Chiang Mai is known for its beautiful temples, expat culture and relaxed atmosphere, which is why so many head here each year. In this Chiang Mai 3 day itinerary, we share the best way to spend 3 days in Chiang Mai, including things to do in the historic city.
Chiang Mai – 3 day itinerary
How many days in Chiang Mai?
You will want at least 3 days in the city but having 4 days in Chiang Mai would allow you to see a little more and explore at a slower pace. For this itinerary, we have included the best things to do in Chiang Mai in 3 days including where to eat and some day trip options should you wish to extend your trip.
If you wish to use Chiang Mai as a base to see Northern Thailand, then you would need a week or 10 days in Chiang Mai, to be able to see the city and nearby cities.
Chiang Mai – when to visit
The best time to visit Chiang Mai is October through to April, when the weather is cool and pleasant, with little rain during this time. However, this is also the peak season in Northern Thailand. It is warm all year round but there are certain times to avoid.
March is burning season which results in a haze and a lot of coughing, so try to avoid visiting then. You will also want to avoid August and September as you can expect a lot of rainfall during the rainy season and it can feel chilly up in the mountains.
The best months to visit are October through to February, with October and November still being fairly quiet compared to the Christmas season. If you time your trip right, you may even catch the Chiang Mai Lantern Festival at the end of October to the start of November.
Arriving at Chiang Mai
Most visitors arrive in Chiang Mai from Bangkok using the low cost airlines – with airlines such as NOK Air, Vietjet Air and Air Asia offering one way flights for less than 1000B. From Arrivals at Chiang Mai airport, you have a few options. The easiest option is to get a taxi or use the GRAB app to your hotel in the city, costing a flat rate of 150B (taxis, expect more with GRAB). Alternatively, you can catch an airport bus for 20B or a Songthaew for 30B.
There are a few different ways to get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, depending on your budget and time.
3 days in Chiang Mai
We have rounded up the best things to do in this 3 day Chiang Mai itinerary, with a few different options to choose from, depending on what type of traveller you are.
For your first day in Chiang Mai, you will want to be visiting the temples. There are lots of temples in Chiang Mai to choose from and many are in the Old City, so that you can mix and match which temple you visit. You may even get most of them visited in one day if you start early enough.
Here are the best temples in Chiang Mai – Choose 2 or 3 to visit on your first day.
Wat Phra Singh
Originally built in 1935 by King Phayu and later restored by King Kawila in the late 1700s. Here you will find a collection of Buddha statues and a copy of the Emerald Buddha in the Ubosot building. Visit the Lai Kam assembly hall to appreciate its elegant decor and resorts murals whilst the exterior of the temples have a Lanna-style roof. You can find this temple in the western part of the Old City and at the end of the main street Rachadamnoen Road.
Wat Chedu Luang
This temple is a towering Chedi (Pagoda) and a must on your Chiang Mai itinerary. The temple has been damaged over time due to earthquakes but once was home to the Emerald buddha, Thailand’s most scared religious relic. The temple is on Phra Pokklao Road and is easy to find because it is one of the tallest structures in the area.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
This temple complex is around 30-40 minutes away from the Old City but worth visiting. Set on the regal mountain that overlooks the city, this is a sacred site for many Thai people. From the car park, climb up the 309 steps to reach the pagodas or take the tram, either way you can expect amazing views across Chiang Mai. We recommend heading here early in the morning (the temple opening at 5am most days) to experience the temple without the crowds and the heat.
Wat Chiang Man
As the oldest temple in Chiang Mai, the temple holds important Buddhist images including a famous crystal Buddha. Visit the two main meditation halls, both decorated in gold and red whilst the largest hall holds Chiang Mai’s oldest Buddha image. The temple is rarely busy, offering a quieter, calmer experience of a Thailand temple.
Wat Phan Tao
This beautiful wooden temple found in a decorated garden area is a quieter place to visit and one of our favourite understated temples in Chiang Mai.Visit in the evening for the twinkling lights.
Wat Suan Dok
Built in the late 14th century, this complex houses several structures and pagodas. Here you will also find a garden of whitewashed mausoleums which house the ashes of previous Chiang Mai rulers. This temple is actually on the outskirts of the Old City but a quick 10 minute taxi or tuk tuk is worth the trip.
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Por el momento el templo más original y que más me ha impactado de Chiang Mai… Me hubiera quedado horas dentro observando y escuchando atentamente el rezo del monje… Gracias a @alanxelmundo por recomendarnoslo en sus videos. Ha merecido mucho la pena descubrirlo! #chiangmai #wat #watsrisuphan #srisuphan #temple #thailand #discoverthailand #visitchiangmai #igerasia #southeastasia #budishm #buddha #art #architecture #amazingthailand #oldcity #peaceful #trip #traveler #rutatai2m17
Wat Sri Suphan
Known as the Silver Temple, this is an impressed hand crafted temple with silver decoration from roof to ground. Even the Buddha statues are covered din silver. This is another temple that is just beyond the walls of the Old City but is an impressive place to photograph for those looking for a temple with a difference.
Exploring Chiang Mai Old City
Whilst visiting the temples in the area, you may want to mix it up with a few other attractions and sites in the area:
Tha Pae Gate – This is a tourist landmark in Chiang Mai and is part of the crumbling city wall that was once used as a fortress for the Old City. Around this area, you will find many hotels, bars, restaurants, cafes and shops – staying near the gate is a great idea if you only have a few days in Chiang Mai.
Three Kings Monument – Another popular stop in the Old City, this statue is roughly in the centre of the walled city. The monument pictures King Mengrai; the founder of Chiang Mai, his friend King Ramkamhaeng of Sukothai and King Ngam Muang Payao. According to legend, the three kinds worked together to plan the lay out of the city of Chiang Mai.
Nong Buak Hard Park – If you are looking for a place to relax, head over to this picturesque park, in the Southwest of the Old City. Here you will find lots of colourful flowers and, as certain times of the year, the park hosts festivals including the Flower Festival.
Lanna Folklife Museum – This is an interesting museum in the Old City, with exhibitions that depict the lives, history and culture of the Lanna people of Northern Thailand. It is found opposite the Three Kings Monument and is worth a visit if you have extra time in the city.
Terracotta Gardens – this hidden gem is often overlooked by travellers but is a wonderful place to chill out after a morning at the elephant sanctuary or a busy few hours temple hopping.
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Morning/afternoon: Choose which temple you want to visit and plan you day accordingly.
Some of the best temple itineraries for one day in Chiang Mai are:
1. 7am: Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – 10am: Wat Suan Dok (en route back from Doi Suthep) – Midday: lunch in the Old City (see our recommendations below) – 1pm Wat Phra Singh – 3pm Wat Chedu Luang
2. 7am: Wat Phra Singh – 10am: Wat Chedi Luang and Wat Phantao – Midday: lunch (see recommendations) – 1pm: Three Kings Monument as you walk to Wat Chiang Man – 1.15pm: Wat Chiang Man 2pm onwards: visit the coffee shops, head to Lanna Folklife Museum or rest in your hotel before the evening safari.
Evening: One of the most popular things to do in Chiang Mai is the Night Safari. Tour the three animal zones either via tram or foot, hand feed wild animals, pet tiger cubs and enjoy a laser light show with dancing fountains.
You second day in Chiang Mai calls for a day trip.
The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Chiang Mai
There are many Elephant sanctuaries around Chiang Mai but the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is an ethical, sustainable eco-tourism project on the outskirts of the city. They are deeply concerned about the welfare of elephants so this is the place to visit when in Chiang Mai.
The Sanctuary offers different volunteer programmes with the half day trip being a popular choice. The package includes traditional Thai buffet meals, pick up and drop off, water and food for feeding the elephants.
On arrival, you will be given traditional karen clothes to wear if you sit but bring a bathing suit and towel too as you can get wet on this trip. The sanctuary also takes photographs of your tour and shares the files via DropBox for no additional fee.
Depending on which programme you choose, you can expect to walk with the elephants in their natural habitat on a jungle trek, spend time in the mud spa with the elephants and feed, bath and play with the elephants.
We suggest you opt for the morning package which includes a pick up at 6.30am and has you back in your hotel by 1.30pm, giving you plenty of time to rest up and explore more of the Old City. However, you may wish to choose the full day package to learn more about elephant anatomy, history and behaviour, have more time to interact with them and walk the elephants to the river.
Afternoon/Evening: After a busy morning, you will want to spend some time unwinding. We would recommend heading to one of the local spas in the area or take a stroll in Nong Buak Hard Park.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar
The bazaar is the main shopping venue in Chiang Mai, with the intersection of Chang Khlan Road and Loi Khao Road being the epicentre. Head here after sunset for rows and rows of stalls and vendors, complete with little alleyways (sois) and arcades too.
This is a great place to spend your evening, with countless stalls selling everything from clothes to Thai silks, watches to video games. You can even pick up a samurai sword here! The best things to buy in Chiang Mai Night Bazaar include hand-tailored clothes and the ‘designer’ fashion items.
For better quality items, head to the Viang Ping Night Bazaar near Tha Phae Road; they sell authentic handicrafts and durable clothes and fabrics for higher prices than the Night Bazaar.
Alternatively, check out our recommend restaurants and bars below and try some new flavours and dishes.
Alternatively, check out our recommend restaurants and bars below and try some new flavours and dishes.
On your last day in Chiang Mai, we have a few options to choose or you could visit for longer and use these options with 4 days in Chiang Mai.
Option 1 – Doi Inthanon National Park
This is a beautiful national park that makes for the perfect day trip from Chiang Mai.
There a few different ways to get to the national park with the most convenient way being a private tour or driver whilst the cheapest option is the Songtaew but these routes are limiting. By booking a private driver, you can ask the driver to take a stop at the different attractions around the park without missing anything out.
There are a few things to do in the park including:
- Doi Inthanon; Thailand’s highest mountain
- Royal Twin Pagodas and gardens
- Suriphum Waterfall
- Giew Mae Pan Nature Trail
- The Summit: the highest point in Thailand
- Kew Mae Pan Nature Trail and Waterfall
- Wachirathan Waterfall
- Sirithan Waterfall
- Mae Ya Waterfall
A few tips for visiting Doi Inthanon National Park:
- Start early to beat the heat; make sure to leave Chiang May by 9am at the latest to make the most out of your day and get your hiking done before the afternoon heat.
- Entrance free for the park is 300 baht for foreigners.
- Bring layers; the climate is cooler because of the altitude and make sure to wear comfortable shoes.
- Bring snacks with you as there aren’t a great deal of places to eat.
- Bring a swimsuit incase you come across a waterfall you can swim in.
- Bring sunscreen, especially if you intend on hiking all day.
- Make sure to keep drinking water to stay hydrated and don’t worry, there are plenty of bathrooms in the park.
This is a full day and is a great option for those that love exploring nature and want to experience the a Chiang Mai hike. For those looking for a full Chiang Mai jungle trekking experience, there are various 2 or 3 days hiking tours available to choose from.
Option 2 – Chiang Mai Cooking class
Taking a cooking class in Thailand is a must; there are so many exciting flavours and different ways to pair ingredients that any foodie will love a cooking day. Chiang Mai is home to some great cooking school options, with your day generally consisted of a visit to a local market or supermarket to collect the ingredients followed by talking you through how to make an appetiser, main entree and a dessert.
Some of the best cooking classes in the area are: Thai Farm Cooking School, May Kaidee’s Cooking School, Thai Akha Kitchen, Basil Cookery School and Thai Orchid Cookery School.
These cooking sessions often finish by 2pm, so you could spend the afternoon visiting them temples you missed out on.
Option 3 – Wat Rong Khun (White temple) – Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai day trip
Now, we highly recommend this option if you are only in Thailand for a short period of time and won’t have time to spend a few nights over in Chiang Rai. Wat Rong Khun temple is stunning and definitely worth a visit, but visiting as part of a day trip is a long, tiring day.
The drive takes around 3 hours from Chiang Mai and, if you are visiting as a day trip, you will need to rent a car. If you are thinking of spending a few nights in Chiang Rai, you could catch a bus or train from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai.
The White temple was given this nickname because of the white ornate decorations covering the temple. It is a very different style of buddhist temple compared to other temples around Thailand. It is said that the white temple symbolises purity whilst the glass is a symbol of Buddha’s wisdom.
Tips for visiting Wat Rong Khun:
- Opening hours are 8am to 5pm
- Leave early to get here before 10am; earlier is better
- Visit on weekdays to avoid the crowds
- Dress respectfully, covering shoulders and knees.
- Shoes should be taken off before entering the temple.
This is a full day and you will want to leave early (like 6am early).
Option 4 – ATV Chiang Mai tours
For an adventure with a different, why not book an ATV tour around the mountains of Chiang Mai. A variety of different tours are available including an ATV and zip lining trip.
This is our Chiang Mai 3 day itinerary – keep reading for a few more travel tips and restaurant recommendations.
Where to eat in Chiang Mai Old City
During your day exploring and your time staying in the Old City, you are going to want to eat! Here are some of the best restaurants and bars in the area to choose from.
Breakfast, lunch and brunch in Chiang Mai
- Overstand Coffee Shop – this is the best place for breakfast and lunch as well as a decent coffee. There are also plenty of health food options as well as vegetarian and vegan dishes.
- Chiang Mai Breakfast World – Also doubling as a German Beer Garden, this restaurant offers a massive selection of amazing tasting food; make sure to try the waffles with mango!
- Blue Diamond – Open all day, this is a breakfast club place with a lot of variety.
- The Barn Eatery and Design – Decked our in artwork, this is a stylish barn style restaurant with delicious food and amazing coffee options.
- Rustic and Blue – a charming ‘feel at home’ restaurant with creative, delicious meals, ideal for brunch.
- Good Morning Chiang Mai – with a tropical vibe and spacious garden area to sit in, complete with pool, this is the breakfast place to go if you are looking for a secluded, quiet setting.
Where to eat dinner in Chiang Mai
- Midnight Chicken – this is a legendary eatery in the neighbourhood, with deep friend proteins served on mountains of sticky rice alongside mustard greens and a spicy Thai dip.
- Khao Soi Khun Yai – The northern Thai dish of crispy and soft egg noddles in a curry like sauce, can be found all over Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. This restaurant is well known by Mark Wien fans and is a local favourite, just outside the North Gate of the Old City.
- Old Chiang Mai Cultural Center – This isn’t the most delicious meal you will eat but it is the most authentic Chiang Mai experience you can have here. Try regional meals paired with traditional dancing, creating an interesting evening.
- The Good View – Siting on the riverside, this restaurant serves everyone; with dishes from all over Thailand as well as Western, Japanese and vegetarian options too. Couple the variety with the river breeze, live music and relaxed atmosphere, this is the perfect place to spend an evening.
- Mit Mai – These dishes are uniquely linked to the Chinese province of Yunnan, with air-dried hams, wok-seared greens and spicy salads being made with Chinese ingredients and flavors.
Coffee spots in Chiang Mai
- Akha Ama – this place offers the best value coffee in the area, with cappuccinos under $2 and local beans used.
- Ristr8to – Winning awards for their speciality coffee and Latte Art, it is no wonder so many tourists flock to this cafe. The menu is plentiful so there is something for everyone.
- The Barisotel by The Baristro – Try the unique flavour combinations in one of the 4 coffee shops around the city, with signature drinks including the Charcoal Latter Creamcheese and the Pink Panther.
- Khagee – a cafe and bakery on the banks of the Ping River, just east of the Old City. The coffee is great as is the carrot cake and Elon buns.
- Yellow Crafts – if you love drip coffee, this is the place to be. Try their pumpkin lattes as you sit in their uniquely designed cafe surrounded by white and yellow.
- Librarista – a sophisticated coffee shop, this modern establishment serves as a library, meeting room and coffee shop all in one. Sit in the charming garden or inside in the airy shop, getting comfortable on one of the big cushions spread across the shop.
- Ma-Chill – as suggested in it’s name, this is the coffee place for those looking to relax and chill.
- Marble Arch – this is a charming cafe is full of British references and the perfect place for those looking for a decent coffee and work space.
Chiang Mai travel tips
- Remember to dress appropriately in temples avoid shorts and tank tops in temples. Both men and women should cover their knees and shoulders and leggings are often not accepted.
- Grab is Thailands version of Uber and is readily available around Chiang Mai. Use Grabs or taxis to get around easily but remember to agree on a price before your journey or ask for the meter. Tuk Tuks are also popular options as are bike rentals, motorcycle taxis, scooter rentals and walking.
- Most people in hotels and expat neighbourhoods will speak some level of English but it is a good idea to learn some basic phrases in Thai.
- Use Agoda to shop around for a hotel. You are going to find better deals online compared to arriving at a hotel on the day and there are plenty of options available.
- Aim to stay inside or near the Old City – when looking at a map you will see a square which makes up the old town in Chiang Mai. Transport around this area is cheap and a lot of the attractions, markets, restaurants and cafes are in this area. Cheap guesthouses are available too so shop around for hostels or hotels in this area.
We hope you have an amazing time in Chiang Mai! Let us know what your favourite thing to do in the city is in the comments below!