Chiang Mai is a staple for any Southeast Asia itinerary, and for good reason. This northern Thai city has it all: culture, food, epic day trips, festivals, and a thriving nightlife. A few days here is a must, a week or two is ideal, and a month or more will make you realize there are endless things to do and see here! For those staying longer or anyone wanting to find some unique things to do in Chiang Mai, you’re in the right place. Stay tuned, we’ll be sharing all of our favorite things to do off the beaten track!
Take a Muay Thai Class
As the national sport of Thailand, every visitor to the Kingdom needs to try their hand (pun intended) at a Muay Thai class, otherwise known as Thai boxing. You will utilize every part of your body to get one of the best workouts of your life, including your fists, knees, feet, and elbows. Fights are held in cities across the country, including Chiang Mai. If you want to do more than just watch a fight, however, partaking in a class in the next best thing (if not better). Classes start at around ฿300 (about $9.40) and are well worth the cost. For more information about where to get your sweat on in Chiang Mai, be sure to check out our complete fitness guide!
Top Muay Thai Gyms to Check Out in Chiang Mai
- Chiang Mai Muay Thai Gym: +66 095 915 7488 | Website
- Santai Muay Thai: +66 082 528 6059 | Website
- Team Quest Muay Thai Gym: +66 86 091 1536 | Website
- Sky Kick Muay Thai Training: +66 87 787 3952 | Website
- Hong Thong Muay Thai: +66 844 280 595 | Website
- Loi Kroh Boxing Gym: +66 089 755 9884 | Website
Get a Massage by a Prison Inmate
You don’t usually see the words “massage” and “prison” in the same sentence, so we understand your reluctance. Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute is a government-run rehabilitation program that teaches female inmates a marketable skill: massage therapy. So while massage parlors are on every block in Chiang Mai, getting this particular massage will help women get back on their feet after serving their time. This decreases their chances of being incarcerated again, as they’ll have the skills and experience to provide for themselves. You get a fantastic massage and Chiang Mai has a lower incarceration rate: win-win!
At Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institute, they offer both full body massages and foot massages for ฿200 an hour. They don’t take reservations and book at a first-come, first-served basis. Make sure you come early, as they’re likely to book up quickly. A guard will sign you up and then you can grab some food or a drink at the attached cafe. Once inside, the dim lighting and soft music will immediately put you at ease. They’ll wash your feet first and then guide you to the adjacent room for your treatment. Phones are discouraged and photos aren’t allowed, but you’ll be too relaxed to care anyway. Lila Thai Massage is another parlor that employs ex-inmates!
Location: Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Contact: +66 53 210 824
Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Get a Massage at a Temple
In addition to getting a massage by an ex-prison inmate, you should also be sure to check out the cheap ones you can get at temples around the city. Visiting a temple, or wat, is one of the top things to do in Chiang Mai. With over 300 in the city, exploring these religious structures may be one of the highlights of your trip. Make visiting these temples even more interesting, however, by getting a massage at one. Admire these Buddhist structures then sit down and get those knots rubbed out by a skilled masseuse or masseur on temple grounds. In addition to being surrounded by such incredible architecture, you will also be getting your massage for a steal, as they are normally about ฿150 (about $4.70). Both the temples of Wat Pan Whaen and Wat Sum Pao offer massages.
Chat With a Monk
Ever wondered what monks are allowed and not allowed to do? If they’re able to quit being a monk? What the hardest part about being a monk is? Now’s your chance to ask! Many temples have “Monk Chats” where anybody (Buddhist or not) can come to the temple and ask any question they’d like (no topic is off limits!) Wat Suan Dok, just west of the old city, holds Monk chats every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. You can come anytime within those hours and have an informal chat with a couple monks in a group setting. Learn about their daily lives, Thai culture, and the ins and outs of Buddhism. They also have mediation workshops, where you can get a deeper glimpse into Buddhism and the practice of mindfulness.
Location: 136/3 Suthep Rd, Tambon Su Thep, Amphoe Mueang Chiang Mai, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Hours: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Check out the Grand Canyon
You no longer have to leave Asia and travel to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. If you are traveling to Chiang Mai, visiting the (other) Grand Canyon is a must. You can get there by taking a songthaew (meaning “two benches”) or you can rent a motorbike to visit this large, artificial lake. Whether you take to the zip line and soar above the water, jump off the designated platform, or simply lay out and enjoy Thailand’s sunshine, the Grand Canyon is an incredible place to spend a day in Chiang Mai.
Location: Grand Canyon in Chiang Mai — VIEW MAP
Contact: +66 052 001 076
Hours: Daily from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Relax at Huay Tung Tao Lake
If you’re looking to get away from the tourists that often crowd the old city, head to Huay Tung Tao Lake. We know the heat in Thailand can be unbearable, so grab your mates, throw on a swimsuit, and jump on a motorbike. Drive 20 minutes northwest of the old city and you’ll arrive at this man-made reservoir. Bike ride around the lake, rent a swan-shaped paddle boat, take a dip, or grab lunch at one of the floating huts. There are numerous restaurants right on the water, offering delicious fish and other food and beverages at affordable prices. Surrounded by lush greenery, Huay Tung Tao Lake is a tranquil getaway and the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai.
Location: Don Kaeo, Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai 50180, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Hours: Daily from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Visit Elephant Parade Land
If you haven’t noticed, Thailand has got a thing for elephants. Representing strength, honor, and longevity, the elephant is sacred to both Hinduism and Buddhism, and has become the national animal of Thailand. They’ve even named their most popular beer, “Chang”, which you’ve probably guessed, means “elephant” in Thai. Elephant Parade Land is a social enterprise that strives to educate people and raise money for elephant conservation efforts. Visitors can take a free tour of the museum, which explains how elephants benefit the ecosystem, and how so many other animals depend on them for survival.
The mission of Elephant Parade Land is to help protect these endangered animals through art and awareness. Artists from around the world are chosen to paint an elephant, which is then featured in an exhibition or “parade” to raise money for various projects to protect and save elephants. The art of these life-sized baby elephants are then replicated onto smaller elephant statues to be sold.
There are a couple Elephant Parade House shops where you can buy these statues, but taking a trip a bit north to Elephant Parade Land is definitely worth it. Check out the workshop where these statues are painted, learn more about elephants in their movie room and library, wander around the garden of baby elephant statues, or paint one of your own! Pledging to donate a minimum of €50,000 a year, Elephant Parade Land supports over 160 projects across Asia.
Location: 180/ 9, Moo 7, San Phi Suea, Mueang, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Contact: +66 62 918 9621 | Website | Facebook
Hours: Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Learn How to Give a Thai Massage
Earn some brownie points with your partner and learn how to give a proper Thai massage. Better yet, bring your partner so they can return the favor! At Jera Traditional Thai Massage School, students can choose between a one-day, three-day, and five-day course and learn how to give a traditional Thai massage, oil massage, or foot massage. From their technique to their English skills, the instructors at Jera are the best, known to be incredibly patient, helpful, and thorough. They’ll provide lunch and coffee, and give you a workbook to take home so you won’t forget anything you’ve learned. Prices are hard to beat with courses starting at ฿1,000 (about $31).
Location: 122/2 Ragang Road, Chang Klan, Muang, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand -— VIEW MAP
Contact: +66 87 049 2318 | Facebook
Hours: Daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
See a Ladyboy Cabaret Show
Male and females alike will find the Chiang Mai Cabaret Show hilariously entertaining. Located in the Anusarn Market (near the Night Bazaar, east of the old city), this captivating show will dazzle and probably confuse you (guys, it’s absolutely okay to find them attractive – they totally are!) These ladies are glammed up and put on one hell of a show, with comical sketches and provocative dances. For only ฿350, this show is the perfect way to spend a night out in Chiang Mai.
Location: Chang Khlan, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50100, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Contact: +66 95 416 8696 | Website | Facebook
Hours: Shows are daily from 9:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Check out a Funky Cafe
Whether you want to snuggle a cat, be transported to the ruins of Angkor, or help a local charity, Chiang Mai has got a cafe for you. If you agree that hedgehogs are one of the cutest animals on earth, go to Harinezumi Cafe, where you can cuddle up with both guinea pigs and hedgehogs while feasting on waffles. If you want to escape the heat, grab a coffee at Clay Studio Coffee in the Garden. Surrounded by terra-cotta statues, luscious vegetation and trickling fountains, Clay Studio is an oasis in the middle of the chaos of Chiang Mai. For more, wander around the modern neighborhood of Nimman and you’re sure to find tons of quirky dessert cafes and coffee shops oozing with hipster paraphernalia.
Kick Back at Rama IX Lanna Park
Found just outside the city of Chiang Mai is Rama IX Lanna Park. Hardly any foreigners visit this quaint green space, making it one of the most unique of finds in the old northern capital. Whether you want to go for a run, have a picnic, or simply enjoy the greenery, Rama IX Lanna Park is the place to be. The winding trails are shaded by trees yet there are also many spots to sit, relax, and get plenty of sunshine. If you go here after dark, you will see that the lake found at this park’s core is surrounded by food carts selling the tastiest of Thai street food dishes, as well.
Location: Chang Phueak, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai 50300, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Visit Khuang Sing Chinese Cemetery
Visiting a cemetery may not be at the top of your Chiang Mai itinerary, but the Khuang Sing Chinese Cemetery is but a stone’s throw away from Rama IX Lanna Park and worth a visit, even a short one. Whether you are a professional photographer or simply on your Instagram game, this picturesque cemetery will impress both you and your followers. The Chinese gravestones are surprisingly decorous and go as far as the eye can see. When we went, the cemetery was silent and peaceful, making for a much-needed break from the business of the city.
Climb up the Sticky Waterfalls
For an adventurous day out, head to the Bua Tong Waterfalls, AKA “Sticky Waterfalls.” Mineral deposits make these rocks incredibly grippy, which allow people to climb up and down them. Resembling melting ice cream scoops, these spherical limestones are an ideal way to cool off, while also getting a bit of a workout. You can start at the bottom and make your way to the top, where there are some ropes to help you with your ascent. Once you’ve reached the top, you can relax in the natural pools, amongst the dense foliage and chirping birds. Just an hour’s drive north of the old city, Bua Tong should definitely be added to your Chiang Mai Bucket List.
Location: 8 Tambon Mae Ho Phra, Amphoe Mae Taeng, Chang Wat Chiang Mai 50150, Thailand — VIEW MAP
Hours: Daily from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m.
Sample the Best Northern Thai Dishes
If you came to Thailand for the food, you chose correctly. You’ve probably heard by now that you need to try khao soi, and we fully support your decision to do so. This famous dish combines thick noodles and a rich, red curry broth. Throw in some crispy fried noodles, pickled vegetables, and a squeeze of lime, and you’ve got yourself heaven in a bowl. Make sure you try other Northern Thai dishes like gaang hang-lair (fatty pork belly), Sai Oua (northern Thai sausage), and nam prik orng (minced pork and chili dips). You’re welcome in advance. For our favorite restaurants in Chiang Mai, go here.
More Unique Things to do in Chiang Mai
Are you hanging around Chiang Mai and want even more off-the-beaten-track things to do? Then check out these other articles to find more! We only recommend and share articles we love ourselves, as well. Enjoy!
- 28 Unique Things to do in Chiang Mai for Two Wandering Soles
- 10 Alternative Things to do in Chiang Mai by Iona Proebst for The Culture Trip
- The Coolest Things to do in Chiang Mai: 7 Essential Thai Experiences for Geeky Explorer
- 12 Amazing Things to do in Chiang Mai for Tieland to Thailand
- Free or Nearly Free Things to do in Chiang Mai for Blond Travels
PIN NOW, READ LATER