Three days in Chiang Mai gives you enough time for a diverse array of Northern Thailand experiences, from touring Buddhist temples and night markets to adventuring in the outdoors. You even have time for a day trip outside the city. Here’s how to spend the ultimate 36 hours in Chiang Mai.
Day 1: Essential Chiang Mai
One of the best ways to get your bearings in a new city is on a guided sightseeing tour. Spend your first day in Chiang Mai exploring the historic heart of the city with a local guide. Within the crumbling old city walls are more than 30 Buddhist temples plus parks, museums, and monuments. Visit the gold-encrusted Wat Phra Singh to see the city’s most revered Buddha statue, and then continue to Wat Chedi Luang to see the ruins of a 15th century stupa carved with stone elephants. Don't miss a climb to the top of Doi Suthep Temple. To get your blood pumping, opt for a cycling tour; you’ll cover more ground and see some of the countryside beyond the city walls. After a day of sightseeing, spend your evening exploring the city’s famous night bazaar in search of trinkets to bring home and street foods to fill your stomach.
Day 2: Outdoor Adventure
Chiang Mai attracts outdoor adventurers from around the globe with its myriad opportunities for recreation. Spend the day learning about ethical elephant conservation at one of several nearby sanctuaries, go on a zipline through the rain forests of Northern Thailand, conquer the rapids of the Ping River, or trek through the jungle to visit one of the region’s hill tribes. Many tours combine two or more of these activities. If you prefer something more laid-back, spend your second day in Chiang Mai learning to prepare traditional local cuisine in a hands-on cooking class or unwinding with a Thai massage and spa package. No matter what you choose, end your day at a ringside Muay Thai boxing match, one of Thailand’s most popular sports.
Day 3: Temples of Chiang Rai
Now that you’ve had a couple of days to experience the best of Chiang Mai, it’s time to head further afield to enjoy more of Northern Thailand. One of the most popular day trips from Chiang Mai is to Chiang Rai, home of the glistening White Temple (Wat Rong Khun). Depending on the trip you choose, an excursion to Chiang Rai might include a long-tail boat ride on the Khong River or a chance to visit the Golden Triangle at the borders of Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. Back in Chiang Mai, wind down your day with a traditional khantoke dinner show. This ceremonial-style Northern Thai meal consists of small plates served at a low table. Watch a series of Thai dance performances as you eat.