’s 1500 baht for the cheapest ticket in Ao Nang.

πŸ‡ΉπŸ‡­ Book your Muay Thai fight night tickets here πŸ₯Š

It’s also a good place to take a Muay Thai class – I had never done it before visiting Chiang Mai and I loved it so much I carried on training while travelling throughout Thailand.

14) Go zip-lining: Zip-lining is one of the most popular tours to take from Chiang Mai. There are lots of places to go but I recommend Jungle Flight, which is the longest zip-line in Thailand, coming in at 1000 metres, or in other words, a whole kilometre!! It’s thrilling and super fun. It even includes turns and drops, so it’s not just a continuous straight line. I loved it!

🌳 Book your zip-lining tour here 🀐

Josh smiling at the Blue Temple in Chiang Rai, near Chiang Mai

15) Take a day trip to Chiang Rai: If you aren’t planning on staying overnight in Chiang Rai, I suggest taking a day trip. Admittedly, the journey is pretty long and takes about 3 hours each way, but it’s worth it. The temples in Chiang Rai are beautiful, and they’re quirky too rather than traditional. The Blue Temple, for example, is completely blue inside and out. And the White Temple has an art collage of cartoon characters on the inside!

πŸ›• Book your Chiang Rai day trip here πŸ›

What Is Chiang Mai Known For?

The things which Chiang Mai is known for are pretty much the reasons for visiting Chiang Mai which I gave earlier in the post.

Chiang Mai is known for its culture, as it has more than 300 temples to explore while you are in the city.

It’s also known for being a cheaper destination in Thailand. You can find meals for as low as 40 baht here! Of course, Chiang Mai is also renowned for its cuisine and most famous dish of Khao Soi.

And how could I forget the natural beauty that surrounds Chiang Mai. The city is a gateway to some of Thailand’s most scenic landscapes, from the lush green mountains and waterfalls of Doi Inthanon National Park to the tranquil countryside where you can visit ethical elephant sanctuaries.

A night market in Chiang Mai comes alive with food stalls and illuminated temple structures, reflecting the city's lively evening atmosphere.

Best Time To Visit Chiang Mai

The best time to visit Chiang Mai is in the cool season which is from October until February. This is the best time because temperatures are most bearable (though still hot!), the rain isn’t frequent and the air isn’t polluted.

In the hot season from February until June, the air is really badly polluted due to a number of reasons but fires are the main reason. You don’t want to be jungle trekking when there are wildfires, right? So I would avoid Chiang Mai in these months.

The wet season is from June until October and this is a time of year when I say that it’s up to you. It will still be warm, it just might rain for a few hours each day. If that doesn’t bother you too much, then it’s a good time of year to travel as it’s not as popular meaning fewer crowds and even cheaper prices.

A lush temple garden in Chiang Mai with traditional architecture, a peaceful retreat that adds to the city's charm for visitors

Where To Stay In Chiang Mai

When it comes to where to stay in Chiang Mai, my recommendation is the All in 1 Guesthouse. I really like supporting local businesses when travelling rather than chain hotels, and the stay here is even better than a hotel in my opinion. They go above and beyond to make sure you have the best stay possible.

If you’re travelling on a budget, I recommend checking out Smile Robotist Hostel. I know I have said “my favourite…” or “the best in Thailand” a lot in this post, but that’s just how much I love Chiang Mai, and the same goes for this hostel.

The owner, Ton, is one of the kindest people I have ever met and for that reason alone, I recommend staying here. But the bunks have curtains, there’s free breakfast, and you can book your tours here for a discount if you need any other reasons to stay.

🏨 Book your stay at All in 1 Guesthouse
🏨 Book your stay at Smile Robotist Hostel

How To Get Around Chiang Mai

Within Chiang Mai Old City, most things are within walkable distance. From top to bottom, it only takes about 20-25 minutes to walk, and the same goes from side to side, as the Old City is a square.

For slightly longer distances, I recommend downloading Grab – one of my Thailand travel apps which you need to have.

View over a Grab bike rider's shoulder, cruising down a street in Chiang Mai, Thailand, giving a first-person perspective of using local ride-sharing services.

It’s Thailand’s version of Uber and you can use it to get cars and bikes around Chiang Mai for incredibly cheap prices.

For most of the things outside of Chiang Mai such as elephant sanctuaries or ziplining, you will take a tour which includes transport to and from.

FAQs

Below are some questions relating to “Is Chiang Mai Worth Visiting?” along with my answers to each question.

What is so great about Chiang Mai?

There are so many things to like about Chiang Mai from the good food and local dishes (such as Khao Soi) or the abundance of things to do (like elephant sanctuaries, jungle trekking, cooking classes and more). The atmosphere in the city is also nice.

Why do people like Chiang Mai so much?

The thing people like most about Chiang Mai is the atmosphere. It’s a very laid-back city and a nice break from the mayhem of Bangkok. There are still lots of things to do and lots of foods to try. It’s well worth visiting Chiang Mai.

Is Bangkok nicer than Chiang Mai?

Bangkok is a much larger city than Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is very small and takes 20 minutes to walk from side to side of the Old City, so it depends if you like big cities or small cities. Personally, I prefer Chiang Mai.

What is the main dish of Chiang Mai?

The main dish of Chiang Mai is Khao Soi which is a curry soup dish with noodles that also has hard noodles on top. It can be served with beef, pork or chicken. The beef is the most traditional and often tastes the best. It’s a cheap dish and tastes delicious.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, a complete answer to “Is Chiang Mai worth visiting?”

My answer is yes, 100% and I would encourage anyone in Thailand to make the trip up north.

It’s one of my favourite cities in Asia and everything about the city is just perfect. The food, the people, the things to do, the atmosphere. I can’t recommend Chiang Mai enough.

By the way, make sure you can stay connected while in Chiang Mai. I recommend reading my post on the best eSIMs for travelling Thailand so you are always connected to the internet.